QAnon

Weaponizing Conspiracy Theory: The Dangers in Priming People for Armed Revolution

Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.

The words of the French Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire above have often, in recent years, been used to explain the madness of religious terrorism. By getting lost in a belief system, one can often lose their moral compass (or perhaps more correctly, have it ‘re-aligned’), and by submitting to that belief system, also surrender their agency.

In the last couple of years, however, Voltaire’s statement has often come to my mind as I have watched the viral takeover of certain sections of the political spectrum by outlandish conspiracy theories. A number of readers of the Grail have criticized my focus in recent months on broadcaster Alex Jones, and the somewhat linked Pizzagate and Qanon conspiracy theories. But that focus comes from both a deep interest, and concern, at what has been unfolding over the past 10 to 15 years in the conspiracy scene.

While there have been other prominent conspiracy theories embraced by conservative supporters over the past decade (e.g. Birtherism), since slightly before the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States in 2016 the Pizzagate and Qanon phenomena have ‘upped the game’ in terms of both the number of active believers, and the level of incitement to action they have engendered – much of which comes from the addition of crucial, anger-inducing elements such as pedophilia.

Now I love a good conspiracy theory, but the fact is that both Pizzagate and Qanon are absolute rubbish, with ‘plot holes’ you could drive a truck through and bonkers scenarios that any right-minded person would realise are nonsense. So why are so many people so heavily invested in them?

At some level, I’m sure people get a thrill out of LARPing as ‘crime-fighting detectives’, in which they think they are solving clues in order to save children/civilization. At another, perhaps it’s the need for some on the right to explain the paradox of how the system they thought was supposedly rigged and controlled by the Deep State allowed Donald Trump to get elected. It’s a shelter for people that want to continue to feel that they are the ones who are persecuted, despite the fact that the party they support holds all arms of government…so they create a shadowy cabal that still needs to be conquered.

But mostly, I think the blind acceptance is well-explained by the same theories that apply to internet cults. Conspiracypsychology.com points out these commonalities in a post titled “Internet prophecy cults 101: QAnon and his predecessors” (well worth reading in full), which is helpfully illustrated with previous examples of internet cults.

In short: first, you find an audience, and tell them what they want to hear – that they are the good guys, and there are bad guys out there against them. Then make some prophecies about what’s going to happen – when the date passes without anything happening, make an excuse. Those that remain are your ‘true believers’. You can now make vague, Barnum-statements, contradict yourself, disappear for weeks at a time if you wish – and your followers will just make it all fit their narrative.

For many non-believers, the pure batshit-craziness of these conspiracy theories has led to them largely being treated as a joke, a good side-laugh to the serious business of politics. I believe this is a massive under-estimation of what they have become. Where things get dangerous, with Pizzagate and Qanon, is (a) in the number of fanatical believers in these dumb conspiracy theories, and (b) in the promotion of them as being a battle between literal forces of good and evil… because now it’s religious, and we all know where that can lead.

On the first point: literally hundreds of thousands of people are now actively following these theories, among them the likes of high-profile right-wing ‘influencers’ such as Roseanne Barr and the creator of Minecraft, ‘Notch’. A recent Qanon video now has over a million views on YouTube; meanwhile, a mobile app that disseminated the Qanon ‘drops’ to fans was near the top of both Apple and Google’s app store charts for months. And a book promoting QAnon became a bestseller on Amazon, reaching a peak of #2. This stuff is not the ravings of a few people on an obscure messageboard – it is *mainstream*.

On the second point, by telling these hundreds of thousands of adherents that everything they believe is right and good, and everything they disagree with is evil, hurting innocents, and ultimately out to get them, these conspiracy theories have turned a whacky LARP-style scenario into a cultish-movement that I believe could be moved to ‘commit atrocities’, as Voltaire said (while thinking themselves that they are doing good).

