The Secrets of QAnon's Appeal

A medium that was suddenly deprived of the conspicuous right-wing extremism once daily by the 45th President hhow found its methadone: a seemingly endless stream of QAnon-centric documentaries, books, and Essays.

There is Vice’s “The search for Q.“Series; CNN’s” Inside the QAnon Conspiracy “; Daily Beast reporter Will Sommers announcement his upcoming book on the subject; and the liveliest of them all, “Q: Into the Storm,” HBO’s six-episode documentary miniseries produced by the headline-grabbing Oscar winner Adam McKay.

It’s been three months since the nearly four-year-old conspiracy theory reached its violent climax. QAnon believers have teamed up with militia members, white nationalists and generally insane Trump supporters to storm the Capitol and flip the election for their preferred candidate. As a result, cable networks and publishers are doubling Americans’ potential interest in how such a vast online Byzantine community could distort both personal life and national politics so profoundly. At the center of QAnon’s mystique is the lingering mystery of the identity of the “Q” itself – the anonymous web forum poster, whose cryptic missives about the pedophilia of the “Deep State,” against which a heroic Trump opposes, a complete subcultural ecosystem of fear , apocalyptic interpretation, and tenacity have spawned amateur investigations by supporters and critics alike.

criticism accuse QAnon’s chroniclers in the media who haven’t learned lessons from the Trump era about the role of mainstream media in amplifying disinformation and extremist content. And more than any behind-the-scenes revelation about the conspiracy itself, “Into the Storm” is most impressive in how the belief and language of right-wing paranoiacs has spread like wildfire through our culture and politics – and the role the media plays played or not played in this phenomenon. (As if to illustrate this point, documentary filmmaker Cullen Hoback uses once-esoteric terms such as “Red Pilled” and “Q-Drops” as casually as if they were political jargon, and he was a substitute who tried to recreate the Biden- Infrastructure package to sell on Sunday indicates.)

Hoback offers a unique insight by giving full access not only to QAnon’s followers, but also to the likely developers. And depending on your perspective, what he learns may be relief, cause for concern, or both.

While Vice’s “The Search For Q” takes a traditional gonzo approach to its thematic material and filters “Tales of the Weird” -style encounters with QAnon supporters through the substitute reactions of his hosts and their interview topics, Hoback takes a different approach. He takes on the almost frightening investigative intensity of the true believer and spends endless hours with characters like Jim and Ron Watkins, the owners of the web forum 8chan (and its successor 8kun), in which QAnon was widely propagated. Frederick Brennan, the spurned founder of 8chan, who was an eternal thorn in the side of the Watkinses; and the small network of vapid YouTube personalities who have tied their personal fortunes to conspiracy theory.

On a deeply human level we see the social hierarchy under which QAnon flourished. It’s a pyramid with the enigmatic Watkins duo on top and a tribe of influencer Pharisees in the middle, where they compete for “likes” and subscriptions from the wayward true believers below. Hoback sheds light on this shadow media ecosystem and shows how human nature and the incentives of social media combine to create a powerful engine for conspiracy. We see the hollow heads and bare opportunists at the heart of QAnon as well as the simplicity of what it took to get them out of the way after years of online peacock: very simple to pull the plug.

Despite all the manipulations of the mainstream media about “responsible” reporting on conspiracy theories, the right-wing extremist party has built its own alternative media infrastructure that is largely independent of and indifferent to mainstream media. They did this by following both American free speech laws and – bis recently – Big Tech’s total indifference to the dissemination of extremist content.

However, the debate over who or what is responsible for spreading QAnon raises a question that is both cultural and political: Are a (still unclear) number of American minds supernaturally susceptible to conspiracy theories? Or was former President Trump a unique hype man for you at a unique historical moment?


The Details from QAnon, a mishmash Frankly, the cultic beliefs about powerful satanic pedophiles allegedly fought behind the scenes by a noble Trump-led Praetorian Guard aren’t very interesting in their own right. Jim and Ron Watkins admit they agree. They repeatedly claim their “apolitical” nature and lack of belief in theory, even when Jim (the father) wears one Q pin to a Congressional dismissal and host an inexpensive YouTube talk show devoted to right-wing politics, and Ron (the son) goes at length pop-philosophical about the Constitution and the primacy of free speech, while (spoiler alert) anything but admit He ran the Q-Account as part of an elaborate, aimless social experiment.

Hoback shows several conversations in which the two attempt to muster a philosophical defense of their commitment to absolutely unqualified language, but Jefferson and Lafayette do not. Ron makes a direct comparison between his father and Diogenes, the cynical philosopher who was notorious for doing stunts that made him an outcast but exposed the hypocrisy of ancient Greek society. But even in his day Diogenes was an influential philosopher; Watkins is an eccentric and amoral dilettante. Without a coherent social review to back it up, at some point you will simply wear one Diaper in public.

The elder Watkins found his way into the forum business as the owner of a company that hosted Japanese porn sites in the United States and circumvented the country’s strict censorship laws. His entry into the forum world led him to buy 8chan from Frederick Brennan, who launched the website in 2013 in response to perceived overcensorship – if you can believe it – on its predecessor, the infamous 4chan message board.

Eventually, Brennan and the Watkinses had a personal argument that caused Brennan to sever ties with them in 2018. When web hosts with direct links to the platform refused to wait for 8chan after three mass shootings in 2019, the Watkinses simply relaunched the website as “8kun” on a new and less socially conscious server, with Qs posts exclusively on the Watkins-operated forums . This creates Hoback’s central narrative conflict as Brennan seeks revenge by suggesting to anyone who listens that Jim Watkins himself is the mysterious “Q” at the heart of the QAnon phenomenon.

