Donald Trump and QAnon: Conspiracy unlike Movies and TV
Seeing something on the big or small screen can create a sense of reality, regardless of how unreal it actually is. In National Treasure (2004), Nicholas Cage and his trusty team find clue after clue eventually leading them to the lost treasure that has been hidden from the public for several centuries. In the end “the Founding Fathers” are presented as incredibly insightful people who understood there was a need to hide treasures gathered from around the world. The movie is a conspiracy with a happy conclusion.
In Designated Survivor, everyone from the President down the line in his cabinet are killed in an explosion as the President is presenting the State of the Union message. The one lone member of his cabinet not present is Thomas Kirkman (played by Kiefer Sutherland) as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. By way of the line of succession, Kirkman becomes President. This is still a developing plot (now picked up by Netflix for 2019 after it was cancelled by ABC) so where it leads is still to be determined. One way to see the developing plot is that a good man, Kirkman, becomes President. A conspiracy where evil, at least for now, has not yet triumphed.
In The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Major Bennett Marco (played by Frank Sinatra), Sergeant Raymond Shaw (played by Lawrence Harvey) and their platoon are captured, taken to Manchuria and brainwashed into believing Shaw saved the entire platoon. As a result, Shaw is awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Shaw, however, was made into a sleeper agent. The plot turns on a national political party convention where Shaw is activated to kill the party’s presidential candidate. This was suppose to lead to the vice presidential choice becoming the party’s choice. He would be, along with his wife, who was Shaw’s mother, agents of the Soviet Union. Instead, Shaw shoots his mother, the vice presidential candidate, and himself. In the end, American democracy is saved. The movie was remade in 2004, it would have better if it was not.
In the long running, then revived X Files, FBI agents Dana Scully and Fox Mulder, well sort of win somewhat frequently. Episodes often end with some degree of success. That the two are on the case offers viewers a sense of hope. It might often seem that, at times, they are battling government bureaucracy out to thwart their efforts but in the end, the two are left standing ready to do battle yet again.
The movie, Seven Days in May (1964) starred Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, and Ava Gardner. A coup d’état plot is uncovered and in the end Democracy wins. Supposedly, John Kennedy read the book and might have had a hand in helping the book make its way to the big screen. 1
Conspiracies tend to be defeated in the end. A plot is uncovered and evil, well more or less at times, vanquished. The success in bringing a conspiracy to its end is usually one or a very small group. National Treasure has a small group deciphering clues taking them to eventual success. In Designated Survivor. FBI agent Hanna Wells (Maggie Q) seems to be on her own, as is the case with Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) in The Manchurian Candidate who ties loose ends together. Scully and Mulder often seem on their own, although a cast of characters come and go who offer assistance every now and then. Colonel “Jiggs” Case (Burt Lancaster) saves the day in Seven Days in May. Outside of the X Files, the conspiracies do not grow and expand reaching in multiple directions; there is a focus or purpose.