Qanon supporter wearing a noose t-shirt
Rick Loomis / Getty Images

To illustrate my point here, I want you to look at the above image that accompanied mainstream news stories earlier this month: it’s a whacky ‘Q’ supporter at a Trump rally, wearing a big-ass Q around his neck. What nobody seemed to pick up on in these mainstream stories though is what’s on his t-shirt: a noose. This isn’t just symbolic – I’ve seen many, many Pizzagate and Qanon posts and comments where people have been calling for Hillary, John Podesta and others to literally hang from the gallows. This is a call to action.

Pizzagate commenters on YouTube talking about hanging people

And we have already seen real-world manifestations of Pizzagate and Qanon discussion pushing people into action, with believers involved in incidents relatively recently that thankfully ended up with no-one hurt, though they could have gone very wrong: Edgar Welch, the ‘Pizzagate shooter’ who fired off rounds with an AR-15 inside the pizzeria Comet Ping Pong because he believed the claims that children were being held inside against their will; and Matthew Wright, who was arrested after a stand-off on a bridge near the Hoover Dam where he blocked traffic while parked in an armored truck with weapons inside, demanding action against the ‘criminals’ exposed by Qanon.

Now I’d like you to put yourself in the mind of a ‘believer’ and watch the Qanon video below that has had over a million views. Pay attention to the changes in the dramatic music and the use of imagery, and its timing with the voiceover (“…some good people still held positions of power”, with Michael Flynn imagery; “It would involve alliances with multiple countries”, as Putin is shown). Understand the cultish/religious language used in the voiceover: providing simple answers to the ills of the world, that we are in a state of tribulation as good battles evil, and ultimately that belief in and support for ‘the great leader’ who has emerged to fight that battle will ultimately lead to a promised land.

And take special note of the reactions by Qanon believers in the comments: that they were getting chills and crying while watching it – evidence of the emotional investment in the idea it puts forward, that the Qanon group are righteous and on the side of good, and that they are in an ‘end-times’ type battle to defeat the ‘cabal’ which brings evil into the world:

Have you ever wondered why we go to war, or why you never seem to be able to get out of debt? Why there is poverty, division, or crime? What if I told you there was a reason for it all?

…what if I told you that those who were corrupting the world, poisoning our food, and igniting conflict, were about to be permanently eradicated from the Earth.

These criminals are known as the Deep State, or Cabal…every president after Reagan was one of these Deep State criminals and their empire got even stronger…the world collapsed into darkness.

…The world is currently experiencing a dramatic covert war of Biblical proportions. Literally the fight for Earth, between the forces of good and evil.

So how is this battle between good and evil going to play out? Here’s the answer:

It came down to two choice for America. Launch a military coup to seize the government from whichever cabal puppet was in the White House at the time. Or win legitimately, take control of the NSA, expose the criminals for what they are, and arrest them all.

…It is about to begin a much more important and necessary phase: keeping the public informed when the Deep State war breaks out onto the surface. By this I mean high-profile arrests….the criminals I am referring to are famous politicians, actors, singers, CEOs and celebrities…they have done very bad things…and they will be severely punished.

Those of us who have followed Q since the beginning will be here to help you make sense of the coming events.

That’s right, the Qanon conspiracy is literally laying the groundwork for a military coup in what is supposedly the world’s greatest democracy – and has primed its believers to actually *cheer* when that happens.

Is that a possibility? It seems unlikely – for a start, it would require the Trump administration to actually have a plan to do that, and even if that scenario were true one would hope that rest of the American government, and people, would not allow such a thing to happen. But it does give a window into how something like Qanon could be used to do such a thing: imagine if Qanon caught on even more than it has, and the majority of the Republican base believed it? Or if this was all playing out in a country with more history of non-democratic takeovers, rather than the U.S.

What is perhaps more concerning, is what all this ‘priming’ might result in, in the scenario of Donald Trump being ‘taken down’ (in any way, from impeachment – which this week the odds have certainly got shorter on – through to the hopefully less likely chance that a lone nutter might commit a violent act against him). All of these people now have a deep belief that forces of evil are conspiring against their saviour Donald Trump – so what will they do if they feel like evil is now winning? Will there be acts of violence by Pizzagate and Qanon believers that go beyond the actions of the Edgar Welch and Matthew Wright?

