By Vincentas Linas Palubinskas , EEB4, S5 ENA
What started as a fringe community on the websites of 4chan and 8chan is gaining mass popularity on many major social media networks. Q-Anon is a conspiracy theory sporting right-wing views. The theory has a die-hard following. The theory alleges that the United States is run by a vicious circle of Satan-worshipping pedophiles, who run a worldwide sex-trafficking ring. Another one of the pass-times of the evildoers is to heavily support former American president Donald Trump, who is supposedly fighting hard for their cause. That is the main gist of the movement, with other finer details being left to a certain degree of interpretation to the followers. To deduce this interpretation, the followers have to make sense of the pieces or ‘breadcrumbs’ of ‘truth’ left behind by the mysterious ‘Q’.
‘Q’ is the supposed founder and leader of ‘Q-Anon’ who is, according to his followers, a high-ranking official working within the government, trying to bring down the cabal and oust the ‘Deep state’ (an organization perpetrating collusion and cronyism, that supposedly exists within the U.S. political system and constitutes a hidden government within the legitimately elected government). There is no evidence of such an entity existing, and these ‘breadcrumbs’ are usually nothing more than harmful and divisive propaganda made by internet trolls. It is propagated by people on social media, on public pages and forums. The people do not fully understand the damage that they are causing, nor that the information they are posting, is false. This misinformation is for the most part spread on Facebook forums, online message boards, and Twitter threads. Although, the blame of promulgation does not rest solely on the shoulders of the common man. People in power have used these conspiracy theories to their advantage, manipulating public opinion and lying to their supporter base. Politicians such as Marjorie Taylor Greene of Atlanta, as well as the former president of the United States himself, are often seen retweeting accounts promoting Q-Anon content.
This misinformation is already having dangerous consequences. Take the most famous example of Edgar Maddison Welch, a North Carolina resident who drove on Dec. 4 from his hometown, Salisbury, N.C., to the Comet Ping Pong restaurant with three guns. He shot his guns off several times, ‘investigating’ unconfirmed, but widespread online reports of children held there in a child abuse scheme led by Hillary Clinton, an unfounded conspiracy theory known as “Pizzagate”. Mr. Welch, who pleaded guilty to federal weapons charges in March, rescued no children. Instead, he frightened employees and patrons, who panicked and ran. The most frightening part of the story is the fact that Mr. Welch having found no evidence of the pedophile ring he was looking for, does not admit to having been fooled or believing in false narratives, merely saying “the intel on this wasn’t 100 per cent”. This fanatical loyalty is a pattern seen across similar situations.
This all sounds like something from dystopian science-fiction novels like those written by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. The question still stands, why should you care?
Q-Anon has, until recently, remained a mostly fringe online movement in the U.S. However, with our recent attention to American politics, the cult, according to several respected newspapers such as: Politico, Euronews, and the New York Times , has reached the shores of Europe.
Having stated all the above, I wholeheartedly believe that there is an understandable human tendency behind conspiracy theories. They can be a means by which ordinary, everyday people are able to question and explain events that occur in their lives. That is the job of a well-informed populace; to question their elected officials and their actions. Conspiracy theories occasionally do bear truth, for example: Operation mockingbird (a C.I.A program that attempted to manipulate news media for propaganda purposes), the NSA’s mass surveillance, and project MKUltra (CIA mind control program), which were all conspiracy theories with varying popularity. Documentation of all the above can be found on the CIA’s official website in the “Freedom of information act library”. It is possible that these important projects and plans would have never made it to public ears if it were not for conspiracy theorists. There is a line though; a line in the sand separating harmless theories from dangerous, hate-ignited, fearmongering.
Q-Anon and other large conspiracy theories are not just an American phenomenon. According to the renowned Link Springer research center; since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, dangerous conspiracy theories have been spreading like wildfire. I, too, have had encounters with conspiracy theorists. For example: last week, when I confronted an acquaintance from my hometown in Lithuania. This confrontation stemmed from a recent Instagram post of hers , supporting conspiracies concerning the recent American election. During our discussion, it became clear to me that she belonged to the school of thought convinced in Trump’s ‘super-heroism’. When asked for evidence, I was provided with links to obscure websites and Facebook groups, as well as screenshots of several of the American president’s latest tweets. Although the tweets are used as ‘evidence’ for the Q-Anon conspiracy, Twitter has flagged and marked the tweets in question as fake news. This behavior is characteristic for people with cult mentalities.
Q-Anon has the potential to radicalise people. As has been widely documented across countless media sites; a mob of Trump fanatics committed insurrection by storming the capitol building in Washington D.C. on January 6th. The terrorists (committing violent acts in the name of a political cause), shattered windows, broke into the building brandishing firearms and other weapons, and began to lay waste to the building, desecrating, and dishonouring the historic halls of democracy of the United States. The extremists stole paintings, podiums, and other material as seen in pictures and stated by the capitol police. One of the human casualties on the side of the armed insurgents was later identified as Ashli Babbitt, an Airforce veteran and avid Q-Anon supporter (as reported by the Washington Post). The other human casualty was a police officer by the name of Brian D. Snicknick, who was injured by one of the terrorists who wielded a fire extinguisher, and later died in hospital due to his injuries. The idea that the insurrection was largely inspired by Q-Anon is supported by many renowned newspapers including the Independent.
The movement has proven its ability to divide us. It has proven its effectiveness in turning mother against daughter, father against son, brother against brother. An important moment of the trial of our fundamental values and our fight against the incarnation of division and hate. With the likes of Viktor Orbán of Hungary and Andrzej Duda of Poland undermining sane democratic values, propagating hate, mistrust, and fear. The European Stability Initiative (ESI) has even stated that “Viktor Orbán is Islamophobic and nationalistic in the most reactionary sense. He hates European institutions and open societies”, and the Guardian calling Andrzej Duda and his party “dangerous” and “a danger to both Poland and to the safety of Europe”. We live at a time in which the future of everything that has been worked for since the Second World War is on the line. At this very crucial time, we cannot risk letting a dangerous cult like Q-Anon tip the odds against us, and send us back to the dark ages of the early twentieth century. We cannot run the risk of our values of democracy, transparency, and honesty being put into question by innuendoes and baseless claims.
I hope that the populace, as well as you dear readers, will be able to identify Q-Anon as the existential threat that it is.
Please note that this is an opinion piece. Opinion pieces reflect the views of the author.
Sources: Featured image: © Reuters/Cheney Orr https://theconversation.com/qanon-and-the-storm-of-the-u-s-capitol-the-offline-effect-of-online-conspiracy-theories-152815 https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s42001-020-00094-5 https://www.bbc.com/news/53498434https://www.cbsnews.com/news/what-is-the-qanon-conspiracy-theory/https://www.csis.org/blogs/technology-policy-blog/no-one-immune-spread-q-anon-through-social-media-and-pandemic https://edition.cnn.com/interactive/2020/10/politics/qanon-cong-candidates/ https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/11/10/qanon-identity-crisis/ https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/energy/qanon-the-conspiracy-web-creeping-into-us-politics/2020/11/10/297f0342-23a7-11eb-9c4a-0dc6242c4814_story.html https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/22/us/pizzagate-attack-sentence.html