QAnon: "Destroying Families, Dividing Communities, Undermining Democracy"
On the 14th of June 2020 in Haverhill, Massachusetts, police gave chase to a van that had been linked to an assault earlier in the day. The van led the police on a 20 mile chaotic pursuit, reaching speeds of 110mph. Throughout the event the driver, Alpalus Slyman, was livestreaming himself over the internet, ranting about Coronavirus being a hoax, JFK faking his death and his neighbours being 'deep state' spies, whilst also calling on Trump to save him. All talking points associated with QAnon conspiracy theorists. The chase ended when the van's tyres were punctured and Slyman crashed into a tree.
So far so benign? It would almost be a funny story, if not for Slyman having his 5 children, the youngest being just 8 months old, in the back of the van during the chase. Behind the conspiratorial deluge on Slyman's livestream viewers could hear a girls voice crying "we don't want to die". Fortunately in this instance no one was harmed. However, since then disciples of QAnon have been associated with kidnapping, shootings, at least one sword murder (NCRI) and the insurrection in the US capitol, which resulted in five deaths.
In an age of fake news, deep-fakes and hyperrealism, moving towards a 'zero-trust society' seems unavoidable, a society where truth and lie are impossible to untangle and trust is a rare commodity. It is unsurprising that many are turning to conspiracy theories to make sense of their lives. However, the answers they are finding only isolate them further from reality, and entrench fear and hatred in equal measure.
The QAnon conspiracy is perhaps the most virulent strain of misinformation that is currently infecting the body politic. A report published by the Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI) on the 15th of December 2020 outlines the destructive nature at the heart of QAnon. The report breaks this nature down into 5 characteristics:
1) End goal of Violence
A clearly expressed goal of the QAnon movement is a violent purge of those it understands as part of the evil world controlling cabal. This includes; Barack Obama, Tom Hanks and trump haters in general. Whilst their beliefs are deluded, the violence they will inspire is very real.
Many of the themes and ideas central to QAnon are derived from the rampantly anti-Semitic online environments from which it was born. One such theme is protecting 'Christian identity', coded language taken from neo-Nazi and alt-right groups who openly target Jewish people, and currently blame them for the Coronavirus pandemic.
3) Erosion of Democracy
Whilst the conspiracy may mobilise people to vote, especially if politicians play into the twisted fantasy of QAnon, it will never result in effective governance. Any politician elected on a QAnon mandate will ultimately fail to solve the imagined problem, and will further undermine their constituents faith in the democratic process.
4) Tearing apart Families
As people are drawn further into QAnon, and further away from reality, they come into conflict with those around them who reject the conspiracy. Those who become caught up can become ostracized from their families, or conversely will intentionally become hostile to 'non-believers'. The social isolation this produces only drives those affected deeper down the rabbit hole, and contributes to the paranoia at the heart of QAnon.
5) A barrier to 'Normal Society'
The distorted reality which the conspiracy creates serves a substantial barrier to an individual participating in everyday normal social functions, such as; voting, accessing healthcare or engaging with education. This is increasingly clear with QAnon's anti-vax message resulting in many denouncing Coronavirus vaccines, believing that they contain mind control micro-chips.
The International Dimension
As the QAnon conspiracy continues to grow in popularity, across America and into Europe, and is increasingly endorsed by political figures it is increasingly important that it is understood as dangerous and treated accordingly. Some steps have been taken, significantly Twitter became the first platform to begin taking down QAnon accounts, but in the wake of the Capitol riot, it is clear more needs to be done.