In the wake of the Trump administration a myriad of far right conspiracies have entered the political mainstream and have become a regular part of public discourse. What is especially concerning about this development is the potential of these conspiracy theories to influence public policy and even undermine the democratic process. In recent months we have seen the Trump administration question the legitimacy of the 2020 election despite having no evidence to claim that the election was in any way rigged or manipulated. Despite this In response to the baseless allegations, Republican lawmakers and Trump administration officials have tried to undermine the election at every turn and disenfranchise voters, including filing frivolous lawsuits and refusing to give funds to President elect Bidens transition team. We have also seen a wave of far Right violence after it was clear that now president elect Joe Biden had won the election, which culminated in the stabbing of three antifascist activists in Washington DC and attempts to disrupt the electoral process by staging armed protests outside of polling places. In the volatile and politically charged environment that has formed over the past year there has also been growth in conspiracy theories like Qanon, which has in the past been a precursor to far right violence and still may hold the potential to cause an even larger and more destructive wave of violence if left unchecked.
origin and spread
The theory picked up steam when an anonymous poster on 4-chan who called themselves Q claimed to be a high level government official who was close to the Trump administration and had access to classified documents and information. There have been numerous theories about Q‘s true identity, ranging from Robert F Kennedy to Trump himself. The poster or posters quickly gained an online group of followers who attempted to interpret the posts put out by Q and soon various Youtube channels and internet communities dedicated to Q began to pop up, including Reddit pages set up by 4-chan moderators.It wasn’t long before various mainstream right wing media outlets gave coverage to the growing Qanon movement,
Beliefs and characteristics:
The theory alledges that a satan worshipping cabal of elites which include a number of famous liberal politicians and actors in Hollywood are secretly engaging in child sex trafficking and harvesting their blood for a chemical called adrenochrome, which they believe will extend their lives. This belief appears to be based on an ancient antisemitic trope that a cabal of Jewish elites are secretly kidnapping Christian children and drinking their blood. The theory also claims that now former US president Donald Trump is secretly working with former FBI director Robert Mueller to expose the cabal before an attempted coup d’etat led by George Soros, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama (who are believed to be in league with the cabal of elites) overthrows the US government and installs a one world communist government. On its face the theory appears to be an amalgamation of different right wing conspiracy theories that existed long before the 2016 election, an example being Pizzagate. Pizzagate was a baseless and now debunked conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and George Soros were secretly running a child sex trafficking ring under Comet Ping Pong pizza parlor in New York City. The theory was parroted across multiple platforms including 4chan and 8chan after the release of John Podesta’s emails by Wikileaks, and quickly picked up steam after it was adopted by fringe right wing media outlets like Infowars. The theory culminated in a shooting that took place within Comet Ping Pong Pizza in December of 2016, and since then has been debunked by a number of news outlets including Snopes.com. It is worth noting that a variation of pizzagate dubbed “voodoogate” appeared in Oregon and claimed that Oregon Governer Kate Brown was running a child sex trafficking ring under Voodoo Donuts in Portland. Qanon also appears to contain elements of the New World Order Conspiracy theory, which has long shaped the far right anti government movement in the United States. It claims that a secret cabal of elites, presumably the same one referenced in Qanon, are attempting to set up a Communist one world government with the help of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and George Soros after using the United Nations to coordinate massive gun seizures in the United States. The theory bears an uncanny resemblance to the theories put forward in “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” which claims to chronicle a meeting of Jewish elites making plans to take over the world and install a one world government. Even though the Protocols have been debunked on a multitude of occasions the conspiracies the book puts forward have morphed into a number of different modern day conspiracy theories, including the
variation of the white genocide trope commonly embraced by neo-nazis that Jewish people are trying to destroy the white race.
