*Kenneth Williams as Caesar in Carry On Cleo (1964)
Numerous online networks serve radical-right conspiracy theories. One of the highest profiles is QAnon, which alleges a ‘deep state’ conspiracy run by political elites, business leaders, intellectuals, Hollywood and pop music celebrities, Democrat supporters and former Democrat US Presidents, as well as the Black Lives Matter movement. In other words, the so-called ‘deep state’ conspiracy appears to be little more than a shorthand label used by the radical-right for anyone opposing the radical-right. President Trump has long been a leading user of the ‘deep state’ conspiracy notion and, more recently, has publicly praised QAnon supporters as being “patriotic”.
What is QAnon?
QAnon is a “bizarre assemblage of far-right conspiracy theories that holds that US President Donald Trump is waging a secret war against an international cabal of satanic pedophiles”. Nevertheless, QAnon “represents a public security threat” with the potential to evolve into a “domestic terror threat”. Baseless and bizarre QAnon allegations include the following: the US Democrats created the breakaway Confederacy of US southern states in 1861; they also created the Ku Klux Klan and Covid-19; Democrats ‒ along with elites in business, politics, science and medicine ‒ are part of a world-wide cabal of Satanists determined to control the world. However, QAnon adherents believe that a day of populist reckoning will come, which they call ‘The Storm’, when this conspiracy will be crushed by American patriots. QAnon followers are recognisable by their various hashtags, such as #WWG1WGA (Where We Go One, We Go All), taken from the 1996 film White Squall. In July 2020, General Michael Flynn, formerly of the US Defense Intelligence Agency and short-lived national security adviser to President Trump, took the QAnon oath of loyalty publicly with his family and friends. In August 2020, it became clear that several Republican congressional candidates had also taken the QAnon oath and, at the time of writing, one, Marjorie Taylor Greene, looks set to join the House of Representatives.
QAnon is not simply a ‘deep state’ conspiracy theory but also a network that has evolved into an online cult, albeit a self-perpetuating leaderless one. The evidence for this lies not just in the Where We Go One, We Go All oath but also in the fixated relentlessness with which supporters engage in a narrative of enraged victimhood and a quasi-religious belief that the coming QAnon ‘Storm’ will save them and humankind. Such a victim-salvation thesis has been noted as one of the key characteristics of the radical-right, along with the influence of authoritarian personalities in this phenomenon. Ultimately, the QAnon ‘Storm’ is promoted as a crucial event that will sweep away all the alleged liberal decay, replacing it with a new and pure ‘people’s order’ based on the movement’s notions of right and wrong, good and bad, and strong (radical-right) government to protect the nation against enemies, foreign and domestic. In other words, QAnon is a beacon of hope for those seeking a palingenetic rebirth of a nation cleansed of all liberal ‘weaknesses’, and in this way is redolent of fascism, proto-fascism and the more extreme manifestations of the radical-right.
Pawns in a Bigger Game?
However, beyond the apocryphal, the bizarre, the comical, the authoritarian, and the hate-mongering, some conspiracy theories assert that we are but pawns in a much bigger game. For example, Zia-Ebrahimi on conspiratorial racialization argued that the fake conspiracy embedded in the notorious Protocols of [……] the Elders of Zion forgery (i.e. that the alleged conspiracy to dominate nations and the world is the essence of Jewishness that goes beyond biology, culture and religion) has close similarities to the Eurabia Islamic conspiracy thesis (i.e. that Islam is fundamentally and irredeemably violent and that its essence is to seek to conquer Europe through a devious alliance with European institutions). Both demonize their targets, alleging hegemonic conspiracies. Other actual hegemons refer to such alleged mega conspiracies as part of their own arguments e.g. Alexander Dugin’s combatting Eurabia justification for aggressive Russian expansionism southwards to annexe vast predominantly Muslim territories, and westwards to reabsorb former Russian territories corrupted by the lure of a weakened liberal EU.
Disparaging stereotyping by the more extreme radical-right has gone further than alleged different conspiracies by Jews and Muslims, by promulgation of theories that allege a high-level conspiracy between prominent Jews and Muslims to harm the native populations of Europe. The leading US far-right activist David Duke, for example, has asserted that Jews are prominent among global elites orchestrating the mass immigration of Muslims into Europe, with the aim of destroying Europe’s white Christian culture and its various national economies. In this regard, the international investor and philanthropist George Soros, (who is Jewish), became the far-right’s bête noire by being characterized as the instigator of a combined and terrifying Jewish-Islamic threat. In a resurrection of the longstanding alleged Jewish financial conspiracy to control countries and regions, Soros is portrayed by Hungary’s Premier Viktor Orban as a financial and economic abuser who, in addition, is undermining Europe through orchestrating Muslim migration as Duke asserted. In a further example of the alleged Jewish-Islamic common conspiratorial purpose, far-right anti-Semitic conspiracy promulgators have repeatedly alleged since 2001 that Jews were closely engaged in facilitating the Al Qaeda ‘9/11’ terrorist attacks on the US .
