By Mason Quah
DONALD Trump’s strategy of signalling to the conspiratorial right has allowed a worrying infiltration of the Republican party by radical ‘truthers’ – one that will remain long after he vacates the White House.
At the time of publishing, Joe Biden is just six electoral votes away from removing Trump from the Oval Office.
But the incumbent’s behaviour in the last four years has left an alarming legacy in Congress.
What is QAnon?
QAnon alleges the existence of a broad ranging plot involving Hollywood, the Democratic Party and the mainstream media. Different versions of the conspiracy allege this deep state coalition is involved in Satan worship, child sex trafficking, and cannibalism.
There isn’t a true canon to the conspiracy. It originates from the online community of 8chan, with the titular Q posting cryptic messages that are interpreted by the community to create the versions of the conspiracy that leak into wider discourse.
Most claims made by QAnon are simply repackaging antisemitic tropes seen in previous far right movements, mixed in with accusations about specific members of congress being part of the deep state or working against it. Despite this, polling suggests as much as 20% of the US population believes QAnon is good for the country.
The dangers of allowing QAnon into mainstream discourse
If 2016 was the 4chan election that gave America the meme magic president, 2020’s may well be the 8chan election that places those meme magicians in positions of worrying political power.
QAnon believers may continue to operate in the American political system beyond Trump’s own political lifetime.
The US president has refrained from directly endorsing or disavowing the conspiracy and the movement that has formed around it but will happily dog whistle to them and signal boost their beliefs to his 87 million twitter followers.
Retweeting one QAnon theory positing that Barack Obama had staged the killing of Osama bin Laden, Trump also told a town hall meeting that “people can decide” the truthfulness of the statement.
In another statement the president said “They (QAnon) are very strongly against paedophilia and I agree with that.”
While child sex trafficking is objectively abhorrent and wrong, QAnon has, arguably, produced a distinctly negative outcome for the fight against human trafficking.
As hashtags such as #SaveTheChildren are appropriated to the conspiracy, nearly 100 anti-trafficking organisations have signed an open letter criticising the conspiracy movement for actively harming the fight against child sex trafficking.
The attempt to turn it into a partisan issue and conspiracy makes it more difficult for these groups to raise funding and awareness.
The FBI has followed the evolution of QAnon, recognising the domestic terrorist threat that the movement poses. Over the length of Trump’s presidency people affiliated to the conspiracy have taken part in kidnappings, threatened politicians locally and internationally, and committed murder.
QAnon – now in the House
Several of the newly elected Republican congresspeople have openly endorsed QAnon or repeated talking points originating from the conspiracy.
Nearly two dozen Republicans who engaged with the theory appeared on ballot papers across the country on Tuesday.
Notable standouts include Madison Cawthorn, taking the 11th congressional seat for North Carolina and Marjorie Taylor Greene, who won a house seat in Georgia.
Cawthorn gained notoriety in 2017 for visiting Hitlers vacation home. His real estate business is called SPQR, a roman abbreviation that has been appropriated as a far-right symbol.
Marjorie Taylor Greene’s political rise has similarly been studded with controversies over use of QAnon talking points, but unlike Cawthorn is unwilling to denounce the source of the theories.
While no longer citing the movement directly, she has stated on record the belief that Q, the anonymous leaker producing the conspiracies, is an American Patriot (she has since distanced herself from the movement in an interview with Fox News).
While the expansion of this conspiracy is worrying, it should not be seen as a new development. Donald Trump’s own political relevance originated from his participation in the Birther movement, alleging that Barack Obama forged his citizenship.
From the Birther movement developed the Pizzagate conspiracy that would evolve into QAnon. Pizzagate is a prototypical version of the QAnon theory that accused high ranking democrats of running a child sex ring out of a titular pizza parlour.
A QAnon supporter arrested in California for carrying bomb making materials in his car cited Pizzagate and the New World Order – another deep state conspiracy.
Presently, the QAnon candidates are few in the GOP and keep their signalling at least somewhat covert. If it gains further traction, they may decide to dispense with the masks.
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