QAnon conspiracy theorists need help – they are the real victims

The far-right conspiracy theory is turning loving, intelligent people into zombies

Believers of QAnon are convinced that Satan-worshipping paedophiles are plotting to enslave the world
Believers of QAnon are convinced that Satan-worshipping paedophiles are plotting to enslave the world

You may not have heard of QAnon, but it will probably have affected you. It may even lead to the re-election of Donald Trump

Believers of this far-right conspiracy theory, which seems to have been around since 2016, are convinced that Satan-worshipping paedophiles are plotting to enslave the world – and only Trump stands in their way.  

These extremist views are a progression of the Breitbart strategy, wherein right-wing politicians and minor media moguls cultivated a soundproof bubble of rapidly radicalising voters, far away from the polling companies. This community turned out in record numbers in 2016 to vote, ambushing the Clinton campaign. They are once again being overlooked in the lead up to the 2020 US election.

One of the most tragic consequences of these growing numbers of conspiracy theorists is the effect it has on families. I know some of the overlooked victims of QAnon – the loved ones of the converts caught up in an anti-semitic, paedophile-obsessed conspiracy. I’ve heard how it can feel like a waking death in the family. How intelligent, eccentric, beloved family members went from nurturing parents to zombies, no longer safe enough to leave grandchildren with.

This is a conspiracy like no other. Like playing a video game, there is a dopamine hit as fragments of information are pieced together. It’s the world’s first interactive conspiracy theory. The method is innovative, but the result is the same as ever – fear, anger and hate. A perfect recipe for our age.

This is no internet-speed, hour-long oddity, either. In 2016, before Trump became president and QAnon had fully developed, one man actually acted on the internet theory that a paedophile ring, with high-ranking members of the Democratic Party, was operating inside the basement of a Washington pizza joint. There was no evidence to suggest this but the man, whipped up by social media, went into the restaurant, shooting open locks with an AR-15 assault rifle, to investigate. He discovered that, not only was there no sexual exploitation gang there, the place didn’t even have a basement. 

As a result, it is encouraging that a support group has appeared on Reddit, to help those close to people consumed by this cult-like conspiracy theory. One student recently wrote that her father had decided she couldn’t go to university because it was brainwashing her and cancelled his important offer to pay her rent. The anonymous comment section (me among them) coached her through her plan. Another young man wrote: "I just want my Dad back." One reply read: “I’m also 20, and I understand completely how you feel. Please message me if you ever want to talk.”

On the forum, there are posts about QAnon propaganda appearing in UK village Facebook pages. On the street, Trafalgar Square has filled with anti-vax protestors for three weekends in a row. As a disgruntled populace braces for another long, confused lockdown loom, signs of QAnon are everywhere. 

Meanwhile, Stone Roses singer Ian Brown recently released a song that references a “New World Order”, plus a hatred of Bill Gates and a rejection of vaccinations. These are all standard QAnon lexicon and principles. This British habit of dismissing these things as an oddity and politely moving along, is extremely dangerous. It misunderstands and normalises this dangerous cult. We are already well along the path to outright rejection of evidence-based reality.

We have to ignore the rage and babble of QAnon and understand its root causes. It’s reductive to simply blame the internet or human stupidity. Those who succumb to extreme conspiracy theories are living under the constant stress of ineptly led, stagnant political systems, incapable of coping with multiple unprecedented crises. QAnon is their coping mechanism.

It is comforting for these people to believe they live in a world that is being controlled from the shadows. The reality, that there is no other controlling force to blame, is far more terrifying for the individuals involved in QAnon. To think the government is watching you is empowering when you haven’t felt worthy in years. And it is uplifting to imagine yourself rescuing children from a depraved pizza parlour, exposing powerful enemies and helping save the world if you feel like a supporting part in your own life.

Tragically, obviously, these coping mechanisms are built on falsities. If we can’t help these people back to their feet, they will be irredeemably scarred by hatred and their families will be unable to wrench themselves free of the sudden grip of the "living death" of this madness.

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