Blink and you could have missed it. After winning a Primary to become the Republican candidate for Oregon in May, Jo Rae Perkins thanked QAnons in a hastily-deleted video.
The would-be-Senator addressed her supporters, saying: ‘I stand with President Trump. I stand with Q and the team. Thank you Anons, and thank you patriots. And together, we can save our republic’.
This overt nod to QAnon, a theory which holds that President Trump is battling a corrupt deep-state comprised of members of the democrat party involved in Satan-worship, cannibalism and paedophilia, is indicative of the conspiracy’s growing influence in US politics.
QAnon derives its name from the figure of Q, an anonymous source claiming to be a high-up military official, who posts coded messages, known as Q drops, on image boards including 4Chan and 8Kun. Thousands of online followers try to decode Q’s sporadic messages which invariably reference Donald Trump’s silent war against a shady global elite.
As an outsider, it is easy to dismiss QAnon as nonsensical lunacy. Yet, the theory is gradually creeping out of shady internet forums and into the political mainstream.
Perkins is not the only high-profile Republican to announce their support for QAnon to the electorate. Marjorie Taylor Greene, an outspoken proponent of the Q theory, is poised to be elected to Congress after coming first in a Republican primary in Georgia earlier this month.
Meanwhile, Trump has selected Rep. John Ratcliffe, a republican congressman who has been criticised for following QAnon supporters on social media, for the prestigious role of Director of National Intelligence.
The promotion of QAnon believers to the higher echelons of the Republican Party signals the popularity of the theory at the grassroots level, and its political benefits to the Trump Administration. QAnons show cult-like reverence for Trump who is seen as a messianic figure, sent to protect the public from his impossibly powerful enemies. The Q-Universe has its own upside down logic: the worse the domestic situation becomes the more adamant Anons are that Trump is being sabotaged by the deep state.
The Trump administration’s mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic is a case in point. While the US has seen over 130,000 deaths, the highest count worldwide, many Anons believe that the pandemic is a hoax, engineered by Trump to distract the world while he arrests Tom Hanks, Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton for trafficking ‘mole-children’ kept in subterranean prisons.
Trump is no stranger to encouraging the spread of misinformation to serve his political ends. During the 2016 election cycle he relied upon conspiracy theorists to win over public opinion, even appearing on the the program Infowars run by the prominent conspiracist, Alex Jones. The rise of QAnon is setting the stage for Trump to use the same tactics during the current election cycle.
While Trump may not have acknowledged Q explicitly, the vague, bellicose, language of his tweets offers covert support to conspiracists. On May 17 he tweeted: ‘the world is at war with a hidden enemy. WE WILL WIN!!!’ At first glance, the tweet appears to refer to the coronavirus crisis. Yet, QAnons interpreted the message as a call to arms, linking it to a similar message posted by Q in April.
The violent language used by Q supporters is unsettling, not least because the FBI identified QAnon as a domestic terror threat in an internal memo last years.
A foray into 8Kun (not for the faint-hearted) reveals that Q related image boards are full of martial language, encouraging patriots to participate in information warfare online. For the most part, users are encouraged to engage in discursive battles, such as ‘targeted meme operations’, which involve creating shareable content for social media platforms or coordinating responses to individuals on Twitter.
However, it’s also a breeding ground for extremist views and incitements to violence. Disturbingly, in posts linked to the QAnon image board neo-Nazis are calling for a crackdown against Black Lives Matter protesters by the police and the national guard, even encouraging one another to take matters into their own hands.
While the majority of Q-followers do not endorse violent action, the threat posed to domestic security by online extremism should not be ignored.
In June 2018, a man used an armoured truck, loaded with rifles, ammunition and an explosive device, to block traffic on the Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge requesting the publication of an inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s leaked e-mails — a popular demand amongst QAnon followers. Once in prison he sent letters containing the QAnon slogan to President Trump and government officials.
Just six months later, a Californian man was arrested after being found in possession of bomb-making materials claiming that he was planning to blow up a satanic monument in Illinois to expose the crimes of the New World Order.
Clearly, the QAnon theory exerts a powerful hold over its believers, capturing their imagination by reducing partisan politics to a simplistic battle between good and evil, hence its appeal to a demagogue like President Trump.
However, Trump is playing with fire by failing to condemn endorsements of the theory coming from high-up members of his own party. With increasing numbers of Trump’s supporters bearing the Q slogan on clothing and banners at rallies, the danger of individual Anons feeling emboldened to take action against the fabled deep state may well grow as the presidential race heats up.