This Is One of Our Two Major Political Parties

Marjorie Taylor Greene is 46 and serving her first term in the House of Representatives. She won the Republican primary for Georgia’s 14th Congressional District last year with 57% of the vote. She easily won the general election. The 14th District occupies the northwest corner of Georgia and is heavily Republican. This is what her official website says about her:

Marjorie graduated from the University of Georgia and received her Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. Marjorie has been actively involved in her community, in her children’s schools, and been active on a national level as National Director of Family America Project.

Marjorie has a strong Christian faith and believes we must continue to protect our great freedoms and work to keep America a great country for our generations to come.

Marjorie and her husband, Perry, have been married 23 years. They have three children . . .. Marjorie believes the best part of her life is being a mother and spending time with her family.

Media Matters for America presents more information about Rep. Greene:

In another newly uncovered 2018 Facebook post, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) endorsed a conspiracy theory that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was videotaped murdering a child during a satanic ritual and then ordered a hit on a police officer to cover it up. She also liked a meme claiming that some of her now-Democratic congressional colleagues have used the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for human trafficking, pedophilia, and organ harvesting. 

. . .  She has received heavy criticism for her recently uncovered endorsements of the conspiracy theories that the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, were staged false flags. Greene is also a QAnon and 9/11 conspiracy theorist who has promoted anti-Muslim attacks and a conspiracy theory that Jewish people are trying to take over Europe through immigration. 

Greene is also a backer of [a] violent and absurd . . .  conspiracy theory, which is linked to QAnon and Pizzagate and essentially claims that Hillary Clinton and former aide Huma Abedin sexually assaulted a child, [mutilated her] and then drank her blood as part of a satanic ritual . . .  Greene endorsed the conspiracy theory on Facebook in May 2018. . . .

Greene also liked a meme that was posted to her Facebook page in June 2018 claiming that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Clinton, former President Barack “Obama and their Democrat friends … can’t have Trump repeal DACA as it would show DACA was used by them … for human trafficking pedophilia in high places and organ harvesting.”

CNN offers more:

Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene repeatedly indicated support for executing prominent Democratic politicians in 2018 and 2019 before being elected to Congress, a [CNN] review of hundreds of posts and comments from Greene’s Facebook page shows. . .

In one post, from January 2019, Greene liked a comment that said “a bullet to the head would be quicker” to remove House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In other posts, Greene liked comments about executing FBI agents who, in her eyes, were part of the “deep state” working against Trump.

I add this piece of news without further comment:

Her Republican colleagues have selected Rep. Greene to serve on the House Education and Labor Committee.

Three Weeks Listening to the QAnon Tribe Talk to Each Other

I don’t know if typical QAnon believers are relatively affluent or struggling. Are they worried about losing their privileged position in society or making ends meet? Do they have more problems than the rest of us (aside from being QAnon believers)?

New York Times journalist Stuart Thompson spent the past three weeks listening to an online QAnon chat room and came away with some impressions. (The Times story is fairly long and includes recorded conversations not included below.)

As President Biden’s inauguration ticked closer, some of Txxxx’s supporters were feeling gleeful. Mr. Txxxx was on the cusp of declaring martial law, they believed. Military tribunals would follow, then televised executions, then Democrats and other deep state operatives would finally be brought to justice.

These were honestly held beliefs. Dozens of Txxxx supporters spoke regularly over the past three weeks on a public audio chat room app, where they uploaded short recordings instead of typing. In these candid digital confessionals, participants would crack jokes, share hopes and make predictions.

“Look at the last four years. They haven’t listened to a thing we’ve said. Um … there’s going to have to be some serious anarchy that goes on. Otherwise, nothing is going to change.”

I spent the past three weeks listening to the channel — from before the Jan. 6 Washington protest to after Mr. Biden’s inauguration. It became an obsession, something I’d check first thing every morning and listen to as I fell asleep at night. Participants tend to revere Mr. Txxxx and believe he’ll end the crisis outlined by Q: that the world is run by a cabal of pedophiles who operate a sex-trafficking ring, among other crimes. While the chat room group is relatively small, with only about 900 subscribers, it offers a glimpse into a worrying sect of Txxxx supporters. . . .

“If the Biden inauguration wants to come in and take your weapons and force vaccination, you have due process to blow them the [expletive] away. Do it.”

