Despite the fact that The Other Guy is no longer in the White House, his far right supporters in QAnon are, like the Corona virus, mutating and finding new ways to carry on and infect people.
Yes, some QAnon followers say they now feel they were conned by The Other Guy’s “four-year-old hoax;” but most other followers have recommitted themselves to QAnon, validating their continued involvement and encouraging each-other with slogans like “Trust the Plan” or “Hold the Line.”
FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said this week that domestic terrorism has been metastasizing around the country for a long time, and will not go away anytime soon. The FBI has called QAnon just such a domestic terror threat. Nevertheless, there are now Christian conservatives falling for QAnon’s unhinged conspiracies; and QAnon is even being used by some charismatic Christians as a way to interpret the Bible.
During services this past July, the Rock Urban Church in Grandville, Michigan played a discredited video that supports QAnon conspiracy theories. There’s also a movement, led by the Indiana-based Omega Kingdom Ministry, to merge QAnon and Christianity, with texts from both the Bible and Q, being read at church services. QAnon uses the language of Dominionism, a political ideology advocating conservative Christian nationalism governed by a far right understanding of biblical law. Adherents believe the same “deep state” that controls the country has also infiltrated traditional churches. This all fits in with QAnon’s apocalyptic desire to destroy the society “controlled” by the “deep state” and replace it with the QAnon-Christian Kingdom of God on Earth.
Details emerging from investigations into hundreds of January 2021 Capitol rioters have cast an unsettling light on the toxic roles played by fringe religious belief and QAnon conspiracy theories. A fellow from Kentucky, charged by the FBI as the first person to enter the Capitol through a broken window, saw himself fighting a holy war on behalf of his former president and wore a T-shirt quoting Ephesians 6:11: “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”
While Twitter and Facebook have moved aggressively to block conspiracy theories and distortions, tens of thousands of new far-right subscribers have now joined some of the more prominent QAnon channels and stand-alone websites. Many feel as firm as ever in their beliefs about a “deep state” darker reality behind what’s happening in today’s United States.
According to a new survey, more than a quarter of white evangelical Protestants still believe the QAnon conspiracy theory. The survey, which was conducted in late January 2021 by the conservative American Enterprise Institute, reported 29% of Republicans and 27% of white evangelicals believe the QAnon conspiracy theory is accurate. QAnon has infiltrated other faith groups as well, with 15% of white mainline Protestants, 18% of white Catholics, 12% of non-Christians, 11% of Hispanic Catholics, and 7% of black Protestants saying they believe and support it.
So what is going on here? Why do so many people still believe the now widely debunked allegations of QAnon about a “deep state” cabal of Democrats who are Satan-worshipping pedophiles operating an international child-sex-trafficking ring from their positions of power. Bringing QAnon people back to a space where they operate with truth and facts is going to be difficult but is critically important. Extremist movements develop or rely on fabricated conspiracy theories to capture the imagination of followers and motivate adherents to action.
Widespread support for conspiracy theories, of course, is not just a symptom of our contemporary mass media society. For some people the fear that evil forces conspire to hurt good people is deeply rooted in their psyche. In earlier times, witch hunts, for example, were based on a belief that young women gathered in forests to conspire with the devil. Don’t forget the Salem, Massachusetts witch trials between February 1692 and May 1693, one of Colonial America’s most notorious cases of mass hysteria. People were taught to fear witches but not to fear those who hanged or tortured them. Back then an overwhelming majority of people accused and convicted of witchcraft were women (about 78%). For today’s QAnon conspiracy theory advocates, some of the really evil people are Hilary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and their supporters.
QAnon began in October 2017, when an anonymous user put several posts on the “4chan” website, one of the most extreme message boards on the internet. The user “Q Clearance Patriot,” known to followers as “Q,” purported to be a high-level military intelligence official who leaves clues about a secret and coming epic battle of good versus evil with an eventual apocalyptic new age. Current social media and opinion polls indicate there are at least hundreds of thousands of people who believe in at least some of the bizarre theories offered up by QAnon.
I guess it comes as no surprise that The Former White House Guy’s most ardent and dangerous supporters, include groups such as QAnon, the Proud Boys, Oathkeepers, 3 Percenters, and America Firsters, who cloak themselves in Biblical language to justify their actions.
While QAnon is a serpentine conspiracy theory with no apparent foundation in reality, the theory has been increasingly linked to real-world violence like the devastating wildfire in Southern California. The Camp fire, which killed 85 people and destroyed more than 13,900 homes, was the latest focus of conspiracy theories spread by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who speculated that the blaze was started by a Jewish space laser beam. A QAnon supporter, Greene, was elected to the US Congress in November 2020. Most recently, however, the Democratic-majority House of Representatives voted on February 4, 2021 to remove Greene from her education and budget committee assignments in the chamber. The day before, Greene had received a standing ovation from her House Republican supporters in a closed-door meeting.
We really need to help people distinguish fact from fiction. This will be our increasingly important challenge. It starts at home and in primary and secondary education: helping people develop critical thinking skills. Debunking conspiracy theories when and where they appear is helpful, but it cannot be just the media or political leadership that provides this information. We have to understand the psychological triggers and motivations for this kind of thinking. The truth is that conspiracy theories will always thrive when people feel like they are not in control of their lives, and when anxious tensions exist in a highly polarized society. Phony populist movements like QAnon exploit people’s anxieties. We need to work together, helping people in difficult life situations. Let’s encourage bridge-building and truth-sharing and compassionate concern for the other, regardless of sex, gender, race, or nationality. Extremism flourishes in societies with obvious and growing inequality. Warm hearts help to open cold and closed minds.
Combating QAnon today is a major Christian challenge. It is dangerous and dishonest. It is antisemitic. It is also deceptively anti-Christian.