How can millions of Americans involve themselves in a modern-day cult such as QAnon, unite themselves with white nationalists, militia, and neo-nazis to stage a coup on the United States Capitol as they did on Jan 6?
The mainstream reports have been murky at best, making Q enthusiasts sound like delusional idiots while minimizing Q’s psychological warfare tactics to engage in cultural, social, and political mass manipulation. QAnon is a gateway to extremism without its participants realizing it. As someone who has been doing far-right extremism research since the 2016 election, I can tell you the best way to find the reasons is to go inside the extremist group’s lines of conversations to hear from themselves.
Pipeline of QAnon
To use a reference in describing QAnon, I went to a white nationalist’s YouTube channel, one that has over 200 thousand subscribers and a good size audience on Telegram. “Black Pilled” is the brand name of a content creator who goes by the name Devon Stack.
Stack made the video two years ago critical of QAnon despite his enthusiastic support of President Donald Trump. Many white nationalists who are more on the “Alt-Right” spectrum tend to look down on the “patriots” as necessary tools to align with despite their contempt of conspiracy theorists. White nationalists tend to be realists. In their ideology, they acknowledge the country was conquered by white men and believe rightfully so, that if they allow the country to become more diverse, white people will die out and become a minority that loses its power and control.
Trump’s patriots, on the other hand, hate being called racist and tend to prefer being lied to by a strong man like Trump rather than face the true nature of the country when it comes to race and religion. They thrive on nostalgia and symbolism.
Stacks breaks down QAnon more accurately than any journalist I’ve seen. In the YouTube video titled “Here’s the Thing About Q,” he describes how there are entire channels dedicated to Q (most have been deleted now) and thousands of merchandise being sold for it.
That number in merchandise may be meager in what the actual profit figures may be. You can search Amazon now and find a long list of QAnon merch. eBay just announced it is taking all of the merchandise off its website, while Qanon merch has been sold at Trump rallies as well. One Google search also led me to TeeSpring selling QAnon T-Shirts, and several articles on Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn endorsing the sale of QAnon merchandise in order to fund his legal defense.
Like many movements that have developed in the last decade, anyone and everyone who claims to be Q can be Q, as many of the shirts and merchandise say, “We are Q.” Unlike other movements like Black Lives Matter, Antifa and Occupy Wallstreet, QAnon has a main leader they claim and that is Trump.
According to Stack, “Q” is a person or persons who has high-level inside information to release to the public. If that sounds familiar, think Anonymous, the worldwide network of hackers who used hacks to prank entities it chose as targets. This is not to say QAnon is the same as Anonymous, but it is likely an offshoot, which means some Q followers may have followed Anonymous or been involved over the last decade. That would explain why so many of them support Julian Assange, Wikileaks, and freedom of information. Like Anonymous, QAnon also became popular on the chat forum 4Chan.
Explaining the appeal of QAnon, Stack says, “Q is painting a picture of the past and a world view of the present, a worldview where the deep state or the establishment is made up of criminals, even satanic individuals that have been getting away with unspeakable crimes in America and abroad for decades. And in this way, I would actually agree that Q is describing the world as it is a world that after eons of elevating the most brutal among us in a system that allows wealth to be transferred from one generation to the next, so it inevitably concentrates in certain families and creates advantaged upper classes and powerful families.”
Many people of different political beliefs would likely agree with this theory. As a matter of fact it is more than just a theory now; it has become a proven fact with many stories and events coming out since Donald Trump was elected. For example, Jeffrey Epstein running a sex trafficking ring using underaged girls for the wealthy, Elon Musk building Tesla using government aid with a background of South African wealth in his family, not to mention scandals of wealthy parents paying their children way into prestigious colleges.
Stack continues, “We are slaves that work for an elite class that discovered long ago that the slaves won’t revolt if you keep them fat, stupid, and in debt if you give them the illusion of choice. With elections where both candidates are bought and paid for by these wealthy families if you control and mutilate the culture through the media and academia run by these same families if you control the monetary system and keep everyone working on the plantation by keeping them in perpetual debt to these families who only had money to lend because they were born with that money, that really the formula for controlling people is very simple under these circumstances.”
Stack then describes QAnon as a special place where only the smartest, most enlightened people find the truth behind society, and only Donald J. Trump can save them. In essence, Trump is Q, his people are Q, so everyone who supports Trump is Q and they become true revolutionaries ready to usher in a new era that resembles an image of their own wildest fantasies while embracing themselves as the chosen ones. All you need to do is take the red pill and join Q.
