Commentary: Reagan Reed
Today was supposed to be a big day. For it is today, March 4, 2021, that a military coup was supposed to overthrow the current illegitimate government controlled by a global satanic pedophile ring, inaugurating a second Trump term and ushering the arrests of sinister deep state actors to be brought to justice through mass executions. Today should have been the most important day in the history of the country, indeed, the world. That is, according to adherents of the QAnon.
For those not familiar with this esoteric and idiosyncratic movement, QAnon is a conspiracy theory started by an anonymous poster on 4chan (where all cultural cancers go to metastasize) known as “Q” who claimed to be a whistleblower in the top echelons of the U.S. government with top security clearance and access to inside information.
The basic tenant of QAnon is that Hollywood and the U.S. government are run by a globalist cabal of Satan-worshipping, cannibalistic pedophiles who torture children in order to harvest something akin to the Star Wars prequel midichlorians from their blood. The only thing standing in their way is Donald Trump, who is fighting a secret war against the cabal and will lead a military coup known as “The Storm” where the satanic pedophile ring will be arrested and executed. “Q” would update followers by posting “drops” on 4chan containing esoteric hints regarding the latest on Trump’s secret fight against the pedophiles.
The QAnon ilk has spawned even weirder conspiracies, such as “Pizzagate”, the theory that a Democratic Party pedophile ring is operating in the non-existent basement allegedly under a Washington D.C. pizza parlor, and the grotesquely bizarre “Frazzledrip” theory that former Congressman Anthony Weiner’s laptop had a video on it of Hillary Clinton and Huma Abedin torturing a little girl, fileting her face off, and then wearing it as a mask.
However, QAnon is more than just a collection of whacky conspiracy theories. It has many of the hallmarks of an entire religion. It has a grand metanarrative and worldview, an epic struggle between good and evil, a savior (Trump), and a Judgement Day (The Storm). Indeed, for many QAnon adherents, the movement has become a substitute for religion.
While it has existed for a few years, QAnon exploded in 2020 during the lockdowns. As attendance numbers for churches and community organizations declined due to lockdowns, online movements like QAnon grew. I don’t think that is a coincidence. Lonely and disconnected people, separated from their real-life communities, found a sense of meaning and a virtual community in the QAnon movement.
The lockdowns have displaced and isolated people, and I don’t think we truly know yet how psychologically devastating the past year has been for society. Many people are scared, and many others even more suspicious of a government that has expanded to exert more control over our lives than ever before. It doesn’t take a sociological study to suspect that the gravitation towards QAnon and extremism online is to some extent a byproduct of Covid-19 lockdowns.
People are looking for meaning beyond zoom meetings and dystopian and impersonal masked crowds everywhere they look. Once they stumble into QAnon and its all encompassing worldview, they enter into a completely new reality. The computer age has increasingly blurred the line between reality and virtual reality, a process that has only accelerated now that so much of our lives have moved online during the pandemic.
QAnon has become an entire reality for its followers. A false religion with a false prophet.
The bible outlines a test for whether someone is a true prophet or not that actually makes a lot of sense whether you are religious or not:
“If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.” Deuteronomy 18:22 NIV
It’s fairly straightforward: if the prophet makes predictions that come true, they are legit, but if their predictions don’t come to pass, then you know they are a false prophet.
QAnon fails the Deuteronomy 18 test miserably. Q has predicted that the apocalyptic “Storm” is just around the corner on multiple occasions, only to keep pushing it back as the grand predictions invariably failed to materialize. QAnon adherents predicted that the election results would be overturned and Trump would be inaugurated for a second term on January 22, which ultimately culminated in the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol. Many of the insurrectionists who have been arrested, it turns out, are QAnon adherents.
While one might expect that QAnon would disappear after Joe Biden was inaugurated as president and its prophecies failed to materialize, the movement has actually continued, adjusting to new developments with new theories. For example, that Biden and Trump are secretly working together, or the conspiracy theory that Biden and Trump switched faces meaning that Trump was actually the one sworn in on January 22 even though it appeared to be Biden (cutting off faces seems to be an obsession for these people). However, the most recent QAnon theory is that “The Storm” was actually supposed to happen on March 4.
The reason QAnons picked March 4 as the most recent day for “The Storm” stems from a bizarre and out of context interpretation of legislation passed in 1871 to incorporate Washington D.C. as a city, which QAnons claim somehow dissolved the federal government and turned it into a private corporation. According to this theory, we have been operating without a valid government since 1871, and every “president” since Ulysses S. Grant has been illegitimate. QAnons contend that Trump will initiate “The Storm” and be inaugurated as the 19th president on March 4, since that was the original Inauguration Day before the 20th Amendment was passed in 1933, changing Inauguration Day to January 22.
Cults adapting to failed predictions by changing the goalposts is nothing new. In fact, there’s a whole Wikipedia page listing the various failed doomsday predictions if you want to spend several hours going down rabbit trails. The way that Qanon’s date for the predicted “Storm” keeps getting pushed back whenever the latest predicted date arrives and nothing happens is reminiscent of the ever changing goalposts of apocalyptic millenarian cults.
The televangelist Harold Camping infamously predicted that Judgement Day would come on September 6, 1994. When his prophecy failed to materialize, he pushed the date back to September 29 and then October 2. He then emerged with a prediction that the big day would be May 21, 2011, before admitting he got the date wrong and accounting it would actually happen on October 21, 2011.
And yet, even after each failed prophecy, Camping’s adherents kept blindly following. The Jehovah’s Witnesses still have millions of adherents despite multiple failed predictions for the date of the apocalypse. Confirmation bias is a powerful thing.
QAnon adherents are fortunately a very small sliver of the U.S. population. However, the harm they are doing is very real, as we saw with the January 6 insurrection. There is even a QAnon member of Congress, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green (R-Georgia). Disappointingly, Trump, who could do a lot to dispel the theory, has declined to denounce it, only saying that, “I don’t know much about the movement, other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate.”
However, the worst part of QAnon has been the human toll. It has torn apart countless families, and damaged enough personal relationships that there is a whole subreddit dedicated to families destroyed by the conspiracy theory.
With March 4 failing to bring “The Storm”, hopefully many QAnons will realize they have been duped and leave the cult. Unfortunately, many will probably just push the date back again and continue adjusting the narrative.
Ultimately, the antidote to QAnon is to strengthen real-life communities and churches. Humans need a sense of meaning and belonging, and we need to encourage people to find these thing is healthy communities and real life relationships, rather than resorting to online cults and esoteric conspiracy theories.