Some elements of Donald Trump’s political support base have already been seeding this idea. Trump’s long-time friend and advisor, Roger Stone, has warned that if the President is impeached there will be “a spasm of violence in this country, an insurrection like you’ve never seen; that “both sides are heavily armed” and that any politician in favour of impeachment “would be endangering their own life.”.

And ex-CIA analyst Michael Scheurer published a blog post titled “A republican citizenry’s greatest, last-resort duty is to kill those seeking to impose tyranny“, in which he stated “it is quite near time for killing those involved in the multiple and clearly delineated attempts to stage a coup d’état against the legitimately elected Trump government.”

This constant priming of believers in a conspiracy to take up arms is fraught with danger. It’s one of my primary criticisms of Alex Jones and company: if you are going to speculate, especially on highly-volatile topics like this, then you need to be very careful in how you frame it, with an understanding of your audience. Many conspiracy believers have high levels of paranoia and/or anger – especially if they are submerged in the constant stream of fear-porn bullshit that you find on Infowars every day – and a tendency to see patterns that aren’t always there. There must be a duty of care with any broadcaster promoting these highly emotive conspiracy theories.

And Alex Jones fails in his duty of care all the time. For instance:

  • Just recently he called for viewers to get their “battle rifles” ready to battle Antifa.
  • Last week, after a man was arrested for starting fires in California, it was discovered that he posted many conspiracy videos to his Facebook page including some from Alex Jones and Infowars correspondent Paul Joseph Watson.
  • Alex Jones’s coverage of Pizzagate was reportedly the spark for the Comet Ping Pong incident where Edgar Welch fired off a round inside a family restaurant.
  • In 2016, an Infowars fan named Lucy Richards was arrested for threatening the parents of Sandy Hook victim Noah Pozner multiple times, and was later sentenced to five months in prison: “As a condition of parole, a judge ordered that she cease consuming Infowars programming.”

And the list goes on:

Obviously, there are more factors and influences at work in these cases than simply Alex Jones. But even if you don’t believe he can be blamed for the above despicable incidents, you would think most decent people would look at that list, and be chastened enough to have a deep think about their presentation style and content, and the effects it might be having. Jones doesn’t seem to care.

So it’s important for the rest of us – from conspiracy believer through to hardcore skeptic – to realise how conspiracy theories can push us to ‘commit atrocities’. That doesn’t mean we should make discussion of conspiracy theories a forbidden topic – conspiracies happen all the time, and it’s important they can be brought to light. But this shows us the importance of staying rational, understanding that certain people might be pushing agendas rather than a search for truth, and perhaps most importantly of all, retaining our moral compass.

And anybody not willing to do so should be made a pariah and excluded as a source of information. I’m looking at you Alex Jones.

Editor
  1. I agree with you on Alex Jones and most of what you say here. My only criticism is that your targets seem to predominantly right-wing based when there’s equal left-wing conspiracy that promote violence and hatred. I think you’d gain more credibility — and, in the long run, start to build bridges — if you would be more balanced. There seems to be an agenda that underlies your rage against Alex Jones. I don’t recall your furor against Jones when he attacked George W Bush for being behind the 911 attacks.
    Kooks will always be among us. But, if you really want more civil discourse and a more just society, I think we need to start with ourselves first.

      1. The ridiculous Russian collusion with Donald Trump for one. Those Antifa nutters cause violence almost everywhere they go.
        BLM operates under the conspiracy that racist cops are killing black people for sport even though has clearly been disproven. That led to a man shooting several people in Dallas.
        The SPLC’s almost comical “hate group list” that inspired a guy to take a backpack full of Chik-fil-A sandwiches and try to shoot up a place on the SPLC’s list.

    1. Antifa is a movement dedicated to resisting fascism and bigotry. Accusing them of promoting violence and hatred is like accusing the Resistance against Nazis in 40s France of “promoting violence and hatred.”