Taking the Pills Explained – The steps to radicalization
In all of these groups I’ve monitored, whether it’s the alt-right, Proud Boys, or “Patriots” of QAnon, taking the red pill is the first step to enlightenment. When the discussions are held in confidence they encourage others to convince “normies,” that would be normal unknowing people who haven’t received their ideological gospel, to take the red pill. They then go onto social media platforms and engage in the comments section in an attempt to convince people to join their side.
All of their online radicalization tactics use pop references, images, and memes in order to stimulate nostalgia and safe imagery to usher in their ideology. In this case, it is Neo in The Matrix taking the red of the blue pill.
Taking the blue pill is not accepting the “truth,” taking the red pill leads you down a rabbit hole of enlightenment in which you follow Donald Trump and his red “Make America Great Again” army to victory. When Trump was first elected, that army resembled Pepe the Frog, the popular green frog meme cartoon character that was originally innocent in nature.
This means not only can entertainment outlets like Fox News claim journalist integrity while lying to millions of people using underhanded political deception, but mainstream pop culture can be used throughout social media to entice regular people who are fed up with corruption into a gateway of extremism. With each step they take consuming memes and rhetoric together in online communities filled with rage and grievance, the only joy they can seem to find is to engage war on the “other side” who are deemed the true tyrants taking away their country. All they need is a made-up enemy that is commonly brought up to dangle around as an excuse.
There are two more pills that may later be reached for further illumination within white nationalist groups. White pill means you are an enlightened white nationalist, black pill means you are a pessimistic white nationalist who often challenges everyone else in the Trump spectrum, claiming they won’t actually act and create the anarchical devastation needed to take down the system. It’s the equivalent of white nationalist intellectualism calling everyone else a coward, chickens-shit loser who is not in touch with reality.
One recruitment tool for white nationalists has been to engage with other white people who do not want to let go of their privilege or do not see how they are any different than anyone when it comes to struggling in America. If those people can not find acceptance with other groups of people, as many white nationalists say, you leave them no choice but to fold into white nationalism. No one wants to be completely isolated, they understand that well.
All of these groups challenge and push back on each other, but as many times as it seems like they hate each other, when Donald Trump dangles hope in front of them they come together and chase it. As reality starts to hit that Trump may not continue being president there is a term among these groups now called “hopium” as many are saying they are addicted to that hope even if it is not within the realms of reality.
You can not maintain a social, cultural order in which one group is allowed and even expected to bully, dehumanize, belittle, exploit, and isolate other groups without that group becoming terrorists. That would be the basis of white culture and privilege that has prevailed for hundreds of years, a culture that has been built on terrorizing others in order to maintain a certain order that creates American exceptionalism, greed, and opulence in the image of whiteness. Some people have lived their lives only knowing privilege, being told they are exceptional and deserve everything they demand, and have decided it is better to gamble on staging a coup than allow democracy for all. They understand that resources are limited and can not be shared equally in an unjust system. What they fear most is the tables being turned.
The radicalization of millions of Americans has happened over a long period of time. The origins of the tactics used can probably be analyzed as far back as the ruling empires of Rome when paganism was outlawed and churches functioned with empires in order to persuade the mass public to go to war largely for a ruling class’s desires for more power, resources and wealth. In essence, these were the first steps towards colonialism. The concept of elites, class structures, exploitation to extract resources for a very small powerful few while controlling public awareness is part of many very old social structures that follow us to this day.
In America, the problem stems from the creation of race, the dehumanization of human life, slavery, all for the sake of progress in order to create a strong country. This could explain why even progressives and neo-liberals who believe they are for human rights have often turned a blind eye or make excuses claiming there is nothing they can do when capitalism and greed overreach into basic human needs and dignity.
Add to that the fast-growing pace of communications over the last decade— using social media and media in all forms in ways to connect the world—ways that have never been done before in an era that has the largest population of people on earth fighting for land and resources. Everyone has the ability to create a platform now with know-how and resources.
It should not be a surprise that we face domestic terrorism as we’ve never known before. To understand this, we need to look at the various steps that brought us here. The misguidance of education, the decades of white elitism, and the psychological effects that brought a country divided further as it grew for decades, ignoring its narrative of inhumane abuses while portraying the country as a world power filled with good, faithful patriots whose images have almost always been of European descent.