This week, Vice and The Atlantic published two important articles outlining the growing religious fervor behind Q-Anon conspiracy theories. They make interesting comparison reading. In The Atlantic, Adrienne LaFrance traces the origins of the Q-Anon conspiracy theory and explains why faith in the unreason behind its patently false claims has the makings of an incipient religion. Leading figures in the Q movement openly declare that the conspiracy has divine sanction. One of the Q movement’s biggest names, David Hayes (a.k.a. PrayingMedic on Q forums), alleges that God has personally called him to Q-Anon. the Q-Anon conspiracy imagines an apocalyptic End Times when the blood of liberals will run in the streets and Donald Trump will usher in a new Great Awakening as the angels sing choruses of Kid Rock songs and clouds of sanctifying soot rain from a million coal-burning factories.
But seriously: LaFrance notes that the structure of the Q-Anon movement derives directly from the Calvinist strain of evangelical American Christianity, whose language and beliefs are mirrored in the Q-version of a GOP-led Millennium: “The language of evangelical Christianity has come to define the Q movement. QAnon marries an appetite for the conspiratorial with positive beliefs about a radically different and better future, one that is preordained.” One Q-believer LaFrance interviewed described the current political and social landscape—which, until the lockdown began this spring had been the one of the longest stretches of relative peace and prosperity in American history—as an Armageddon heralding the End Times. Q, she said, was her savior: “Q gives us hope. And it’s a good thing, to be hopeful.”
LaFrance doesn’t quite question why people living in a society that is, in objective terms, wealthier, safer, and more comfortable than in the past would see its conflicts as world-ending, and thus misses the broader trends of how catastrophic economic inequality has displaced anger into racial resentment that has pushed a segment of white Americans into the arms of conspiracies that seek to restore the status quo ante, ante Obama and ante Lyndon Johnson, and maybe ante FDR and the Civil War. The past wasn’t wealthier or more comfortable, but it was often more secure for individuals in the middle class, because jobs were more often for life and pensions could help secure old age. That loss of security—in large measure due to GOP policies and right-leaning corporate bean-counters—seems to be the warrant for the whole conspiracy, whose ultimate aim is to imagine fantasy scenarios where the white middle class can once again live secure lives if only the political right could be unshackled.
The ahistorical irony is rich, but LaFrance prefers to see Q-Anon largely as the latest in an American apocalyptic movement going back to the first Great Awakening. That might explain the form that panic and rage manifest in, but it doesn’t explain why this moment created a death-cult and blood-faith in Donald Trump as the soul and messenger of universal power.
Similarly, MJ Banias’s article in Vice covers much of the same ground, exploring how Corey Goode and David Wilcock have turned their Q-Anon-influenced UFO conspiracy theories into a salvation narrative, where, for a fee, you can achieve spiritual enlightenment and “ascend” to the seventh heaven of Trump and the space aliens. As I have covered many times before, Wilcock and Goode offer a similar salvation narrative centered on another apocalyptic End Times scenario where a coming global cataclysm will leave only the Ascended to bask in divine glory. When the liberals and the Democrats and the media elite are dead in the streets and the Deep State destroyed in Trump’s cleansing fire, good people who have at least 51% positive thoughts about helping others will inherit the Earth. In the meantime, you can give Wilcock money tax-free through his “spiritual” 501c3 foundation. The pay must be good. Vice reports that he bought a $1.2 million ranch in Colorado last year, all while bitching about imitators costing him money on YouTube.
Wilcock and Goode are not as doctrinaire as the Q-Anon believers, and I have noted before that they mix economic liberalism with social conservatism in a way not typically seen in American politics, but which resembles some of Donald Trump’s stuttering attempts at policy, if he had a coherent ideology behind them. Nevertheless, they are adamantly opposed to liberals and Democrats, adopting Q’s most vicious beliefs, and they routinely favor conservative political candidates as potential saviors.
Banias says the received legal threats from Wilcock’s and Goode’s lawyer after asking them for interviews, claiming that revealing information about Wilcock and Goode would be defamatory to their “brand.” It’s almost like they don’t want anyone checking what they do with their money!
While Banias’s piece might have benefited from examining some of the political elements that help draw in believers, one theme recurs in both articles that is worth pointing out: an almost obsessive rejection of mainstream authority figures and especially imagined elites, particularly intellectual and media elites. “I mean, another thing I want to point out, too,” Wilcock said in a February interview on Jenny McCarthy’s podcast, “is that we are not elite or special.” He said “everybody” could dream their way to alien contact. Similarly, LaFrance quotes a Q-believer in remarkably similar terms of egalitarianism as she described how she fell into the Q rabbit-hole: “What caught my attention was ‘research.’ Do your own research. Don’t take anything for granted. I don’t care who says it, even President Trump. Do your own research, make up your own mind.” There is, of course, a disingenuousness—while making a big show of not being “elite” both movements have elite leaders who, like the French Revolutionaries and the Bolsheviks of yore, pretend to be just folks. But the undercurrent of populism and the sense of grievance against perceived elites can’t really be ignored.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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