  2. Super soldiers they ain’t. Just another of Soros’ “divide and conquer” apps. This is just rewarmed Gladio stuff and has become an embarrassment which is why there are centrist democrats urging the MSM to stop covering their riots

        1. What’s beneath some conspiracy thinkers, is their failure to recognize that behind their fears of “the global bankers” and George Soros and the Bilderbergers and yadda yadda yadda, there is a deep and nasty background of antisemitism, as old as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion –the false propaganda exploited by both the Tsarists in Russia and the Nazis in Germany.

          1. We must never criticize the chosen people. Jewish people with power never show in-group preference. And even if they did, it would surely NEVER be in a way that would negatively affect other groups. Nope. Because if any of that were actually true, we might need to talk about it or address it. And if we talked about it or addressed it, we would literally be NAZIS. And the next think you know, we’d be throwing them into ovens. Fellow goys, we better just not talk about it.

    1. What is happening in the US is the end game of capitalism run amok. It was designed that way initially and taken advantage of through decades of money in politics through lobbying law makers.

      I think it was a Rockefeller who stated that whoever owned the banks didn’t have to play by the rules..essentially at any rate.

      This is not a Russia/US thing..this is a money thing.

  3. The speed at which the Q-anon scene grew, struck me as really suspicious. That might be the real conspiracy, if there is one. It went from labyrinthine posts on 8/pol/, to everyone and their Mom sharing the latest updates on facebook-twitter-youtube, in just a few weeks.

  4. You obviously haven’t been paying attention to all that’s come out in the last few months about the *real* Coup attempt that Brennan, Ohr, Strzok, Mueller, et al are unquestionably engaged in. I don’t believe in “Qanon” either, but to ignore the daily revelations of profound FBI/DoJ misconduct in both the ‘Clinton Email’ and ‘Trump Collusion’ investigations – invariably by the same small and clearly defined group of people – is to swallow the Deep State’s propaganda line in the Slave Media, “Hook, Line & Sinker”. The coordinated wave of censorship against indie news reporters on the Right (and, increasingly, also on the Anti-Establishment Left, as well) is indicative of Police State tactics in preparation for such a coup. The coup isn’t coming from Trump, but if he has to round up the plotters to put it down, so be it. I hadn’t heard of him or his quote before, but that ex-CIA analyst Michael Scheurer may indeed turn out to be right.

  5. Not a Trump supporter, but your article took a huge slide to the Left at the end. It makes your article look more like a hit piece against Trump than anything else. You could have done it without the examples of “right wing violence” and it would still have been a good read. Is there anyone remaining who can write a balanced opinion about politics?

  6. Soros certainly fits the current day role of the Rothschilds ala 1960s John Birch Society paranoia blaming International Bankers (*cough* Jewish bankers *cough*) for the global conspiracy.

    A lot of this Soros propaganda was ratcheted up by Sputnik/RT and then regurgitated by Infowars, Rense and the usual echo chambers in 2015 at the time that Soros made public criticisms about Russian aggression in Crimea, which of course got Putin’s panties in a bunch. That was around the same time you saw this anti Soros propaganda go bananas and seep into mouthpieces like Alex Jones, Rense et al, along and the evolution of sketchy websites like Veterans Today that pumped out these pro-Russia/Putin conspiracy memes amplified by the emerging alt right wanker crowd who puppeted the same shit.

    So Russia certainly had a hand in a lot of these memes targeting and cultivating malleable audiences, for instance the militia movement (or whatever you want to call it these days) where you heard a lot of this blather being repeated (Soros, Agenda 21, Jade Helm Walmart FEMA Camp rat fuck) during the Bundy Ranch shit show by “Patroits” who just picked this crap up from facebook memes and then shared them with like-minded morons.