If all of this sounds Byzantine and vaguely exhausting, it is. Hoback is aware of the extent to which his obsession with Q’s identity mirrors the rabbit hole that the conspiracy’s supporters get lost in (as suggested in the style of the series) Title sequence). But finding evidence that the Watkins duo – as is commonly suspected by everyone from journalists to amateurs to conspiracy investigators – is behind Q is the least interesting aspect of the documentary. Rather, it shows why they continue to work so hard to provide QAnon with a platform and what such people can achieve in an unrestricted media environment.

After spending just six hours with Jim and Ron, let alone the dozen Hoback has done, their motivations seem pretty obvious: they enable (or put) Q simply because they can. Watkins père et fils Share a petty, nihilistic grin at the cost of harm QAnon may have caused – much like the rampant racism, pedophilia, and abuse that otherwise permeates their forums.

In its constellation of social media performers and cheerleaders, QAnon offers something more concrete: a form of celebrity, however minor it may be. Hoback chats extensively with Craig James, an unattractive extremist Christian “QTuber” who has now been banned from the platform. “Dustin Nemos” (real name Kreiger), a pale Anthony Hopkins guy whose work was similarly deleted; a number of others Oddball Hype Men (and women) for the Q conspiracy; even the hosts of QAnon Anonymous, a podcast devoted to debunking QAnon – the existence of which shows that the avenues to micro-celebrity through such phenomena are not just limited to the law.

For figures like James, Kreiger, and their allies, business is easier to analyze: they dedicate their public lives to a deception that alienates them from mainstream society and are duly rewarded with the very real prizes of social media influence and community spirit . but warped. Their followers at the end of the pyramid, of course, largely sacrifice their real world social ties for the sense of validation and catharsis that the community gives them, which has resulted in a micro-genre of journalism inside the pyramid it is have Law.

The cumulative effect of “Q: Into the Storm” is to paint a picture on an individual level of how and why conspirators do what they do, and to add to an already extensive work that focuses on the strange beliefs and broken ones social ties concentrated by QAnon’s followers.

Viewed as a collective work, this results in Americans outside the Q-Bubble being confronted with the amazingly complete, layered mirror world within. Once you see how this world works, it becomes hard to imagine that well-intentioned New York Times or Vox debunkers are the main tinder that drives it, as many disinformation experts and media critics have claimed. It’s the job of conspirators – it defines them – to jump on ghosts and make the Milquetoast kind of creepy. They may grab the attention of the mainstream media and validate it, but the total freedom social media offers has ensured that there are paranoid traps ready to befall the gullible, vulnerable, or just plain prejudiced people as long as such people exist – that is, to say forever or until the platforms pull the plug.

On January 6th, Q followers forcibly seized this endorsement to turn their paranoid fantasy into a threatening reality. They could also have dated the high water mark of their influence. “Into the Storm” uses the events of that day as a bleak coda depicting not only the terrible violence of the day, but also a decidedly less confident and lighthearted Jim Watkins than what we’re used to. Hoback depicts a grizzled, scruffy Watkins hobbling through Washington just looking at the violent weather system of the reaction in which Q operated.

As disturbing as the January 6 riots were, they did not undo the 2020 election defeat of Donald Trump, who quietly and shamefully left Washington weeks later, hours before Joe Biden’s inauguration, undisturbed by Q believers. expected military junta.

At this point, the mainstream media had given the Q a cold run, assuming Blow-by-blow accounts about how Q-centered communities collapsed in the face of their failed prophecies. In the numerous viral videos of tearful, disappointed Q followers, it becomes clear to what extent the conspiracy served a real emotional purpose in their lives – filling a real emotional void. It led some of them to violence and many more to personal ruin and conflict.

The Q conspiracy was a false premise, but a real phenomenon based on Donald Trump’s reality-distorting near-superpowers and the information anarchy of the major social media platforms. His presence as head of state and repeated refusal to reject QAnon gave him the fig leaf of plausibility that enabled so many followers to make their epistemic leap of faith. Now that he’s gone and Q’s prophecies have repeatedly been proven wrong, the community has splintered, and a cryptic message from Ron Watkins himself – which seemed to signal to his wards that they had reached the end of the line – was of no use. The Dimensions punishing action Social media giants, who took the conspiracy seriously after Jan 6th, have herded their remaining die-hard followers into increasingly private and niche communities where the barrier to entry is significantly higher. As has been the case for so many other forces since January 20th In response, it is easier than ever to tune the frequency of Q.

However, if the media has learned something in the past five years, ignoring social phenomena that seem bizarre or uncomfortable will not slow their spread. Politicians, reporters, neighbors, and family members just stay ignorant until those affected show up in your town hall or on your aunt’s Facebook feed, or break in the doors of the Capitol with a makeshift battering ram.

It’s been almost three months since Trump stepped down, but the Q documentaries already conjure up a world that seems resolutely in the rearview mirror, where conspirators shaped our reality through the presence of their ally in the chaos in the White House. Having witnessed the simple, corrupt promise of the Q Conspiracy up close, the unshakable suspicion remains that it or something like that might reappear in our politics – making the documentaries a useful reminder that such things are more than censored or be ignored Those who would speak out against it should be prepared to make a more attractive offer to their supporters.

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