A Different Kind of Conspiracy
Roger Stone, a Republican campaign consultant, has had an association with Donald Trump going back at least several decades. In the late 1990s, Stone was a lobbyist for Trump’s businesses and helped Trump consider whether he should enter the 2000 Presidential race as the Reform Party candidate. Trump had met Jesse “The Body” Ventura about a decade earlier and the two remained in touch. Ventura went on to win the Minnesota governor’s race as the Reform Party candidate so Trump had something of a loose connection to the Reform Party. Strange to realize that George W. Bush’s campaign people liked the idea of Trump entering the race since they believed Trump could pull votes from the Democratic candidate (Al Gore). Even a Trump adviser saw Democratic voters as Trump’s likely voter base. He said, “They are black, Hispanic, Catholic, white working-class and mostly male. They stay at our hotels. They play at our tables. They like his plane. They like his boat. They like his house. They like his girlfriends. They all love Trump. The Reform Party becomes Gore’s worst nightmare, instead of Bush’s.” 2
Stone, besides being a Republican campaign consultant, is an author and several of his books address odd claims that border on conspiracies. One book concluded that Lyndon B. Johnson was behind a conspiracy to murder John F. Kennedy. J. Edgar Hoover, then FBI Director, was apparently involved as well. Stone referred to a suppose mistress of Johnson who was his reliable source. A reasonable reviewer concluded of this book, “If a reader doesn’t let facts get in the way, it could be an interesting adventure.” 3 Contrast that review with Fox News’s Judge Andrew P. Napolitano’s blurb on this book, “Any serious student of politics or history should read Roger Stone’s stunning new book.” 4
The theme that a Vice President is behind an assassination plot of a President ran through another Stone book. Certain aspects of that book sound surprisingly like the grassy knoll shooter, the supposed spot where a second shooter was located in the Kennedy assassination. Stone stated on a radio show:
There are two shooters in the Reagan assassination attempt, not one. I give you photographic evidence and eye-witness evidence of a second man standing on a balcony holding a gun, who can clearly be seen in the uncropped photos and I traced many of the connections of the Bushes to the Hinckleys. It’s more than you’ve been told. 5
In another Stone book, the Clintons are front and center, as Stone claims that Chelsea Clinton’s father is not Bill Clinton. Appearing on Fox News’s “Hannity” at the time this book came out in 2015, Stone felt he had overturned so many Clinton rocks that he felt his life was threatened and stated, “If in a couple of weeks they tell you I was depressed and I committed suicide, it’s a lie.” 6 As of this writing, Stone was still alive and well. No doubt, whatever theatrical dramatics came with his impending death helped him sell a few more books.
Conspiracy pays well, when done with the right book deal, helped along by a willing Fox News personality. What stands out, however, about Stone’s conspiracies is that they are conspiracies that paint individuals (Johnson, George H.W. Bush) or families (Bushes, Clintons) in nefarious ways. Contrast Stone’s conspiracies with the one over-arching conspiracy surrounding Donald Trump where Trump is a positive force with genius capabilities of tremendous reach, and motives that are beneficial, possibly for the country: QAnon.
Trying to trace the origins of QAnon is much like going down Alice’s rabbit hole, it gets weirder and stranger the farther you go attempting to find the end of the hole or the beginnings of QAnon. 7 “Q” stands for top security clearance issued through the Department of Energy. One site explains Q as:
The Department of Energy has jobs that require a security clearance. Since some of the information protected could do grave damage to national security, the department requires a Q clearance, which is the equivalent of a Top Secret clearance. 8
Weaving through the 4chan and 8chan online message boards, QAnon started to take some form. “Anon” can refer to “anonymous” as well as “to be ready.” Putting Q and anon together created a heightened sense of belief in insider knowledge coupled with the need to be ever vigilant. Once QAnon spread from 4chan and 8chan to YouTube and Reddit, a web site that has a combination of news both social and media related it, it began to reach a broader following. Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point addressed where a threshold is crossed and ideas seem to take off spreading quickly reaching broader audiences. 9 QAnon fits this thinking to a tee.
QAnon refers to Donald Trump fighting “the Deep State” the notion Federal government insiders are working to undermine his Presidency. In addition, Trump is working to uncover Hollywood elites who are secretly trying to undermine America as well as his Presidency. Furthermore, Hillary and Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, the media, and Democrats are all involved and are all up to no good. In addition, the Mueller investigation that is focused on addressing whether the Russians played a role in the 2016 Presidential election and how exactly is not really investigating any Russian investigation at all. Instead, Mueller is investigating Democrats, the media, Hollywood elites, and probably spin-offs from Pizzagate, where it was believed Hillary Clinton was directing a child sex trafficking ring where children were held in the basement of a pizza parlor that had no basement. Again, go too far down that rabbit hole and strange seems normal.
Conspiracy thinking is as American as apple pie. On the other hand, it is as American as a President who popularizes conspiracies, as Trump has done. 10 Trump helped to popularize the belief that Obama is not an American citizen. In 2011, as Trump was, once again, thinking about running for President, he announced he had sent private investigators to Hawaii to check on Obama’s citizenship. Even after Obama released his birth certificate, the matter did not died, which is normal with conspiracies, they take on a life of their own.
