Followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory believe a lot of things.
Any apparent crisis or incompetence is actually cover to let Donald Trump expose thousands of paedophiles—including Hillary and Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Tom Hanks. They’ll soon be under arrest, or perhaps they are already.
Their crimes? Torturing and murdering children, then harvesting a chemical from their blood.
Trump said, “I don’t know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate.”
He has promoted Twitter accounts pushing QAnon over 216 times.
Asked what he thought about the theory that he is saving the world from a satanic cult Trump replied, “I haven’t heard that, but is it supposed to be a bad thing or a good thing?”
“The Storm” is the predicted great mass arrest event, in which over 100,000 people from the highest levels of power and entertainment face a day of reckoning. The Texas Republican Party sells “We are the Storm” T-shirts.
It comes from a dinner in October 2017, which Trump said was “maybe the calm before the storm”.
The same month an anonymous user of online forums claiming to be a high-level government informant emerged.
Various cryptic messages followed. They did some name dropping of real conspiracies such as Operation Mockingbird, a 1970s CIA effort to blackmail journalists. But most of it was untrue, fantastical and right wing.
Some followers believe that Trump is Q—though others think it’s John F Kennedy Jr, who they believe faked his 1999 death (he didn’t).
Actor Tom Hanks is a child abuser because Q used the word “big” in several posts and Hanks starred in the 1988 film Big. It is that bad. QAnon is now an all-encompassing theory, one with dozens of offshoots and side plots.
The coronavirus pandemic increased QAnon’s reach. Google searches for QAnon increased ten-fold from January to July. And the social media algorithms meant if you looked up what was wrong with wearing a mask you were going to hit a QAnon forum or video fairly soon.
Real-life wealthy sex abusers such as Jeffrey Epstein are given cover by powerful people.
So a movement focused on unmasking them and bringing them to justice can seem appealing.
That is part of the problem—the rich and the powerful really have covered up child abuse. They do conspire to keep their power and their secrets.
But as with other attempts to mobilise around this, such as paedo-hunting videos, they provide a crowd for fascist recruitment. Importantly many other right wing conspiracy theories fit neatly within QAnon—such as ones about Jewish bankers controlling the world.
This summer saw the SaveOurChildren hashtag flood social media with content by QAnon followers.
It led to small protests around the world. There was one at Buckingham Palace about Prince Andrew.
There have been dozens of instances in the US of people in QAnon-related plots. In April a man with QAnon ties was arrested for derailing a train with the intention of aiming it at a hospital ship in San Pedro, California.
QAnon followers have been egged on by a president who promised them vengeance against their enemies and never followed through. He didn’t “lock her up”. He didn’t “build that wall”.
The dramatic fantasies of Trump’s militant fringe are an attempt to rationalise the duller reality of capitalism and explain why Trump didn’t deliver. And that makes them dangerous.
QAnon is not the first conspiracy used by the US right.
In 1909 Woman’s World magazine delivered an expose to two million US households. Then came a best-selling book, written by Chicago’s District Attorney, called War on the White Slave Trade.
White parents were warned their girls were being snatched off the street and sold into sex slavery.
The book warned, “Ice cream parlours and fruit stores largely run by foreigners are the places where scores of girls have taken their first step downward.”
It provided a reactionary outlet for fear and rage at women entering the workforce and the independence that brought—and combined it with brutal racism.
The result was the White Slave Traffic Act of 1910. Better known as the Mann Act, it banned the transportation of any girl or woman across state lines for any “immoral” purpose.
To enforce the Mann Act, the federal government created the Bureau of Investigation. Nine days after the Act was passed Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champion, beat James Jeffries, the “great white hope”.
The bureau arrested Johnson twice under the new law for crossing state lines with his white girlfriend. He fled to Europe but returned in 1920 to go to prison.
Then in 1942 millions of white Americans believed the US president’s wife Eleanor Roosevelt was traveling throughout the former confederate states, organising black women into secret “Eleanor Clubs”.
The club motto was, “A white woman in the kitchen by 1943.” She apparently encouraged black men to stockpile weapons—specifically ice picks.
All nonsense. But the rumours were circulated through newspapers, not just word of mouth.
As the US entered the Second World War, major changes upended traditional racial and gender hierarchies.
Millions of black men joined the armed forces or got jobs in the war manufacturing plants, freeing themselves from the economic dependency of sharecropping.
Black women found new opportunities. Industrial employment almost doubled and wages rose.
The racist conspiracies were a way for reactionary protest against a world in which women and black people demanded rights.
They strengthened rather than weakened those at the top. The same is true today.