Dispatches From Q-Land is a monthly Paste series delving into the seamy underbelly of the QAnon conspiracy theory on right-wing social media platforms such as Parler, Gab and Telegram. It’s a disturbing task, but only by paying attention to these dangerous extremists can we understand the nature of their ever-evolving delusion at any given moment, and hope to understand what they might do next.
It’s reasonable to wonder, when you read about QAnon proponents who believe the country is being run by a Satanic cabal of child-sacrificing pedophiles, what someone who believes that sort of thing might do when they’re not sitting rapt in front of a computer, drinking in the digital Kool-Aid. What are these folks like in the course of their normal lives? How do you manage to work a 9-5 job, when you believe you’re in a country currently fighting a secret war against reptilian shapeshifters and cyborgs, with Deep State agents seeking to undermine you at every turn? How does someone like that manage to do something as mundane as going out to dinner, or to the movies? Is it even possible to reconcile the flow of normal life with this sort of conspiracy thinking, when it metastasizes into that level of full-blown mania?
The answer, sadly, seems to be “no” in my experience. In observing QAnon believers on right-wing social media platforms such as Gab, Parler and Telegram, one thing that you gradually come to understand about them as a segment of our society is that they have fully withdrawn from that society on almost every level. Any type of participation in what one might call “culture” is demonized and ultimately cast aside as a tool of the enemy. Like some kind of fundamentalist Footloose parody, these communities become self-enforcing zones of isolation where leisure and entertainment are effectively banned, and the only acceptable form of socialization is in sharing the cult-like dogma that Q, Trump and co. will someday wipe away all the evil around you in the ever-delayed prophecy known as “The Storm.” Like a Christian doomsday cult, the most hardcore QAnon believers are simply left there, waiting on the edge every day for an event that is never going to come. Those who have gone far enough down the rabbit hole find themselves with an all-consuming obsession, in which a warped view of American politics becomes the only important thing in an Anon’s life.
Rather than watch the actual Olympics, this is what Anons were doing.
These kinds of stories are all too common to witness on both sides of the divide—both in a place like Gab, where Anons can frequently be seen sharing how they broke ties with their evil friends and family members who won’t “wake up” to the evil of the Deep State, and in support communities like reddit’s r/QAnonCasualties, where those confused family members gather to mourn their loved ones who have gone completely off the deep end. To quote a typical experience, ripped from the headlines of r/QAnonCasualties as I write this: “Family member emptied savings and hoarded Zimbabwe currency.” This is the kind of thing that actual U.S. citizens are doing because they became obsessed with a meme.
Eventually, this tends to lead to the complete abandonment of what we would define as “culture,” “entertainment” or even family. It makes it effectively impossible for people in an Anon’s life to converse with them on any given subject, because their political obsession has so permeated every aspect of their life that they become incapable of discussing anything else for even a few minutes. Bring up literally any topical, and they’ll find a way to swing it back to Q-related conspiracy theories within 60 seconds.
That really isn’t an exaggeration. Attempt to talk with an Anon about the weather, and they’ll start ranting Alex Jones style about Deep State chemtrails that turn the frogs gay. Talk to them about cuisine, and they’ll tell you about the secret Deep State agenda to drug our food to eliminate patriots. Talk to them about sports, or the recent Olympics, and they’ll complain about every single major sporting league conveniently becoming “woke” at the same time, along with apparently the sporting programs of every other country on earth. Wonder what QAnon thought of the Tokyo Olympics? They spent most of it actively rooting against every American athlete, believing them all to be Deep State traitors. Obviously, you can’t talk to them about music, or TV, or film either—it goes without saying that those are all 100% controlled by the Deep State’s propaganda system as well. There is ultimately no area of what we define as “culture” in which the hardcore Anon participates—they exist simply to ingest conspiracy speculation, rail angrily online, and wait for Trump to reappear with divine intervention. They’ve withdrawn almost entirely from the human experience itself, and propped themselves up on religious fanaticism, except in this scenario the gods are often Q and Donald Trump.
The Space Force is … “protecting our weather.”
Sadly, no amount of false prediction or disappointment seems to jar that fanaticism for many Anons. They just steel themselves for the next non-event.
