Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The grand unified conspiracy

A friend and loyal reader of Skeptophilia suggested a topic for me to consider -- "QAnon."  I had heard the name before, associated with some sort of conspiracy theory, but didn't know much about it.  But when my friend said, "QAnon is the Grand Unified Theory to which Pizzagate is only the Special Theory of Relativity," I thought I should look into it.

And down the Rabbit Hole I went.

The best exposition I found of QAnon, known to true believers as "The Storm," was over at Medium, in an article written by political writer Will Sommer, called "Meet 'The Storm,' the Conspiracy Theory Taking Over the Pro-Trump Internet."  And the main gist of it, so far as I can understand it, is that none of the chaotic lunacy that has characterized the Trump presidency thus far is accidental; it's all being orchestrated by Trump himself as part of a Grand Plan.

In other words, it only looks like the Keystone Kops because you aren't seeing the Big Picture.

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

The whole thing apparently started with a guy calling himself "Q" or "QAnonymous" posting over at the site 4Chan, saying that "the Storm is coming," meaning that Trump is finally going to triumph over the globalists, lowering the boom and at the same time essentially declaring himself dictator-for-life.  QAnonymous likes to give his followers little snippets of mysterious "information" that don't tell you anything much -- or, even better, leave the interpretation up to the wild imaginations of 4Chan aficionados.  Here are a few examples:
  • HRC detained, not arrested (yet).
  • Where is Huma? Follow Huma.
  • This had nothing to do w/ Russia (yet).
  • Do you believe HRC, Soros, Obamama [sic] etc have more power than Trump?
  • Fantasy.
  • Whoever controls the office of the Presidecy [sic] controls this great land.
  • Why did Soros donate all his money recently?
  • Why would he place all his funds in a RC?
  • Mockingbird 10.30.17
  • God bless fellow Patriots.
Over a few weeks, the conspiracy had managed to wind in the Seth Rich murder, the Clinton Foundation, the Central American/Los Angeles street gang MS-13, Darrel Issa's retirement, Elon Musk and Space-X, and a power outage during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.  Nothing is too minor or peripheral not to be linked in, and because QAnonymous frequently speaks in code, it's left up to his devotees to figure out what the hell he means.  When he posted the cryptic message, "PHIL_B_O_Extracted," the conclusion was that Obama had gone to the Philippines and was arrested, which made perfect sense except that he hadn't and he wasn't.

But the main upshot of it all is that Trump is way smarter and more cunning than he seems, and all of the tweets and scandals and revolving-door policy with regards to his cabinet are simply pieces he's moving around on a chessboard. To accomplish what, you might ask?  Well, here are a few of the goals, according to QAnon:
  • Arresting Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and sending them off to Guantanamo.  This is what the Mueller investigation is actually doing -- the focus on Trump is a clever smokescreen.
  • The whole Russia collusion thing is a smokescreen, too.  In fact, Trump engineered the whole thing and is pretending to like Putin to draw out the treasonous Democrats.
  • Ferreting out the perpetrators of Pizzagate, and making sure they end up behind bars.
  • Sweeping pro-globalization spokespeople away, both in the United States and beyond.
  • Ending any participation in treaties that don't put America first.
So the bottom line is that Trump is winning, which of course thrilled the alt-right no end, so they jumped on this bandwagon with little prompting and even less evidence.  As for Trump, he's winning at everything.  QAnonymous is said to be one of the top advisers to the president (whether a publicly-acknowledged one remains to be seen); Paris Martineau over at New York magazine said that some of them even claim he's been photographed sitting next to Trump on Air Force One.

QAnonymous hasn't always gotten it right, though.  He predicted a major conflagration in November, wherein Trump would show his hand and blow away the naysayers, and no such thing happened.  But like the people who forecast the End Times, the failure of his prediction doesn't seem to have diminished his standing.  Like with the End Times loons, the attitude by his followers seems to be, "Well, if he was wrong this time, it just makes it more likely he'll be right next time!"

The whole thing has become wildly popular, and not, I'm afraid, because of people sending the links to each other with the message, "Look at the shit someone dreamed up now!"  From 4Chan it's spilled over into Reddit, Twitter, and YouTube, with the hits spiking so fast on each new post that it almost defies belief.  (Martineau signed up to track the hashtag #QAnon on Twitter, and it maxed out at the 2,000 post limit in only four hours.)

The whole thing is a little disturbing from several different perspectives.  For one thing, we have the usual problem with conspiracy theories, which is that it highlights the penchant people have for believing something with next to no hard evidence.  A second, however, is that this one smacks of desperation; there's a real sense that the QAnon True Believers simply cannot fathom that Trump is a clueless, narcissistic buffoon whose approach to policy resembles the strategy a six-year-old would use in Bumper Cars at the carnival.

The third, however, is that unlike other conspiracies -- for example, the idea that NASA is covering up evidence that the Earth is flat -- this one strikes me as potentially dangerous.  These people are deadly serious, and if something gets in the way of what they think is supposed to happen -- if the Mueller investigation results in a Trump indictment, if the current administration's anti-globalism agenda isn't enacted, if the #BlueWave hopefuls are right about a Democratic sweep this November -- I don't think they're going to take it lying down.  I can only hope that the real QAnon diehards are few enough in number that they won't represent a threat on any kind of national scale, but as we've seen over and over, all it takes is one or two heavily-armed nuts with an ax to grind to create some pretty significant havoc.

I hope I'm wrong.  And I hope that in the end, QAnon fades like many other wacky claims have.  But given its sudden surge in notoriety, I think we might have a bit of a wait before that happens.

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