By Eric Vandenbroeck 25 May 2021
In my previous article, I detailed how UFO sightings went from joke to national security worry in Washington whereby one reader responded with; How come that such stories flourish and amplify especially in the U.S.? This question truly merits a very serious social (and political) study!
Starting with the first part of this remark, pointed out in science during the enlightenment magical beliefs and practices remained of an influence on the development of natural philosophy and that around the beginning of the eighteenth century, the educated classes chose to retain some elements of magical systems while rejecting others which in a new frontier country like the US with its race to the 'far west' certainly would have lingered on longer.
Although many of the phenomena associated with Spiritualism are quite ancient, Spiritualism, the way sprang up in the US, represented the nineteenth-century convergence of several earlier occult strands which already had inspired eighteenth-and nineteenth-century luminaries like Blake, Coleridge, Kant, Emerson, and Henry James, Sr..
As for the political realm, when Johann August Starck was accused by the Bavarian Illuminate of being a 'Crypto-Catholic' angrily wrote a letter to French polemicists the Catholic priest, Abbé Barruel accusing, in turn, the Illuminate of being part of an anti-Catholic conspiracy the result in Barruel’s Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism and which not only created havoc in Europe it also incited the famous “Illuminati scare” in the United States from 1798 through 1800. The reality is that the Illuminati (of which even conservative Goethe was a member) was not part of the conspiracy they were accused of (which I can explain but it would be a long story). What is significant is that even Barruel not long after the publication of his work changed his mind (and wrote a new manuscript incorporating the Jews into his Masonic conspiracy theory the current leadership of this conspiracy was a council of 21,9 of whom were Jews) when he was sent a letter by a man called Jean Baptiste Simonini, who alleged that the Jews were part of the conspiracy. This letter, the original of which has never been found, continues to shape antisemitic conspiracy thinking to this day. And was used (or misused) by the Nazi's when they produced the following poster (claiming the Jews were not only behind the French revolution but all other revolutions in the world:
Something that even today is reflected in numerous books published in the US:
This brings us to the second part of the remark (merits a very serious social and political study!)
While as seen above conspiracy theories (just as it once was in Europe) now became a staple in American history, and they are tempted to be dismissed as contradictory. However, as the 2ist century has progressed, such dismissal has started requiring deliberate blindness when March 30, 2011 Donald Trump was starting what is known as Birtherism stated: "He doesn't have a birth certificate, or if he does, there's something on that certificate that is very bad for him", and hence laid the groundwork for a presidential run by openly challenging whether Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, making him ineligible for the highest Office.
Not to mention that nine years later, when news of a terrifying new virus unexpectedly appeared, and with Trump now President, a series of ideas began to burst in the QAnon community: that the coronavirus could not be real; that if it had been, it would have been generated by the "Deep State," the star chamber of government officials and other influential figures secretly running the world; that the hysteria surrounding the pandemic was part of it. Any of these proposals will make room for Fox News and the public comments of the President.
During his presidency, Trump also frequently retweeted followers linked to the notorious conspiracy theory QAnon, a narrative that originated in 2017 and claimed that a powerful cabal of Democrats and elites are trafficking and abusing children and that Trump is fighting them. Although Trump never endorsed QAnon, he repeatedly refused to condemn the conspiracy theory in interviews and once praised its followers for their support.
Thus by taking fringe ideas mainstream, the former US president taught new and dangerous lessons about manipulating social and mass media.
The belief in what now became a political religion
The roots of QAnon are recent, but it cannot be easy to distinguish myth from fact. One place to start is with Edgar Maddison Welch, a profoundly religious father of two, who had lived an unusual life in the small town of Salisbury, North Carolina, until Sunday, December 4, 2016. Welch gathered his cellphone that morning, a box of shotgun shells, and three loaded guns, a 9-mm AR-15 rifle, a Colt caliber six-shot revolver, and a shotgun, and jumped into his Toyota Prius. He drove 360 miles to a well-to-do neighborhood in Northwest Washington, D.C., parked his car, placed the revolver at his waist in a holster; kept the AR-15 gun around his chest; and walked through the front door pizzeria called Comet Ping Pong.