  7. You don’t have to subscribe to conspiracy theories to dislike George Soros. Soros, the NGOs he operates and funds, his friends and supporters – neo-cons, neo-liberals, the majority of big business leaders (imagine that!) – reveal their sympathies and desires through what they openly support, and oppose. Does he generally support left-leaning progressivism? Yes. Does he oppose Brexit? Yes. Does he undermine the will of sovereign nations with his meddling, shaping, and spinning of the so called migrant crisis? Yes, though naturally I’m aware some would argue that last point, and might say I’ve been memed by Sergei! Is Soros an evil supervillain? Maybe not. His heart may very well be in the right place. But that doesn’t matter. He’s not bringing a bad cake to a potluck. He’s pulling strings on a world stage.

    Rapid fire: Jeff Rense has no audience. People under 35 only watch Alex Jones for entertainment or as a palate cleanser to the MSM. The alt-right ‘wankers’ would largely agree with me on Soros. There is no modern day militia movement. China is a much bigger threat than Russia.

    1. https://johngraysonblog.wordpress.com/2017/01/16/how-george-soros-destabilizes-countries-feat-vladimir-putin-bernie-sanders-the-clinton-foundations-smoking-gun-to-russia-and-more/

      “Liberal security through insanity:

      By now it should be made clear that “asymmetric”, “nonlinear” warfare isn’t a bad concept per se, when left in the right hands. In fact (and this is NOT concern trolling), even Trump has utilized “nonlinear” warfare beautifully to his benefit – the entirety of his campaign could be considered a “guerilla insurgency”.

      This is something we should definitely keep our eyes on, as something similar is already happening in this election cycle. For example:

      PolitiFact; Correct The Record (those people being paid to post are slowly starting to believe what they’re posting – gaslighting, remember?); all the televised comedy shows; Snopes being taken seriously as a new source, even though it’s run by a husband-and-wife team googling everything. The heads of ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, etc all attempting to get Hillary elected, the collusion at all levels of government (legal and otherwise) to undermine Trump; even Michael Moore’s “Trumpland”. There’s a cultural insurgency, a memetic warfare, going on right now. Obama wanting to create a “Ministry of Truth”, Facebook censoring pro-Trump tweets, the smugness of everyday liberals casually injecting their two cents, and even in the latest fad of commercials hammering in an opinion by repeating the same thing over and over and over and over again. The list goes on and on.

      If it weren’t for weaponized autism, memetic warfare, and a billionaire independent candidate taking over the GOP, none of us would be “redpilled” and “woke”. There’s still much work to be done, given the US Government is now involved, effectively repealing the government propaganda ban against American citizens….

      One thing’s for certain, the CIA-inspired cultural insurgency will last long after November 8th, and Soros has raised a new revolutionary insurgency in this election cycle.”

          1. I dismiss any posts that are just links.

            Provide your own thoughts on the link and what you think is going on with this topic.

  8. “I dismiss any posts that are just links.
    Provide your own thoughts on the link and what you think is going on with this topic.”

    Then you’ll have to dismiss the very article that started this whole thread because it is riddled with “links.”

    1. It’s also riddled with the words of the author.

      And you need to increase your reading comprehension. I said “that are just links”. The article is obviously not just links. Most of your posts are “just” links with no context from you. People have better things to do than spend two to three hours or more listening to YouTube videos or/and read multiple pages just to find a nugget of something you MIGHT of intended. Without your words to explain the link and to express your thoughts on the matter make it a waste of time.

    1. Still don’t know what you mean and most of your posts are just links. What does “Soros games” mean? That he rocks Skyrim or that he is cheating? About what and how?

    1. BTW…when you insist on communicating through links instead of talking about what you think on this topic it gives off the strong impression that you don’t have any personal thoughts on the matter and just find links that you think are related.

      FWIW I doubt anyone has read your links or much of them.

  9. This article has some true insights but is slanted to the Left. In fact, it is the unhinged Left that is violent not the Right who have yet to really fight. Sure a few right-wing Lone Wolves have committed violent acts. However, the violence on the Left by ANTIFA, Code Pink, BLM et-al is sanctioned and incited by top levels of the leaders of the Democratic Party like Keith Ellison, Nancy Pelosi, Maxine Waters. That Obama’s DOJ and FBI was weaponized against Trump during the campaign is not a conspiracy theory, it is a fact.