Here are some more topics that have been catching the eyes and overactive imaginations of Anons lately.
We start where we always must, with the ongoing pandemic, now exploding once again thanks to the even more contagious Delta variant. Since the last of these Dispatches from Q-Land pieces, GOP messaging on the pandemic and the vaccine has become even more rancorous but also divided, with major figures of the party split on whether they should be advocating for the vaccine as hard as possible, or disparaging it for the sake of political clout with Trump’s most ardent base, including Anons. On one side of the divide you’ve got voices like Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who hilariously tried to make the vaccine more attractive to right-wing Arkansas residents by literally just beginning to refer to it as “The Trump Vaccine” and playing up the Trump admin’s attempted role in contributing to vaccine research and rollout. Republicans like Sanders are fully aware that their constituents need the protection that the vaccine affords—and that the unvaccinated people being hit hardest now are disproportionately the GOP base—but they also want to simultaneously avoid the perception that they are telling these people “what to do.” It’s a sad, delicate game of tip-toe that continues to result in more preventable hospitalizations and deaths from the virus. I’ve even seen Anons discussing their plans online to intentionally infect themselves with COVID, out of a misplaced belief that this will allow them to avoid future vaccine mandates.
This is who they’re trying to convince.
Trump, meanwhile, has been up to this usual—casting doubt on the vaccines one day, and then demanding credit for them the next, whenever poll data shows that a larger and larger majority of American adults are now fully vaccinated. This continues to be a painful source of cognitive dissonance for the average Anon, who wants nothing more in their heart than to support Trump, but are baffled by why he remains in support of a vaccine they believe is poison. The mental gymnastics this leads to in QAnon circles puts anything seen at the Olympics to shame—you can easily find people simultaneously claiming that the vaccine is poison, and that Trump is blameless in spreading that poison, despite the fact that millions of MAGA Americans have no doubt gotten their shots primarily because they trusted Trump. In the eyes of the more hardcore Anon, those MAGA people who listened to Trump are fools who deserve to die, because they didn’t “read between the lines” and intuit his true meaning—that “you should get the vaccine” actually means “don’t get the vaccine.” They’re fine with the idea of millions of their own political allies dying, because hey, the world population is going to be decimated soon anyway right?
Two years from now, this guy will claim that half the global population WAS killed, but that it simply wasn’t reported.
Many other Anons, meanwhile, continue to theorize that the pandemic itself is some level of fake—that the Deep State and liberal news media possess the ability to simply make variants appear and surges in the infection rate happen whenever they wish to “distract” from other prominent news stories that would otherwise be bad for the left, or that every case number reported by every hospital and health board in all 50 states is an elaborate ruse. This is a common thread in the Anon mindset—every single thing in the news is always a distraction from something else. Say, for example, that Delta variant exists in the news cycle because too many people were discussing the phony audit in Arizona ... which still hasn’t come to any public conclusion, by the way.
The System: “RELEASE THE COVID!”
The latest twist on the GOP side, meanwhile, seems to be an abandonment of the idea that you would want to avoid getting the disease at all. After all, why attempt to prevent catching/spreading COVID-19 by getting a free vaccine or wearing a 99 cent mask when you can spend $1,500 a day on treatment after you get seriously ill? Perhaps the greatest bit of irony is the fact that Regeneron and likewise treatments also haven’t been approved by the FDA, but are gleefully being advanced as an answer by the same people who have a problem with the vaccines not yet being FDA approved.
Whoops, sorry, I meant “Mike Lindell’s Cyber Symposium.” Lindell, the “My Pillow guy” and former crack addict, has been one of Trump’s loudest and strangest supporters for years at this point, and went all-in after the Nov. 2020 election in his claims of elaborate and systematic fraud. Those actual claims of fraud have vacillated all over the place in the months that followed, laying the blame on countries such as Italy, Venezuela and China at various times, and they made Lindell the target of a massive defamation lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems, right alongside fellow disinformation boosters Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani. Lindell has continued to claim there was massive fraud in the 2020 election, but when asked to show his documentation always deferred to some grand future reveal. This week, that reveal finally arrived … and then immediately flopped, as anyone paying attention would have expected from a guy who has simply used his elevated position within the QAnon world to primarily sell consumer goods to MAGA buyers. Not even Fox News, OANN or Newsmax dared to actually cover the Symposium as it happened, all knowing that there was less than zero story here.