There, children gather after soccer games on Saturdays with their parents and teammates, and local bands play on the weekends. In the back, kids challenge their grandparents to Ping-Pong matches as they wait for their pizzas to come out of the restaurant's big clay oven. Comet Ping Pong is a popular Washington venue.
People found Welch straight away that day. In most social settings, an AR-15 rifle makes for a conspicuous sash, but particularly in a position like Comet. As parents, children, and employees hurried outside, several still chewing, Welch started to move through the restaurant, at one point trying to use a butter knife to pry open a locked door, before giving up and firing several rounds from his rifle into the window. There was a tiny computer-storage closet just behind the entrance. That was not what he had planned.
Welch had moved to Washington because of a conspiracy theory, now famously known as Pizzagate, which alleged that Hillary Clinton ran out of Comet Ping Pong with a child sex ring. The idea emerged in October 2016, when WikiLeaks published a cache of emails stolen from John Podesta's account, a former White House staff chief, and then Clinton's presidential campaign chair; Comet was repeatedly listed in exchanges with restaurant owner James Alefantis and others. The emails were primarily about fundraising activities, but high-profile pro - Donald Trump figures, including Mike Cernovich and Alex Jones, began pushing the argument that the emails were evidence of ritualistic child abuse, which emerged in trollish internet corners (such as 4chan) and then spread to more open precincts (Twitter, YouTube). Some conspiracy theorists have said it took place in Comet's basement, where there is no basement. The references to "pizza" and "pasta” in the emails have been interpreted as code words for "children” and "young boys.”
Shortly after Trump's victory, as Pizzagate was booming through the internet, Welch began watching conspiracy theory videos on YouTube. He tried to enlist support from at least two people to carry out a guerrilla attack, texting them about his willingness to risk "the lives of a few for the lives of many” and battling "a crooked machine that kidnaps, tortures, and rapes babies and children in our backyard."
Welch seems to have earnestly assumed that at Comet Ping Pong, children were being treated. His family and friends wrote on his behalf letters to the judge describing him as a loving father, a devout Christian, and a man who has gone out of his way to care about others. Welch had specialized in firefighting as a volunteer. He'd gone with the local Baptist Men's Association on an earthquake-response trip to Haiti. A friend from his church said, "He shows the actions of a person who seeks to understand and apply biblical truth/' Welch himself expressed what seemed to be sincere remorse, writing in a handwritten note sent by his lawyers to the judge: “It was never my intention to injure or frighten innocent lives, but I now realize how foolish and careless my decision was.”
Pizzagate was quickly disappearing. Some of its most prominent supporters, including Jack Posobiec, a conspiracy theorist who is now a reporter for One America News Network, the pro-Trump cable-news channel, have backed up. Alex Jones, who runs the conspiracytheory website Infowars and hosts a related radio show, apologizes for supporting Pizzagate in the face of the specter of legal action by Alefantis.
Although Welch may have expressed remorse, he did not indicate that he had stopped believing in the underlying message of Pizzagate: that a group of influential leaders raped children and got away with it. Judging from a burst of internet activity, several people had found ways to step past the episode of Comet Ping Pong and stay focused on what they saw as the on the right pages; you might see in real-time how Pizzagate's central concepts were replicated, updated, and reinterpreted. The millions of people paying attention to sites like 4chan and Reddit will continue to learn about this clandestine and untouchable cabal, its malignant acts and intentions, about its connections to the left-wing, and particularly to the Democrats and Clinton; about its bloodlust and moral degeneration. You might also read about a tiny but swelling band of underground American patriots fighting back-and this would prove important.
