June 30, 2021
Understanding QAnon; highlights from Mike Rothschild’s Reddit AMA:
by Amelia Stymacks
Its messaging can seem cryptic, even nonsensical, yet for tens of thousands of people, it explains everything. What is QAnon, where did it come from, and is the Capitol insurgency a sign of where it’s going next?
Mike Rothschild, author of The Storm is Upon Us, answered your questions in a Reddit AMA this past week. We’ve rounded up some of the highlights here.
Reddit: Why are the Qs so emotionally, verbally, and borderline physically violent to literally everyone, including their closest relatives. Are we all part of the conspiracy in their eyes? Will opening society back up post-covid give them some social feedback that this behavior is unacceptable or drive them deeper into the psychosis?
Rothschild: Q is a movement that revolves around violence—the first drop was about the Marines and National Guard crushing riots when HRC got arrested. So it naturally attracts people who are on the aggressive side of things. When you’re in the in group, people in the out group are scary and dismissive, and only the in group provides comfort. So that’s where I think a lot of that aggression comes from: fear. In terms of social feedback, if it’s presented as mockery or fact-checking, it won’t work. They’ll incorporate into their grievance, which is already being inflamed by right wing media. So just be there for people you know, be a safe harbor, and if you feel unsafe, walk away.
Reddit: How much worse can this get before it gets better? Do you have any indication that Qanon supporters will radically get worse? How soon can we expect things to get better, if at all possible?
Rothschild: Well, I’m Jewish, so I never say that things can’t get worse 🙂 But it does seem like this mythology is becoming less fringe and more mainstream—a third of Republicans think Donald Trump is the legitimate president, which is an absolute disaster for critical thinking. We can make things better individually, for ourselves and the people in our immediate circles, by promoting skepticism and critical thinking – but it’s an uphill climb.
Reddit: Are there good examples from history of similar cults/religions emerging as rapidly as Qanon has? Is this a purely online phenomena or has the internet accelerated a process that has happened many times before in our past?
Rothschild: Q has moved at incredible speed, from just a few 4chan posts to storming the halls of Congress in three years. Many of the other mass movements we compare to Q took years longer, or decades, to spread that much. Even Al Qaeda took over a decade to go from its origin to the 9/11 attacks.
Reddit: Do you see a new ‘Q’ prophet/cult leader emerging? If so, what sort of person would it be?
Rothschild: That’s the question that keeps me up—who is going to take control of the movement and guide to its next awful thing. And so far, nobody has emerged. It has to be someone charismatic, good at making content, someone people want to follow who has a certain visibility. I just don’t know who that is yet.
Reddit: Most people think of the stereotypical Qanon person as an angry, overweight, baby boomer male that owns a lot of guns and is religious—basically equivalent to a Trump supporter. However, 4Chan and other sites derived from it cater toward younger people and as a result the online Qanon type will likely be younger and have some key differences in religious and cultural categories from Trump supporters. Additionally, lots of people around here tell stories of women getting involved with Qanon, or people that were politically liberal or associated with hippies getting sucked into it.
So with all that said, my question is this: Is there a typical profile of a Qanon follower? How would you describe that stereotypical person that is into this stuff?
Rothschild: Most, though far from all, Q believers are white, older, and middle class conservatives. And it’s probably close to an even split between men and women believing. But there are a lot of outliers, and no good data to establish the demographics. The biggest common denominator is extant belief in conspiracy theories. Nobody just wakes up one day after watching CNN and voting Democrat to decide Hillary Clinton traffics babies under Central Park.
Reddit: Do you think Qanon is going to fracture and turn into multiple factions some time soon? With all the weird beliefs and the people polarized about q having left vs just biding his time I can see the cracks might be starting to grow. Your thoughts on this?
Rothschild: It kind of is already—I wrote a Daily Dot piece about the schism between GhostEzra, the big new Telegram influencer who is a *massive* anti-Semite, and the rest of the Q promoter community. But infighting is always part of these movements – usually over money. GE doesn’t seem into money as much as they are into spreading hate, which is not a comforting development.
*Text has been edited for clarity
Amelia Stymacks is the former director of digital marketing at Melville House.