For over a year, I’ve been a regular contributor at The Millennial Source, an up-and-coming news source that pulls back from the breaking news headlines to provide context and background. With the constant stream of news stories and IMPORTANT ISSUES shooting at us from the firehose that is social media, TMS’s mission is to help you feel less overwhelmed by, well, everything. It can be quite noisy out there.
As a TMS writer, I have had the opportunity to write about an array of topics that mean a great deal to me (long-term readers of 10×10 will know I have a lot of varied interests). I’m particularly proud of two recent series, one on the racial inequality of the US justice system in terms of both arrests and recidivism rates, and another on the Dasgupta Review and its solutions for climate change.
At the same time, I’ve enjoyed writing about Dolly Parton, SpaceX, and incredibly dumb right-wing grifters. Most of the articles I write deal with either politics or science, or the intersection of both.
If there is one topic I’ve covered more than any other, though, it’s conspiracy theories, and, more specifically, QAnon. By this point, you’ve probably read or heard quite a bit about QAnon, so much so that you may have come to the view, shared by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, that the media talks about the movement in far greater proportion than its actual influence. After all, nobody really believes in that silly stuff. Well, unfortunately, they do, and at far greater numbers than you might realize.
Last October, a Yahoo News/YouGov poll found that only 7% of the 1,583 respondents believed the QAnon conspiracy theory was true. So, there you go, no big deal, right? Well, except that another 11% said, “It goes too far but I believe some of what I’ve heard”, and 23% said they were unsure of what to think about it. A worryingly small majority of 59% said it was an extremist theory that was not true at all. Importantly, these were the people who had heard of QAnon, so none of the unsure 23% were people who were simply unaware of the phenomenon.
Remember: QAnon is a conspiracy theory that claims Democrats and most of Hollywood are cannibalistic pedophiles that worship Satan and are actively trying to control the world. And, at the same time, Donald Trump (former buddy of Jeffrey Epstein, Donald Trump) was the one who was going to take down this “deep state” cabal (not so much, it seems). So, when 11% said QAnon was a little true but went too far, maybe they just though the cannibal stuff was over the line. We don’t know.
What we do know, though, is when asked directly about one of the core beliefs of QAnon, “Do you believe that top Democrats are involved in elite child sex-trafficking rings?”, 25% of respondents said yes and another 24% said they weren’t sure. Worse yet, 50% of Republicans said they believed it (and weirdly, 5% of Democrats, which is confusing). Furthermore, 49% of Republicans believed “President Trump is working to dismantle an elite child sex-trafficking ring involving top Democrats” (as well as 7%(?) of Democrats).
Which is to say, even though 37% of the respondents said they had never heard of QAnon, including 45% of Republicans, many people still held the basic premise of the conspiracy theory to be true.
I’ve personally seen this dichotomy in action: many people from my Christian youth with whom I’ve maintained Facebook connections have fully gone down the Republican conspiracy theory mind hole. They’ve bought into the nonsense that the election was stolen from Trump and that Biden is an illegitimate president. They also believe that Democrats are pedophiles; they’ve told me so. At the same time, they tell me that QAnon is stupid and they obviously aren’t believers in that made-up conspiracy theory.
The “Democrats are pedophiles” belief predates QAnon (and even QAnon’s immediate predecessor, Pizzagate), but there’s no question that it wasn’t a belief held by 50% of the Republican Party until the presidency of Donald Trump and the spread of these pro-Trump conspiracy theories online. And if 50% of a major political party believes something, can we really call it a fringe belief?
The issue, though, and the reason that people like heir-to-the-Swanson-fortune (and white supremacist) Tucker Carlson can claim QAnon is overblown is because the hucksters behind the whole movement (including pig farmer and child pornography-enabler Jim Watkins) are fairly savvy: they realized that their movement was getting a lot of bad press even as it was growing, so they explicitly told their followers to start obscuring the origins of the movement.
Instead of sharing Q drops (the anonymous, mindless drivel that “Q” posted on 8kun) and using Q-related hashtags like #wwg1wga, followers were urged to focus on spreading the message through something everyone could agree on: Saving the children. By using the preexisting #SaveTheChildren hashtag (and other related ones), QAnon’s pseudo-Biblical nonsense could spread through well-meaning social media users and mommy influencers. After all, only a monster would have a problem with people just trying to save children.
(Never mind that people who actual devote their lives to fighting sex trafficking have repeatedly said this type of online activism and “awareness raising” actually does more harm than good for the cause.)
So, QAnon lives on: in conspiracy theories about COVID-19, in weirdly pro-police cosplay, and in the persistent belief that Democrats, as well as Hollywood celebrities like Tom Hanks and Oprah Winfrey, are pedophiles. And it will continue to live on because, even though social media platforms have been shutting down QAnon accounts, it’s all but impossible to kill off a belief once it spreads and has been allowed to grow. That’s why cults often live on even after the leader has died or disappeared.
For anyone who would still insist QAnon is meaningless internet roleplaying, keep in mind that QAnon adherents were fundamental to organizing and executing the coup attempt at the US Capitol on January 6. Furthermore, QAnon believers have also been arrested and charged for burglary, terrorism, attempted kidnapping, murder, attempted murder (of Biden), and attempted vehicular manslaughter, all in the name of QAnon beliefs.
As those beliefs continue to spread and morph – even if they do so independently of the QAnon banner – they will represent a growing danger to not just the US, or to other countries where it’s taken root (including Germany and Canada), but to our basic ability as a species to live in the same reality. And without that, it’s impossible to tackle global problems, including world hunger, climate change, and pandemics.
So, while I’m just one voice on a small website trying to keep track of these spreading conspiracy theories, I’m happy to be a resource for anyone who wonders about this subject. There are plenty of fantastic journalist at larger outlets (Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins at NBC News in particular) who are doing the Herculean task of tracking so much of these conspiracy theories to their origins, and I would recommend anyone interested in the topic to search out their numerous deep dives.
But, if you’re like so many other people out there (myself included) who finds it hard to read everything about everything, but wishes you could, check in at TMS and we’ll be happy to provide you a brief explainer on everything from Armenia/Azerbaijan geopolitics to what exactly a Boogaloo Boy is. And, maybe, together, we can push back on the noise.