Hi and welcome back! For a while now, people have been sounding the alarm about a bizarre set of conspiracy theories spread by QAnon. Instead of fading away, though, QAnon only seems to be taking over more and more evangelicals’ minds. Recently, I’ve seen a number of evangelical leaders frantically trying to squash QAnon conspiracy theories from their flocks’ minds. But so far, their efforts have failed dramatically. Today, let me offer up a quick overview of QAnon — and show you how evangelical leaders finally got into the anti-QAnon fight.
(Previous posts about conspiracy theories: The Conspiracy Theory of Everything; Leaping from Floe to Floe; Aww, What’s the Harm; The Blood Moons; Michele Bachmann’s Startling New Conspiracy Theory; Evangelicals’ Israel Obsession.)
QAnon: A Primer.
The name QAnon refers to the person or people spreading a number of interconnected conspiracy theories as well as the actual body of conspiracy theories themselves. It also can refer to the conspiracy theorists embracing and spreading those conspiracy theories.
Here’s how it started:
Back in 2016, a Twitter account started a conspiracy theory about a supposed pedophile ring operating out of a Washington, D.C. pizza shop (“Pizzagate“). This conspiracy theory got a lot of attention from edgelords because it implicated various high-level Democratic politicians, including Hillary Clinton.
Over the next year or so, various similar conspiracy theories popped up around fringe social media sites and message boards, most modeled after Pizzagate and coming from sources (almost certainly falsely) identifying themselves as highly-placed informants.
None of those subsequent conspiracy theories seem to have gotten a lot of traction.
Then, in 2017 on the message board 4chan, an anonymous user, or “anon,” showed up with a tripcode. A tripcode is a sort of username there. It’s a unique identifying string of numbers and letters following a particular user around. While most anons don’t use identifiers at all, some decide to do so.
This tripcode-using anon began their new career with a cryptic reply to someone else, and then posted a bunch of bizarre, disorganized, political-sounding gibberish. Their ramblings centered on “POTUS,” the abbreviation for President of the United States, meaning Donald Trump.
In other posts, this anon signed their posts “Q,” which alluded to their claim of having “Q clearance” with the American government.
Since then, QAnon has developed a broad, wide-ranging set of conspiracy theories centering on evil Democrats. These conspiracy theories have even inspired various QAnon believers to commit terrorist acts. It’s serious stuff, and it’s only getting more widespread and far-ranging.
No, FFS, QAnon Isn’t Legit.
Q clearance is a real clearance level. It indicates a high level of access to big security secrets. Mostly, the Department of Energy (DOE) seems to use it.
However, this security level functions on a seriously need-to-know basis and tends to be sharply limited and tracked. Our government knows who possesses this access and how far it should extend for each account. Thus, they can track leaks quickly.
At present, most researchers think a number of writers comprise QAnon and use the account(s) involved. Every so often, an actual human being connected to QAnon gets identified. I haven’t yet seen any identified sources that actually possess the kind of security clearance QAnon’s sources claim to have.
While it’s vaguely possible that someone might have access to the secrets contained in that first 2017 post alone, the details offered are so broad in scope that the list of candidates for the title of “Q” is short indeed. It’s also vaguely possible that several people utilize the QAnon handle and tripcode. But again, the information given wouldn’t make any of them hard to track down.
So just out of the gate, QAnon fails the sniff test. It’s just internet randos who know how to write for the audience they want to reach.
Speaking of QAnon’s Audience.
If you check out QAnon’s first real post (relink), you’ll notice this anon talks about Hillary Clinton (“HRC”) being “detained, not arrested (yet).” Then, the anon hints about military interference as well as Supreme Court misdeeds and behind-the-scenes skullduggery. And this was just the beginning.
Eventually, this conspiracy theory became the Theory of Everything. QAnon’s writers presented believers with a Cabal of Evil Democratic Liberals who were totally running a global child-sex-trafficking ring as they actively plotted the downfall of Donald Trump. QAnon insisted that this downfall would culminate in a political coup led by Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and George Soros.