Prominent among mega conspiracy theories which play, either directly or indirectly, to a radical-right audience are those which require a belief in diabolical hegemonic forces that are alleged to have been controlling and manipulating the world for decades, if not centuries. Such alleged forces include Zionists, Jewish bankers, Freemasons, speculators, and various corrupt elites. QAnon is currently at the forefront of promoting such theories, but they have been around in various forms for up to a century or more e.g. Carr (1958), Cherep-Spiridovich (1926), de Poncin (1928). Barkun (2004, 2016) noted that such conspiracy theories have been prominent since the 18th century. Further examples of such mega conspiracy theories are those of Docherty and MacGregor , which asserted that the First World War was not only instigated by a cabal of oligarchs, international speculators, bankers, and self-appointed elites (e.g. the Illuminati), but was also extended by the cabal for three-and-a-half years so as to maximize their financial gain and secure the long-term debt of Germany and other nations which the conspirators could also manipulate for further gain. The original benevolent Bavarian Illuminati founded in 1776 was short-lived, but nonetheless by the late 19th century it had become reincarnated in the minds of conspiracists as an ongoing existential epitome of evil. This notion became so widely promulgated that by today the myth has become an unassailable fact among the radical-right, as have allegations that a modern-day Illuminati exists and is a major threat to the world.
By the 21st century, far-right conspiracists and “culturally suspicious” conspiracists ‒ i.e. those believing in UFOs, Rockwell, aliens, human-reptilian chimeras (e.g. one of David Icke’s theories), the Kennedy assassination, and a Jewish conspiracy behind the 9/11 attacks ‒ were already barely distinguishable. Moreover, they were joining forces with occultists and those committed to alternative science (e.g. climate change denial) and alternative medicine (e.g. regarding SARS, and currently covid-19, as hoax threats; MMR as a cause of child autism . Kelly called the merging “fusion paranoia”. It not only gave a new lease of life to such conspiracy theories as malevolent world leaders having reptilian DNA and Illuminati devils with hegemonic plots, but it also provided through the rapidly spreading Internet and social media a mass self-certifying ‘real facts’ network of fake facts and fake news that demand the inversion of logic. Barkun also argued that, in the world-view of the conspiracists, taken-for-granted facts are necessarily false, with the corollary that theories disproved by evidence or normal science must be true – because ‘the Establishment’ and all its instruments are part of the alleged corrupt conspiracy that keeps the population compliant with fake science, fake facts and fake news. As a result, conspiracism and its “stigmatized knowledge”, however apocryphal, absurd and delusional, “has the potential to leap into public discourse” as a mainstream normality that encourages a generalisation of disbelief in information and advice from any authoritative source, as echoed by Varis.
What Next for QAnon?
Although it may be tempting to imagine that, with the ending of Donald Trump’s US presidency and therefore his departure as the leading self- legitimatizing endorser of QAnon, somehow the relevance and influence of conspiracy theories and QAnon will fade rapidly, this is highly unlikely. The conspiracy theory movement is well established and has a self-perpetuating momentum. Conspiracy theorists and their adherents are driven by underlying psychological traits of authoritarian personality, distorted risk perception, fear, and fanaticism, which involve paranoid delusional feelings, entangled with gullibility, craving for excitement and drama, and a morbid vicarious fascination in the potentially dreadful events which they fear . This movement remains intact, and such diehards will hunker down and become ever-more determined and convinced of the pet theories they disseminate. One of their immediate prominent allegations is likely to be that Biden, the Democrats, far-left extremists, communist sympathisers and others conspired to steal the 2020 presidential election from Donald Trump. Another likely target for the QAnon conspiracy theory factory will be any major policy that Biden may adopt e.g. getting a grip on the Covid-19 crisis, protecting the economy, rejuvenating Obamacare, and realpolitik overtures to political rivals and foes, whether domestic or foreign. Such radical-right conspiracy theory propagators will seek to ensure that their conspiracy factory outpourings continue apace, with the objective of undermining public trust and confidence in the Biden administration, and with an eye to the 2024 Presidential election and Donald J. Trump as a potential comeback Republican candidate.
Dr Alan Waring is a Policy and Practitioner Fellow at CARR and Adjunct Professor at Centre for Risk and Decision Sciences (CERIDES), European University Cyprus. See full profile here.
© Alan Waring. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).