How Trump Gave Us The Weirdest Conspiracy Theory Ever
The amazing and terrifying thing about humans is that if we're unhappy with reality, we'll simply choose to live in a different one. Just ask the small but growing group of conspiracy buffs who insist that Donald Trump is secretly doing battle with a worldwide conspiracy ... and winning, thanks to his unparalleled genius. Every triumph in this struggle is relayed to them in code from a shadowy anonymous insider.
Welcome, friends, to the world of QAnon. Buckle up.
What The Hell Is QAnon?
Did you know that Donald Trump is the greatest leader in American history, if not world history? I know he seems like a buffoon who's perpetually on the verge of accidentally tweeting nuclear launch codes, but the "QAnon" theory says that's all part of an act to disguise his true mission: the dismantling of a worldwide conspiracy run by a cabal of politicians, bankers, journalists, celebrities, and other elites who secretly rule society. Included in their truly exhausting list of sins are Satan worship, a global child sex trafficking ring, economic exploitation of the masses, and plots to start a war.
Thus, every time Trump takes a break from running the country to insult someone on Twitter, he's secretly taking the next step in his master plan that's totally going to come to fruition any day now.
If that all sounds like gibberish, well, you might want to grab a drink and settle in. For those of you who aren't familiar with this theory because you're lucky enough to be leading rich, fulfilling lives, QAnon -- aka the Storm -- began with a series of still-ongoing cryptic 4chan posts by someone claiming to be a high-level government insider. It's like if Woodward and Bernstein had demanded to be taken seriously after graffitiing their findings in random back alleys with their own feces.
The "Q" in QAnon comes from the Q clearance the source claims to have, and "the Storm" comes from a rambling non-answer (or secret code to true American patriots!) that Trump once gave a reporter's question. Roseanne Barr is a fan of all this, and James Woods is intrigued too. The community's first subreddit got banned for inciting violence, but don't worry -- they just moved to another one.
It Is A Mash-Up Of Every Conspiracy Theory You've Ever Heard
To give you an example of QAnon logic, us normies believe that Robert Mueller is currently overseeing an investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 election. But those who consider themselves part of the "Great Awakening" know that's just what Trump wants the world to think. In "reality," Trump hired Mueller to secretly investigate the wrongdoings of Bill and Hilary Clinton while using Russia as a cover story, making it "the most brilliant sting operation in American history."
I'm assuming that your response is "Wait, what? That makes absolutely no sense." You're not wrong, but friend, we're just getting started. QAnon posts (nicknamed "crumbs") are so vague that almost any meaning can be derived from them. Here's an example:
What is Iran next for, you ask? It doesn't matter. QAnon theorists immediately linked this post to everything from the Iran nuclear deal to a Jewish banking conspiracy to a secretly evil UN development plan to proof that Emmanuel Macron is a Satanic pedophile. One discussion on the 22,307-member QAnon subreddit begins, "So if 'IRON EAGLE' is supposed to be an anagram for 'EAGER LION', does that mean 'Snow White' and 'Godfather III' (from older Q posts) are anagrams, also?"
Where we see some anonymous person throwing out random words to troll the gullible, they see a world-spanning alternate reality game in which they are noble foot soldiers supporting the greatest hero of all: President Trump, a man whose current scandal over paying hush money to an adult film star is all just part of his cunning plan to merely look incompetent.
Any of us can go make anonymous 4chan posts claiming that, say, FEMA is using puppies to infect Americans with a virus that compels us to give Facebook our personal information. It's a platform renowned for its intense dedication to anime porn, not facts. But QAnon fans have unshakable faith in their insider because of the proof he offered: a blurry photo with no time stamp that clearly could only have been taken from Air Force One.
Imagine the worldview of someone who looks at that picture and concludes, "Ah yes, that is reasonable proof that every politician who doesn't support Trump rapes children." If you want to believe hard enough -- if you need to believe hard enough -- every rational counterargument can be dismissed.
Don't the imitators and trolls who have popped up in QAnon's wake prove how unreliable all of this is? No, because obviously they're nefarious "Deep State" agents meant to discredit him. Why doesn't QAnon just speak plainly instead of using anagrams and riddles? Because being too direct would tip off the Deep State, which is why this has to be limited to a large, easily accessible subreddit and a host of dedicated websites.
If QAnon says, "IRAN. PANTHER PROBLEMS??? STAY LOGICALLY THIRSTY!" and Iran happens to be in the news tomorrow, it's definitive proof that he's leading his disciples to a great truth. If QAnon says "CLINTON GETS ARRESTED TOMORROW" and Clinton doesn't get arrested tomorrow, "arrested tomorrow" was clearly a metaphor they need to decipher. A game isn't fun if it's too easy.
It All Revolves Around Trump Being An Infallible Genius
To some, this may all seem unnecessary. Aren't these right-wing Alex Jones types getting everything they want? Isn't their guy in power? Why do they have to make up a whole mythology to make Trump look good?
Well, the problem is that from the point of view of someone who thought Trump was going to drain the proverbial swamp, his performance so far has landed somewhere between "inept" and "shockingly inept." Many of Trump's policy goals, including high-profile ones like the Mexican border wall, have either stalled or been abandoned, and the news cycle is full of administration infighting and backpedaling.
While some may regret voting for him, most supporters shrug and say, "He hasn't been perfect, but he's done what he can" before going about their day. But thousands have looked at all of his administration's failures and agreed that yes, now that someone on 4chan mentions it, it does seem probable that all his blunders, from failing to pass his travel ban to looking directly at a solar eclipse, are actually carefully calculated stratagems in his years-long battle to destroy the dominating elite's global pedophile ring. It's like if you were disappointed Obama didn't implement full universal healthcare, so told yourself that it was because he was secretly spending his time thwarting an alien invasion.
