By Jacob Derin
Last Sunday, HBO’s “Q: Into The Storm” aired its final episode, leaving me somewhat disappointed but also happy that I no longer had an excuse to indulge my fascination with the Q phenomenon. With some time and space to reflect, it’s become clear that the QAnon saga is a perfect microcosm of American political insanity in the wake of Trumpism.
For those unfamiliar with Q and their anonymous persona, here’s a brief primer. Q is a user on the online forum 8Kun (formerly 8Chan) who claims to have a high-level security clearance in the American government. Through a series of posts (known as “drops”), Q has claimed to have insider knowledge of a Satanic, pedophilic cabal operating at the highest levels of left-wing politics and culture in the United States.
The details are wilder than we need to discuss here, though for a taste of the insanity, consider the mind which fully believes the following. Inducing sufficient terror and suffering in a child causes the production of “adrenochrome,” an entirely fictional substance that QAnon adherents believe people like Hilary Clinton consume to extend their lives.
The “Q: Into The Storm” documentary concludes that Q is probably Ron Watkins, a former site administrator at 8Kun. However, I think it spends far too much time trying to figure out who Q is rather than what he represents. As absurd as his claims have been, Q has found a sizable audience of adherents in American politics and society and even found support in the halls of Congress.
QAnon is not the first conspiracy theory to spread widely in American society, but it is arguably the least connected to reality. Much ink has already been spilled over the influence of social media and the internet in this regard, but there’s a more sinister part of the story. It seems to me like our sense of reality is beginning to come apart at the seams.
Q’s adherents simply live in a different world than those who start their day with NPR and end it by reading an article from the New York Times. A solid majority of Republicans believe that the election was fraudulent. That’s a serious threat to democracy, particularly in the wake of the storming of the Capitol.
Right-wing political violence is not the only threat we’re experiencing, of course. After the riots which occurred last summer, there’s an ominous air hanging over the Derek Chauvin trial. There are no guarantees in a criminal prosecution, and an acquittal is likely to lead to further and perhaps worse mob violence.
As I argued in a previous article for the Davis Vanguard, this is the inevitable result of a breakdown in political communication. Violence is the last and only recourse to people who can’t or won’t communicate with words.
QAnon and 8Chan are potent arguments against allowing people to spread misinformation at will under the auspices of freedom of speech. This was one of the primary arguments of “Q: Into The Storm.”
However, this is not the lesson I draw from it. The darkest corners of the internet are difficult and nearly impossible to police effectively. Powerful actors have been trying to shut down 8Chan and QAnon for years. Yet, they both persist.
The antidote to toxic ideas can’t be censorship. That only serves to validate the victim complex inherent to such beliefs. Only good ideas and effective communication can stop the spread of these beliefs.
Jacob Derin is a third-year English and Philosophy major at UC Davis.
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