Taken together, all this established a philosophy that would soon have a name: QAnon, derived from a mysterious man, “Q," posting on 4chan anonymously. QAnon does not have a physical venue, but it does have an infrastructure, literature, an increasing community of adherents, and much merchandising. It also exhibits other key attributes lacking by Pizzagate. It has the complexity and adaptability to maintain a campaign of this nature over time in the face of inconvenient evidence. For QAnon, any inconsistency can be explained away; no sort of argument against it can prevail.
And we are probably closer than the end to the start of its narrative. The community harnesses fear of a deep sense of belonging and fervent hope. How it breathes life into an ancient end-time problem is profoundly new too. Looking at QAnon is seeing the advent of a new religion and not just a conspiracy theory, and of course, the US from the beginning has been a country that embraced new religions, of which a good example was (and is) Scientology.
Only to see again how in the final weeks before the 2020 election, the outsize role of conspiracy theories in American politics has become unmistakable. For some Trump supporters, in particular, campaign-season news is filtered through the powerful idea that hidden forces are at work, that the “deep state,” a supposed secret, a shadowy and sinister group of leftist politicians, government bureaucrats, Chinese scientists, journalists, academics and intellectuals, is seeking to destroy American values. Seen through that lens, COVID-19, which has killed nearly 200,000 Americans, is a “hoax”; some even believe that Anthony Fauci is a “deep state doctor.” But while the particulars of these theories may be new, the dynamics are not. In fact, they go all the way back to America’s earliest years: In the late 1790s, Jedidiah Morse, the congregational minister in Charlestown, Mass., and a well-known author of geography textbooks drew national attention by suggesting that a secret organization called the Bavarian Illuminati was at work “to root out and abolish Christianity and overturn all civil government.” Today, such an idea sounds both eerily familiar and like a relic of a less sophisticated time, but the lessons of that episode are decidedly relevant.
With the ratification of the Constitution fresh in the minds of most Americans, and upheaval ongoing across the Atlantic in the form of the French Revolution, the late 18th century was a volatile time. In that environment, Morse became convinced that this group of atheists and infidels were behind the secular Jacobin movement in France that sought to purge the nation of organized religion. He believed that the Illuminati group was pursuing the same clandestine agenda in America and was working closely with Thomas Jefferson-led Democratic-Republicans, the Federalists’ political rivals, to pull it off.
Morse, a Federalist himself, read about the Bavarian Illuminati in books published by European religious skeptics, which described a network of secret lodges scattered across the continent. In a 1798 fast day sermon, he appealed to the worst fears of those evangelicals who remained concerned with the moral character of the new republic. He described the Illuminati’s ominous attempts to “abjure Christianity, justify suicide (by declaring death an eternal sleep), advocate sensual pleasures agreeable to Epicurean philosophy…decry marriage, and advocate a promiscuous intercourse among the sexes.”
And while this question merits a book-length social and political study to start with just one example when around 100 QAnon conspiracy theorists who, not unlike members of the Trump family argue that child-abusing Democrats and “deep state” elitists run the nation’s power centers and that Trump and his allies were working clandestinely to fight back against them whereby they believed that the Democrats had “stolen” the election. Along with the above, a more radical conspiracy theory believing Patriot Action for America continues to draw attention from law enforcement.
"The Paranoid Style in American Politics"
Thus QAnon may best be understood as an example of what historian Richard Hofstadter called "The Paranoid Style in American Politics" QAnon's vocabulary echoes tropes, such as the "Storm" (the Genesis flood narrative or Judgement Day) and the "Great Awakening" (evoking the reputed historical religious Great Awakenings of the early 18th century to the late 20th century). According to one QAnon video, the battle between Trump and "the cabal" is of "biblical proportions," a "fight for earth, of good versus evil." Some QAnon supporters say the forthcoming reckoning will be a "reverse rapture": not only the end of the world as we know it but a new beginning, with salvation and utopia on earth for the survivors.