There’s a persistent belief that the online world is somehow not real. Extreme views are too easily dismissed if they’re on the internet. While people might say things online they would never do in person, all it takes is one person for digital conspiracies to take a deadly turn. . . . Listening to the conspiracists — unfiltered and in their own voices — makes that digital conversation disturbingly real.

To participants, the channel is mainly a way to share and “fact-check” the news, cobbling theories together from fringe right-wing websites, posts on Facebook, and private channels on the messaging apps Telegram and Signal. They say their main focus is reinstituting paper ballots.

The most commonly used phrase is some version of “I heard,” followed by a theory . . .

_________________________________________________________________________

If the Q movement had a slogan, it would be “Do your research.” The conspiracy is designed like a game. Discovering clues that clarify Q’s cryptic missives produces a eureka effect, which offers a hit of dopamine and improves memory retention. It’s the same satisfaction that comes from solving a puzzle or finding the answer to a riddle.

Believers apply the same approach to everyday news: Find information that confirms any existing beliefs, then use it to augment their understanding of the conspiracy. Reject facts or information that counter the existing beliefs. It’s one of the reasons they struggle to recruit their family members, unless they’re persuaded to do research themselves.

I wondered what would happen in the days after Mr. Biden’s inauguration. Rather than re-evaluate their approach in the wake of Q’s failures, many doubled down. The problem wasn’t that the whole worldview was false, just that they had been led astray by inaccurate reports and misinterpretations. Their response was to improve their process. They would develop a list of sources, vet credentials, link to original material, and view unconfirmed information skeptically. They were, in a sense, inventing journalism. . . .

_________________________________________________________________________

What should Q’s followers inspire in us? Anger? Sympathy?

The audio chat offers a clearer picture of these believers than the Facebook pages and Telegram channels where they also gather. The all-caps screeds of the internet give way to gentler moments, like when they talk about their pets or babysitting their grandkids. Many members were struggling in some way — financially or emotionally, with legal troubles or addiction. As Covid-19 swept their states, many got sick, and some family members died. A few members were recently out of prison. Another was living in a sober house.

“I don’t think they understand that we’re not all evil,” one member said about how the left views them. “Like you said, we’re not evil. We’re not bad people.”

As I listened over these three weeks, I saw that they’re drawn to Q and Mr. Txxxx for many reasons. The political status quo wasn’t working for them. Mr. Txxxx was an antidote to Washington and was beholden to neither party. And Q offered not just a political orientation but also a way to place themselves in a bigger narrative that explains life’s shortcomings. Many believers have paid a price for their views. Some were shunned by friends and family. Apps and social networks, like this audio chat room, stepped in, offering a welcoming community with shared beliefs.

“Does anybody else’s family members on here think you’re crazy?” one asked.

“I have family that think that way. I think they’re crazy for not seeing what the heck’s going on,” another replied.

“I’ve stopped talking to every single person that isn’t on board with this,” another said.

“I can’t even express it enough — I’m so thankful for every person in this group.”

In the process, followers have become more isolated, stuck inside an echo chamber from which they may never escape.

Beneath the anger in their voices is often pain or confusion. When the chat dies down to just a few members, they’ll share stories about their struggles with affording health insurance or the shame of going on government assistance. Hearing them talk with one another, I could start understanding the pull of conspiracy communities — how they exploit the vulnerable and create a worldview out of shared enemies. Then you can watch those views harden. And while none of it excuses participation in a dangerous collective delusion, it takes the complex process of radicalization and gives it a human dimension. What seemed like a preposterous descent into a kind of madness made slightly more sense.

“Not every politician is bad. Not every Democrat is bad. But we’re going to automatically assume that they’re deep state. So, I mean, you have people, a small few, that makes the majority look bad.”

As I spent more time in the group, I understood why the conspiracy has such gravitational pull. And while I didn’t lose my way, I was taken aback by the experience. It turned my brain to mush. I was left rattled and deeply concerned. About what would become of this group when I left. And more important, how one can lessen the appeal of a conspiracy that gives so much purpose to people’s lives.

Listening in, I came to realize what extremism researchers and cult experts have long known to be true: You cannot just destroy a community and expect it to disappear when it is load bearing. If we are to deradicalize Q believers in a Biden era, how will we do it? What can we offer them in its place?