  10. I completely missed the comments the last time the article was featured.

    Thanks…, this stuff goes straight into my story folders.

    Directive 51 by John Barnes springs to mind when I read through the comments after the article. It’s a SF novel, part of his Daybreak series, when the conspiracy nuts destroy technological society, killing billions.

    Wiki – Directive 51 (novel)

    I find that this stuff can only be understood in Story. The reason for that is, Fiction has to make sense, where reality doesn’t. It’s all too easy to tell an ever shifting, constantly changing, narrative, but if you tried to put it all into a coherent narrative as Fiction, it collapses.

    Think of “Conspiracy Theories” as playing Jenga, in narrative form. The tower grows. Pieces are shifted around until it collapses. Then someone re-stacks the tower and the game starts all over again.

    – Conspiracy thinking is an endless attempt to build a stable narrative Jenga tower. Can’t be done, but the brain gets trapped in the attempt.

    It’s essentially one more way for the brain to express addictive behavior. A narrative based addiction, rather than drugs, similar to having an epileptic seizure.

    BTW, I was inoculated against “Conspiracy Theories” when I was a kid. The movie, Executive Action, with Burt Lancaster came out in the 70s. Ever since I watched that, conspiracy theories have no power over me.

    Wiki – Executive Action (film)

    Executive Action – Trailer
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KxSHi6B8qEQ

    Basically, whenever people start babbling conspiracy theory I always ask, “What has this to do with the Kennedy Assassination,” and their narrative Jenga tower collapses. HA!

    As an aside, stuff like conspiracy theory is not new. The “form” is the heart for all religions. Narrative Theology is that narrative Jenga tower I mentioned above.

    – A leader builds a narrative to his followers. When it gets toxic, you have Jones Town, Branch Davidian(Waco), all the way down to the local church.

    History is caught in the same narrative Jega trap. Hayden White pointed out in, The Fiction of Narrative, that “Narrative” by definition is “Fiction”, so all History is Fiction.

    This is also the source of “Scientism”. People need to build a narrative Jenga tower and are constantly panicked when you try to point out that it’s unstable.

    “Black holes don’t exist.” – Guy pointing to a piece near the bottom.

    “Don’t touch that!” – Science Believer

    But I digress. HA!

  11. As a Politically Independent Moderate I am sensitive to the argument that there is a political bias in pointing to RW Conspiracy theories without mentioning those on the left. Unfortunately that bias is a reflection of an asymmetry that indeed exists in reality. Evangelical Fundamentalism, Right Wing Authoritarianism and Social Dominance Orientation create especially fertile ground for Right Wing Conspiracy theories to thrive. Those conditions do not currently exist in equal measure on the left.

    “Right-Wing Authoritarianism, Social Dominance Orientation, and Prejudice”

    https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/0f0c/7e64dea5935cc1b0e931308ed843092fcefb.pdf

  12. I think the anomalies community needs to come to Jesus and own up to its own contributions over the years to the epidemic of virulent conspiracy fever we’re now experiencing.

    For almost a decade I’ve been telling anyone who’d listen that some of the people who blindly believe that the government is lying to us about UFOs, alien-human hybridization, Bigfoot, underwater UFO bases, Missing 411, a secret space program, etc. and/or the government has been attacking us with chemtrails, a now-defunct HAARP, MK-Ultra (an artifact of the 50s through 70s), electronic targeting, etc. are very right-wing in their views and susceptible to right-wing conspiracy mongers and white supremacists. John Ventre’s racist screed on Facebook was no surprise to those of us who were paying attention.

    I have a hunch what draws some to the anomalies community is its anti-government bias not our cherished Fortean phenomena. Attacking Alex Jones or Q-anon seems disingenuous and a little late in the game when we’ve been promoting and relying on conspiracy theories for years. After we’ve done a bit of tidying up at home first, we can condemn others for the messes they’ve made.

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