The rise of QAnon isn’t surprising. Americans have long been sucked into conspiracy theories
I’m no less shocked than anybody else by the rise of the wacky QAnon conspiracy theory-turned-movement in this election year, but I’m not surprised by its viral spread.
After all, I’m a Black American. Therefore, as an uncle of mine counseled me decades ago, “If you’re not paranoid, you’re not paying attention.”
I get it. African Americans have a long sad history of being misled by real conspiracies, such as the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiment or the 1969 FBI and Chicago police raid that killed Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.
Pay attention to QAnon and you’ll hear about a bizarre and patently false narrative that casts President Donald Trump as hero in a secret war against sadistic Satan-worshipping, bloodthirsty child sex-trafficking Democrats and other liberals.
All of the other major foes in Trump’s real world can be found in the world of “Q,” the name claimed by whoever was responsible for the initial October 2017 post on the anonymous message board 4chan.
The sheer, shocking ugliness of possible child sex trafficking is enough to make some otherwise rational people compromise their healthy skepticism, perhaps to a dangerous degree.
QAnon’s narrative, broadcast by a right-wing radio host, mirrored the earlier “Pizzagate” myth, which reportedly compelled a North Carolina man to fire a rifle inside a Washington, D.C., pizzeria in a misguided attempt to free imprisoned children from a basement that, as it turned out, didn’t exist.
Yet, for all its most bizarre aspects, the narrative of rich and powerful people committing sick and depraved crimes in secret sounds remarkably close to countless other conspiracy theories that I’ve been hearing in barber shops and other gathering spots throughout my adult life.
So I wasn’t too surprised when QAnon’s narrative reached into political races on my home turf. Two Chicago-area Republicans seeking U.S. House seats have promoted the movement on social media and, like President Trump, declined to denounce it.
Philanise White of Chicago is challenging Rep. Bobby Rush in the 1st Congressional District and Theresa Raborn of Midlothian, Ill., is doing the same against Rep. Robin Kelly in the 2nd Congressional District.
Although both challengers have dodged questions about their Q support, both also have tweeted the QAnon hashtag #WWG1WGA (“Where We Go One We Go All”) and been identified in national news media with as many as a dozen other Republican congressional candidates who have been linked to the movement.
One of them, Republican Angela Stanton King, who is running for the late civil rights icon John Lewis’ congressional seat in Atlanta, stormed out of a video-recorded interview when a reporter for The Guardian asked about her QAnon-friendly tweets.
In short, if your mental picture of QAnon is a bunch of young white internet geeks with too much time on their hands, think again. Surveys of believers in conspiracies cut across virtually all lines of age, race, gender, income, political affiliation, occupations and educational levels.
People on both the political left and right believe in conspiracies roughly equally, University of Miami political scientists Joseph Uscinski and Joseph Parent found in their 2014 book “American Conspiracy Theories,” although each side finds different cabals.
Among other factors, racial identities matter. African Americans are more likely to believe that the CIA planted crack cocaine in inner-city neighborhoods, studies have found, while white Americans are more likely to believe that the government conspires to tax the rich and support “welfare queens” on the way to turning this country into a socialist utopia.
Sounds like a typical election year to me. But QAnon in the social media age adds the extra edge of a continuing drama — like a radio serial with a little cannibalism and child-kidnapping thrown in for extra spice.
That’s an old propaganda technique. Throw in enough stomach-turning shock and our reptilian instincts can overwhelm our better judgment, especially when we’re susceptible to “confirmation bias,” our tendency to believe what we want to believe, whether it stands up to scrutiny or not.
Conspiracy theories have an appeal because they offer a sense of reassuring simplicity in a complicated world. For example, to the conspiracist there are no coincidences. Every turn of bad news must have some sinister decision makers behind it.
Unfortunately that’s why the simplest explanations for bewildering complexity tend so often to be dead wrong.
(E-mail Clarence Page at email@example.com.)
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