When QAnon first came on the scene in the fall of 2017, it seemed like just another fringe belief hatched in the recesses of the internet swamp. After all, an anonymous individual on a message board notorious for nuttery claimed to have inside information about Donald Trump’s battle with sinister liberal forces.
Yet QAnon took off to such an extent that it’s now been mainstreamed by the Republican party. According to a survey from last fall, a third of Republicans believe that QAnon is mostly true, and nearly another quarter believes it’s at least somewhat true.
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This, in spite of the fact that the QAnon theory includes such far-fetched beliefs that John F. Kennedy Jr. is still alive, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are leading a pedophile ring and German Chancellor Angela Merkel is Hitler’s granddaughter. Then there is the long string of promised round-ups of evil liberals that never materialized on the dates promised.
Needless to say, LGBTQ people are among those targeted by the QAnon cult. A Miami drag club was the subject of death threats after a failed Congressional candidate said it was abusing children, a lie amplified by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. QAnon’s emphasis on pedophilia also plays into long-standing slanders against LGBTQ people as sexual predators.
Yet for all its focus on Trump and current events, QAnon is really the most recent in a string of conspiracy theories that depend upon one central character: Satan.
In QAnon’s cracked universe, multiple Democrats, Hollywood figures and world leaders are part of what Travis View, who has studied QAnon extensively, describes as “a worldwide cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who rule the world.”
The belief in a Satanic conspiracy theory has been around for a while, with disastrous consequences. In the 1980s, there were hysterical claims that daycare centers were abusing children in Satanic rituals after faux experts coached the children into “recovering” non-existent memories.
“Every moral panic has to have a folk devil,” sociologist Mary de Young told NPR recently.
The presence of the devil – literally – makes QAnon particularly attractive for evangelicals. Already smitten with Trump as the bully who will lead them back to the Promised Land of 1950, conservative evangelicals were primed to accept a conspiracy in which Lucifer played a starring role.
“There’s significant overlap between Q followers and evangelicals,” FiveThirtyEight.com concluded after reviewing polls.
“The narrative of QAnon, of Donald Trump as this lone warrior who nobody understands and nobody believes but who is fighting the good fight, I think they identify with that,” sociologist Samuel Perry told the site. “They feel themselves misunderstood and victimized and that they are fighting the good fight that nobody recognizes.”
Unfortunately, that makes QAnon impermeable to reality. It’s an article of faith. The downfall of Trump dampened followers’ spirits for a while, but the great thing about cults is that there’s always something else to latch onto.
In QAnon’s case, it was the pandemic. QAnon believers think the COVID vaccine can make you gay or transgender. That’s just another article of faith. And you can’t argue articles of faith with true believers. Sadly, that means QAnon is here for a while along–until the next Satanic conspiracy comes along.