These are the poor bastards who spent the campaign dismissing gaffes as ingenious media manipulation. Trump and his allies were playing "4D chess," they insisted, staying one step ahead of everyone else (a belief we can track back to Dilbert creator Scott Adams, because modern history is stupid). Melania Trump only plagiarized part of a speech so that the media would talk about it, because we all know that the media usually hates speeches! Kellyanne Conway invented a fictional terrorist attack so that Americans would be reminded of the otherwise-obscure issue of terrorism!
Meanwhile, in the real world, even conservative media has pointed out that so many of Trump's own aides and allies have called him a frustrated bozo that it's impossible to credit him with any sort of intelligent long-term plan. The sad truth is that our media can be "manipulated" by a mildly amusing clip of a rat carrying a piece of pizza up some stairs. Calling, "Do whatever it takes to keep my name in the headlines!" a form of 4D chess is an insult to chess as it exists in any dimension.
This Means They Must Keep Upping The Stakes
Of course, everyone tends to think that data that disproves their beliefs is flawed or biased, because admitting that you were wrong about a deeply held opinion is one of the hardest things to do in life. It breaks your worldview, and it forces you to ask some tough questions about yourself, like, "If Trump is the presidential equivalent of a little dog with his head stuck in a jar of peanut butter, then maybe his casual endorsements of conspiracy theories I believe in, like the Clintons murdering people and climate change being a scam, are wrong too. So does that mean I'm wrong to believe those things?"
It's so much easier to double down, particularly when the alternative is a mythology that requires no proof and cannot be disproved. They can keep ramping the stakes up forever, which they have to if they're going to drown out all of the evidence that points the other direction. They have to believe that the Toronto van attack being committed by a man with an Armenian surname was the last gasp of a corrupt Armenian government that Trump personally toppled, and not the act of a lone psychopath. Otherwise they'd be forced to ask why Trump hasn't jailed all the pedophile Clinton supporters yet.
Everything has been folded neatly into QAnon as more bread crumbs, because at this rate, QAnon is going to argue that all of human history was a Clinton-backed conspiracy to discredit Donald Trump.
QAnon is the perfect conspiracy theory because it is all-encompassing and absolutely flexible. Every prediction that doesn't come true is either a misinterpreted crumb or the latest ingenious twist that Trump is throwing at his foes. How do you argue with people who, when presented with a photo of Marina Abramovic appearing next to Spike Lee (who endorsed a gimmicky Jet Blue ad campaign to transport New York City pizza to LA), are torn as to whether this is a cover for child sex trafficking or proof that the global elite are taunting them?
What is there to say to someone who looks at the world like that? If you just laugh at them, well, that only proves you've been brainwashed by the Deep State's campaign to discredit them!
Ultimately, It's About Having A Purpose
All of this is a testament to just how far the human mind can go to block out input that threatens its worldview. To think that Trump, given all that we know about him, is selflessly dedicated to the betterment of humanity requires going well beyond his political career and positing that his entire life, from birth, has been motivated by a desire to destroy evil no matter the cost to his personal image. His bankruptcies, his legal affairs, his marital affairs, the sexual assault accusations, the accusations of racism, his dumb TV shows, that time he destroyed invaluable art because he was impatient ... they're all either part of his master strategy or slander by his enemies.
You have to believe that or be forced to wonder whether you've been looking at the world wrong for years, decades, your entire lifetime. In light of that, the fact that putting a positive spin on Trump requires almost George R.R. Martin levels of fantasy worldbuilding is kind of sad.
Perhaps the oddest part is that for a community that thinks everyone you see on the news is raping children, that we're perpetually on the brink of nuclear war, and that everyone from local politicians to bankers to police officers are part of a nigh-omnipotent conspiracy to make their lives miserable, they are weirdly upbeat.
I followed one user who cheerfully welcomed new members and talked about how spending hours and hours every day "investigating" QAnon gave him a purpose in life again, even as he worried that his participation was going to get him murdered. He seemed like a legitimately good guy, aside from the whole "I am one of the few chosen ones who have woken up to a great and terrible secret that most Americans are too dumb to understand, thank God that Trump is here to guide me on my new life goal" thing.
That should give you an idea of why this exists at all. This elaborate fiction isn't just what it takes to make Trump look heroic; it's what it takes to make these 4chan users feel like they can have some kind of positive effect on the world.
Conspiracy theories about secretive elites manipulating events and stealing children are as old as time. A theory in which someone you voted for is heroically stopping that evil is a fresh, optimistic twist. All it takes to be on the right side of history is to post some memes and waste days connecting the phrasing in an obscure government document to something that was posted on 4chan seven weeks ago. You even get your own clubhouse where you use insider lingo to solve puzzles with your friends!
Trump is 71, meaning that he will complete his presidency and die (quite possibly at the same time) within the lifetimes of most QAnon enthusiasts. It will be interesting to see how they react to the fact that hundreds of elites are not in jail for child sex trafficking. Will they admit that they were clinging to coincidences to make themselves feel special, and go on to try to find meaning in something real? Or will they see it as a temporary Deep State victory, one that can be foiled by whoever takes up Trump's mantle to finish the work he started?
We kind of already know the answer. They'll believe exactly what they need to believe, regardless of what that happens to be.
Sigh...maybe try playing some actual chess?
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