One woman had an idea for how to solve some of these problems. They could try hearing from their opponents directly. Maybe they could understand their point of view, learn what motivates them. But then she paused. “I’d love to get into their heads, but it scares the [expletive] out of me,” she said. “So I keep my distance and stay with you patriots.”

The Big Picture, In Case You Missed It

At the press conference from hell, via The Washington Post:

It’s very simple, according to Rudolph W. Giuliani and the rest of President Txxxx’s legal posse, but also very vast. China is in on it. Cuba is in on it. Antifa and George Soros are in on it. At least two presidents of Venezuela, one dead and one living, are in on it. Big Tech is in on it; a Web server from Germany is involved. (There’s always a server involved.) Multiple major U.S. cities are in on it, as are decent American citizens who volunteer at polling precincts. Argentina is in on it, too, sort of. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley was in on it back in 1960, when, according to [a] conspiracy theory, he stole the presidency for John F. Kennedy, thereby launching an ongoing pattern of corrupt cities stuffing or scrapping ballots. The “it” is a massive, premeditated scheme to steal the election from Dxxxx Txxxx, according to Giuliani . . 

Unquote.

But why didn’t he mention the lizard people from outer space? Rudy must be one of them.

How To Feel Smart in a Complicated World

From historian Yuval Noah Harari for The New York Times:

Conspiracy theories come in all shapes and sizes, but perhaps the most common form is the global cabal theory. A recent survey of 26,000 people in 25 countries asked respondents whether they believe there is “a single group of people who secretly control events and rule the world together.”

Thirty-seven percent of Americans replied that this is “definitely or probably true.” So did 45 percent of Italians, 55 percent of Spaniards and 78 percent of Nigerians.

Conspiracy theories, of course, weren’t invented by QAnon; they’ve been around for thousands of years. Some of them have even had a huge impact on history. Take Nazism, for example. We normally don’t think about Nazism as a conspiracy theory. Since it managed to take over an entire country and launch World War II, we usually consider Nazism an “ideology,” albeit an evil one.

But at its heart, Nazism was a global cabal theory based on this anti-Semitic lie: “A cabal of Jewish financiers secretly dominates the world and are plotting to destroy the Aryan race. They engineered the Bolshevik Revolution, run Western democracies, and control the media and the banks. Only Hitler has managed to see through all their nefarious tricks — and only he can stop them and save humanity.”

Understanding the common structure of such global cabal theories can explain both their attractiveness — and their inherent falsehood.

Global cabal theories argue that underneath the myriad events we see on the surface of the world lurks a single sinister group. The identity of this group may change: Some believe the world is secretly ruled by Freemasons, witches or Satanists; others think it’s aliens, reptilian lizard people or sundry other cliques.

But the basic structure remains the same: The group controls almost everything that happens, while simultaneously concealing this control.

Global cabal theories take particular delight in uniting opposites. Thus the Nazi conspiracy theory said that on the surface, communism and capitalism look like irreconcilable enemies, right? Wrong! That’s exactly what the Jewish cabal wants you to think! And you might think that the Bush family and the Clinton family are sworn rivals, but they’re just putting on a show — behind closed doors, they all go to the same Tupperware parties.

From these premises, a working theory of the world emerges. Events in the news are a cunningly designed smoke screen aimed at deceiving us, and the famous leaders that distract our attention are mere puppets in the hands of the real rulers.

Global cabal theories are able to attract large followings in part because they offer a single, straightforward explanation to countless complicated processes. Our lives are repeatedly rocked by wars, revolutions, crises and pandemics. But if I believe some kind of global cabal theory, I enjoy the comforting feeling that I do understand everything.

The war in Syria? I don’t need to study Middle Eastern history to comprehend what’s happening there. It’s part of the big conspiracy. The development of 5G technology? I don’t need to do any research on the physics of radio waves. It’s the conspiracy. The Covid-19 pandemic? It has nothing to do with ecosystems, bats and viruses. It’s obviously part of the conspiracy.

The skeleton key of global cabal theory unlocks all the world’s mysteries and offers me entree into an exclusive circle — the group of people who understand. It makes me smarter and wiser than the average person and even elevates me above the intellectual elite and the ruling class: professors, journalists, politicians. I see what they overlook — or what they try to conceal.