Leon Fessinger, a psychologist and his colleagues investigated a small cult in the mid-1950s who believed that the apocalypse was coming. The leader of this cult believed she was in communications with aliens from the planet Clarion. Believers left their homes and jobs to follow her. When the date came and went, that did not end the belief. In fact, the leader said she received a new message that God saw all this activity on the part of her followers and he spared earth from destruction. Fessinger concluded:
If more and more people can be persuaded that the system of belief is correct, then clearly it must, after all, be correct. Consider the extreme case: if everyone in the whole world believed something there would be no question at all as to the validity of this belief. It is for this reason that we observe the increase in proselyting following disconfirmation. 11
How different is this small group of alien believers waiting for flying saucers to take them to a new life from people who refuse to believe Obama was born in America? The size of the group only expands exponentially with online sites and YouTube. Reading and trading messages online is about feeling connected to a broader community. People who show up at Trump rallies with Q t-shirts or hold up Q signs, only serves to reinforce the belief that what they believe is real. One wonders if QAnon will have a life beyond the Trump Presidency, regardless of whether or not he is re-elected in 2020.
Actually, there is no reason to look at Fessinger and his colleagues regarding continuing to believe after the fact. During the campaign leading up to the 2016 Presidential election, Trump regularly said the system was “rigged” referring to a belief that the election process was stacked against him. He was not, however, alone in that thinking. In surveys it was estimated close to half of all voters believed that powerful, behind-the-scenes individuals determined the election winner. 12 A 2014 study based on surveys conducted between 2006 and 2011, concluded that half the country believed in at least one conspiracy theory. 13 That the results of the 2016 election turned out to disprove the belief that the election was rigged, has not stopped conspiracy believers from, well, believing in conspiracies and suddenly find themselves with a renewed faith in the democratic process. Instead, there appears to be an increased intensity in conspiracy theories. Interestingly, after Trump was in the White House other members of his administration baselessly added their own conspiracy. The White House Budget Director, Mick Mulvaney, stated:
We’ve thought for a long time, I did, that the Obama administration was manipulating the numbers, in terms of the number of people in the workforce, to make the unemployment rate — that percentage rate — look smaller than it actually was. 14
Trump himself in 2016 called the 5 per cent unemployment figure release at the time by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) a “hoax.” But then other Presidents have been annoyed with the BLS, much along the lines of “shoot the messenger.” Richard Nixon when he was President wondered, “Are they all Jews over there?” 15
Lyndon LaRouche was a presidential candidate in every Presidential election from 1976 to 2004. In 2002, LaRouche’s publication, Executive Intelligence Review, raised the belief that the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center were an “inside job.” He also believed Queen Elizabeth II, as well as others, were part of an organization controlling the global economy and dabbling in an international drug trade. The difference between LaRouche and Trump is that LaRouche and his beliefs were always on the fringes of society, while Trump ran as the Presidential candidate for one of our two major political parties, and won the Presidency. Unlike LaRouche, Trump added legitimacy to conspiracy thinking.
QAnon supports the position that anything that smacks of authority can be questioned or challenged. One study that examined the Kennedy assassination stated:
Journalists have made the assassination story as much a tale about themselves as about the thirty-fifth president of the United States, thus strengthening their position as cultural authorities concerning events of the ‘real world.’ 16
This type of thinking, questioning and challenging the authority status of journalism is apparent in QAnon. Interestingly, it is not a recent development that some see journalists in bad ways, probably most notably Trump supporters. At the 1964 Republican National Convention at San Francisco’s Cow Palace, journalists were booed and were escorted off the floor by security and police. QAnon just adds to an increase in suspicion of journalists.
