It really does seem like a “dumb question.” Surely we should know what QAnon is by now. But while so much has been said and written about the impact of QAnon on American politics and discourse, our guess is that if you stopped 100 people around the country, you’d get a lot of different answers to that question — along with a lot of shrugs and variants on “I’m really not sure.”
So for our first installment in this series, that’s the question: “What Is QAnon?” And there’s nothing “dumb” about it.
Anya Van Wagtendonk, who covers misinformation for Grid, said that at its heart, QAnon is “an umbrella conspiracy theory” built on the idea that “an elite cabal of sex traffickers and Satan worshippers is in control of the world, and needs to be taken down by force.”
To many people, it sounds outlandish. But as Anya noted, what began as a set of “cryptic missives” (the so-called Q drops) on various fringe online forums has evolved into something with far greater reach and impact. In the span of roughly five years, QAnon and its conspiracy theory-driven narratives have evolved from a set of beliefs with a minuscule following to something of a movement. And as Grid has reported, QAnon has put down roots in multiple corners of politics and the media; it’s not even clear that QAnon should still be considered “fringe.”
Anya also looked at how QAnon has been driven offline, what its offline presence looks like and how its political power is growing. “The great culmination of a lot of this ideology was the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol,” she said. “Because if you believe that the only way to end this satanist conspiracy is the reelection of Donald Trump, and Donald Trump is not reelected and you believe that the election was stolen from him by those same satanists, perhaps you are going to take dire action.”
Again, not a “dumb question” at all.
We’d love to hear from you – with other ideas for the series. We like to think there are no “dumb questions”; or, put differently, that there’s almost nothing out there in the world of news and information that couldn’t use a little more clarity and context in terms of the answers. We also know that we have really smart readers, and that even the smartest among them can’t be expected to have every shred of important context or background on all the events that are roiling the world at any given moment. Send your ideas and questions to email@example.com.
Thanks to Lillian Barkley for copy editing this article.