Using similar tropes, GhostEzra considered the king of Q with over 330k followers reminiscent of the John Birch society or books like None Dare Call it Conspiracy by Gary Allen posted the following chart:
As for 'similar tropes,' while debunked a long time ago as suggested above today, many Americans believe in the Illuminati. There also seems to be a link with conservative beliefs, as many conservatives are unhappy with the government's involvement in private affairs. There are many different theories about who runs the Illuminati, but the consensus is that celebrities and government officials alike are part of it. Information about the Illuminati is heavily prevalent on the conspiracy theories section of Youtube, in documentaries, and on websites such as http://www.illuminatiofficial.org.
An article titled They Were Out for Blood suggested that all of QAnon's idiocy is undergirded by a sense of entitlement that’s pretty logical, historically speaking. And if similar people can get as close as they did to gunning down U.S. Senators on live TV, as it seems may have been the plan for at least some, it’s chilling to imagine what someone with actual smarts could do.
Thus on January 6, 2021, an armed mob of Donald Trump supporters accomplished what no Confederate soldier, Nazi stormtrooper, or Al Qaeda jihadist had ever managed to do: they sacked the United States Capitol Building.
That day was the final act of a two-month stretch that saw Trump lose his reelection bid only to repeatedly tell his millions of supporters that he had not only not lost, but he had won in a landslide. According to him, it was a win that the liberal deep state, its media minions, and its globalist backers were desperate to keep from the masses. So Trump devotees gathered in the cold to protest as Congress voted to certify Joe Biden’s election as president.
In a thunderous speech before the crowd, the lame-duck president declared, “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.” He told his flock to “fight like hell,” or else they wouldn’t “have a country anymore.” He even claimed he’d join them.
He didn’t, and they did not march peacefully. Many in the crowd were fueled by false information that Vice President Mike Pence had the authority to throw out the electoral votes of states with voting anomalies. And a significant contingent held Trump to be a god-emperor and golden-haired champion. They were ready to fight for their leader and shed blood. And they did.
Thousands of ride-or-die MAGA believers pounced on the Capitol, intending to cross the American Rubicon. And once they crossed, they didn’t stop. They breached the building’s ramparts in an armed attack that appeared to have at least some assistance from insiders, killed one of its defenders, looted sensitive material, beat Capitol police with flagpoles, and occupied the immediate area for hours. In the process of their insurrectionist attack, they were seconds from forcing their way into the Senate chamber while the body was still in session, chanting “hang Mike Pence.”
But while the insurrectionists looked to be nothing more than a sea of rage only differentiated by their level of military costuming, the attackers had a variety of end goals that day. Some believed that Pence was a traitor who deserved death for his failure to throw out the certified votes of the Electoral College. Some were prepared and out for blood, strapped with guns, bombs, and plastic flexible handcuffs for hostages. Others were happy to wander around the halls of Congress, take selfies, and maybe grab a letter off Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk. There were Trump acolytes who claimed they merely got caught up in the moment, neo-Nazis looking to recruit new members, clout chasers finding content for their monetized live streams, wannabe special-operator types finally living out their covert-ops dreams, actual ex-military and police types flexing their familiarity with arms and tactical skills, and trolls just out to have a good time overthrowing democracy.
Most were arrested within days of the insurrection, aided in no small part by the fact that many left their phones’ GPS on, refused to wear face masks, wore identifiable militia patches, and used their full names during their live streams.
But across this chaotic range of motivations, competence, and genuine commitment to the cause was another commonality. Many were believers in the cultish conspiracy theory called QAnon. Everywhere you looked during the frenzy of January 6, you could find symbols of QAnon iconography: a man in a Q T-shirt was one of the first rioters to bust through Capitol defenses and brawl with an officer. Images of the “Q Shaman,” clad in furs, face painting, and a horned helmet, were reproduced everywhere in the flood of media that covered the events. There were Q flags flying and signs with Q slogans on them. Insurrectionists screamed the text of one of QAnon’s cryptic 8chan “drops” as they destroyed the camera equipment of one news outlet, and several of the day’s mortalities were avowed QAnon believers with social media feeds that expressed full-throated belief in QAnon and a willingness to die for Trump, right until the moment they did.
