It’s hard to know where to begin with QAnon. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it is an online movement (of sorts) that appears to be the final form of extremely online reactionary conspiracy mongers, birthed from the loins of the #pizzagate pandemonium. The basic idea is that pretty much everyone in positions of power in the government (except President Donald Trump, of course) and the media is a pedophile and child-eating cannibal, and that “Q,” the group’s omniscient and anonymous leader, is part of a resistance group within the deep state who is working to bring all of these criminals to justice, or Gitmo. And despite the fact that the whole thing began on 4chan, Q’s followers often appear to be elderly and unemployed. While their stated goal is to bring down the evil childgobblers of the government and media, it seems that QAnon has done far greater damage to its devotees than it has to its purported enemies.
An avid connoisseur of internet morons, the moment I learned about QAnon I was immediately curious, and began going about joining the private Facebook groups where Q followers regularly congregate. What I found was a frothing cauldron of insanity, where people asserted that the Santa at Trump rallies was the not-actually-dead JFK Jr, biding his time until he could come back and arrest Michelle Obama, and where no admission of belief was too embarrassing. It got much, much worse around the holidays. Hold onto your dicks, folks:
If I’m being completely honest, I yelled out loud at the bologna/doritos Thanksgiving dinner sandwich. Nobody was home and I still yelled. Normally I would find these things too sad to be funny, but Q followers (almost all self-described deplorables) blur the line between being tragic and hilariously gullible. And these posts, far from being the exception to the rule, are actually the norm in the Q-niverse.
As you probably noticed from the examples I have provided, the Q crew is made up of a very specific archetype of internet denizen: elderly right-wingers who have gone too far down the online rabbit hole. Diving into any given thread you’d be lucky to find someone who’s age drops below 55—but you will encounter one of the most unnerving melanges of psychotic ramblings and hateful screeds available anywhere. Calls for sanity are met with accusations of “controlled opposition,” and the only theories that are criticized are ones that question if the group has gone too far. But more importantly, almost every single member of Q’s following seems to have one glaring and unifying trait: They are deeply, heartbreakingly lonely.
In the year or so that QAnon has been around, it has grown its ranks impressively, but without being proven right on anything. In spite of all the predictions of mass arrests—Hillary Clinton being thrown in Gitmo and executed by Trump personally, Obama dragged out of his home by The Troops and subjected to a televised military tribunal—nothing has happened. Q followers rejoiced when John McCain and George H.W. Bush died, but only a few of the most severely deluded among them believed that to be the result of something other than *they were 100 years old.* The “storm” that was promised has not even resulted in a light drizzle.
Q and his most devoted believers often explain that all of this is simply game-playing, and that plans must be flexible, but it seems like the only people the movement has successfully fucked with is its own. Scrolling through Q group timelines reveals a sad collective of individuals who seem to think the world has passed them by, and whose breathless devotion to this particular cause has cost them their friendships, families, marriages, and jobs. You’d be hard-pressed to find a single politician that Q has even bothered slightly, but it’s ridiculously easy to find dozens, if not hundreds, of QAnon believers whose lives have been left in even sadder shambles than they were before.
Theories about Q’s endgame abound, but after watching closely for several months now, I think the odds are in favor of Q being an elaborate troll, aimed directly at one of the most gullible demographics in the world—old people on Facebook. A recent study found that people over 65 were several times more likely to share “fake news” online than young folks were, and nobody loves sharing a hot bowl of bullshit more than QAnon adherents. I thought early on that as more and more Q predictions did not come to pass, the following would dwindle, but these incredibly online grandparents have seemingly endless capacity for dissembling, and can conspiracy-brain themselves out of almost any corner.
Given the obviously bullshit premise of the entire thing, it seems likely that the Q movement will fall apart at some point in the future. A more open-ended question is what happens to the army of olds that it has amassed over the year, and what their lives will look like in a post-Q world. These people seem genuinely sad—quietly aware that the world has mostly passed them by, and desperate to define themselves as something more than simply a cog in society’s system. They see themselves as brave truth-tellers, warriors for unnamed children that Hillary Clinton is currently eating sous-vide, and from this they gain purpose and self-worth. When it becomes clear, as it invariably will, that they have been had, I wonder whether they will be able to comprehend this fact, or if they will be able to find their way back to the real world.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.