By Arab News
By Baria Alamuddin*
We may think we’ve seen it all, but the QAnon phenomenon takes insanity and bogus conspiracy-mongering to whole new levels.
A lot is at stake in the November 2020 US presidential elections, particularly if you believe America is run by a “Deep State” of Satan-worshiping, cannibalistic pedophiles who Donald Trump is heroically laboring in secret to outwit and defeat.
According to QAnon, this cabal of Hollywood stars, Democrat politicians, and other global names — including Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, George Soros, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Hanks and the Dalai Lama — kill and eat their victims for the purpose of extracting a life-extending chemical from their blood.
QAnon supporters await an event they call “the storm,” in which Trump will purge these powerful figures in 2021 after he wins the election. Trump himself praises QAnon as “people who love our country.”
So how did QAnon come into being? In the early months of Trump’s presidency, anonymous online figures claimed to be disclosing exclusive insights from inside the Deep State; QAnon was just another voice from the lunatic end of the spectrum.
In autumn 2017 a couple of moderators from the far-right 4chan website and a YouTube content creator plucked “Q” (a supposed Deep State intelligence source) out of obscurity and turned his assertions into attractive user-friendly packages that spread online. There are credible indications that these three individuals invented Q themselves as a lucrative source of donations, although some observers air concerns that QAnon has come to serve a more systematic agenda.
QAnon distinguished itself from a swamp of online insanity by its interactive quality; followers and “researchers” come together online to obsessively discuss and interpret clues , with strident differences emerging over the authentic Q narrative.
The movement drinks from a deep, putrid cauldron of right-wing conspiracy-mongering. The QAnon narrative itself is a mutation of the 2016 Pizzagate conspiracy, which led to a gunman attacking a pizza shop in Washington said to be the headquarters of a child-trafficking ring masterminded by Hillary Clinton. “The intel on this wasn’t 100 percent,” the gunman later acknowledged.
The FBI regards QAnon as a domestic terrorism threat. Several localities and individuals have been attacked because of QAnon-fuelled allegations of cannibalism and pedophile sex-rings. Among the murders attributed to the movement was the QAnon devotee who stabbed his brother with a sword because “God told me he was a lizard.”
Up to 19 QAnon supporters are contesting seats in the House of Representatives, dozens more in state legislatures. QAnon advocate Marjorie Taylor Greene, running in a safe conservative congressional district in Georgia, has a long history of racist and Islamophobic statements and is celebrated by Trump as a “future Republican star.”
The post-1960s Republican Party embraced the “Southern Strategy,” appealing to previously Democrat-leaning white southerners and conservative rural voters reared under segregation and alienated by the black civil rights movement. While the Fox News-aligned galaxy of conservative outlets peddled a populist diet of xenophobia and reactionary social values, Republicans implemented a decidedly non-populist agenda of overseas interventionism and tax cuts for corporations and super-rich donors. This approach was radicalized by the Tea Party and then by Trumpism, which made “white grievance” its entire raison d’être. QAnon is Trumpism dialed-up to its illogical extremes.
While embracing and amplifying these lowest-common-denominator prejudices, Republicans contemptuously regard their grassroots base as a gullible source of power and funds. The right-wing media ceaselessly bleeds money from audiences for bogus virus cures, or donations for campaigns that amount to criminal money-making exercises: Trumpist ideologue Steve Bannon has just been charged with pocketing millions of dollars in donations to a “Build the Wall” campaign, joining a lengthy list of former Trump officials facing prison.
QAnon activists are widening their popular appeal through campaigns about rescuing children from abuse, anti-vaccine conspiracies, and the cottage industry of COVID-19 miracle cures, some promoted by the president himself. Such tactics have helped QAnon to go global, with mutations of their ideology popping up throughout Africa and in European far-right circles.
One survey found a 600 percent increase in the size of principal QAnon Facebook sites (many with several hundred-thousand followers) since the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown. Russian, Chinese and Iranian internet troll armies have been amplifying related conspiracies to destabilize the US elections and subvert Western democracies.
Republicans are ferociously exploiting social unrest resulting from police violence against black citizens. A far-right vigilante charged with shooting dead two Black Lives Matter protesters in Wisconsin was celebrated by Fox News host Tucker Carlson (who boasts a compelling record of racist and inflammatory statements) for seeking to “maintain order where nobody else would”.
Biden’s Democrats are denounced as enemies of the people, plotting to flood American suburbs with blacks, Muslims and Latinos. As Representative Matt Gaetz declared during last-week’s Republican conference, Democrats want to “disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home and invite MS-13 to live next door.”
An estimated tenfold growth in engagement with QAnon ideas throughout 2020 is partly fueled by a deepening distrust in democratic processes, itself a product of exacerbated partisanship and Trump’s assertions that this will be “the most corrupt election in our nation’s history.” If disputes over postal ballots and other alleged irregularities indeed lead to a contested outcome in November, this would throw petrol upon the flames of QAnon’s incendiary allegations that Washington’s political system is manipulated by hostile (and possibly child-eating) elites.
If Trump drags enough American voters down his rabbit hole of white-supremacist conspiracies to pull-off a win in November, by fair means or foul, be ready to hear a lot more about QAnon, and the even crazier new generations of weaponized conspiracy narratives it spawns.
• Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.