People who follow QAnon believe they are bringing some systemic process of reasoning to their participation. QAnon, therefore, provides a way to insulate followers or participants from any knowledge that is inconvenient or challenging. QAnon serves to add another level of political polarization. One study that examined the political impact of conspiracies theories in Turkey stated:
Conspiracy theories are not just harmless irrational beliefs. They have serious impact, and can be used entirely rationally to justify political views. And because people are likely to interpret conspiracy theories in line with their political values and interests, this can increase political fragmentation. As conspiracy theories blame certain groups for wrongdoing, they can embolden existing political divisions between groups. 17
Protests took place in Turkey from May to August 2013 and became known as the Geza Park Protests, but these protests quickly spread across the country. The initial reason for the protests focused on economic development issues associated with Istanbul’s Taksom Geza Park but as the protests spread nationally and lasted through four months, a series of other issues arose often focused on a variety of government policies of Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In June, Erdogan stated that the protests were the work of “internal traitors and external collaborators.” This led to the Deputy Prime Minister adding to Erdogan’s statement:
There are some circles that are jealous of Turkey’s growth. They are all uniting, on one side the Jewish Diaspora. You saw the foreign media’s attitude during the Gezi Park incidents; they bought it and started broadcasting immediately, without doing an evaluation of [what actually is happening]. 18
The point here is not to focus on the specifics of the Turkish situation but that government officials creating conspiracy stories can elevate conspiracies to a level where they are more than just issues to brush aside but that they need to be understood as potentially presenting harm to a country’s political process. Donald Trump’s constant use of the term “fake news” feeds into QAnon.
Beyond Trump’s fake news recurring statements, or his publicity about Obama’s place of birth is his claim that the Chinese are behind a climate change hoax. Trump in a tweet from 2012 said, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” 19 Trump’s statement that Senator Ted Cruz’s father had some relationship to the Kennedy assassination adds an official government endorsement that encourages a certain segment of the American public to feel their conspiracy beliefs are real. In the case of Senator Cruz’s father, Trump stated:
His father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald’s being — you know, shot. I mean, the whole thing is ridiculous. What is this, right prior to his being shot, and nobody even brings it up. They don’t even talk about that. That was reported, and nobody talks about it. I mean, what was he doing — what was he doing with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before the death? Before the shooting? It’s horrible. 20
Without Trump’s support or belief in conspiracies he has publicized, some segment of the American public would believe in conspiracies. The issue is whether Trump through his statements and tweets has helped that segment of the public become larger.
Morphing the Conspiracy
A book, The Calm Before The Storm, edited by Liberty Anon so anonymous author or authors, has a brief book description:
The “Q Storm” will go down in history as a critical turning point in the course of the United States of America, and, indeed, in politics world wide. The “Storm” represents an amazing confluence of the most grass roots form of political participation with possibly the highest level of military intelligence—in the context of an enormous struggle over the future of human freedom. 21
Other books have been published expanding or perhaps more accurately, further confusing the focus of QAnon, such as QAnon: The Secrets Behind the Secrets; Q-Anon: The Great Awakening (in volumes 1 and 2); and, Q: The Awakening.
In an odd twist, a man who believed he was receiving coded messages was charged with threatening the lives of Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Jared Kushner. He referred to QAnon conspiracy issues before his arrest. 22 Usually, QAnon believers are Trump supporters. In the case of this individual, he believed he was subjected to mind control experiments run by Donald Trump, Jr. and Kushner that somehow led him to want to kill the Trump family. He referred to a mind control program, MK Ultra, which was real and run by the Central Intelligence Agency. That program, apparently, ended poorly by 1972 after one participant died and others suffered psychological problems. 23 Some kernel of truth is enough to add plausibility to rabbit hole adventures.
