Disturbing Playbook For How Local Politics Have Gotten So Toxic
The letter Q has been tainted with a stench and stigma that will be hard to wash away. The favorite letter of weird Facebook uncles everywhere, Q took over the internet with prophecies that never came true. Those who thought that maybe QAnon would die off once it became clear that all of their predictions were wrong turned out to be, unfortunately, incorrect. The QAnonspiracy types are alive and well.
QAnon, which has always had different subgroups with varying ideologies, has splintered. Labeling everything with their awful symbols and hashtags has become less common. Some people even straight-up deny their belief in QAnon ideas, but the core ideas of Q have remained, and in many ways, they are becoming more prominent in the real world ...
Who Is Q And Where Did Q Go?
It’s a real bummer knowing that QAnon has become such a universally known term, but in the off-chance that anyone is blissfully ignorant enough to not be familiar with it, here is a quick summary.
QAnon followers believe that the Democrats and Hollywood elite are running a Satanic child sex-trafficking cult. Donald Trump has been secretly planning to expose and bring down the Satanic cabal, and everything that has happened has been part of his long-term plan. Followers are inspired to “trust the process,” which essentially means that if something happens, that indicates that Trump is NOT going to conquer the sex perverts, it really means that this is all simply part of the plan. Even losing the presidential election is part of the “process” to the most devoted of followers.
Where does any of this come from? The source of QAnon is Q, an anonymous figure that began posting “Q drops” to 4chan and later elsewhere in 2017. Q drops are cryptic and almost nonsensical. This is part of why the theories pushed by followers seem so outlandish. QAnon followers take vague information, and someone adds something new, like the idea that the cabal is harvesting “adrenochrome” from children. This becomes part of the established Q canon, or Qanon, if you will.
Now, though, Q is gone. The last Q drop occurred on December 8, 2020. This, along with the eventual swearing-in of Joe Biden as president, has resulted in a sort of schism within the QAnon community. Some continue to move the goalposts. This has led to increasingly unhinged claims like Donald Trump returning to the White House on August 13. Others, though these are the ones that rarely make headlines, have completely moved on from the group and its conspiracies.
A third group is the focus here. This third group subscribes to theories pushed by QAnon, but they do so without the Q name, and they do it away from the internet.
From The Internet To IRL
QAnon was never harmless. It permeated through social media discourse to the point where it became ingrained in a significant number of voters. Even members of Congress have histories of posting QAnon content. However, the new phase of QAnon followers involves getting away from the computer and into the community. A real grassroots QAnon movement.
The goal for many QAnon followers is to gain positions of influence at the local level. This often means trying to get onto local school boards. The main target of QAnon was, again, an imagined threat of Satanic pedophiles coming to steal everyone’s kids. By getting into school boards, QAnon followers could continue to monitor these totally not fake threats from a position where they could actually impact policy.
Other targets that conspiracy theorists turn their sights on are masks and vaccines. Masks have been a target not just of QAnon believers but of others as well since the pandemic began. Not everyone who opposes vaccines believes in QAnon (some of them have their own, different conspiracies!), but if a QAnon candidate can connect with voters on issues like masks or vaccines, then they have their foot in the door.
Even with mask and vaccine conspiracies running wild, the name QAnon is already tainted for a lot of people, thankfully. Because of this, QAnon followers are maneuvering their way around the infamous label as they attempt to make conspiracies even more mainstream.
Remember, No QAnon
In an infamous scene in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, the villainous Vladimir Makarov tells his crew, “Remember, no Russian” before committing an act of terrorism. The goal of this was to shift potential blame away from the real perpetrators of the crime. For QAnon followers, this sentiment rings true in their attempts at gaining local office.
Running off of a platform of being involved in QAnon may appeal to some, but it certainly would not appeal to everyone. Because of this, contemporary QAnon followers are quick to disavow “Q.” They’ll go through standard Q talking points, but they’ll leave out the wackier details that would paint them as conspiracy theorists.
Going back to the example of QAnon school board members, a QAnon believer may campaign on the idea of saving the children. Who doesn’t want children to be safe? The candidate may build up the fact that children could be kidnapped or otherwise be in danger in schools.
They go through all of the main QAnon talking points, except they don’t talk about Q specifically, and they leave out the parts about the Satan-worshipping cult. It’s a clever way to sneak extremist ideas into a package that some could agree with. It’s a classic salesman move. They lead in with the parts that everyone can agree with: children should be safe. Once they have your attention, or in this case, your vote, then they get into the more conspiratorial stuff.
Related: Who Got The Ball Rolling On QAnon?
QAnon May Be More Hidden Now, But It’s Out There
This may sound like a conspiracy theory about a conspiracy theory, but it is important to remember that even if Facebook posts filled with incomprehensible Q jargon are not as common these days, QAnon is still out there.
Mainstream platforms like Facebook and Twitter have cracked down on conspiracies like this, especially theories related to vaccines and related subjects, but this doesn’t really do much to truly combat anything. Those who are interested in discussing QAnon or any related subject have choices in alternative social media platforms, and deplatforming conspiracy theorists sometimes only dig them deeper in. If you believe that you are being punished for “knowing the truth,” and then you get thrown in Facebook jail for posting what you believe to be “the truth,” then your fears have only been validated.
These alternative social media platforms encourage conspiracy theorists to continue far more than Facebook ever could, and Facebook is the worst place on the internet. At least when conspiracy theorists were on mainstream platforms, people could argue with them. Once they get into their QAnon safe spaces, though, there is no dissent. This can drive someone deeper and deeper into conspiracy lore.
So if QAnon is still out there, and if its followers are out trying to make real-world impacts, what can be done?
Taking On QAnon
Talks of how to turn people away from QAnon are often ineffective, creepy, or both. Some groups have attempted to “deprogram” QAnon believers, which only really does the job of reaffirming conspiratorial beliefs that people are out to get them. Dystopian ideas of deprogramming aside, it can be hard to convince someone that their conspiracy theory is wrong anyway. Evidence is often less important to people than emotions, and people who follow QAnon have a strong emotional attachment to it.
Seeing as QAnon is becoming prominent at the local level, it would make sense that potential solutions to fight this would also be at the local level. Local news is important in encouraging accountability at the city level. If QAnon followers think that sneaking their way into local office is their ticket to gaining power, then having local news that has the resources to keep track of candidates and point out when they have a history without things like QAnon can fight this.
Of course, this is all easier said than done. That part about local news having the resources is a major hurdle. Local news has been struggling more and more in recent years, which means that even if QAnon supporters receive scrutiny in higher levels of office, they can ease their way through smaller towns without anyone batting an eye.
Distrust of the media is another hurdle here. Talking about the dangers of QAnon is completely ineffective to someone who might believe that everyone is just trying to keep QAnon down for believing in the truth. Even the general public, people who may not subscribe to conspiracy theories, has a fairly low level of confidence in what they see in the news.
The result of all of this is … a bit of a downer conclusion, honestly. There is always the hope that clearer heads will prevail and that conspiracy losers WON’T have a say in making decisions that affect us at any level, national or local. Much like the virus that has had a grip on the entire world for the last 18 or so months, QAnon has proven to stick around much longer than anticipated and is seemingly impossible to completely get rid of.
Top image: United States Congress