Global cabal theories suffer from the same basic flaw: They assume that history is very simple. The key premise of global cabal theories is that it is relatively easy to manipulate the world. A small group of people can understand, predict and control everything, from wars to technological revolutions to pandemics.

Particularly remarkable is this group’s ability to see 10 moves ahead on the global board game. When they release a virus somewhere, they can predict not only how it will spread through the world, but also how it will affect the global economy a year later. When they unleash a political revolution, they can control its course. When they start a war, they know how it will end.

But of course, the world is much more complicated. Consider the American invasion of Iraq, for example. In 2003, the world’s sole superpower invaded a medium-size Middle Eastern country, claiming it wanted to eliminate the country’s weapons of mass destruction and end Saddam Hussein’s regime. Some suspected that it also wouldn’t have minded the chance to gain hegemony over the region and dominate the vital Iraqi oil fields. In pursuit of its goals, the United States deployed the best army in the world and spent trillions of dollars.

Fast forward a few years, and what were the results of this tremendous effort? A complete debacle. There were no weapons of mass destruction, and the country was plunged into chaos. The big winner of the war was actually Iran, which became the dominant power in the region.

So should we conclude that George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld were actually undercover Iranian moles, executing a devilishly clever Iranian plot? Not at all. Instead, the conclusion is that it is incredibly difficult to predict and control human affairs.

You don’t need to invade a Middle Eastern country to learn this lesson. Whether you’ve served on a school board or local council, or merely tried to organize a surprise birthday party for your mom, you probably know how difficult it is to control humans. You make a plan, and it backfires. You try to keep something a secret, and the next day everybody is talking about it. You conspire with a trusted friend, and at the crucial moment he stabs you in the back.

Global cabal theories ask us to believe that while it is very difficult to predict and control the actions of 1,000 or even 100 humans, it is surprisingly easy to puppet master nearly eight billion.

There are, of course, many real conspiracies in the world. Individuals, corporations, organizations, churches, factions and governments are constantly hatching and pursuing various plots. But that is precisely what makes it so hard to predict and control the world in its entirety.

In the 1930s, the Soviet Union really was conspiring to ignite communist revolutions throughout the world; capitalist banks were employing all kinds of dodgy strategies; the Roosevelt administration was planning to re-engineer American society in the New Deal; and the Zionist movement pursued its plan to establish a homeland in Palestine. But these and countless other schemes often collided, and there wasn’t a single group of people running the whole show.

Today, too, you are probably the target of many conspiracies. Your co-workers may be plotting to turn the boss against you. A big pharmaceutical corporation may be bribing your doctor to give you harmful opioids. Another big corporation may be pressuring politicians to block environmental regulations and allow it to pollute the air you breathe. Some tech giant may be busy hacking your private data. A political party may be gerrymandering election districts in your state. A foreign government may be trying to foment extremism in your country. These could all be real conspiracies, but they are not part of a single global plot.

Sometimes a corporation, a political party or a dictatorship does manage to gather a significant part of all the world’s power into its hands. But when such a thing happens, it’s almost impossible to keep it hush-hush. With great power comes great publicity. . . .

Unquote.

The QAnon conspiracy theory alleges that a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles is running a global child sex trafficking ring and plotting against President Txxxx, who is fighting the cabal. People who believe this are like children. It’s obvious to anyone who’s done the research that shape-shifting reptilian aliens came to Earth, took on human form and now control the world.

People are so ignorant. It’s really pathetic.

Conspiracies and Conspiracists

Below is one-third of a piece “on the conspiracist mind” by British novelist James Meek. If you’re interested in the whole London Review of Books article, which includes 5,000 words I left out, go here.

When the pandemic hit, social media, hyper-partisan broadcasters, Txxxx-era populism and conspiracy theory were already creating a self-contained alternative political thought space conducive to the cross-fertilisation of conspiracist ideas. Covid-19 and government efforts to control it . . . appear, in the conspiracist mind, as the most open moves yet by a secret group of sadistic tyrants who want to reduce the human population and enslave those who remain. The pandemic and official countermeasures are interpreted as proof, and Covid becomes the string on which any and all conspiracy theories may be threaded. Seen through the conspiracist filter, by forcing us to wear masks, by closing bars and isolating the frail elderly, by trying to terrify us over, as they see it, a dose of flu, or by microwaving us with 5G, the secret elite has shown its hand.

