Over the past 12 months, you may have seen people writing the hashtag #WWG1WGA at the end of their social media posts (it stands for “Where we go one, we go all”).
Perhaps you’ve seen the same people questioning the validity of COVID-19, making references to “Satanic” celebrities, adrenochrome, sex-trafficking rings, pedophilia and Pizzagate.
Maybe those same people have challenged you to push past your “cognitive dissonance” or belittled you for being “sheeple” while upholding the theory that they are part of an elite group of critical thinkers privileged to see the world as it truly is.
These are all hallmarks of the QAnon school of thought which has been steadily gaining traction in the last year, undoubtedly spurred on by the uncertainty caused by a global pandemic and a tumultuous US election.
The origins of QAnon are most often traced back to October 2017, when an anonymous user added a series of posts to the message board 4chan.
Signing off as “Q”, the user claimed to have a level of US security approval known as “Q clearance”. From there, three users of the extreme message board took these posts, known as “Q drops” or “breadcrumbs” — often written in cryptic language peppered with slogans, pledges and pro-Trump themes — and ran with it.
In its simplest form the conspiracy theory, which gained notoriety in Australia thanks, in part, to Pete Evans, revolves around the belief that the world is puppeteered by a group of elite Satan-worshipping paedophiles in government, business and the media.
Followers believed that Donald Trump was the saviour who, upon re-election, would save the world from such clutches resulting in the arrest and execution of alleged perpetrators such as The Clintons and Obamas.
Of course, QAnon in its entirety is anything but simple, with believers using circular reasoning, astrology, historical facts and the beliefs of other conspiracy theorists to “prove” their evidence is correct, even when it contradicts their other claims. It’s essentially about 40 conspiracies rolled into one with adherents quickly ideating new theories as soon as their previous ones are debunked, which they frequently are.
Most recently, QAnon disciples had been eagerly anticipating the ‘Great Awakening’ when Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and other members of the so-called “cabal” would be arrested before the inauguration could take place, ushering in the new world order with Trump as the exalted hero.
Instead, the former president told his waiting supporters to “have a good life” before heading to Florida on Air Force One — not quite the climax the conspiracy theorists were hoping for.
Whether or not the movement will begin to lose steam, or reappear in some other form, now that Trump has left office and Biden has taken over as president remains to be seen, but it seems that many previously loyal believers feel deflated in the wake of the inauguration.
The reactions on social media, or at least on the platforms believers have not yet been banned from, were mixed as some proponents of the belief system seemed to admit defeat while others asserted that their fight was far from over and that “Q” had another plan up their sleeve.
My first introduction to the QAnon train came from noticing an old friend on Facebook questioning the pandemic. Innocuous at first, her posts became increasingly intense in both frequency and content. Soon, she was lamenting having had all of her children vaccinated, was re-posting the findings of other QAnon believers and even espousing the belief that 9/11 was a hoax (not a new conspiracy theory, but certainly an offensive one.)
As a fan of critical thinking and as someone who is deeply fascinated by psychology and belief systems, I spent quite a lot of time researching the QAnon phenomenon to see if I, personally, could see how the adherents had reached their conclusions. I watched documentaries, read countless articles and spent hours reading posts not only from my friend but from the people she follows and quotes from.
My own, personal, opinion is that while I can sometimes see how the believers make connections between events, symbols and history to form their theories, it seems that most of the time they take a coincidence, add a rainbow and end up with a unicorn. However, I must admit that seeing as I can’t actually prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that these theories are incorrect, I have to acknowledge there is a chance they could be true.
After the inauguration, I checked in on my friend’s social media to see how she was doing with the news that the “satanic cabal” will be in power a little longer.
As it turns out, not well.
Slide after slide of Instagram story pages relayed new theories ranging from the belief that Joe Biden was sworn in on an 1884 copy of an Illuminati Masonic Creed, to Lady Gaga deliberately dressing like Effie Trinket from The Hunger Games as a way of communicating an evil hidden message and the Bidens dressing in the colour palette from The Handmaid’s Tale as a sign of what’s to come.
The Q movement has undoubtedly incited violence and division and, as with anything, is dangerous in the wrong hands or when taken too far. However, there are also plenty of believers who “fall down the rabbit hole” as they search for meaning in a world that feels chaotic and unfair and that they desperately hope to improve.
While, like in the case of my friend, the beliefs of some QAnon conspiracy theorists stem from a genuine desire to rid the world of pedophiles, sex trafficking and other undeniably deplorable realities, surely their efforts would be better served through doing something actionable, instead of incessantly posting on social media.
In the time it takes to repost a meme making correlations between what someone wears with the impending end of the world, a donation could be made to an organisation that is actively fighting the evils QAnon adherents are so passionately against.
This could be one of the most disheartening aspects of the “Q” – the fact that many of its members are seemingly well-intentioned people, with ill-conceived ideas of how best to achieve the world in which they want to live.