These insurrectionists didn’t just believe that voting machines had been hacked, China was partially responsible, Trump had really won the election, and efforts to decertify the vote had legal merit that would eventually pay off. They also believed that if legal measures were unsuccessful, the military would step in, Trump would be installed as president for life, liberals and traitors would be hanged, and freedom would reign. And that’s not the only fantastical reality these people had immersed themselves in, many of the rioters believed they’d be given secret cures for deadly diseases, the path to economic stability and prosperity, access to powerful new technology, and possibly even the truth about aliens.
All of this is part of QAnon, a cult, a popular movement, a puzzle, a community, a way to fight back against evil, a new religion, a wedge between countless loved ones, a domestic terrorism threat, and more than anything, a conspiracy theory of everything.
In fact, no conspiracy theory more encapsulates the full-throated madness of the Donald Trump era than QAnon. From its beginnings as a few posts on the message board and trolling haven 4chan in October 2017, QAnon and its complex mythology grew to overwhelm conservative thought and media. It is virtually impossible to discern how many people believe in QAnon, but there are likely hundreds of thousands who buy into at least some part of the complex mythology, not just in the United States but all over the world. Many don’t even know that what they believe is associated with QAnon. Some will publicly distance themselves from those “crazy people.” Others wear their allegiance on T-shirts, bumper stickers, and flags on their boats. They hold rallies and conferences. They write books and become QAnon social media influencers.
Before the insurrection at the Capitol made QAnon an international news curiosity, the movement had already saturated Republican politics. Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn has embraced his status as a hero among QAnon followers for supposedly faking an admission of guilt to go under deep cover in the deep state. Roger Stone extolled Q’s virtues and urged Trump to declare martial law, a go-to fantasy of QAnon mythology, in the run-up to the 2020 election. Conservative stalwarts, including some of Donald Trump’s children and other popular right-wing pundits, have begun pandering to the movement. Between 2018 and 2020, nearly one hundred Republican candidates declared themselves to be Q believers, with several actually winning their elections. And before his Twitter account was shut down, Trump himself retweeted hundreds of Q followers, putting their violent fantasies and bizarre memes into tens of millions of feeds. When asked by a White House press corps member to denounce Q, Trump evasively replied, “I don’t know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate.”
As Trump’s presidency came to an end, QAnon was covered by every major media outlet in the country, getting air time on virtually every cable news channel, including the president’s beloved Fox News. Everyone from The New York Times to NPR to TV stations around the world has tried to figure out what the hell Q is, what it’s about, and what to do with the people who think it’s real. And yet, many of these same people were shocked when a mob, drunk on conspiracy theories and misplaced rage, sacked the Capitol building.
They shouldn’t have been shocked. QAnon has centered around violent ideation since its very inception, and before the brutal attack on the Capitol, several killings, numerous incidents of domestic terrorism, multiple child-kidnapping schemes, police chases, and even a botched attempt to kill Joe Biden and destroy a coronavirus hospital ship were committed in the name of QAnon. It is a movement premised on the idea that a “storm” of mass arrests and executions sweep corruption, child molesters, and liberals out of government forever, so it should not have been so jarring a surprise when Q’s believers decided to carry out a long-promised purge themselves.
Still, the question remains as to how something that started on the anarchic message board 4chan could go on to power right-wing thought to the point where QAnon believers were erecting gallows on the lawn of the Capitol. To answer it, we need to look closely not just at what QAnon is, but where it comes from and how it lodges itself so stubbornly into the mind of its adherents.
Featuring mythology that’s virtually impenetrable to outsiders, the QAnon conspiracy theory revolves around an anonymous group of military intelligence insiders who collectively refer to themselves as Q. These patriots are supposedly under orders from Trump to leak clues and prompts that reveal secret knowledge of an upcoming and world-changing event called “the storm.” While anyone can read these “drops” online, only the special and highly attuned believers in Q can understand them. These believers see themselves at the center of a secret war between good and evil, a war that will end with the slaughter of the enemies of freedom.