Now that its existence, nature and power have been proved to us, why shouldn’t we believe that the members of this group arranged 9/11? Or that Bill Gates is planning to kill us with vaccines, or inject us with nanochips hidden in vaccines, or both? Why shouldn’t the entire course of world events have been planned by a group of elite families hundreds, even thousands, of years ago? Why shouldn’t there be a link between the bounds to individual freedoms that governments have drawn up to slow climate change and the restrictions they’re carrying out in the name of beating Covid? Surely these two hoaxes are cooked up by the same firm, with the same agenda? Why, as followers of the American conspiracy theory known as QAnon insist, shouldn’t a group of politicians, tycoons and celebrities be kidnapping and torturing children on a massive scale?

A large survey in May conducted by researchers in Oxford found that only about half of English adults were free of what they termed ‘conspiracy thinking.’ Three-quarters of the population have doubts about the official explanations of the cause of the pandemic; most people think there’s at least a chance it was man-made. Almost half think it may have been deliberately engineered by China against ‘the West’. Between a fifth and a quarter are ready to blame Jews, Muslims or Bill Gates, or to give credence to the idea that ‘the elite have created the virus in order to establish a one-world government’; 21 per cent believe – a little, moderately, a lot or definitely – that 5G is to blame, about the same number who think it is ‘an alien weapon to destroy humanity’. Conspiracy beliefs, the researchers concluded, were “likely to be both indexes and drivers of societal corrosion … Fringe beliefs may now be mainstream. A previously defining element that the beliefs are typically only held by a minority may require revision … Healthy scepticism may have tipped over into a breakdown of trust”.

A friend, a BBC journalist, told me about a conversation he’d had with an acquaintance who began talking about the dangers of 5G and claimed that ‘every time a new kind of electromagnetic energy is invented, it causes a new kind of disease, like the invention of radar caused Spanish flu.’

‘But Spanish flu happened in 1918, and radar wasn’t invented till the 1930s,’ my friend said.

‘You would say that, wouldn’t you?’ This was uttered without a trace of a smile.

The author then provides a long description of an anti-lockdown rally in London. The star attraction was David Icke, a well-known former professional soccer player and sports broadcaster.

. . . At a time when Britain had a handful of TV channels, everyone knew his face. Shortly before he left the BBC in 1990 he experienced a metaphysical epiphany in a newsagent’s on the Isle of Wight. Not long afterwards . . . he declared he’d been chosen by a benign godlike agency as a vehicle for the revelation of truths essential to the survival of Earth and humanity. . . . Since then, Icke has worked on his material and his brand, developing his following, writing books, and giving lectures and interviews around the world. . . . In May, following an appeal from the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, which pointed out that millions of people had been exposed to online material in which he blamed Jews for the pandemic, denied the reality of Covid-19, played down the infectiousness of viruses in general and lent support to 5G conspiracists, both Facebook and YouTube – though not Twitter – took down Icke’s pages. The action had no appreciable effect on his profile, except perhaps to give him the lustre of the martyr. YouTube, and YouTube wannabes like BrandNewTube, are still thick with Icke interviews by small-time videocasters. Google will point you to them. And although he has been banned from Facebook, his fans haven’t, nor have links to his material. . . . Amazon still distributes his books.

The conspiracy narrative Icke began to weave in the early 1990s is a sprawling affair that changes to follow the headlines, veers off on tangents and is full of internal inconsistencies, but some core elements remain. Icke’s story bears similarities to the influential American conspiracist text Behold a Pale Horse by William Cooper (which was published at about the time Icke reinvented himself as a prophet), and to the pseudo-leaks that drive QAnon, though QAnon tends to avoid the extraterrestrial. A cursory and much rationalised summary of Icke’s conspiracy theory goes like this: thousands of years ago, a race of reptilian beings from another world drew up a marvellously slow plan for the enslavement of humanity, to be carried out by a tiny elite of either – the exact mechanism varies – human proxies of surpassing wickedness, or reptiles in human form. (‘I once had an extraordinary experience with former prime minister Ted Heath,’ Icke told the Guardian in 2006. ‘Both of his eyes, including the whites, turned jet black.’)

