ALTHOUGH many have never heard of QAnon or simply dismiss it as an insane conspiracy theory, history has shown how dangerous such theories can be.
In the early 20th century, a forged text known as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was used by the Nazis to justify the persecution of Jews. Although The Protocols and QAnon conspiracy theories were devised more than a century apart, the two have chilling similarities.
As the world has pledged to never forget the horrors of the Holocaust, the factors that led to it must also not be forgotten. QAnon is a dangerous conspiracy theory that is sowing distrust of governments, spreading hate and anti-Semitism, and blurring the line between fact and fiction just as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion did a century ago.
With QAnon’s increasing links to violence and two new members of the U.S. Congress having openly supported it, it is long past time that it be widely and unequivocally denounced.
The Protocols were alleged to be the notes from a meeting of Jewish leaders at the end of the 19th century in which they discussed their plans to take over the world. The notes included plans for Jews to control the world’s economies, control the press, and other anti-Semitic conspiracies. In 1921, The Times published a series of articles providing conclusive evidence that the document was a forgery. Despite being publicly debunked, many people still believed the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.
While most people are likely unfamiliar with The Protocols, nearly everyone knows the names of two of its most prominent promoters: Henry Ford and Adolf Hitler. Ford funded the printing and dissemination of 500,000 copies in the United States and continued to support the theory into the 1920s even after it was disproven. In 1927, Hitler defended the conspiracy when he wrote in Mein Kampf, “[The Protocols] are based on a forgery, the Frankfurter Zeitung moans every week … [which is] the best proof that they are authentic…”
Although the text was a proven forgery, it became wildly popular in Nazi Germany. Many teachers even assigned it to students as though it was factual information, and the Nazi cult used the narrative to justify their horrific treatment of Jewish people.
More than 75 years after The Protocols of the Elders of Zion aided the Nazis in committing one of the greatest atrocities in human history, QAnon has gained popularity with startling similarity.
Both conspiracy theories suggest that there is a global cabal secretly controlling the world with terrible intentions.
While QAnon is not centered around anti-Semitism, it includes anti-Semitic ideas similar to those presented in The Protocols. For example, it claims that wealthy Jews like George Soros and the Rothschild family are part of the secret group controlling the world. Further, a prominent QAnon supporter Mary Ann Mendoza, who sits on the advisory board of “Women for Trump” and was slated to speak at the 2020 Republican National Convention, retweeted a QAnon thread which claimed that The Protocols were not fabricated and that it is not anti-Semitic to state this. Mendoza’s retweet is not an anomaly as anti-Semitic tropes are commonly found within the QAnon universe. This inclusion of anti-Semitic conspiracies in the overarching QAnon conspiracy has even led Professor of Genocide Studies and Prevention at George Mason University Gregory Stanton to label it a “Nazi group rebranded.”
Another disturbing commonality between the two conspiracy theories is their endurance in the face of concrete evidence debunking them. QAnon has repeatedly been proven false, just as The Protocols were in 1921. Despite this, QAnon has remained popular, as The Protocols did in the 1920s and 1930s. In fact, akin to Hitler’s defense of The Protocols in Mein Kampf, QAnon supporters use the media’s disproving of the theory as evidence that it must be true because the media is supposedly controlled by the global cabal.
Analogous to the promotion of The Protocols by very influential individuals, the underlying QAnon theories have been pushed by some noteworthy people including Hall of Fame pitcher Curt Schilling, actor James Woods, and various other conservative media personalities and politicians. The Texas Republican Party has used one of QAnon’s slogans on their social media accounts, though denying any links; the Hawaii Republican Party defended the followers of QAnon by claiming that they have only acted out of love for their country, and U.S. Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert have openly expressed their support of the conspiracy theory. Even former President Donald Trump refused to condemn QAnon when directly asked about it.
Predictably, just as The Protocols did, QAnon has already inspired violence. Although nearly every act of violence pales in comparison to the devastation of the Holocaust, the F.B.I. has labeled QAnon a domestic terrorism threat. Further, the conspiracy theory has already been linked to multiple successful and attempted violent acts, including the kidnapping plot against Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the January 6 storming of the United States Capitol.
Until Qanon is widely condemned and everyone actively works to force it back to the dark corners of the web, we run the risk of it becoming mainstream and more people using it to justify abhorrent actions.
Shane O’Callaghan is a writer based in Austria. He has previously written about the rise of nationalism in the US.
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