And it’s getting more popular by the day. QAnon has sucked in an amorphous, but certainly massive, number of people through its unchecked growth on social media, probably including someone you know.
If a great massacre for peace carried out by patriots on a mandate that supersedes the Constitution sounds troubling to you, it should. The problem is that for all the people who dismiss Q as a fascist fantasy, there are others who are drawn to it specifically because it is one.
But there is also a “conspiracy theory of everything” aspect to QAnon, which makes it a big tent welcoming to all those who question authority, distrust the media, and do their own research. They fight not primarily with guns or bombs but by making memes and decoding deep-state “comms.” They refuse vaccines and COVID-19 masks, and do their part by waking up “normie” friends to “what’s really going on.” They fight in Twitter mentions and text messages and in tiny interactions with nonbelievers.
As the war consumes its “digital soldiers,” people outside of the conspiracy are left behind. Q believers embrace their online community and push away friends and loved ones as their “secret knowledge” curdles into violence and madness. It’s especially bad for older social media users who lack the digital literacy to realize they’re being lied to but enjoy the community of like-minded patriots they’ve found. Studies have found that baby boomers are far more likely to share fake news stories on Facebook, and it’s this same cohort with which QAnon has found pay dirt and a devoted audience.
Or is this simply a continuation of the type of thinking as I detailed in my previous article about the history of Ufology.
In the wake of the Capitol insurrection, Twitter banned Trump, disconnecting him from his nearly 89 million followers, and took down more than 70,000 accounts linked to disinformation about campaign fraud and conspiracy theories. Facebook and Google’s YouTube have also suspended Trump’s accounts.
As social media researcher Alex Kaplan noted, 2020 was the year “QAnon became all of our problem” as the movement initially gained traction by spreading COVID-related conspiracy theories and disinformation and was then further mainstreamed by 97 U.S. congressional candidates who publicly showed support for QAnon.
Growth of QAnon groups between January and September 2020:
In an August 2020 response to a question from NBC reporter Shannon Pettypiece, Trump said, “I don’t know much about the movement other than I understand that they like me very much, which I appreciate.”
This is the first time the US president has openly acknowledged the far-right conspiracy theory that has spread among some of his followers, though he has previously retweeted content from at least 200 QAnon-affiliated accounts.
On 7 March, I happened to notice an interview on CNN where a former Neo-Nazi was asked about QAnon and who I thought made an interesting statement when he opinioned that when a few decades ago one neo-nazi group would have come in disrepute in a matter of time another one be it now QAnon would show up repeating similar tropes like for example in this case when the WWII Nazi's when at the time they placed Jews in gas chambers claimed 'Jews drank the blood of Children and were bent on controlling the world' was/is (including other Nazi-type beliefs) being recycled and re-appear in different forms. “The neo-Nazi stuff that I belonged to is manifested in the QAnon, in the Proud Boys…when I see what I used to be, I see it in QAnon-“Racism always recycles itself. We can’t be the KKK anymore, so they can’t be neo-Nazi anymore. So I took a quick picture of when he said that here it is:
As for the upcoming so-called UFO report, two factors might delay the report’s release: Agencies have missed similar congressional reporting deadlines in the past; and the provision is not technically binding, as the language was included in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the bill, not the bill itself.
“In other words, it isn’t statute, but the agencies/departments generally treat report language as bill language,” said one senior Senate aide familiar with the legislation.
Former US President Donald Trump today said that he is a “believer in what you see” when he was asked about the existence of UFO amid the upcoming Pentagon report on the phenomena during Dan Bongino’s new radio show.
When the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence initiated a report about UFO's the conclusion was that “It was the public itself,” says John Greenewald, Jr., founder of The Black Vault, an online archive of government documents. There was a concern “that the general public, with their panic and hysteria, could overwhelm the resources of the U.S. government” in a time of crisis.