You would imagine QAnon conspiracies might begin to dwindle after President Joe Biden’s inauguration. However, the extremist group is only expanding, and according to Rolling Stone, their latest conspiracy theory predicted a false reality in which former president Donald Trump would be inaugurated on March 4th as the 19th President of the United States.
The conspiracy-movement that delineates Donald Trump as a religious prophet can be traced back to 2017 when an anonymous person named “Q” posed as a top White House official and created conspiracy-filled blog posts for the website 4Chan. These posts center around a falsehood that the U.S. is run by a cabal of democratic, Hollywood pedophiles, and Donald Trump is diligently investigating them. According to Q, this cabal engages in satanic-like rituals such as drinking children’s blood and running a child sex trafficking ring. Since the emergence of Q, he’s attracted a sizable, loyal following. Unfortunately for many, it’s rather easy to submerge gradually into the world of QAnon.
Although it can take one there, falling into the Q void typically doesn’t start with bizarre conspiracy theories. For many, the cycle starts when coming across far-right social media posts that include believable disinformation– something not too implausible but nonetheless untrue. When interacting with these posts, people will communicate with each other and spread “research” intended to reinforce said disinformation. In doing this, a bond is created that gradually takes people further down a conspiracy rabbit hole.
According to Queens College (QC) sociology professor Joseph Cohen, these bonds can help make it easier for people to digest Q theories: “My understanding is that people will join a group because they value the relationships — the people they talk to about Q, the friends they make through Q communities, etc. — and will often profess faith to an ideology, but they are doing in part to defend their friends and proudly stand for the group that they are affiliating with.”
To rationalize the many falsehoods QAnon followers are invested in, they tend to remind themselves of the movements’ purported mission: to end child sex trafficking. But if saving children was the goal, why not contribute to an anti-trafficking organization? QAnon hasn’t actually saved any children and many fear the movement is antithetical to the very real problem our country has with human trafficking.
The McCain institute– one of many organizations fighting human trafficking– released a statement on October 21st condemning the QAnon trafficking conspiracies. “Anybody — political committee, public office holder, candidate, or media outlet — who lends any credibility to QAnon conspiracies related to human trafficking actively harms the fight against human trafficking.” Two weeks later, Georgia’s 14th district elected the first QAnon follower to Congress, in Marjorie Taylor Greene.
QAnon adherents obsessively analyze, research, and decode Donald Trump’s language. For example, any time Trump says the number “17” in a speech, some Q followers interpret it as coded language because Q is the 17th letter of the alphabet. Some will even count the number of flags surrounding The White House at any given moment and decipher the wording Trump uses in his tweets.
This obsessive behavior is effectively tearing families apart. Hofstra University Religious Studies professor Ann Burlein believes this creates a barrier for civil discourse: “It tears families apart because there’s a way in which we cease to be able to talk to each other any longer, which is a real problem for our country. We don’t have to agree with each other, but at this point, we can’t even agree to disagree. You can’t agree to disagree with people who believe the election was stolen. This makes that dynamic very hard.”
From the outside, it seems impossible to talk to or understand QAnon followers. However, one thing is certain: January 6th taught us that we must take this extremist group seriously. QAnon’s popular catchphrase– “where we go one, we go all,” was proven through the Capitol riots. And as the rest of the country heals, QAnon conspiracy theories will not disappear– they will merely change shape.