Qanon

As I’ve watched the Republican National Convention, all I could think was: Where is Q? And which of the people on my television screen is a Patriot?

Q, for those who aren’t watching the political fringes, is the man, woman or perhaps group of people whose cryptic internet messages helped create the shadowy, cultish conspiracy theory known as QAnon, which in any reasonable country in any sane era would be dismissed or denounced by rational politicians of all stripes.

Patriots are QAnon adherents. What they believe is convoluted, multifarious and hard to describe. But at root, the theory holds that President Donald Trump is trying to save the world by waging a heroic covert war against an international cabal of Satanic pedophiles, Democrats and “deep state” elites.

QAnon has been deemed a “fringe political conspiracy theory” by the (deep state) FBI, and one that is very likely to motivate domestic extremists to engage in violence or criminal activity.

But that’s no problem for Republicans! In fact, QAnon and its tens of thousands of internet followers were given a huge vote of support — a virtual welcome into the GOP — by none less than Trump himself on the eve of the party convention.

Trump said he’d heard that QAnon supporters “like me very much, which I appreciate” and that they’re people who “love our country.” Reminded that they believe he is saving the world from a global conspiracy involving Satanism and cannibalism, he said, apparently with a straight face, “I mean, you know, if I can help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do it.”

I can only assume Trump’s calculation in cozying up to QAnon is that when you get right down to it, a vote from a deranged QAnon supporter counts for just as much as a vote from a Nobel Prize-winning astrophysicist — and is far more likely to be cast for Trump.

But let’s take a closer look at just what kind of people he’s welcoming into the Republican big tent.

Q himself (or herself or themselves) is believed by his admirers to be a senior-level Trump administration official with high — “Q level” — security clearance. Q mostly posts pronouncements, clues and exhortations. People seem to be drawn in because they like trying to unravel the enigmatic messages. Q urges them to “Do your own research” and “Don’t be a sheep” and “Follow the money.”

The group has many slogans and catchphrases, but the most common is “where we go one, we go all” — or WWG1WGA.

Here’s a Q drop from a few weeks ago:

NOTHING CAN STOP WHAT IS COMING.

NOTHING

WWG1WGA

What is coming?

Q doesn’t say. That’s for thousands of researchers and Patriots to hash out. And no doubt that’s kind of fun — like a blockbuster video game come to life in which we all have a role to play in saving the world from evil villains. Only this time, it’s for real.

Here are the top few lines of another Q drop:

“(infiltration)

Only those who could (can) be controlled (via blackmail or like-beliefs) were installed in critical leadership positions across all political and non-political Control and Command Positions (CCP).

CCP (necessary) to ensure protective blanket (insurance).

Traitors everywhere.

(D) leadership in joint ops w/ China (CCP) in effort to regain power?

It was never about the virus.

Sequence of events.”

What does that mean?

Your guess is as good as mine.

After Trump spoke about QAnon, one Patriot declared:

“(QAnon) is not a cult and there are no leaders. All Q wants you to do is think for yourself ... Q is what started everything. Q got The People looking at the spying ... looking at the treason, looking at the sedition ... looking at the human trafficking ... looking at the Crimes Against Humanity and the Crimes Against Children ... looking at everything the Deep State and the Mainstream Media refuse to cover. The virus and the rioting isn’t the real pandemic. ALL THIS OTHER STUFF IS.”

The QAnon world is a strange and dark place, and the deeper into it you go, the more difficult it is to untangle. COVID-19 might be fake, or, perhaps, intentionally invented by the deep state to harm Trump’s reelection chances. JFK Jr. was assassinated. Ellen DeGeneres and Tom Hanks and the Clintons and Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey are all part of a global conspiracy. Children are in danger.

Here’s a tweet I saw:

“This is me at 13, the age I was when @tomhanks purchased me from my father for sex as a disassociated #mindcontrol doll. I wonder how much he paid.”

It was reposted by another person who wrote “Straight from the victim herself.”

Throw all this fantastical, paranoid stuff up on our hugely powerful social media platforms and amplify the message some more with the help of some Russian bots. Add in some unstable people and ask everyone to interpret it as they see fit. And you have a recipe for trouble.

Two scholars, in an article for the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, highlighted five cases of criminal activity motivated by QAnon, including that of a QAnon adherent who was accused of killing a mobster last year and another who came to New York armed and threatening to kill Joe Biden in order to save children. The ADL notes that “QAnon adherents have been linked to acts of murder, violence, kidnapping and public disturbance.”

Coddling QAnon is enormously irresponsible. Any rational politician would have condemned it long ago. But not our president.

And it’s no coincidence that QAnon has grown so quickly in the Trump era. It makes perfect sense that when people don’t trust the media, when they don’t trust scientists, when they see government as a “swamp” and are told that some politicians want to destroy their communities and control their minds — that’s when conspiracy theories can take root. If nothing can be trusted, anything might be true!

When he pointedly refuses to criticize QAnon and suggests that yes, indeed, its adherents are patriots, President Trump is playing a dangerous game.

Nicholas Goldberg is an associate editor and op-ed columnist for the Los Angeles Times.