A conspiratorial pro-Trump subculture known as QAnon is lurking in mainstream political culture while spreading baseless accusations against big names in business and culture.
The internet movement began gaining traction with some of the president’s supporters last fall. At President Trump’s recent rally in Tampa, Fla., attendees were photographed wearing QAnon shirts in the crowds.
People lining up for the Trump rally in Tampa today. A lot of the chan anons might treat Q-Anon like a LARP, but by all appearances there are plenty of people who take it seriously irl. pic.twitter.com/uys7kmnAs1
— Travis View (@travis_view) July 31, 2018
‘They really don’t feel like they’re winning’
QAnon began with “Q,” a persona claiming to be someone within the government, promising to expose how dark forces are working against Trump and his administration. The “Anon” part comes from Q’s readers, who decipher Q’s “clues” on message boards and build outlandish interpretations. Posters named “Q” have been instigating unfounded theories on social networks including 4Chan, 8Chan, and Reddit.
“[Conspiracy theories] like this fill an important psychological role for many people,” Thomas J. Wood, an assistant professor of Political Science at Ohio State University who has studied how conspiracy theories gain public support, told Yahoo Finance. “It tends to sway those who have chronic anxiety and feel disaffected by politics by providing a symbolic and intuitive story for them.”
Previous research, summarized by the New York Times, has found that people who believe in conspiracy theories “are more likely to be cynical about the world in general and politics in particular. Conspiracy theories also seem to be more compelling to those with low self-worth, especially with regard to their sense of agency in the world at large. Conspiracy theories appear to be a way of reacting to uncertainty and powerlessness.”
“Trump supporters’ fixation on QAnon shows that they really don’t feel like they’re winning, even as they hold the reins of power,” Paul Musgrave, an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, recently wrote in the Washington Post. “The mystique of QAnon is yet another example of how Trumpism is built on the politics of resentment.”
‘The top six results for Cemex accused the company …’
In June, the QAnon phenomenon targeted Mexican cement giant Cemex (CX). Several Reddit threads and YouTube videos accused the company, one of the world largest cement manufacturers, of child sex trafficking.
On Monday, July 30, NBC reporter Ben Collins tweeted a screenshot of what happens when you search for Cemex on YouTube. QAnon created videos accusing the giant Mexican company of being connected to child trafficking.
This is what happens when you search for Cemex, a Mexican cement company, on Youtube.
Qanon people have decided this company, which is an $18 billion business, is really just a child sex trafficking operation. If you went to YouTube, you'd believe it. pic.twitter.com/ofl7XEs3BH
— Ben Collins (@oneunderscore__) July 30, 2018
“The top six results for Cemex accused the company of helping to run a child sex ring,” Collins reported. “YouTube’s search bar also autocompleted ‘Cemex child trafficking’ when a user searched for Cemex.” YouTube fixed the autocomplete issue after multiple news outlets asked for comment.
The YouTube videos about Cemex, Wood said, suggest that the people behind them are “deeply unstable.” (Various celebrities were also targeted with similar allegations.)
Reddit threads linked the Cemex allegations to Democrats being against the construction of Trump’s proposed border wall. One thread is titled: “Sex Camps found on Cemex properties.. Soros is invested 41Mil into Cemex.. Cemex gave to Clinton foundation.. Same company that didn’t want the wall.? In Tucson home of Mayor Rothschild?? CABAL MUCH?!?!?”
Collins noted that the internet conspiracy theories targeting Cemex led to a group called “Veterans On Patrol” to physically stake out a homeless encampment for months while live-streaming the unfounded protest on YouTube and Facebook. (Police arrested the leader of the group for trespassing, and Facebook shut down the page.)
‘A collective populous moving further away from critical thinking’
Much of the traction stems from a distrust in the media and the government. QAnon appears to be an evolution of Pizzagate, the internet conspiracy theory that led one man to bring a gun to a pizza shop because he thought there were child slaves in the basement.
Wood said there’s always a chance of unfounded allegations like these picking up steam, possibly even spilling into the mainstream like Pizzagate or Obama birtherism (i.e., the notion that the former president was born outside of the U.S.).
“It’s not coincidental the ones that have worked,” he explained. “Folks have an ethnocentric impulse and to some, a foreign company such as Cemex makes it more plausible.”
Based on Wood’s research, groups like QAnon rely on the attention they receive from the public, particularly the media. “For the theory to cross over and gain mainstream currency, it can’t just exist in the pockets of a chatroom,” he said.
The QAnon believer accused of shutting down a bridge near the Hoover Dam with an armored truck now says his defense attorney has to go through right-wing journalist @LauraLoomer if he wants to talk to him. pic.twitter.com/i6XlnHqT63
— Will Sommer (@willsommer) August 2, 2018
The question remains if whether or not this will have an impact on Cemex’s image. As of Aug. 2, the company’s stock had not changed significantly. Cemex did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
According to Ryan McCormick, co-founder and media relations specialist of Goldman McCormick Public Relations, a situation like this can have a very negative impact on a company.
“With a collective populous moving further away from critical thinking and only absorbing bits of information, allegations like this may stick,” he said.
‘It will continue to happen’
The conditions that created birtherism, Pizzagate, and QAnon will continue to exist for the foreseeable future.
“We live in a free society and in that, people are allowed to offer their opinions, regardless of whether or not they’re music to our ears,” McCormick said. “It’s a part of our culture and it will continue to happen.”
Consequently, various parts of American society — including businesses, social media platforms, the voting public, and the press — may find themselves seeing internet-fueled conspiracy campaigns like QAnon going into midterm elections and beyond.
Michael B. Kelley contributed to this post.
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