The United States has always been a haven for conspiracy movements and cult-like religions. Masonic conspiracies, Joseph Smith’s Mormon racket, McCarthy’s anti-communist hysteria, and L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology con are just some of America’s most famous delusions. Today, a growing online movement promises to add itself to the hall of fame.
Emerging from dark online message boards like 8chan, “Qanon” is a community of people enthralled by the prophecies of an anonymous internet user known as “Q.” The belief is that “Q” has insider access to the Trump administration, and his posts, known as “Q drops,” act as a kind of revealed truth to his followers.
It can be hard to pin down exactly what Qanon followers believe – “Q drops” are, after all, as open to interpretation as any religious text. But the central tenet is that the United States is being controlled by a child sex-trafficking cabal whose members own everything from the Democratic party, to mainstream media and Hollywood movie theatres.
This seems bad enough. But according to the particularly paranoid branch of Christianity that has attached itself to the Qanon movement, such evil is part of a broad practice of devil-worshipping; societal elites (among other things) sacrifice children and harvest their blood as part of satanic rituals.
However, the Donald, Q explains, is here to save the world from these satanic paedophiles and is engaged in a secret war against the powers of evil who are doing everything in their power to take him down.
Such beliefs, naturally, make Q’s revelations incredibly resilient to criticism. According to Q, the so-called ‘fake news media’ exists only to control the masses and any inconvenient evidence to the contrary is easily dismissed as a part of the elites’ efforts to undermine Trump’s crusade against them.
Ridiculous as they can sound to people outside of the online conspiracy subculture, these ideas are not necessarily new. Like all religions, Qanon is a jumbling together of older myths into a single, unified ideology. It has managed to combine every online conspiracy theory from chemtrails to the Illuminati with older, often antisemitic traditions. Stories of Hollywood stars harvesting the blood of young children are, for example, a shameless recycling of Jewish Blood Libel myths.
Most worrying however, is the way in which these beliefs drive Q’s followers to action. By placing its followers in a constant war with a global sex-trafficking cabal, Qanon provides its adherents with a desperate call for action – and one that threatens to be violent.
For instance, in 2016 Edgar Maddison Welch stormed a pizza restaurant in Washington DC armed with an AR-15, believing that the building was acting as a base for democratic politicians to carry out their satanic child abuse rituals.
Luckily, nobody was hurt in Welch’s raid. And upon discovering that the sex-dungeon he had read about online was nowhere to be found, Welch put down his weapons and surrendered to police.
But Welch’s episode illustrates how dangerous these beliefs can be, and one can only wonder what Q’s followers will do if Biden (named by Q as a leading member of the paedophile elite) is elected.
“I think if Biden wins, the world is over, basically,” explained one follower. “I would honestly try to leave the country. And if that wasn’t an option, I would probably take my children and sit in the garage and turn my car on and it would be over.”
Taking all this into consideration, it is no surprise that the FBI has listed the group as a domestic terror threat.
It can be tempting to write the Qanon movement off as a one-off crank phenomenon, but the chaos of 2020, not to mention the ambivalence of social media companies, has helped Q reach a genuinely massive and worldwide audience.
The COVID-19 pandemic has particularly supercharged the movement’s growth. As lockdowns forced the world inside (and, by extension, online), masses of confused and desperate people turned to the internet for simple and easily understood explanations for a phenomenon so beyond their control.
There, they found themselves confronted with thousands of Q’s committed followers, and their ready-baked theories of weaponised diseases and vaccinations. From this starting point, countless people have been dragged down the Qanon rabbit hole, and today the UK is the 2nd biggest source.
It remains to be seen how these beliefs will play out following the US election, but Qanon is slowly establishing itself as a significant worldwide movement. Q, for example, already has more followers than Joseph Smith or L. Ron Hubbard did after 10 years of preaching. I hope I’m wrong, but Qanon could be here to stay.