From the start, Lindell’s “Cyber Symposium” in Sioux Falls, South Dakota got off to a disastrous beginning when Lindell promised to lay all his “cyber packet” evidence on the table on day one, and then begged off from doing so at the last minute, claiming that his streaming tech was under “cyber attack.” He simultaneously withdrew a $5 million challenge he was claiming to offer to anyone who could prove his data false, and never actually made the data available to the various cybersecurity professionals who were cajoled into attending the Symposium. Meanwhile, the cyber security firm actually hired by Lindell himself to examine the data concluded that it showed no evidence that the election had been hacked.
Other Cyber Symposium highlights included inviting 8Chan operator Ron Watkins to speak for several hours—the man most likely to be Q himself, according to all the evidence we’ve seen to date—and the moment when Lindell learned the Dominion defamation suit against him would be moving forward, which led to him promptly fleeing the stage.
Appearing to lose the election was “part of the plan,” folks.
The next morning, Lindell began the Symposium by telling a story about how he had been physically attacked by a man the night before at his hotel. In traditional Lindell fashion, he provided no evidence or corroboration, and then promptly went back to selling pillows. The Symposium having now concluded, without anything of note happening, let’s hope we can go a few more months without having to hear Lindell’s name again.
On any given day when you check in on Gab or Parler, you’ll be able to find someone advocating that Donald Trump will be regaining the Presidency within a week or two, whether as a result of “audits,” or religious upheaval, or military overthrow of the country. These kinds of predictions are perpetually of the “two weeks” or “one month away” variety in most cases.
More recently, though, many Anons coalesced around the dates of Aug. 13-15 as a day when Trump would supposedly be back in office. Some pointed to Lindell’s Cyber Symposium and seemed to believe it would officially end with Trump striding onto stage to explain his glorious return to power. Others believed that there were would be various “massive releases” of information sent out this week via the emergency alert systems of our smartphones, which would indisputably show some sort of massive election fraud and culminate in martial law, uprisings, arrests, hangings and all the usual Q hallmarks. On r/QAnonCasualties, one poster shared a story about his boss, who had apparently taken his entire family to live in a bunker while awaiting Trump’s reinstatement this weekend. These dates continue to pass uneventfully, of course, as they always do.
Several of these most recent “Trump reinstatement” theories have been tied together by an increasingly popular and referenced theory that Anons are referring to as “Devolution.” Effectively, the devolution theory seems to be an extension of the “Trump HAD to appear to lose” thinking that seeks to rationalize why Trump and co. would have accepted their Nov. 2020 loss and given up executive powers to Biden’s team. It argues, among other things, that Trump is still collaborating with various high-ranking military officers who secretly retain executive authority, while Biden’s administration only believes they’re running things. According to believers of Devolution, a day is quickly approaching when all the pieces will finally be in their correct positions, and Trump will be able to reveal all and reclaim the presidency. Or in other words, it’s just like every other pseudo-Christian bit of doomsday prophecy here—”everything is wicked, but the day is soon coming when it will all be fixed.”
Trump had to appear to lose the election and then wait 10 months before doing anything about it because he’s playing “17d chess,” you plebe.
Unfortunately, many people in the GOP machine have been all too happy to glom onto this sort of thinking, whether or not they actually believe it, because they’ve come to realize that supporting QAnon-centric thinking will get them noticed and supported (especially financially) by a zealous herd of internet crazies who are more than willing to fork over their credit card information whenever you ask them. Chief among these offenders is someone like Arizona state senator Wendy Rogers, who fans the hopes of Anons by calling for the state’s “decertification” on a daily basis, despite “decertification” not being an actual process that exists anywhere the state’s constitution. This week, she called for the solitary imprisonment of the entire GOP-led Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, the election body that has repeatedly confirmed there was no fraud in Arizona’s November presidential election. In doing so, she’s just the latest state-level legislator to realize that Anons represent a goldmine of attention and fundraising they can use to raise their political profile on a national level.
Perhaps one day Anons will wise up to how the likes of Rogers take advantage of their desire to hear what they want to hear, but we wouldn’t count on it.