QAnon has successfully packaged a particularly virulent populism – but they certainly aren’t the first

Michaela Bax-Leaney

As Miro Dittrich observes in his interview with Vice, one of the elements which makes QAnon so pervasive and ‘successful’ is its ability to adapt to other conspiracy narratives, in particular in its ability to adapt itself to local situations. And I would argue that it is therein that lies the formula for success employed by populist, often far-right movements.

These movements have largely mastered the ability to tap into a few broad, general themes that function on both a large, often global scale, but also translate well to hyper-specific situations. By tapping into people’s feelings of disenfranchisement, loss of control, and fear, these movements are able to achieve a cycle of self-affirmation once followers have been brought into the fold.

For example, to Kalmar’s article. Say the Hungarian worker has recently been laid off, and sees the exodus of refugees flocking to Europe for safety. The post hoc fallacy suggesting that the two facts have a causal connection – the worker is now going to be competing against this “flood” of migrants for work – acts as an entry point for the more noxious facets of these populist theories. But if they (those fighting against the elites, that is) were right about the first point, what’s to say that aren’t right about the Soros myth, or vaccines as a vehicle for microchips.  

And while QAnon has certainly done it remarkably well, as Dittrich notes, it is hardly the first of its kind, particularly in the antisemitic roots of the conspiracy. And it is the very thing that makes QAnon attractive to new followers that makes it so very difficult to combat. After all, if a group of global elites is trying to manipulate circumstances – be it in reference to a global child sex trafficking ring, or simply a local by-election – how can efforts to combat that misinformation be trusted? Thus, rather than emphasizing how to change the minds of QAnon followers, perhaps as Mirko suggests in his interview, efforts are better directed towards improving media literacy in the first place.

2 Replies to “QAnon has successfully packaged a particularly virulent populism – but they certainly aren’t the first”

  1. Hi Michaela,

    Thank you for your reflection this week. As you illustrate quite well in your writing, I would agree completely with what you write. Often times there is a multifaceted layer to conspiracy theories that work to create as Dittrich notes almost a “master narrative” in a sense. And as Mirko discusses, many enter into conspiracy theories due to interest or because they find them funny, and perhaps it could simply begin with one small scale theory before quickly the reader dives into the deep state of an infection that reaches fringe theories fueled by antisemitism.

    Another example I could think of not mentioned in this week but predating QAnon was 9/11 conspiracy theories where many began to consider it an inside job by the United States government. Evident by the Anti-Defamation League, they had soon released a report not long in that conspiracy theories lifetime of anti-Semitic beliefs sprouted within the conspiracy theory around 9/11 and through the rabbit hole, a reader can easily start with an idea from memes like “Bush Did 9/11” all the way into the anti-Semitic rhetoric that scapegoats Jewish elites similar to the ‘Soros Plot’ or the Russian forgery of The Protocols that Kalmar mentions as predecessors.

    Agreeing with your final point and following Mirko’s suggestion of educating media literacy, I would also add into this by “freeing” the credible sources of the internet. As an example, for my blog, I started looking into the specific topic of the Battle of Tours (732) which suffers from far-right medievalism. Here I am met only to find myself blocked out from a number of sources by paywalls or subscription blocks. For the general reader, already distrusting government and feeling a loss of private security, these paywalls are met more often by a click off the site followed by that reader going to sources that are “free” and often times sprout misinformation as I found several on the front page of google alone. If I did not know the history behind the Battle of Tours already, much of what I read seemed easy to take at face value. It is beyond dangerous how misinformation spreads and all it takes is one specific click on the internet.

    – Bryce

  2. Hi Michaela,

    I think you touch on something important: QAnon being powerful because it is a ‘meta-conspiracy’. Everything can be repackaged into ‘The Plan’: a part of the theory being disproved doesn’t weaken the theory, because adherents will argue it wasn’t actually disproved, this was merely psychological warfare by ‘The Enemy’ trying to demoralize and divide the adherents; and any action by politicians lionized by ‘The Plan’ that doesn’t fit into the adherents’ worldview is simply that those politicians have secret knowledge, are engaged in a secret war, are playing ’12d reversi’ in the name of ‘The Plan’.

    This is something William and I had, to some degree, in mind when we’d written a discussion question about political ideologies that don’t guarantee or even provide a path to victory. Instead, they just point out enemies and allies, and let adherents massage the facts of the real world into some cosmic war between good and evil. Set-backs can then be explained away as ‘losing the battle to win the war’, part of some master plan. Serious deprogramming is required to coax adherents back out of a mindset that assimilates everything into a conspiratorial shadow war.

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