I’ve been writing about online conspiracy theory QAnon for a while, and figured it was just too weird, esoteric, and creepy to make mainstream news.
I mean, fascist fantasies about a massive purge of Democratic baby-eaters, with a cadre of self-proclaimed “autists” deciphering rhetorical clues to the events to come left by a secret insider?
So imagine my surprise when a large and vocal group of Q believers swamped a Trump rally in Tampa on July 31st.
Suddenly, QAnon was everywhere – from the New York Times to the BBC and back.
It introduced Q to millions of people and brought mainstream recognition to a movement that had primarily been a secret club with very specific codes and keys to get in.
The coverage also brought up a very real backlash asking an important question: why are we talking about this crap?
The QAnon conspiracy theory is absolute nonsensical bullshit. There shouldn’t be any mistake about that.
There is no “great awakening” nor is Q is a Trump administration insider in on “the plan.” There is no plan. There’s no map. There’s nothing.
So why give it attention? Why give this fire oxygen?
Paris Martineau, the journalist who gave QAnon its first real mainstream coverage, echoed this in a piece for the Outline, written the day after the Trump rally, arguing that the proper response to a “toxic cesspool of disinformation” like Q isn’t to amplify its quirks, but to ignore it and wait for it to die.
“The reality is that shining a light on such actions rarely does much in the way of stopping them and often only ends up propagating the messaging contained within even further,” she wrote. “Attention is attention is attention.”
It’s absolutely true. We run the risk of making QAnon more popular and more mainstream simply by talking about it. Negative coverage is still coverage, and QAnon, both the poster and the movement, absolutely thrive on negative coverage
But it’s happening whether or not we talking about it – and I do think we need to talk about it.
We need to debunk it with solid, well-researched, well-sourced information. We need to slay it with logic, reason, and the cold light of reality.
The hardcore cultists will never be swayed, but we need to make sure that the first time a “normie” Googles QAnon, they’re met with a dozen high-level, clear-eyed, trustworthy mainstream media pieces about why it’s bullshit and that they should do anything else with the precious time they have left on earth than research Q intel drops.
Otherwise, they’ll just see the bullshit itself.
And we need to do that because of Dear Abby.
No, I don’t think advice columnist Abigail Van Buren is a QAnon autist.
But she’s got a big platform, and she gave some very bad advice to a woman in Kansas a few days ago, writing in to describe how her charming and kind husband of just a few years treats her better than anyone she’s ever dated, but at the same time is “a conspiracy theorist who believes the world is flat […] that fluoride is mass brainwashing and the Holocaust was faked.”
“It makes me so sad. I knew on some level that he believed these things, but I chose to overlook it. Other than his irrational beliefs, we are compatible and happy,” the woman wrote. “My question is, can a relationship survive and thrive in the midst of these fundamental differences?”
Abby’s response was that the woman should practice the “selective amnesia” she employed before they got married. and “focus solely on the areas in which you are in sync.”
This is not good advice, and it will likely ensure the relationship either ends badly or curdles into despair.
Ignored by the wife, the husband’s leanings will get worse and worse, and he’ll never be forced to confront them. They will have no consequences, other than to embarrass her.
It likely will become so much of a problem that it will become impossible to ignore – and then it’ll be too late, possibly driving the wife into a position of making the husband choose between the conspiracy theories or her.
It doesn’t have to be like that. It shouldn’t.
People like the woman in Kansas’ husband are the same type of people attracted to QAnon. They’re people attracted to Holocaust denial, to Sandy Hook truther bullshit, to sovereign citizen movements, and to pizzagate.
They’re broken people, hurt by a lifetime of not getting what they want, seeing others elevated above them, and not understanding why. And they get taken in by conspiracies full of secret knowledge, palatable enemies, exposed lies, and a crowd of compatriots who think they way they do.
What Q is telling these people fits in with the beliefs they already have: liberal government is broken, mass media invents the news for a living, mass entertainment is godless poison, our children aren’t safe, everyone is lying to us all the time, evil is everywhere, we need a savior to lead us to glory, and the only way to find the truth is to research it ourselves.
These are powerful psychological motivators. Ignoring them through selective amnesia isn’t going to make it go away. It will make it worse, until the beliefs and the believers can’t be separated.
They have to be confronted. Make these people own up to their fascist fantasies. Make them have consequences.
If in the early years of his crankery, the husband in Kansas had been confronted by people he trusted, maybe he would have turned away from it. If his beliefs had consequences, maybe he would have discarded them.
But now, all that’s left is for his wife to ignore it and ask for advice.
If pummeled into submission by logic and reason, QAnon will eventually fade away. In fact, it’ll probably be forgotten next week by the mainstream media outlets breathlessly writing about it today.
Potential new members will turn away form the absurdity exposed by the media, the fence-sitters will burn off when the great awakening forseen by Q fizzles, and the hardcore cultists will divide among themselves as to who is the most pure. It’ll probably be all but gone sooner rather than later.
But the broken people it’s attracted, like the broken husband driving his wife to distraction ranting about how the Holocaust was faked, aren’t going anywhere. They’re still broken. And still looking for people to wallow in the brokenness with them. When QAnon sinks beneath the waves they’ll find something else to focus their grievance and pain.
And we’ll have to confront whatever it is.
So yes, I think we have to talk about QAnon – so that at some point, we never have to mention it again.