The Kennedy assassination carries pretty much the same conspiracy line: there was a second shooter. More than fifty years after Kennedy’s assassination, the conspiracy of a second shooter has varied, but at the most in marginal ways. The crash of a UFO near Roswell, New Mexico in 1947 has varied little over the years. The 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, although more recent than either Kennedy’s Assassination or a UFO crash landing in New Mexico, has remained relatively unchanged with the belief this was an “inside job” by the government with the aim to go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. After Neil Armstrong landed on the moon in 1969, the conspiracy emerged that NASA created a fake moon landing to impress the Soviet Union with our technological capabilities. Princess Diana killed in a car crash in Paris in 1997 with her Egyptian boyfriend led to the conspiracy that the Royal Family was behind these deaths. These conspiracies, common as folk lore to many, have remained the same. QAnon is different, in the short span of less than a year it has been transformed into a conspiracy that has metastasized in many directions. As one QAnon book describes it, “We are missing connections. We must build the map.” 24 One book which says it contains all the online posts by Q from October 2017 to January 2018 added, “They are the keys, the clues, to solving a puzzle whose roots are widespread and ancient. Use these breadcrumbs to figure it out for yourself. The answers are out there if you know how to look.” 25
Unlike Princess Diana’s death, where any investigation by ordinary people is virtually impossible, or the same with uncovering evidence of a fake moon landing, or bits and pieces of UFO parts, QAnon is a participatory conspiracy. In some cases there is a belief that positive actions have already been taken. As one tweet states:
A storm is coming. Trump is going 2 pull the curtain back, exposure the high level pedos. Military tribulations = death penalty – Trump has arrested more pedos in one month than [Barack Obama] did in a yr . What’s about to come to pass will be talked about for decades. 26
This type of thinking can feed the desire to unearth plots that are more nefarious—many of which are only discovered because of what, apparently, has already been uncovered. The participatory aspect of QAnon feeds the desire or need for only more. In October 2018, a caravan of people from Central America formed in northern Honduras with the aim of reaching the United States. Within a week, the size exceeded 7,000 people. TV news, particularly Fox News that heighten any anxiety about this caravan as the November Congressional election approached, knew a good story when they saw it. One QAnon tweet from a participatory member, noted how “a friend” said there were Muslins in the caravan and they stopped several times a day to pray but that “the media were told not to film them out of ‘respect.’” 27 Reading numerous reliable sources covering the caravan made no mention of Muslims or the media failing to cover them praying. No doubt QAnon believers were more likely to believe a questionably sourced tweet than multiple reliable other sources.
These caravans have formed for at least a decade now and they seem to shrink in size, as they get closer to the Mexican-American border. In April 2018 a similar caravan, although somewhat smaller, led to a few people seeking asylum in the United States. One of the organizers of that caravan said, “Nobody is planning to arrive with a crowd of people and push across.” 28 A similar caravan in 2017, led to 108 people seeking asylum. A broader perspective of these caravans, no doubt carries no weight when QAnon-related tweets say “immigration vs. invasion” and others addressed the need to “shoot them” and “mow them down.’” 29
The October 2018 caravan carried with it a series of conspiracies. The Honduran government was surprised and embarrassed by the caravan, so much so that they got their ambassador to the United States into the act to add, without any substantiation, that George Soros or drug cartel money were involved in financing the caravan. Even Vice President Mike Pence added his unproved comments that Venezuela was involved in financing the caravan, which, he said; he got from the Honduran president. 30 New conspiracies have a way of flourishing in an environment where others flourish out in the open.
It can be expected that more caravans will form in the future and head north toward the United States. The issue of addressing people applying for asylum and their reasons why will continue to be a political issue in American politics. A 2013 poll found that 58 per cent of Salvadorans said, if they could they would move to the United States. 31 Pressure to admit some immigrants but not others, as well as how many are not going to be easily resolved. Certainly, border security becomes a heightened issue associated with any growing awareness of these caravans. The caravans seem to be just an easily identifiable focal point to address the issue of immigrants wanting to get into the United States. What is guaranteed is that reducing any discussion of caravans or immigrants or border security to George Soros-made-me-do-it or drug cartel money is the sugar daddy financing caravans, will only serve to hinder any attempt to develop something that looks like a reasonable American government policy regarding immigration issues.
