The Troubling Rise of QAnon
September 25, 2020
Over the past few years, a conspiracy theory centered around the presidency of Donald Trump has found its way from fringe internet message boards into mainstream politics in the form of QAnon. In a recent press briefing, when asked for his thoughts on QAnon, President Trump responded, “I don’t know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate.” When pressed about its tenets, Trump nonchalantly replied, “Is that supposed to be a bad thing or a good thing? I can help save the world from problems; I am willing to do it. I’m willing to put myself out there.”
It’s a challenge summarizing QAnon. Since its inception, the core beliefs and ultimate scope of the theory have adjusted as many of the predictions from its anonymous online prophet either fail to occur or an actual news story gets incorporated ad hoc into the narrative. What is known is that sometime in 2017, a poster called “Q” on the internet message board 4chan claimed to have exceptionally high clearance in government intelligence. Q began posting about a far-reaching plot allegedly involving Donald Trump’s undercover takedown of a global cabal of Satan-worshipping, sex-trafficking pedophile elites trying to sabotage his presidency.
The tone of the conspiracy has grown increasingly apocalyptic. Its adherents often recite the refrain of a “day of reckoning” that is perpetually forthcoming for celebrities, journalists, and politicians considered to be members of the cabal. Its adherents can be seen at rallies holding large letter Qs and are often reciting a call to arms: “Where We Go One, We Go All”– sometimes shortened to WWG1WGA.
QAnon is now labeled a domestic terrorism threat by the FBI. In Arizona, Matthew Wright, a 32-year-old man armed with a rifle, created a barricade at the Hoover Dam with an armored car. He held a sign reading, “Release the OIG Report,” referring to a theoretical report from the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General. According to QAnon lore, Trump possesses this report and followers believe it proves that the FBI, the Justice Department, and the Democratic Party broke the law before the 2016 election. Two assault rifles, two handguns, and 900 rounds of ammunition were found in Wright’s vehicle.
In another instance of QAnon-inspired crime, Cynthia Abcug in Colorado plotted with QAnon supporters to raid the foster care home where her son was living.
Vice President Mike Pence with Florida SWAT team members on Nov. 30, 2018. The man on the left is wearing a “Q” patch on his chest, used by believers of the QAnon conspiracy theory.
Abcug’s son was taken by Child Protective Services when she was suspected of suffering from Munchausen-by-proxy. Abcug’s 15-year-old daughter reportedly told authorities that her mother is a believer of the QAnon conspiracy.
There are at least 11 Republican congressional nominees who have expressed support for QAnon and its beliefs: Lauren Boebert in Colorado, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Angela Stanton-King in Georgia, Mike Cargile, Erin Cruz, and Alison Hayden in California, Johnny Teague in Texas, Rob Weber in Ohio, Philanise White and Theresa Raborn in Illinois, Billy Prempeh in New Jersey, and Jo Raw Perkins in Oregon. President Trump’s original National Security Advisor Michael Flynn has also expressed support for the movement.
In a time of increasingly fractured concepts of reality due to the explosion of niche and partisan sources of news and information, the media landscape has created the optimal pressure cooker for conspiracies like QAnon to flourish among the vulnerable. Dispossessed Americans caught in a country whose cohesion has been shattered while their quality of life continues to decline can only be sympathized with for turning to extravagant narratives to explain why everything has become so rotten. All it takes now are bad actors and true believers in places high and low to lead us toward evermore absurd American futures.