Opinion | The Trouble with ‘Q’

In QAnon, anti-Semitism is rebooted for the 21st century.
By | Jan 05, 2021
2021 January/February, Opinion
QAnon logo and slogan

In her victory speech in August, after winning the Republican primary runoff for Georgia’s 14th Congressional District, Marjorie Taylor Greene was obstreperous and foul-mouthed. Speaking from behind a podium bearing the slogan “Save America, Stop Socialism!” Greene, a political newcomer, accused “the fake news media, the DC swamp, the political establishment” of having “tried to take me out.” She called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a “bitch,” celebrated having “kicked” her opponent’s “ass,” and declared, “I will not apologize for my belief in God and being a Christian.”

To shouts of “Amen,” Greene added, “I will not apologize for standing up against George Soros and being willing to speak out against him, even when they want to call me an anti-Semite.”

Greene, who went on to win that House seat in the heavily Republican 14th District in November, was one of roughly two dozen congressional candidates in 2020 who had publicly supported at least some elements of QAnon, the viral conspiracy that claimed that a “Deep State cabal” of Satan-worshipping, bloodthirsty pedophiles, in league with other “elites” in media, politics and entertainment, were plotting a coup against President Trump and “stealing” the election from him. The outlandish theory, first launched on a far-right message board in 2017, morphed and mutated in its details as it careened across social media—to Trump rallies, congressional campaigns and evangelical churches. It has continued to do so, with some contortions, since his defeat. But one feature remains constant: its dependence on centuries-old anti-Semitic tropes, including the blood libel, and the pliable, persistent falsehood that Jews secretly and nefariously control politics, finance and the media in a rapacious quest for world domination.

When “Q” increasingly drew headlines in 2019 and 2020, I wondered what was so new. To me, it felt as if every component was something I had seen in alt-right and Christian-right social media over the past several years of covering Trump’s 2016 campaign and presidency. I had often found that conspiracy theories made a jump, like a mutating virus, from alt-right to Christian-right social media, or that some tropes, like the demonization of Soros, were shared widely across these worlds.

At the height (up to that point) of the 2020 QAnon mania, I revisited a 2016 interview I had conducted with Nathanael Strickland, who identifies with the racist and anti-Semitic “Kinist” movement that roots its support for white supremacy in biblical texts. Discussing the election, Strickland brought up “the Jewish cabal holding the reins of the American political establishment” and said Trump’s victory had kept “a group of pedophile Satanists” out of the White House.

The anonymous “Q” did not post his or her or their first missive until nearly a year later. But Q is recycling deeply familiar tropes, long known to have resonance on the American right. It is not new—and that’s what makes it even more dangerous.

Soros, for instance, is often at the center of QAnon delusions. But he has also been perpetually demonized as a purveyor of socialism, a secret funder of Antifa and a promoter of “gender ideology,” a derogatory term used by Christian nationalists to claim that a powerful anti-Christian movement aims to impose feminism and LGBTQ equality on unwilling traditionalists. To defend their smearing of Soros, many on the right layer yet another conspiracy theory on top of these: that while a teenager in Nazi-occupied Hungary, Soros collaborated with the Nazis. In reality, his family took great risks to help other Jews.

The contemporary conspiracists who would have their followers believe the preposterous idea that Soros was a Nazi collaborator are actually parroting conspiracy theories long perpetuated by Nazis and other anti-Semites. These theories conflate socialism, “cultural Marxism” and Judaism and depict them as a global plot to subvert tradition, corrupt the family and attack Christianity. That American conservatives target Soros for his work promoting human rights and civil society—and depict it as “socialism” from which America must be “saved”—lays bare their anti-democratic ambitions.

Despite Trump’s repeated endorsement of QAnon, including hailing its adherents as “people that love our country,” only two of those Q-supporting candidates, Greene and Colorado’s Lauren Boebert, won their 2020 congressional races. Yet any sigh of relief that the QAnon freshman class consists of two rather than dozens is premature. This 21st-century anti-Semitism reboot, packaged for the personality cult of Donald Trump, is not merely a symptom of Trump’s ruinous presidency that will fade once he is out of office. It is also a flashing red warning of how deeply ingrained anti-Semitic conspiracy theories remain, and how easily malicious actors can incite hate and even, in an alarmingly growing trend, terroristic violence. Just as anti-Semitism has been throughout the centuries, this latest reboot is a mortal danger to Jews and an existential threat to human rights and democracy.

Sarah Posner is the author of  Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Donald Trump.

Opening picture: The QAnon symbol and motto: “Where we go one, we go all.” (Photo credit: Wikimedia)

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