QAnon, COVID-19 and conspiracy addiction – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

QAnon has gone mainstream. This fringe group’s theory that there’s a deep state dedicated to child trafficking, cannibalism, and anti-Trumpism is no longer under the radar. Some point to the successful Georgia primary of QAnon backer, Marjorie Greene, as proof. Others point to President Trump congratulating her and calling her a “Future Republican Star”.  While Vice President Pence tried to counteract Trump’s enthusiasm for QAnon, the fact that QAnon ended up on the front page of The Chattanooga Times Free Press tends to support the mainstream theory.

My favorite clue to QAnon’s going mainstream was Bill Maher’s satirical unveiling of the true identity of the shadowy figure behind it all on his comedy show, Real Time. It makes perfect sense that I — libertine, atheist, pot-smoking Trump-hating Bill Maher — am Q. In reality,Q” lurks in dark internet corners and posts how President Trump was recruited by the military to break up a Satanicdeep state” pedophile cabal linked to Hollywood, the media and Democrats. The cabal molests children, kills and eats them, extracting life-extending chemicals from their blood.

Maher posing as “Q” is entertaining, but don’t underestimate the dangerous appeal of QAnon. One researcher calls it a “cognitive cancer” and an addictive alternative reality that feeds on a sense of a broken society and fixates on the pursuit of enemies and villains described in such extreme terms that any action becomes justifiable.”

Since emerging three years ago, QAnon has used Instagram to dress up conspiracies with cute memes. Green used videos to attract thousands of followers, spouting conspiracies like how pro-Democrat billionaire philanthropist George Soros, a Jewish Holocaust Survivor, collaborated with the Nazis. When several Republican officials spoke out against her, fans responded with denial, defensiveness, and disbelief. But with increasing popularity, other congressional hopefuls have voiced their support for QAnon, too.

That popularity is boosted with #SavetheChildren hashtags that act as camouflage across social media. Research shows a 71% increase in QAnon content on Twitter and a 651% increase on Facebook since March. Facebook tried to tamp it down by deleting thousands of accounts linked to QAnon. But that fired up its followers and encouraged Russian-backed media to boost that rage. And when Trump praised QAnon for supporting him and calling them “people that love our country”, he fanned the flames into a cyberspace wildfire.

How deep will our conspiracy addiction go? One writer in The Atlantic put it all too accurately.To look at QAnon is to see not just a conspiracy theory but the birth of a new religion”.

Religious institutions, like social media, are now dealing with QAnon. A Baptist pastor in Missouri and a pastor at a non-denominational church near Milwaukee both report that their church members are attracted to the COVID-19 conspiracies that QAnon amplifies. Whether it’s a theory that COVID-19 as just a moneymaking scheme, a state-engineered bio-weapon, or that masks can kill you, many faithful are buying it.

Unfortunately, you can’t convince conspiracy spreaders that what they’re reading and sharing is false. They don’t see conspiracies, they see truths. One pastor advised focusing on QAnon’s dehumanizing language and the many examples in history demonstrating where such language can lead. I pray that he’s right, but I suspect that many folks won’t buy it.

Not relying on faith alone, two bipartisan congressmen introduced a resolution condemning QAnon this week. But will congressional leaders call for a vote? Even though the FBI labels QAnon as domestic terrorism, our addiction is strong. Time to contact your elected representatives!

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