Editor’s Note: The author, a long-term Clergy Project member, has an intriguing view of Q-Anon. Instead of focusing on its strong parallels with religion (as I do, which is why I’ve asked non-believing clergy to write about it), he focuses on its differences. I can’t wait to get readers’ take on it! /Linda LaScola, Editor
By John Lombard
QAnon has dominated the news recently. Wild conspiracy claims that the Democratic Party is running child sex rings, lead by Satan-worshiping pedophiles.
- That Tom Hanks, Ellen DeGeneres, and the Dalai Lama are involved in a conspiracy to take over the world.
- That there are people eating other humans or drinking their blood, in order to extract life-extending products from them.
- And, of course, that Donald Trump is their ‘messiah’, ready to lead them in a bloody revolution that will see the violent overthrow of these ‘evil Democrats’ and usher in a new age of prosperity and peace.
To the vast majority of people reading this, these claims are obviously insane. And yet literally millions of people have bought into them. The comparisons to religious belief are obvious, and easy to make.
However, I am going to argue that QAnon is in many ways the opposite of traditional religious beliefs. Religion is generally defined – even by those who follow it – as faith in the ‘unseen’. The idea that you must accept certain religious claims without proof; that there are things you cannot understand.
QAnon works in the exact opposite way – by pushing people to find proof on their own! It doesn’t say,
“Trust us that Hillary Clinton worships Satan and eats babies”.
Instead, it asks a question:
“Is it true that Hillary Clinton worships Satan? Is it possible that she eats babies?”
And then it leads people to take the next step for themselves. It will show symbols supposedly used by Satanists…then tell people to look online for pictures or videos that have Hillary and that symbol together. And they will ask people to add more symbols of their own. Soon, you have thousands of people all posting pictures that show Hillary using those signs!
It’s a crowd-sourced conspiracy.
The next step is,
“We can identify Hillary’s co-conspirators by finding people who use those same signs.”
So those thousands of people diligently scour the Internet, and within a very short time, you now have a veritable rogue’s gallery of people using the same signs that Hillary used! Tom Hanks! Lady Gaga! The Pope!
This isn’t my own revelation or theory. Far from it, it comes from an amazingly illuminating article written by a guy named Reed Berkowitz, called A Game Designer’s Analysis Of QAnon. Reed is a video game designer whose job it is to make games addictively attractive to players. And he spotted that many of the tactics used to draw people into some video games, are virtually identical to those used by Q-Anon leaders to draw people into their world.
The key to this is that, far from saying, “These are things beyond your understanding”, Q-Anon takes exactly the opposite approach!
“You can prove all of these things yourself, no need to trust us! The evidence is there for everyone who looks for it!”
QAnon doesn’t rely on a lack of evidence; it relies on an overwhelming deluge of information, courtesy of the Internet!
The psychological attraction to those who get sucked into QAnon is massive. There is the sense of importance that comes from uncovering clues by yourself! There is the sense of belonging in a group that numbers in the millions. There is the sense of being right in the middle of a Hollywood conspiracy movie, where you are the hero helping to save the world.
Instead of thinking of QAnon as some weird conspiracy theory, think of it as a highly immersive virtual reality video game.
You pop on the 3D goggles, and you find yourself in a world where an evil conspiracy threatens everyone. It is your job to uncover the clues that will reveal the conspiracy. A mysterious leader provides hints and clues to you, to help you figure out what needs to be done. With each clue you uncover, you get closer to uncovering the conspiracy. And more than that, every clue you uncover proves that the conspiracy is real! And there are millions of other players online with you, all working together to find clues. Each set of clues leads to new clues for you to find. A date and time is set for all of you to rise up, but you need to keep finding clues, and preparing, until that day comes!
This is a very insidious form of psychological manipulation. Because when you try to tell these people that these claims are ludicrous, and that there’s no evidence, they respond that not only is there tons of evidence, but that they themselves helped to uncover some of that evidence! To them, you are the one who is willfully blind. You can’t accuse them that they haven’t done research, because they’ve done tons of research! And all of that research further validates and proves their claims.
The fundamental problem, of course, is in understanding what “evidence” actually is. The people who get sucked into the QAnon cesspool generally have two traits that make them prime candidates for deception.
- First, they are already people on the conservative or right wing side of the political spectrum, so are naturally biased to accept claims that support their beliefs (NOTE: Before any people on the left wing go proclaiming their superiority, such bias is just as much of a problem on the other side of the political divide).
- Second, they haven’t been taught critical thinking skills. That is, they haven’t been taught how to evaluate different forms of evidence, to determine which is most reliable or trustworthy.
Anyone lacking both of those key components is highly unlikely to fall down the QAnon rabbit hole.
So while the irrationality and bizarre claims of QAnon followers may seem to be “just like religion”, in some ways it is fundamentally different (although there are, of course, many similarities). And it is also potentially far more dangerous. Just look at how rapidly the QAnon movement grew, and how much power it gained in really a very short time. I’ve never seen any religious group grow as rapidly as Q-Anon has.
And now that it’s been successfully done once, you can be confident that there are going to be others who will copy this, and use it as a way to promote their own agendas.
The gamification of reality: This is potentially the religion of the future – religion gone viral. Not one that asks you to believe based on blind faith; but that tells you there’s an overwhelming amount of proof, and you are able to find it for yourself.
**Editor’s Question** So, what do you think? How compelling is his case?
Bio: John Lombard is a Humanist and ex-missionary who grew up in Ontario, who lived and worked in China for 25 years, before returning to Canada in 2018. He specializes in Cultural Diversity training and consulting for businesses through his company, ‘The Language of Culture“. He also serves on the Board of Directors of The Clergy Project.
>>>>>>Photo Credits: By Anthony Crider – https://www.flickr.com/photos/16086041@N00/49416341132/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=86145734 ; By Evan-Amos – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62084213