EDITOR’S NOTE — The movement known as QAnon has garnered headlines in recent weeks, and the TAB Media team is working to understand QAnon and its influence. The following article was compiled from various news and opinion pieces, as well as our own research. Links to sources are included in the text and noted at the end of this post. As we learn more, we will continue to share updates.
The year 2020 has already been one for the history books, with a global pandemic, racial unrest and a presidential election capturing headlines. But there’s also a movement afoot — known as QAnon— that has something to say on all these issues, and its influence is on the rise in evangelical churches.
So what is QAnon?
QAnon is a sprawling conspiracy theory centered on the idea that a global cabal, or faction, of leftist elites – “the deep state” – is secretly plotting against U.S. President Donald Trump and his supporters.
The movement’s followers craft elaborate tales of super-wealthy liberal politicians, the media, the Democratic Party and Hollywood celebrities engaging in pedophilia, child sex trafficking, media manipulation, abuse of government power and other criminal acts.
Some followers believe members of the cabal participate in satanic cults that kidnap, rape and torture young children in order to harvest a psychotropic chemical called adrenochrome from their blood.
An investigative analysis published in The Atlantic in June asserts the rise of QAnon is more than a social or cultural phenomenon.
“To look at QAnon is to see not just a conspiracy theory but the birth of a new religion,” wrote Adrienne LaFrance in The Atlantic in June.
A recent article in World Magazine examined QAnon’s growing influence in the Christian community and how the movement may be influencing the evangelical church with its apocalyptic conspiracy theories.
“Many Christians have sunk so deeply into Q that it fills a lot of their conversations and most of their time online,” wrote World senior reporter Emily Belz.
Who is Q?
Once the fascination of far-right commentators and their followers, QAnon is no longer fringe. With alleged support from the president and other elected officials, it has gained credibility both on the web and in the offline world: In Georgia, a candidate for Congress has praised Q as “a mythical hero,” and at least five other congressional hopefuls from Illinois to Oregon have voiced support.
Just who is Q? No one knows for sure. An anonymous individual or small group posts cryptic messages under the pseudonym “Q” (which is also the U.S. Energy Department’s designation for its highest security clearance) on web forums with allegedly classified information couched in military-like jargon.
These messages are known as “Q drops.” Q claims to be on a heroic mission to “wake up” Americans to the deep state’s evil plans while rallying “digital soldiers” behind the hope that a “Great Awakening” or “Storm” is coming.
Followers crowdsource interpretations of Q’s revelations in discussions on online forums, social media interactions, YouTube videos and podcasts.
Conspiracy theories linked to QAnon include the idea that 5G radio waves are used for mind control; that George Floyd’s murder is a hoax; that Bill Gates is related to the devil; and that masks can kill you. Another pervasive theory suggests the COVID-19 pandemic is a hoax meant to control the 2020 presidential election.
Many Q followers believe the president will soon expose the dark conspiracy and oversee mass arrests, vindicating the movement as a patriotic rescue operation. “Where we go one, we go all” is their mantra, often repeated through the hashtag #WWG1WGA.
Social media magnifies message
Q-related ideas are often laundered through social media accounts, thousands of them, that look relatively normal, sometimes posing as credible news outlets. Self-styled documentaries on Youtube are commonly used to convert viewers to QAnon beliefs.
In other cases, individuals share Q-related content unwittingly, without understanding its origin. One scholar found a 71% increase in QAnon content on Twitter and a 651% increase on Facebook since March.
Regardless of the source, the false information shared in these posts travels far and wide, in part through memes (pronounced “meems”), which are provocative or humorous images with short bits of text that can be easily shared on social media.
And once a meme is shared once, it’s shared again and again and again.
“You don’t just see it once,” said Mark Fugitt, senior pastor of Round Grove Baptist Church in Miller, Missouri. “If there’s ever anything posted, you’ll see it five to 10 times. It’s escalating for sure.”
Engagement with Q ideas may begin as a preoccupation with political nitpicking, but the movement can lure followers into a toxic worldview and hinder legitimate ministry efforts.
Several rumors related to the global pandemic have circulated online including one claiming a Samaritan’s Purse field hospital in New York City’s Central Park was part of a Trump-led sting operation to rescue children being held in underground tunnels for the purpose of sex trafficking and organ harvesting.
The field hospital was actually part of the organization’s emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic. A spokesperson for Samaritan’s Purse told Politifact the rumors were “totally false.”
Radicalization leading to potentially dangerous behavior is another concern when it comes to QAnon. A memo published by the FBI on May 30, 2019, designated QAnon and similar conspiracy theories as domestic terror threats. Since then, social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook have been cracking down on accounts that spread such material.
Two researchers writing for West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center noted five criminal cases where violent acts were related to QAnon ideology.
“QAnon is arguably no longer simply a fringe conspiracy theory but an ideology that has demonstrated its capacity to radicalize to violence individuals at an alarming speed,” the researchers said.
Others are concerned the theories will become grounds for more mistrust.
“Young people are exiting the church because they see their parents and mentors and pastors and Sunday school teachers spreading things that even at a young age they can see through,” said Jeb Barr, the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Elm Mott outside Waco, Texas. He said conspiracy theories are “extremely widespread and getting worse” among his online church networks.
“Why would we listen to my friend Joe … who’s telling me about Jesus who also thinks that Communists are taking over America and operating a pedophile ring out of a pizza restaurant? … Why would we be believed?”
(Compiled from reporting by Seth Brown, North Carolina Biblical Recorder; Marc-André Argentino, writing at The Conversation; Emily Belz, World Magazine; and Katelyn Beaty, RNS Opinion contributor)
Evangelicals need to address the QAnon’ers in our midst (By Ed Stetzer, USA Today)
Questions about QAnon (By Emily Belz, World Magazine)
Q-Anon: The rise of ‘restless evil’ (By Seth Brown, North Carolina Biblical Recorder)
QAnon: The alternative religion that’s coming to your church (By Katelyn Beaty, Opinion column published at Religion News Service)
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