The plan continues to unfold, regularly missing prophesied deadlines. . . .

Next, the author discusses an encounter with Dominic, a young man handing out leaflets in a London park:

I skimmed the contents of the leaflet. It seemed a combination of falsehoods, misunderstandings, exaggerations and out of context snippets supporting the evil plan theory of events, all culled without attribution from the internet. . . . I somehow felt I had to intervene, not to change Dominic’s mind or to stop him handing out the leaflets, but simply to make him register that there was resistance to the falsehoods he was spreading. I went over to him – he was handing out his material to a large group of young people sitting on the grass – and told him off. I wasn’t eloquent. I said his leaflets were full of rubbish, and that he should destroy them. He said I should destroy my mask . . . I walked away. It was the kind of futile encounter between the self-appointed rationalist and the self-declared bearer of esoteric truths that happens online all the time, and it was no more satisfactory in the flesh. . . .

Karl Popper​ coined the phrase ‘conspiracy theory’ in 1952, in his book The Open Society and Its Enemies. He framed it as something that would always be singular, like game theory or chaos theory: it was only later that people started talking about ‘conspiracy theories’. . . . Popper’s notion of conspiracy theory referred to a personal predisposition that could attach itself to anything, precisely because it was nested in the holder’s brain.

Popper saw conspiracy theory as something very old, connected to the religious impulse. ‘The belief in the Homeric gods whose conspiracies explain the history of the Trojan War is gone,’ he writes. ‘The gods are abandoned. But their place is filled by powerful men or groups – sinister pressure groups whose wickedness is responsible for all the evils we suffer from – such as the Learned Elders of Zion, or the monopolists, or the capitalists, or the imperialists.’ . . .

Conspiracy theory fixes on diverse manifestations of injustice, technology and strife, on anything that’s hard to explain. That’s not to say it doesn’t have a dominant key. The othering of ethnicities or particular groups and accusations of Satanism or child abuse are frequent markers of conspiracies, but they all have in common an anarchic, nihilistic libertarianism that takes government as its ultimate enemy – specifically the kind of social democratic or socialist government that shifts resources from the wealthiest to the less well off, that offers a trade-off between greater equality and curtailments of personal freedom for the rich. This might seem implausible, given how central the idea of a gang of super-rich families is to conspiracy theory.

But only a few families are included; conspiracy theory tends to pass over the wealthy as a class. It’s striking that the two billionaires most often accused of being the chief New World Order Satanists – George Soros and Bill Gates – are the ones who have, if at times ham-fistedly, given away the largest chunks of their fortunes to worthy causes, one in support of the principle of democracy, the other in support of better health for the poorest. Gates is targeted because of the vast sums he gives to the World Health Organisation and for vaccine research, rather than for what one might assume enslavement-fearing conspiracy theorists would attack him for, the fact that the firm he used to run provides the software for most of their computers. It’s as if, to the conspiracists, Bill Gates of Microsoft is a perfectly respectable American tycoon and his philanthropic self a wicked alter ego. . . .

This isn’t a conspiracy theory about the origin of conspiracy theories. It’s an observation that the interests of conspiracy theorists and the interests of the selfish end of the plutocracy have a way of aligning. Both are cynical and mistrustful of institutions of authority, the courts, the media, the government, legislatures: the conspiracists because they think such bodies are malign agents of a secret elite, the plutocrats because they place limits on their wealth and power.

Txxxx was not the first conspiracy theorist to come to power. . . . Txxxx’s election was unusual not just because the American establishment saw itself as immune to capture by a conspiracy theorist, but because he embodies in one person the two poles of hostility to liberal democratic institutions: the plutocrat who hates taxes, regulations and impertinent journalists, and the conspiracy theorist with paranoid delusions about a deep state plot against the people. Perhaps it was inevitable that he would become a character in a phenomenon like QAnon.