Qanon also has a variety of religious or occult characteristics, including elements of millenarianism and apocalypticism. Followers of Qanon believe in a coming event called the storm, where through hundreds of sealed indictments Donald Trump orders the mass arrests of Democratic politicians and members of the alleged deep state cabal. In their minds, this will spark a rebirth of the United States and the creation of a utopia on earth. The theory also focuses on Trump as a mythological or occult figure. Some fanatical Q followers even believe that he is a messiah sent by god to remake the world. It is why Qanon has been commonly referred to by some as ”an emerging American religion.“
Another characteristic that sets Qanon apart from right wing conspiracies in the past is its ability to morph into or absorb other conspiracy theories, especially when Q‘s predictions have been proven wrong. For example, Qanon has become very intersectional with the anti-vaccination movement, and Q‘s followers have claimed that the government is putting microchips in the upcoming COVID-19 vaccines as part of a plan to set up a one world government. Adherents have also claimed that drinking bleach is a miracle cure for the Novel Coronavirus, that German chancellor Angela Merkle is Hitler‘s granddaughter, that antifa are responsible for a series of wildfires in the Pacific Northwest that broke out in August of 2020 (Spoiler we aren‘t), that John F Kennedy Jr faked his own death and would emerge as Trump’s running mate in the 2020 election, and that mass shootings are government hoaxes. It has also been noticeable that overtime Q‘s posts have become more and more cryptic or vague, causing followers of Q to assign their own interpretations to their posts hence expanding the conspiracy theory. Due to the size and complexity of the conspiracy and its amorphous nature it has become increasingly harder for outsiders to understand its various layers.
The movement that has emerged as a result of Qanon has been described by many as a cult, and indeed does seem to share many of the characteristics of cults in the pre-internet era. Due to the vastness and complexity of Qanon, adherents who begin to believe in the theory are quickly led down a rabbit hole that takes them to deeper and deeper layers. Each layer is branded as an awakening to a new truth that nobody else knows about, or in their own words a ”red pilling moment.“ Many followers of Qanon use insular and coded language which cuts them off from the outside world and makes it more difficult for outsiders to deradicalize its adherents. It is why many former believers claimed to have been isolated from families and loved ones as their beliefs progressed. It is similar to the radicalization process in broader right wing politics, as former white nationalists and Neo Nazis claimed to have slowly adopted layers of racist beliefs and conspiracy theories. Qanon is also cultic in the sense that it provides a single source of information while claiming others are false. Following in the footsteps of the Trump Administration, Qanon adherents see the media, hollywood, academics, and anyone presenting alternate sources of information as part of or participating in a vast conspiracy to overthrow president Trump, hence cutting them off from sources of information that may contradict their beliefs or cause cognitive dissonance. This is also backed up by groupthink and the portrayal of Trump as a prophet or messiah, which leads Qanon followers to never question Trumps statements. Q also uses plausible deniability to their advantage, as when one of their theories is proven wrong they claim it was deliberate misinformation to hide aspects of the truth that they don’t want to share with the public. Hence any attempt to debunk Qanon actually becomes evidence of its validity in the minds of true believers. What the conspiracy also has going for it is its gamelike quality, since its characteristics are similar to that of a role playing game. Because Q’s posts are often vague and cryptic, adherents of Qanon try to assign their own interpretations to Q’s writing, convincing them that they are in search of a hidden truth and in a sense letting them create and escape into an alternate reality.
Prominent figures involved with Qanon:
In recent years Qanon has become increasingly popular among mainstream conservatives, so it does not come as a surprise that the theory has been picked up by prominent figures in the Republican party and a number of candidates running for congressional seats. One example of this is Oregon senate candidate and far right wing nut Jo Rae Perkins, who made Qanon a central theme of her candidacy in the 2020 Oregon primary.
Perkins has also recommended “Out of the Shadows”, a “documentary“ which among other things claims films like Zoolander and music videos produced By Lady Gaga are desensitizing people to government mind control. The film also promotes Pizzagate and facets of Qanon, despite never mentioning the conspiracy by name.
Other than spewing baseless conspiracy theories Perkins appears to support the Proud Boys, a violent self-described “Western Chauvinist” group that in the past has promoted extreme islamophobia and misogyny, as well as maintaining ties to known white Nationalist groups and allowing Neo Nazis into their ranks, notable examples being the organizer of the deadly “Unite the Right” rally Jason Kessler and violent Alt Right figure Kyle “Based Stickman” Chapman. In one facebook post Perkins appears to wear a Proud Boy outfit
She has also praised the Proud Boys in a tweet that included a video showing Proud Boys brawling with BLM protestors, and used the handle @ProudboysUSA. In a rather hilarious and unfortunate turn of events for Perkins, @ProudboysUSA is not the real handle for the Proud Boys, but is instead
the handle for ”Proudly Pansexual“, an anti-police and anti-ICE group.
