Belief  /  Q&A

QAnon Didn't Just Spring Forth From the Void

Calling QAnon a "cult" or "religion" hides how its practices are born of deeply American social and political traditions.

... as a cult or as a religion? What are we trying to say by saying, Oh, this is a cult or even this is religious? Am I trying to say they’re dangerous? Why do I think religion is dangerous? Or am I trying to say that they’re fanatical, that they’re irrational? Then why is religion my go-to there?

... as a cult or as a religion? What are we trying to say by saying, Oh, this is a cult or even this is religious? Am I trying to say they’re dangerous? Why do I think religion is dangerous? Or am I trying to say that they’re fanatical, that they’re irrational? Then why is religion my go-to there?

You had pointed out the novelty piece, the idea that this is brand-new, and of course we know new religious movements are never wholly new. Everything builds on something else. But the idea that it, specifically Q, doesn’t fit into a really clear broad political trajectory for the last 40 years is either willfully ignorant, or just damagingly naive about the role that politics has been playing in the United States for at least the last 40 or 50 years. Not that religion hasn’t always been politics, full stop.

When you look at QAnon, how would you describe it in your own words, and what kind of trajectory do you chart?

I see them as the absurd logical conclusion of the New Christian Right, the hyper-patriotism and the sense of embattlement, and particularly the conviction that political disagreement or progressive values must equal not sexual perversion but sexual predation. It really gains momentum in the 1970s with the New Christian Right and the unprecedented allegiance between conservative Protestants and conservative Catholics. Even 20 years prior that would have been completely unthinkable.

So 1973-74 is when we start seeing the Moral Majority take off. In 1960, Kennedy’s having to get in front of the Southern Baptist convention and assure them that he’s not going to let the Pope run the country. By the time George W. Bush is in office, he’s showing up in front of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, assuring them that their concerns and their agenda around contraception and abortion will drive his presidency. There’s this broad trajectory of conservative Christianity that includes both Protestantism and Catholicism for the first time that leads to this.

But also very specifically QAnon is coming out of a Satanic Panic “us versus them” mentality, and the “them” has to be not just different from us but evil. We know they’re evil because they prey on our children. This is governed by a very Catholic way of seeing the world as well.

There are a lot of tendrils to pull out from there.

I mean the most interesting one that I’ve seenor the most interesting to me because I work on sex and sex abuseis the way that the Q discourse has been looped into anti-trafficking movements. And anti-trafficking activism is a problem all on its own, but watching folks who don’t even realize that they’re having conversations with Q members or conversations with Q overtones is bizarre, and it really is coming out of the same rhetoric from the Satanic Panic. This “save the children,” “believe the children” rhetoric has conservative LDS members and Mormon fundamentalists and lefty white celebrities all on the same page and not realizing that this is a Q event.

Looping back to what you stated previously about how people often frame something like QAnon as religious when they really mean irrational, how do you reconcile that statement with QAnon at the same time being a product—or an absurd outcome—of the New Christian Right? Absurdity doesn’t ...