Ah, but don’t give up hope, QAnon told their followers. Soon-and-very-soon, they said, Trump’s forces would descend in force upon the Cabal. On that glorious day, he’d arrest thousands of Cabal members at once (in an operation called “The Storm”).
Most importantly, that initial post ends with “God bless fellow Patriots.” Similar religious references and imagery would come to pepper QAnon’s cryptic blathering over time.
There is no doubt in the world who this anon targeted with their messages: people who support and adore Donald Trump, which is to say almost all evangelicals. That bunch cream themselves over overblown, grandiose self-identifiers like capital-P “Patriots.”
So needless to say, 4chan’s right-wing contingent ate this anon’s drivel up with relish. As QAnon’s messages spread across similar forums and sites, the number of believers in these conspiracy theories grew exponentially.
Once various Republican politicians — including Trump himself — cozied up to QAnon, their friendliness only added to its perceived legitimacy.
By now, QAnon is so entrenched in evangelicals’ minds that some of the pastors who’ve bought into its conspiracy theories don’t even know the source of the rumors they’re spreading around.
Blowing Ed Stetzer’s Mind.
The angle I chose to take in today’s story began taking shape over a month ago. That’s when Ed Stetzer (a favorite source of criticism around here anyway) decided to write a piece about QAnon for USA Today. (Link to story.) He titled it “Evangelicals need to address the QAnoners in our midst.”
In his post, Stetzer describes QAnon thusly:
A person (or small group) known as “Q” drops revelations in various forms online. At the core of the appeal is its ability to generate fear. Suggesting that there is a powerful figure or group subverting the country and empowering all manner of evil is frightening.
Interesting. Gee, Ed, what else?
Some talk about QAnon as if some messianic figure is at work. Similar to the ancient heresy of Gnosticism in the early church, it lures people with promises of secret knowledge. It provides a sense of identity and belonging with code phrases like: “Where we go one, we go all.” Many people, including active church members, are being drawn in.
Sounds bad, Ed. But that totally doesn’t sound like anything evangelicals would care about, right?
QAnon is starting to shift things in ways that will particularly impact churches. According to a recent NPR article, many pastors believe it already has.
We’ll talk later about how QAnon accidentally made things personal with Ed Stetzer. (That story makes me laugh so hard!)
For now, I just want to make the point that QAnon has finally gotten the attention of a lot of big-name evangelicals.
“Going Too Far.”
I’m seeing a consistent theme in anti-QAnon writings from evangelical leaders.
They complain that QAnon’s blatherings go way too far.
They huff that evangelicals need to start figuring out how to sift false claims from true ones.
Most of all, they lament the gullibility of evangelical flocks, how sadly predisposed evangelicals have become to conspiracy theories, and how distrustful evangelicals are nowadays of authority sources, even previously-well-respected evangelical ones.
Nobody will ever accuse any of these folks of having an abundance of self-awareness, I suppose.
Various other evangelical leaders, including Al Mohler, vigorously condemn QAnon in the very strongest of terms. They plead with QAnon believers to move away from the alluring basket full of candy held out by QAnon’s writers. As one might expect, they offer up dozens of Bible verses to support their cases, too, for all the good that ever does.
And indeed, it does them no good at all.
The Gospel Coalition (TGC) wrote a surprisingly good overview of the topic. In their post, they called QAnon “demonic” and “a movement of Satan” that is “incompatible with Christianity.”
However, the behavior of actual TRUE CHRISTIANS™ certainly indicates the opposite. QAnon is not only compatible with their flavor of Christianity, it was inevitable.
QAnon is exactly what I’d expect to come up in their end of Christianity. Evangelicals have been moving inexorably for years toward something exactly like QAnon. I’m just surprised it took almost three years for evangelical leaders to notice QAnon and recognize the damage it was doing to both their power-base and their witness.
Moreover, TGC, Ed Stetzer, Wheaton College, and all their colleagues and pals bear a great deal of the blame for making absolutely sure that QAnon would take evangelicalism by storm. They left not one detail to chance here.
In many ways, evangelical leaders painstakingly primed their flocks for years for such a time as this.
NEXT UP: We draw a straight line from the Satanic Panic of the 1980s to QAnon. See you then!
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