The appeal of QAnon can be seen in unusually ways. In one situation, a Georgia car wash posted “QAnon” on a billboard. 32 Roseanna Barr posted tweets, since deleted, that showed her support for QAnon. Former Boston Red Sox pitcher, Curt Schilling, even shared a YouTube video about QAnon. 33 One supporter emphasized before getting to the point of his post that, “QAnon [has a] close relationship with President Trump. …[He] has signaled he supports the QAnon revelations and is very familiar with who is really behind the Deep State attempting to sabotage his Presidency.” He then dived into his main point:
In a recent series of posts, the anonymous whistleblower (group) QAnon made an important connection between the Vatican, Rothschild family, and Reptilian symbolism. Many followers of QAnon, who fall into the camp of Christian patriots, perceive the connection as exposing an other-worldly Satanic influence over the Vatican, the Rothschilds, and other forces making up the Deep State. Closer analysis, however, suggests that what QAnon is really referring to by the symbolism is a very physical “this-worldly” influence over the Deep State: Reptilian extraterrestrials. 34
The problem with such a large number of posts going into a number of different directions is that it is impossible to know how much support among QAnon followers or believers is attached to everything associated with QAnon. Believing Muslims are part of an immigrant caravan heading toward the United States may be more believable to many while a revelation that reptilian extraterrestrials are among us, may not receive as much support. There is no way of knowing what level of belief is out there. One study, however, estimates that 4 per cent of the country believes in reptilian creatures in control here on earth. 35 But in looking at a breakdown of twenty different conspiracy beliefs and what percentage of the public believes in them, the range goes from 51 per cent down to 4 per cent and adds up to 376 per cent. What that means is that there is overlap with people who believe in conspiracies. Many of these people believe in several at the same time. What this points to is that there is a need to avoid dismissing QAnon because reptilian extraterrestrials happen to reside in a number of these tweets and realize QAnon plays a role in the political process.
There is Politics in those Tweets
When research shows that 19 per cent of the public believes the government was behind the 9/11 attacks, 24 per cent believe Barack Obama is not an American citizenship, and 61 per cent believe Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone in Kennedy’s assassination, those numbers point to a number of Americans who vote believing in conspiracies. 36 The fringes of American society are not necessarily where conspiracies reside but mainstream America.
The late historian Richard Hofstadler used the term “paranoid style” in an article he published in Harper’s in 1964 to describe conspiracy thinking through American history. In reading this essay, on the one hand he expressed concern about Barry Goldwater becoming the Presidential candidate for the Republican Party writing:
In recent years we have seen angry minds at work mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated in the Goldwater movement how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority. 37
Elsewhere in this essay, Hofstadler writes, “It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant.” Taken together “small minority” and “normal people,” are two seemingly contradictory ideas at the same time. Hostadler’s essay has had a lasting impact on how many try to analyze conspiracies. Using the imagery of “paranoid style” easily leads to dismissing conspiracies: they come and go and America gets back to a normal routine. Perhaps more attention should have been paid to “normal people” even though it is not really expanded upon in this essay.
QAnon can seem odd and strange but surely many of the people who believe and follow it hold normal jobs, live normal lives and want a better life. It might even be considered that many of these people are of a better character than Donald Trump. Statements by Trump such as, “They say I have the most loyal people. Where I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, ok? It’s like incredible,” or, “I love the poorly educated” raise questions about whether he seriously thinks about his own supporters in positive ways. 38
QAnon reflects anxieties. Admittedly, expressing those anxieties through an odd assortment of tweets and YouTube videos makes it seem that many have a disconnect from whatever normal might be considered. Trump’s push to create a wall along the border with Mexico, addresses anxieties many feel and, they assume a simple solution somehow will solve a variety of complex problems. QAnon tweets are constantly sprinkled with references to “Build the wall.”
