QAnon’s threat from beyond the fringe

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The idea that Covid-19 was created by a cabal of satanists is fusing with conspiracy therories about 5G and vaccines. It may sound like a plot of a B Movie, but it’s gaining traction, warns Richard Donnelly

Along with the public health catastrophes and economic and social dislocation triggered by Covid-19, we have seen a pandemic of paranoia. Theories that the virus was created in a biological weapons laboratory or that epidemic diseases are part of a shadowy plot to depopulate the world have interwoven with previously marginal fears about the dangers of vaccination and 5G telecommunications infrastructure. Now these theories are fusing with opposition to public health measures. Demonstrations in the US, Britain, Ireland, Australia and Germany have called for an end to lockdowns, maskwearing and social distancing.
Organisers claim that coronavirus is a “plandemic”, engineered by governments in order to seize dictatorial powers and destroy small businesses. Among some of their adherents, these theories have fused with much more wellworn fantasies about cabals of (often Jewish) puppet masters who pull the strings of both liberal politicians and the radical left. These claims often cross over with a moral panic about the sexualisation of children that casts LGBT+ activists as predators or defilers of family values. Unsurprisingly the far right has sensed an opportunity and is working to both promote these conspiracy theories and to recruit from the protests that they have inspired. Nowhere is this more obvious than with the rise of the so-called “QAnon” movement.
QAnon is not so much a conspiracy theory as a bustling ecosystem of bizarre hypotheses, paranoid fantasies and far-right ideological motifs. At its core is the idea that President Trump is part of a group of high-level patriots who are working to expose the real rulers of the US—a secret satanic society of liberal politicians, faceless bureaucrats and bankers, referred to as “the cabal”. QAnon arose on the 4chan messaging board, one of the centres of the US’s online farright and white-nationalist scene. All posters to 4chan are anonymous, earning users the nickname “Anons” and making the site attractive to all sort of fringe communities, including Nazis.
In October 2017, an account identifying itself as “Q” began posting to 4chan, claiming that it had access to classified intelligence about the Trump administration and its opponents. Q claimed that Trump was fighting a hidden war against the cabal, struggling against a plot led by Hillary Clinton, the liberal media, Hollywood and military intelligence agencies to overthrow him. Q also claimed that the cabal is involved in the abduction of huge numbers of children for use in satanic ceremonies. These children are supposedly kept in underground dungeons for use in ritual sexual abuse while their hormones are farmed for use as a drug.
QAnon frames Trump’s reactionary political agenda as a cosmic battle with the forces of evil. Liberal establishment figures such as Clinton are not just neoliberal, corrupt and patronising — they are positively demonic. Since its emergence on 4chan, QAnon has gone big. QAnon believers began appearing at Trump rallies in 2018, often with cardboard letter Qs suspended on huge sticks. Soon after, vice-president Mike Pence was photographed next to a member of a Florida SWAT team with the letter Q stitched to his police uniform. Other police officers have since been exposed as co-thinkers, including the president of one of New York City’s police unions.
It is not just individuals within the most right-wing parts of the US state that are drawn towards the conspiracy theory. The biggest QAnon social media groups have millions of members. It is expected that the first QAnon conspiracy theorists will enter the US congress this year. Georgia Republican and QAnon advocate Marjorie Taylor Greene looks set to win a seat in the House of Representatives in November. Her election broadcasts involve her issuing threats to Black Lives Matter demonstrators while waving an assault rifle and a bible. Despite the US-centric nature of QAnon’s vision of a cosmic clash between Trump and the powers of evil, the theory has managed to migrate to Europe. It has begun to gain a foothold in Britain, with “Save Our Children” marches demanding the release of the fabled stolen children from the clutches of the cabal.
Local newspapers have often been blindsided by these events, reporting on them as though they were genuine marches against child sexual exploitation, despite them often veering into homophobic claims that LGBT+ people promote paedophilia. In Germany, QAnon supporters have been involved in two large demonstrations against public health measures in Berlin in August, mixing with members of the fascist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD).
Richard Donnelly is co-editor of International Socialism journal. In November’s Socialist Review Richard completes his analysis of QAnon and conspiracy theories generally with a look at how these ideas and movements are being opposed.