Can a cult survive without its leader? What happens when an evolving religion gets no new scriptures?
These are the questions to ponder as the QAnon conspiracy theory evolves into what appears to be a new phase: less an ongoing puzzle to solve or a story constantly being added to, and more of a general philosophy based on the study of codified works.
Since a frenzy of posts in late March, including a long string of posts attacking a private citizen, an orgy of shout-outs to followers at the Trump rally in Grand Rapids, and a few general thoughts on the media; QAnon has been nearly silent.
From March 30th to April 22nd, Q has made just six posts. And they feel perfunctory, not as if the Q poster is trying to add new layers to the mythology, but instead, to keep followers from walking away. They ape Q’s trademark combination of rhetorical nonsense and circular riddles, but only in the service of rehashing old stuff.
Is German Chancellor Angela Merkel actually the daughter of Adolf Hitler?
On the surface, it sounds like the kind of ridiculous conspiracy theorizing that gives the internet a bad name. Hitler had no known children, and Merkel was born a decade after Der Fuhrer put a bullet in his face. And while the Nazis have been speculated to have developed all sorts of fantastical technologies, from moon bases to anti-gravity bells to time travel, none of those things are anything but the domain of pulp science fiction and “Fourth Reich” conspiracy theories.
And yet, the idea that Merkel could have been spawned from the seed of history’s greatest monster is surprisingly (or not) popular in the darker corners of the internet.
You might have heard that on March 24th, Attorney General William Barr released a short summary of the (presumably) much longer final report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The finding, at least that we’ve been told: Trump and his campaign did not actively collude with Russian interests, and that there wasn’t enough evidence to either charge or exonerate Trump with obstruction of justice.
Obviously, this doesn’t end the many other investigations currently looking into pretty much everything Trump has ever done. And there’s a metric ton of litigation to follow on from Barr’s letter. But to Trump/Russia true believers, even just this cursory summary is a crushing blow. And to Trump supporters and Russia skeptics, it’s total victory.
And to QAnon supporters? It’s nothing less than the first step in the final destruction of the deep state, leading to centuries of secrets being brought to light, darkness banished, evil punished, and of course, lots and lots of arrests.
Over the first few days after the Christchurch mosque massacre, two interlocking narratives developed. One was tallying up the carnage, and the other was the story of the alleged killer’s radicalization through social media. And of course, both narratives were driven in part by the conspiracy theories that both the killer espoused through his manifesto and that instantly sprouted up around the shooting.
None of this is new. Self-radicalization via social media is a huge issue that major tech companies are struggling to contain. And instant conspiracy theories are common to mass tragedies now, as we’ve seen time and time again in the last ten years.
But the reaction to the New Zealand massacre had one major difference that anyone who keeps tabs on conspiracy/extremist culture should be screaming to the high heavens about: the response of the US government to amplify, rather than condemn, the killer’s racism and the conspiracy theorists who push it.
It’s genuinely an accomplishment to get a book near the top of the Amazon #100 chart. It’s even more of an accomplishment to do it when you’re an author that nobody has ever heard of who had never written a book before. And it’s the giant golden star on top of an accomplishment cake to do it writing a book that has no real audience, written under a fake name by people also using fake names, and is barely a book.
But such is the way of things. And so “QAnon: An Invitation to the Great Awakening” made international news when it skyrocketed up Amazon’s charts, fueled by a clutch of five star reviews and coverage on the TV news and web.