In the case of the wall, Trump may sound as though he has some specifics, referring to a 1,000 mile wall being somewhere between 30-50 feet high, made with concrete. Yet, even Trump seemed to understand, or least in a moment of clarity, that it is not a perfect solution to whatever problems he perceives the wall would solve. He saw the wall as being so high “there’s no way to get down,” then he added “well maybe a rope.” Trump has referred to the use of “tunnel technology” to discover tunnels dug underneath the wall—a technology that does not exist. A more coherent and realistic statement was made by a Border Patrol tunnel expert who said, “For every tunnel we find, we feel they’re building another one somewhere.” 39
Conspiracy thinking may allow believers to escape critical thinking, but then developing the capability to become detached enough from issues around us and analyze them in ways that would make a Nobel laureate scientist proud, is a hard process of thinking to achieve. It is not elitist to consider rigor related to serious thinking as an impossible mountain to climb; it just requires preparation and a sense of awareness. As a study that examined the common expression “to err is human,” stated:
A whole lot of us go through life assuming that we are basically right, all the time, about basically everything: about our political and intellectual convictions, our religious and moral beliefs. …As absurd as it sounds when we stop to think about it, our steady state seems to be one of unconsciously assuming that we are very close to omniscient. 40
QAnon is an interesting and fascinating movement. Discounting it as crazies on the fringes of society serves little good. It has the potential to add another layer to political polarization but that polarization was there before QAnon. There are ways to address believers but success may come in small packages. An educational consultant who specializes in media literacy for children feels that the focus is to, “follow that train of thought to its natural conclusion.” 41 The repugnant belief that the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012, which resulted in the killing of twenty children and six adults, was staged by child actors as a reason to take guns away from Americans, can be approached through taking it to “its natural conclusion.” Were all the police and everyone else who responded in on the conspiracy? Why have none of the child actors been publicly identified? Conspiracies can be confronted, but often in a one-on-one situation where simply getting someone to stop and think may not be the same as wholesale conversion away from a conspiracy.
In December 2016, about a month after the election, a CNN host, Alisyn Camerota, was taken by surprise when a woman claimed that three million illegal immigrants voted in California, she subsequently fudged those numbers. Camerota seemed to try to address this belief but added, “I don’t want to waste any more time.” Right there is a problem, time is what is needed to show an audience how this particular false belief came about. Or, if Camerota showed concern she could she said that she would return to this after she had time to look into it with more depth rather than googling it on her cell phone while on TV. 42
In this CNN segment, reference was made to an edited clip on Fox News where then President Obama was supposed to have said that illegals can vote. Obama had a televised conversation with Gina Rodriguez of the Latino/millennial Mitu network. The transcript shows that Obama did not refer to illegals voting or encourage illegals to vote but what was shown on Fox News’s Neil Cavuto show was edited to show otherwise. Cavuto said, “Barack Obama openly called on illegal aliens to vote in Tuesday’s election. This whole administration is lawless!” What Obama said was, “[F]irst of all, when you vote, you are a citizen yourself. …[You speak for those] who may not have a voice. Who can’t legally vote. But they’re counting on you to make sure that you have the courage to make your voice heard.” 43 It might be one thing to have ordinary citizens develop a more sophisticated approach to media literacy but Cavuto is already at that point. Did he go back to read the entire transcript or simply rely on an edited version of the conversation because it supported what he wanted to believe and which would be well received by a number of Fox News viewers who were already inclined to believe it? Certainly, in his situation believing that Obama actually called on illegals to vote should have led Cavuto to look more deeply into the situation. This situation is not really a conspiracy issue but it is part of a larger way of thinking or believing and has a relationship to believing in conspiracies. When people believe in conspiracies, trust in political institutions goes down. The impact of QAnon, that it flourishes in more than just among a fringe element of Americans, but might reach a broader audience is cause for concern.
QAnon requires confrontation rather than dismissal. But confrontation is not, about simply getting angry and demonstrating ridicule. With a President who has through his statements, added a level of credibility to conspiracy theories, QAnon can flourish because it continues to receive an odd form of official endorsement. QAnon is a conspiracy out in the open, unlike so many movies where they are in the shadows. A slow, methodical process guarantees little success in challenging conspiracy thinking, but simply writing it off as not worthy of serious attention is not the way to go.
