Back in October of 2017, an anonymous person calling themselves the “Q Clearance Patriot” (“Q” for short) started dropping vague messages on 4Chan purporting to detail President Donald Trump’s coming war on the “evil tyrants” who control America. These messages — called “breadcrumbs” or “Q Drops” by adherents — appear garbled and even incoherent to most of us, but a growing community has used alleged clues to piece together a narrative. That narrative involves a cabal of Hollywood actors, wealthy elites and well-known Democratic personalities like the Clintons and the Obamas, all of whom have conspired to exert control over America for their own sinister ends.
This is the essence of QAnon, which has become a big tent for a family of conspiracy theories involving secret child trafficking rings hidden right under our noses, Robert Mueller, COVID-19 trutherism and anti-Black Lives Matter sentiment. Holding it all together is the idea that Trump is working behind the scenes to engineer “The Storm” — a code name for the mission to dismantle this group of “Deep State” operatives and restore peace and order to America.
Joe Carter has done an excellent job explaining QAnon for the Gospel Coalition.
The appeal of QAnon isn’t hard to figure out. America has been, as they say, “going through it” lately. QAnon provides explanations — however farfetched — for the seemingly inexplicable. It simplifies the maze of life into a relatively simple narrative. As America grows less religious, conspiracy theories like QAnon can provide a religious sense of peace and meaning — assuring followers that everything is under control. QAnon is a sort of faith movement — one that has found a lot of traction with evangelical groups. In fact, a pastor of a megachurch used his sermon time to show a QAnon video just a few weeks ago.
There are a few possible reasons.
First, QAnon a logical extension of the culture war, providing real plot and vocabulary to the “us vs. them” model that became popular with the rise of the Moral Majority. QAnon codifies the mistrust of science, “big government” and celebrity into a real (if slippery) system.
Secondly, as evangelicalism becomes more of a secularized collective, QAnon rejuvenates it with new religious energy, providing a shared sense of secret knowledge to bring communities together and an assurance that everything is going to work out alright in the end. In a way, QAnon provides a political spin on end-times theology; a peek at the end of the book to provide confidence that the bad things happening now won’t last forever.
Finally, QAnon isn’t necessarily as crazy as it sounds. It’s undoubtedly true that powerful, immoral people do have an alarming amount of control and they do get away a lot of bad things. Look at the story of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, who had connections to powerful politicians on both sides of the aisle. Look at Roger Stone. Look at the Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma, who deliberately downplayed concerns about Oxycontin as the opioid crisis surged.
Unfortunately, these horrible stories more banal and out in the open than QAnon adherents want them to be. They aren’t mysteries. You can read about them in pretty much any newspaper in America. But the headlines provide enough confirmation bias to keep Q followers glued.
There are no easy answers about what can be done about QAnon. The lack of a shared epistemology means that debates are often doomed to frustration, as what one side considers a trusted news source may be considered a propaganda machine by the other. But the fact that Christians seem extra open to conspiracies does reveal that something is deeply broken in how people of faith are spreading their worldview. When Christianity is set up as a cultural battle instead of an opportunity to serve, others are seen not as people in need of love but enemies who need to be feared and mistrusted.