Recommendation: This is a good literary option in a crowded field of QAnon related content
Where to read: Under the bed
Read with: A generous pour of Talisker Storm
In brief: There are a whole bunch of accounts of QAnon’s rise and influence in US politics (in particular) across a bunch of different formats and to be honest, you can pretty much take your pick based on your preferred mode of taking in information. If books are your poison, this is an excellent choice, based on solid reporting and a real sense of QAnon’s context and broader implications.
It seems fair to say that interest in QAnon reached a fever pitch following the insurrection on January 6, where Q merchandise and symbols were on prominent display alongside Nazi, alt-right and Trump signs. The subsequent blizzard of reporting has included a series in The Atlantic, a documentary series on HBO charting the rise of QAnon and its (probable) founders and a recent BBC podcast. This fits well in that mix.
Two main themes emerge from Rothschild’s reporting: that QAnon is a collection of old ideas and popular culture repackaged into ‘a conspiracy of everything’ and that QAnon builds on existing conspiracy (and scam) movements like the Iraqi dinar scam, Pizzagate and literally everything Alex Jones has ever said. The other insight in his reporting is his explanation of why QAnon is such a compelling and addictive movement. Most conspiracy theories offer simple explanations for otherwise overwhelmingly complex phenomena. Most make believers feel like they have access to privileged information which makes them more clued in or superior to the ignorant “sheeple”. But they also generally portray even believers as passive subjects acted on by the conspiracy. QAnon, by contrast, offers believers a chance to become “digital warriors” and participate in the fight against the “Deep State” and paedophile rings who are the villains in the story. It also brings people in via problem solving and the satisfaction of “cracking” the supposed code in Q drops, Trump tweets and random shit on the internet that makes no sense but is apparently of cosmic significance.
Rothschild also takes aim at any lingering misconception that QAnon is “just another internet movement” without “real world” consequences, arguing that violence was baked into the ideology from the start. The first Q drops promised the imminent arrest of Hillary Clinton and bloody suppression of Antifa riots and the declaration of martial law has been a persistent QAnon fantasy. Even the titular “Storm” is supposed to be the final revelation and vindication of Q via the mass arrest of everyone from senior political leaders to most of Hollywood, followed by show trials at Gitmo and death by hanging. Acting out some of these violent impulses, adherents have committed a whole battery of crimes ranging from armed insurrection, sedition and treason to kidnapping and murder. It’s a point well made, and consistent with a battery of other works charting how online communities can influence and radicalise.
Looking forward, QAnon may become a less obviously noticeable political force however many of the ideas espoused have become mainstream in the Republican Party and other conservative/populist/far-right parties, anti-vax movements, MLM circles and Evangelical churches. Equally scarily, there remain a very large number of credulous people willing to buy into the next big thing and lord knows how that will turn out.
All in all, this is an excellent piece of reporting and an excellent read. It sits, however, in a saturated market and there are plenty of other options for getting the same information via other means, whether that is documentary series, podcasts or news coverage. Take your pick really.