On 17 September, Q urged his followers in two posts to distance themselves from the toxic QAnon name, and to try to "redpill" ["enlighten"] people without associating their claims with the movement.
For those out of the loop, those claims posit the existence of a Satan worshipping paedophile cabal, who drink the blood of children, before sacrificing them to Moloch. Q himself is supposed to be a military intelligence officer, working with Trump to bring down the cabal, while communicating with his followers on sketchy anonymous image boards.
Who is behind the posts is in fact unknown, but all signs point to the name changing hands multiple times, as the style of the posts varies noticeably.
This is at least partly a response to the — belated and inefficient — crackdowns on the movement on various social media sites. Most recently, followers have been using "cue", "17", or the magnifying glass emoji as a substitute for "Q" in discussions.
It's also the continuation of the trend we have seen with the "Save the Children" rallies. They are saturated with QAnon mythology through and through, yet they pretend to be a non-partisan movement to end child sex trafficking. After all, that is a goal everyone can get behind, and once you've got the support of the prospect, you can introduce them to Q.
Needless to say, their version of human trafficking is not connected to reality. They believe over 800,000 children per year are trafficked in the US — presumably for the cabal. In 2018, the number of births in the US was 3,791,712. That would mean that around one fifth of children born in America every year end up as fodder for Moloch.
I think somebody would've noticed that. In any case, actual human trafficking experts have denounced QAnon as a harmful distraction from the problem, further stating that the overwhelming majority of missing children are returned to their parents.
QAnon, being an internet based cult, takes proselytisation very seriously. Their adherents view themselves as "digital soldiers", fighting an information war (or at least, pre-Save the Children followers do). In June, Q posted the digital soldier oath. Soon after, followers uploaded videos of themselves taking said oath, as per Q's instructions.
It is clear that believers derive a sense of purpose from participating in QAnon. The nature of Q is different from other conspiracy theories. They take part in decoding Q's drops — instead of receiving ready-made information, they feel like they themselves are uncovering the workings of the cabal, even though Q's posts are filled with leading questions, clearly indicating what answers are the "correct" ones. Instead of, let's say, reading a book, where a purported whistleblower reveals the truth about UFOs, or the like, they as a community playact as investigators and researchers, swapping interpretations, and making predictions. Q himself may even gratify their responses with his approval, putting QAnon in contrast with other conspiracy theories such as 9/11 trutherism.
The vast majority of QAnon followers do not go to the source of Q drops, that is, the site 8kun. The site is too confusing, and too filled with trolls, racists, right wing extremists, and paedophiles, to ever achieve popular success. Most QAnoners get their info from Q aggregator sites, or QAnon influencers on social media, hiding the true origin of the posts as an internet cesspool behind a more sanitised front.
Fellow QAnon believers are often the only community these people have, especially after they've alienated their friends and families. The QAnon Casualties forum on Reddit is full of stories of people losing spouses, partners, friends, and family members to QAnon. As I write, it has close to 25,000 members. Jane Lytvynenko of Buzzfeed News also documented people's experiences of the destructive effects of Q on relationships in a recent article.
These stories are well worth studying. The theme of a loved one becoming unreachable, and unable to have conversations is constantly recurring. But the difficulty of dissuading these people from their beliefs shouldn't stop us from trying.
After all, every believer is a die-hard Trump supporter, and by associating their political opponents with devil-worshipping paedophiles, they are being primed for political violence against leftists — a term so poorly defined among Americans that it even includes Hillary Clinton. While a decent number of believers were on the far right even before Q, a sizeable number were liberal, or apolitical. A lot of people who are currently QAnon supporters have class interests that should set them against Trump. We can't let them become footsoldiers of a fascist cult.
One former supporter also shared his story on Reddit. He says: "I suppose I was a prime candidate, disaffected, vulnerable and insecure. Q gave me purpose, meaning and perhaps saddest of all, he gave me joy. I was happy that the world wasn't as actually as fucked up as it seemed, that there were good guys out there fighting the good fight, that we could genuinely build a better future for all of humanity. What a fucking joke".
It is important to keep in mind that no matter how ridiculous their beliefs seem, they are legitimately misled, and that it is possible to reach some. Of course, I am not talking about the openly antisemitic and racist elements here.
On the other hand, it is also worth thinking about what happens if we don't reach them.
Charlotte Alter in Time magazine quotes a QAnon supporter as follows: "I think if Biden wins, the world is over, basically, [...] I would honestly try to leave the country. And if that wasn't an option, I would probably take my children and sit in the garage and turn my car on and it would be over."
It is hard to overstate how divorced from reality the people are who campaign for saving fictional children, but would kill their own if a right wing Democrat were elected. This is the result of an Evangelical culture where credulity is a virtue and where the end is always nigh, plus decades of right wing propaganda, and it won't be undone overnight.
As Nathan Allebach wrote in a recent Medium post exploring America's conspiracy-theory-laden culture, there is no all-catch solution to bringing people back to reality. Private conversations are recommended over public ones, but even then, success is not guaranteed.
As for the US election, there are no good scenarios. If Trump wins, the consequences should be obvious. But what happens if Biden wins? In Q world, that is not supposed to happen. A violent response from them is not out of the question. Trump is supposed to shut down the cabal, and arrest tens of thousands of deep state operators.
After Trump spent months trying to delegitimise the elections in advance, stoking baseless fears of mail-in voter fraud, supporters are ready to call a Biden victory a deep state coup, to be resisted by violence, if necessary.