QAnon and Creeping Conspiracy Theories
The so-called QAnon conspiracy theory has inspired groups with millions of members on Facebook and is considered by some observers to be “a new American religion”. For the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, however, the conspiracy theorists could pose a domestic terrorist threat. Q followers believe the baseless messages of their faceless leader(s) that a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles is running a global child-trafficking ring and plotting against Donald Trump, who is battling them, leading to a day of reckoning that will involve the mass arrest of journalists and politicians, the enemies of the people. QAnon supported Trump’s early opinion that COVID-19 was a hoax, that face masks are not needed, and that infected lungs could be cleared with industrial bleach. Q’s followers have also been informed that North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong-Un is a puppet ruler installed by the CIA, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel is a granddaughter of Adolf Hitler. Other outlandish ideas about extraterrestrials and the British Royal family also proliferate, while members of the Hollywood elite are suspected of so-called adrenochrome harvesting, in which adrenaline is extracted from children’s blood to be oxidized into the psychoactive drug adrenochrome.
‘A Wildfire of Fake and Unverified Information’
Donald Trump has been a conspiracy theorist for years, claiming, for example, that Barack Obama was not a U.S. citizen, and was thus falsely elected President. Trump has promoted the idea of the “deep state”, a shadowy network of politicians and bureaucrats secretly collaborating to control the government behind the scenes. Over and over again Trump has claimed that the “deep state, or whoever” at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is holding up the development of COVID-19 vaccines, just to torpedo his re-election chances. On Reddit, theorists regurgitate the insanity that the virus is all part of another deep-state plot to overthrow Trump. The conspiracy theories spread fast on social media. In March, Facebook rated as false more than 40 million posts about the pandemic. “Now with tens of millions of Americans suddenly unemployed amid the coronavirus pandemic and with racial tensions running high … conspiracy theories seem to explain things in a way that makes sense to people who would rather avoid the uncomfortable truths of the world. The allure of a community of like-minded believers is enough for many people to buy in,” reported USA Today (Oct. 2).
According to Travis View, who has studied QAnon and has written about the phenomenon for the Washington Post, QAnon is “as addictive as a video game and offers the player the appealing possibility of being involved in something of world historical importance. You can sit at your computer and search for information and then post about what you find and Q basically promises that through this process you are going to radically change the country, institute this incredible, almost bloodless revolution, and then be part of this historical movement that will be written about for generations”. Rachel Bernstein, an expert on cults who specializes in recovery therapy, wrote: “What a movement such as QAnon has going for it, and why it will catch on like wildfire, is that it makes people feel connected to something important that other people not yet know about”. Sadly, the modern media landscape allows countless conspiracies, falsehood and lies to be presented to readers in the same way, and with the same paritas and imprimatur as facts”, noted NBC News, which pointed to the “conspiracy peddler in chief”, Donald Trump, who has been credited by Washington Post fact checkers with more than 20,000 lies, distortions and exaggerations in his public statements during his years in the White House.
QAnon adherents began appearing at Trump’s reelection campaign rallies for the first time in larger groups in August 2018. “The QAnon candidates are here”, noted the New York Times. “Trump has paved their way”. This November, candidates engaging with the Q conspiracy theory are running for office, and as the Associated Press has reported, “are breathing more oxygen into a once obscure conspiracy movement that has grown in prominence since adherents won Republican congressional primaries this year”. One of these candidates, Marjorie Taylor Greene, stated in a video: “There’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to take this global cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles out, and I think we have the president to do it”. Trump replied by praising her on national TV as “a future Republican star”, and invited the conspiracy theorists to the White House. In July 2020, Media Matters for America, a left-leaning media monitoring group, revealed that the Trump reelection campaign relied on a network of QAnon-related social media accounts to spread disinformation and propaganda, including on Twitter. An analysis of 380,000 tweets sent between early April and the end of May 2020, and another analysis of the most popular words used by 1000 accounts, showed that the QAnon network is playing “a key role in generating and spreading Trump’s propaganda”. Nathan Bomey, reporter for USA Today, alerted his readers (September 17) that the “debunked QAnon conspiracy theories are seeping into mainstream. Don’t be fooled”.
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