Last Saturday, September 12th, thousands of people gathered for a march through the downtown core of a major North American city. The purpose? To protest a political decision to grant local police the authority to fine citizens and businesses for not following a mask mandate covering indoor public spaces. Occasional chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” rang out amid a sea of signs and flags.
Speakers at the location where the march ended, which had people on opposite sides of a stage waving ‘Qanon’ flags, used the occasion to indulge in a variety of conspiracy theories including anti-vaccination diatribes and overblown fears about the rollout of 5G technology.
We might expect that such a rally took place in the United States, where ‘anons’ as they call themselves, have been promoting the idea that the country’s current president is engaged in a battle against a ‘Deep State’ controlled by Satanist pedophiles since at least 2017. In fact, it took place across the country’s northern border in Montreal, where a majority of those living in this very multicultural city are French speakers.
Despite Montreal, and the province of Quebec where it’s located being the original epicenter of the novel coronavirus pandemic in Canada, with close to 6,000 deaths at present and counting (a number that does seem small in comparison to the numbers across the border in New York state, but was scary enough to keep those of us who live here in our homes for 10 weeks) a growing rightwing populism imported from the U.S. and Europe has been embraced by some French Canadian nationalists (and others) who, although they have legitimate historical grievances with English Canada, have a history of the kind of xenophobia that’s an often foundational aspect of such movements.
Exactly two weeks earlier, across the Atlantic, almost 40,000 Germans protested government restrictions related to the ongoing health crisis in the country’s capital, Berlin. Amid the sea of signs calling for the arrest of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and others in the country’s government, were placards and t-shirts promoting Qanon. One large banner even called on the U.S. president to “make Germany great again” between two large Qs.
Although the demonstration was reportedly peaceful, there were several hundred arrests later that day as protesters associated with neo-fascist and nationalist groups carrying far right symbols tried to force their way into the country’s parliament.
Other, similar protests against government mandates to protect public health took place across Europe that same day, with Trump and Qanon signs ever present, including at a large gathering in London’s Trafalgar Square and a smaller march in Paris.
No less worrying, the marchers in Europe, Canada and Australia have shown the growing global influence of Qanon, which at first seems like a mix of the insane ‘Pizzagate’ conspiracy that immediately preceded it and that hateful 19th century fabrication, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Growing out of a series of cryptic messages or ‘drops’ on the 4Chan message board from an anonymous poster who claims a ‘Q’ security clearance and is said to be working in a dissident capacity within the American ‘Deep State’, Qanon seems to adapt almost any far right conspiracy theory into its overarching narrative of a world run by Satan worshiping pedophiles who may also be cannibals.
As noted, the core beliefs of this convoluted theory can in the main be traced back to earlier conspiratorial beliefs beginning at least in the late 19th century. However, while often drawing on the ‘classics’ of the genre like the anti-Semitic blood libel fantasies prevalent in much of Europe for centuries and paranoia about Free Masonry, it seems no theory is too unhinged to be off limits.
As we might expect considering its origins, at least some of those propagating Qanon may be joking, as when a friend of Robert Guffey, a researcher into conspiracy theories whose recent series of articles for Salon.com provided an essential guide to helping this writer understand its sources and appeal, credulously told him to look up the acronym D.U.M.B., which the writer found describes ‘deep underground military bases’ supposedly used by the cabal at the heart of the Q theory to engage in their nefarious activities.
A ‘hybrid’ religion?
As Guffey and others have noted, as Qanon has moved from internet cesspools like 4Chan and the now renamed 8chan to larger platforms like Facebook, a large constituency that’s become more visible in support of it are some Evangelical Christians, who also ardently support a president diametrically opposed to their supposed values. This growing merger between religion and the cultish Qanon is being heralded on even the mainstream right as part of an ongoing battle against ‘Satanism’.
For those with long memories, this is not the first time there’s been hysteria about devil worship in the United States; in the 80s and 90s, a similar panic accusing child care workers of ritual abuse of their charges went mainstream, ruining a great many lives in the process. Among many people wrongly convicted at that time were Dan and Fran Keller, the owners of an Austin, Texas daycare, who served decades in prison before being fully exonerated in 2017 after a 25 year battle against false charges of child rape.