Some have described QAnon as more like a religion than a conspiracy theory, and it does stand out from the others in that it imagines two duelling conspiracies – an evil conspiracy, with Hillary Clinton, Hollywood celebs and a pack of evil Democrats running a gigantic operation to kidnap hundreds of thousands of children, keep them prisoner in underground tunnels, torture them, rape them, drink their blood and use them in satanic rituals; and a good conspiracy, led by Txxxx and a team of loyal heroes in the US military, whose members are preparing to burst out, break up the paedophile Satanist ring and save the children. In QAnon, Txxxx is portrayed as a cross between Jack Ryan, the tough, smart, patriotic family man played by Harrison Ford in the movies based on the Tom Clancy novels, and the archangel Michael.

There’s​ a danger that in writing about QAnon – a social phenomenon not just in the US but in Britain, Germany and many other countries, and endorsed by a number of Republican candidates – you make it sound more interesting and mysterious than it is. It is interesting, but in the way hitting yourself in the face with a hammer is interesting: novel, painful and incredibly stupid. . . .

Although Q’s impact depends on followers believing that the posts come from a source at the heart of the American defence establishment, it seems unlikely that they would have found an audience without help. Obscure, dull, posted on websites with byzantine interfaces and repulsive content, they would have languished had it not been for two 4Chan moderators . . . persuaded a struggling YouTuber . . . to start making videos interpreting and embroidering the posts. The videos were a hit. . . . The QAnon movement spread when people who would never have gone near 4Chan began dissecting and arguing over each post, first on YouTube and Reddit, then on Facebook. Sites sprang up to relay the posts in accessible formats. . . .Websites and internet entrepreneurs discovered they could increase traffic and make money by tapping into the interest in QAnon. Faded Instagram influencers and obscure wellness gurus found new audiences by pushing hard on the child abuse angle. . .

There have been efforts to portray QAnon followers as directly dangerous: one article in the Financial Times warned that ‘QAnon has the makings of America’s al-Qaida.’ Few Q-adjacent conspiracists have gone as far as [the] North Carolinan who in 2016 marched into a pizza parlour in Washington DC with three loaded guns, intending to rescue the children he believed . . . were being kept prisoner there. But Q isn’t urging people to take direct action. He tells his followers – he refers to them as ‘patriots’ – to sit back, not worry, and enjoy the spectacle of Txxxx’s plan unfolding. ‘Get the popcorn, Friday and Sunday will deliver,’ he said in 2017 when making one abortive prediction. ‘Trust the plan. Step back,’ he told an impatient supporter in 2018. Q has told followers to ‘trust the plan’ 27 times – a plan they have no role in carrying out.

The danger of conspiracy theories is not that they promote action to tear down society but that they delegitimise, distract and divert: they divert large numbers of people from engaging in political action, leaving the field clear for the cynical, the greedy and the violently intolerant. They distract them from questioning authority about society’s real problems by promoting a gory soap opera as if it were real and the result of ‘research’. And they delegitimise the idea that institutions – courts, parliaments, the education system, the salaried media – can be anything other than malign.

To talk to conspiracy theorists like Dominic and Martin is to find yourself pitied as a credulous centrist, relegated to the world of ‘No, but …’ ‘Do you think kidnapping, raping and murdering children and drinking their blood is OK?’ ‘No, but …’ ‘Do you like the increasing control faceless corporations, unaccountable billionaires and remote authorities have over our lives?’ ‘No, but …’ ‘Are you happy about the relentless spread of incomprehensible, intrusive technology?’ ‘No, but …’

. . . In a way the saddest aspect of the epidemic of conspiracism is not the delusions about conspiracy but the delusions about what it is to learn. [In a recent book about conspiracy, A Lot of People Are Saying, the authors] write, ‘knowledge does not demand certainty; it demands doubt.’ How did it get to the point where a smart young man like Dominic can believe in a binary, red pill-blue pill world of epistemics, in which there are only two hermetically distinct streams of knowledge to choose from, his preferred ‘truth’ and the other, ‘mainstream’, ‘official’ version, which [according to him] all those who reject his truth believe without question?

Unquote.

Yes, believing these convoluted conspiracy theories offers a sense of certainty, a feeling of being “in the know”.

On the other hand, Euripides, Shakespeare and Diderot all felt (if you can believe the internet) that “a prudent skepticism is the most profitable quality a man can have”, “modest doubt is call’d the beacon of the wise” and “scepticism is the first step towards truth”.

Hmm. They all sound like reptiles in human form to me.