Perkins has also railed against the LGBT community on multiple occasions, including a long winded diatribe against a project that aimed to improved healthcare for transgender children
She has also spouted the long debunked trope that being LGBT is unnateral, and that people aren‘t ”born gay“
On August 15th Perkins was a guest speaker at a Qanon/anti-mask themed rally in Salem Oregon hosted by the American Patriot Society also known as T.A.P.S. The group coalesced as part of the right wing backlash to the ongoing BLM protests that started in the spring of 2020. T.A.P.S seems to have no problems letting violent Neo-Nazis attend their events, including Corey Wyatt, who served a 7 year prison sentence for assisting in the murder of teenager Cody Myers by members of a Neo Nazi prison gang called the Aryan soldiers. As the rally progressed several members of T.A.P.S violently assaulted a much smaller group of peaceful BLM counter protestors.
On January 6th 2021, amidst baseless allegations by the Trump administration that the 2020 election was rigged in favor of Joe Biden, tens of thousands of far right protestors participated in the “Save America March” spearheaded by the Trump administration. After the rally ended thousands of Trump supporters, Qanon adherents, militia members and Proud Boys descended on the US capitol in a last ditch effort to stop the certification of the 2020 election. The siege led to the deaths of 4 trump supporters and 1 police officer, and the event has rightly been described by many as an attempted coup. White nationalist and Neo Nazi iconography could also be seen among rally goers, including one person wearing a “Camp Aushwitz” shirt and numerous flags with swatstikas and well known contemporary white supremacist symbolism. Various Alt Right figures including avowed Neo Nazi Matthew Heimbach, Alt right social media personality Anthime “Tim” Gionet, and leader of the Neo-fascist Groyper movement Nick Fuentes were in attendance. Perkins was also present at the capitol, although at this time there is no evidence to suggest that she actually went inside or participated in violent acts. Despite this, she appears to have taken a selfie on the capitol steps where much of the violence occurred, meaning she took part in the mob and is just as responsible as any other rioter for attempting to overthrow American Democracy.
As expected, Perkins has also parroted the Trump administrations ”law and order“ message in response to the recent racial unrest, and like many on the right uses BLM as a punching bag. Despite her misplaced calls for ”law and order“ it appears Perkins has a criminal record herself. In December of 2005 Perkins was arrested for harassment and hindering prosecution when she attempted to prevent police from entering her home to arrest her son for evading police. We do not trust or support the police in any form, but it is ironic that Perkins thinks the law applies to everyone except herself. Even more concerning is Perkins‘s past work history as an employee at Oregon State University, given the university’s commitment to diversity and equality. You can read their statement here:
address: 1033 southwest Maple street Albany Oregon 97321
In the wake of the George Floyd protests and the recent defeat of former president Donald Trump in the 2020 election we have seen a wave of conspiracy theories and far right mobilization aiming to delegitimize the election results and stoke fear and chaos. In the last couple months various “Stop the Steal” rallies have popped up in state capitals across the United States. Perhaps the most prolific was the capitol storming, followed by the Million MAGA march in Washington DC, where thousands of Qanon supporters, Proud Boys, three percent militia, and Nick Fuentes “Groypers” gathered to protest the election results and later in the night stabbed three antifascist activists. These events are significant because they reflect how the alt right has morphed and evolved into a pro Trump movement that has grown broader in scope. The Alt Right that existed in 2017 and 2018 has largely gone extinct with the exception of a few groups like Patriot Front. Many of the groups that marched at the Unite the Right rally are now defunct with their former members being exposed and doxxed. Amid this backdrop a number of figures and people formerly associated with the Alt Right have melded into a Pro Trump coalition, forming alliances with mainstream conservatives and MAGA supporters. We have even seen this in Oregon, with members of the “American Patriot Coalition” preemptively planning violence in Portland and welcoming overt fascists in their ranks. The coalition was made up of a motley group of Proud Boys, Three Percenters, 1776 militia members, members of various “back the blue” and pro police groups, Qanon supporters, and a few members of Pagan Neo Nazi group Operation Werewolf. Due to the scope and reach of conspiracy theories like Qanon it played a huge role in forming a fanatical army of Trump supporters that have only been radicalized further by Trump’s loss.