- https://consortiumnews.com/2018/10/03/seven-days-in-september/ and https://blogs.weta.org/boundarystones/2014/05/13/movie-jfk-wanted-made-didnt-live-see ↩
- http://edition.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/time/1999/09/20/trump.html ↩
- https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/feb/25/book-review-the-man-who-killed-kennedy/ ↩
- https://www.amazon.com/Man-Who-Killed-Kennedy-Against/dp/1626363137 ↩
- https://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2016/01/28/author-roger-stones-latest-conspiracy-theory-george-h-w-bush-behind-reagan-assassination-attempt/ ↩
- https://www.politico.com/story/2015/10/donald-trump-roger-stone-controversial-clinton-book-214790 ↩
- https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/how-three-conspiracy-theorists-took-q-sparked-qanon-n900531 ↩
- https://careertrend.com/list-6575766-security-clearance-requirements.html ↩
- Malcom Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference; Boston, Back Bay Books, 2002 ↩
- https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/donald-trumps-history-raising-birther-questions-president-obama/story?id=33861832 ↩
- https://archive.org/stream/pdfy-eDNpDzTy_dR1b0iB/Festinger-Riecken-Schachter-When-Prophecy-Fails-1956_djvu.txt, p.28 ↩
- http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-trump-conspiracy-theories-20161103-story.html ↩
- https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/ajps.12084 ↩
- https://money.cnn.com/2017/03/12/news/economy/mick-mulvaney-obama-jobs-data/index.html ↩
- https://money.cnn.com/2016/08/11/news/economy/donald-trump-unemployment-hoax/?iid=EL ↩
- Barbie Selizer, Covering the Body: The Kennedy Assassination, the Media, and the Shaping of Collective Memory, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1992, p. 2 ↩
- https://theconversation.com/how-conspiracy-theories-feed-political-fragmentation-78854 ↩
- http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/169527 ↩
- https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2016/jun/03/hillary-clinton/yes-donald-trump-did-call-climate-change-chinese-h/ ↩
- https://www.politico.com/blogs/2016-gop-primary-live-updates-and-results/2016/05/trump-ted-cruz-father-222730 ↩
- https://www.amazon.com/Calm-Before-Storm-Qanon-Oct-Dec/dp/1983356905 ↩
- https://www.thedailybeast.com/qanon-referenced-by-man-arrested-for-threatening-to-kill-trump?via=twitter_page ↩
- https://www.nytimes.com/1999/03/10/us/sidney-gottlieb-80-dies-took-lsd-to-cia.html ↩
- https://www.amazon.com/Q_Anon-Great-Awakening-Q_-Anon/dp/1985717700/ ↩
- https://www.amazon.com/Q-anon-Secrets-behind/dp/1984333852/ ↩
- https://twitter.com/hashtag/qanon?lang=en ↩
- https://twitter.com/hashtag/qanon?lang=en ↩
- http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/border-baja-california/sd-me-refugee-caravan-20180403-story.html ↩
- https://facebook.com/VanVonQanon/posts/-coached-immigrant-caravan-showdown-has-begun-ice-director-on-caravan-arriving-a/590532397968742/ ↩
- https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/24/world/americas/migrant-caravan-trump.html ↩
- https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/10/caravan-challenges-integrity-us-borders/573691/ ↩
- https://www.mydaytondailynews.com/news/national/car-wash-billboard-promoting-qanon-conspiracy-theory-sparks-controversy/5GliJx5NiWdrzqbziiBSdM/ ↩
- https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/08/01/qanon-trump-florida-rally-what-q-signs-mean/878642002/ ↩
- https://www.exopolitics.org/qanon-reveals-vatican-rothschild-reptilian-connection-behind-the-deep-state/ ↩
- https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/04/12-million-americans-believe-lizard-people-run-our-country/316706/ ↩
- https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2017/12/23/conspiracy-theory-psychology/815121001/ ↩
- https://harpers.org/archive/1964/11/the-paranoid-style-in-american-politics/ ↩
- https://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/donald-trump-declares-i-love-the-poorly-educated-as-he-storms-to-victory-in-nevada-caucus-a6893106.html ↩
- https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/why-wall-wont-work ↩
- Kathryn Schulz, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error; New York, ECCO, 2010, p.4 ↩
- https://lifehacker.com/how-to-have-a-conversation-with-a-conspiracy-theorist-w-1829393744 ↩
- https://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/2016/12/02/nh-trump-voters-cnn-facebook/ ↩
- http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2016/12/why-people-believe-obama-encouraged-illegals-to-vote.html, and, https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/obama-encouraged-illegal-aliens-to-vote/, the transcript of what Cavuto and Obama said is in the Snopes site. ↩
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