Also of interest, one of the hashtags used by those promoting Qanon that probably appeals to some Evangelicals, ‘the Great Awakening’ is just another example of the cult’s lack of originality. It’s a simplification, but in general, the actual Great Awakening was a series of religious revivals beginning in the 1720s in the United States that rejected Enlightenment ideas about science and rationality in favor of religious fervor.
A growing danger
Of course, it was only a matter of time before Qanon adherents and sympathizers would tie their fever dreams about ‘left wing’ and ‘Hollywood’ malfeasance and the Satanic exploitation of children to the once in a lifetime health emergency we are all living through, a subject new enough that science is still in the process of learning about it. The perceived slowness of scientific inquiry has allowed both unintentional misinformation and dangerous disinformation about the health crisis to proliferate since the beginning of this year.
As a New Zealand based reporter, Emily Writes, who found herself learning about the connections being made by anons regarding Covid 19, as many did during her country’s lockdown, wrote in March, “I was quickly introduced to the prevailing conspiracy theory around Covid-19. It’s quite simple. Andrenochrome* is a drug for the liberal elite of Hollywood made from actual human brain stem containing hormones from the adrenal gland. Hillary Clinton manufactures this drug by torturing children in a pizza shop (if you order a cheese pizza that’s code). Tom Hanks is addicted to Adrenochrome and he caught Covid-19 from the latest batch of tainted Adrenochrome that came through Celine Dion who is a high priestess from the Church of Satan. She is well-versed in poison as she’s been lacing her children’s clothing line with a chemical that makes our children “gender neutral”.
Sadly, the growing belief in this nonsense has already led to violence in New York and Seattle, but considering current political moment in many places including here in Montreal it seems likely to get much worse.
In recent months, Q adherents have swept up rightwing talking points about Black Lives Matter protesters and anti-fascist ‘terrorists’ into their overarching narrative, which has been picked up by some prominent voices on the far right, increasing the real world dangers represented by a conspiracy theory that is becoming more and more mainstream.
To take one example, Qanon has been embraced by Michael Scheuer, who headed the task force hunting Osama Bin Laden during the Clinton Administration. As reported by The Daily Beast in a long piece about him, many of Scheuer’s former colleagues at the CIA were disturbed by his calls to destroy vital infrastructure in Muslim majority countries and ignore civilian casualties in the fight against terrorism while claiming “respect” for the murderous Bin Laden.
Now a podcaster and blogger, Scheuer has turned his attention to ‘the enemy within’, not only against perceived ‘antifa’ enemies but against those he views as the current president’s political opponents in general.
As he wrote in a recently deleted blog post, “[Trump supporters] have in hand a long and very precise list of the names and photographs of those who hate and threaten them, their families, their way-of-life, their liberty, their livelihoods and their republic. No self-respecting and determined-to-remain-independent citizenry can let themselves forever be held hostage by thug-civil-servants like Strzok, Comey, McCabe, Page, and Rosenstein; worshipers of tyranny, like the Democratic members of Congress, the Clintons, the FBI, and the Obamas; apparent traitors like Brennan, Hayden, and Clapper; all of the mainstream media; and the tens of thousands of government-admitted-and-protected, violent, criminal, and illegal immigrants.
American patriots have so far, praise God, been remarkably disciplined in not responding to tyranny and violence with violence. For now, they must remain so, armed but steady. But the time for such patience is fast slipping away; deed, that patience is quickly becoming an obviously rank and self-destructive foolishness.”
One of the most puzzling things about the growing reach of Qanon and the far right that embraces it is that the same people who just a few years ago claimed they were preparing to fight fictional government overreach represented by theories of FEMA camps being built in the United States to house ‘patriots’, are now demanding the imposition of authoritarian government on their own country in order to destroy their enemies on the left.
It’s hard to explain why so many of these same people are falling into this dangerous alternate reality rabbit hole. Maybe the reason for this is that the only easy to comprehend a thing about Qanon is that some would rather deny the obvious because they prefer to persist in the belief that they live in western ‘meritocracies’ and that they are just one idea away from becoming wealthy themselves. This disconnect leaves them incapable of seeing that runaway climate change, billionaire plutocrats, widespread inequality and even in some cases, their own failures, are baked into the capitalist system they so often extoll.
Now, who, exactly, are the sheep?
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