Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part series.
QAnon is a radically pro-Trump compilation of conspiracy theories loosely based on the idea that the Democratic Party, Hollywood elites, and wealthy Jewish people are part of a satanic pedophile cabal that may or may not go back centuries. It is believed that President Donald Trump, along with sections of the U.S. military, is a hidden savior whose election was merely part of a plan to exterminate Deep State activists who maintain this unholy organization. It’s arguably America’s fastest growing belief right now. With Texas on the verge of being a swing state that could deny Trump a second term, QAnon is beginning to establish itself in the Lone Star State.
The Texas Republican Party has been criticized for appropriating the QAnon language in recent statements and using it as coded allusions to believers in conspiracy theory. The party adopted the slogan “We are the storm”. The storm is a common QAnon concept that refers to Trump eventually moving against the Cabal. The name comes from a spontaneous remark Trump made in 2017 about “the calm before the storm” that was picked up and dissected for greater meaning by QAnon supporters. In many ways, the Armageddon-like storm and its affirmation of the QAnon beliefs has overtaken conspiracy theory itself and turned into a vague prophecy of salvation that is increasingly becoming a major political force.
In a statement published in response to an article in the New York Times, the Texas Republican Party indicated that the slogan had biblical roots and was taken from a favorite poem of party chairman Allen West.
“The poem” We are the storm “is one of Chairman West’s favorite quotes to be used in speeches,” the statement read. “He and the entire Texas GOP are not being bullied by the political left in the media to cede powerful phrases with biblical roots – taken from Psalm 29 – to Internet conspiracy groups.”
Psalm 29 refers to thunder but does not use the word storm. The real origin of the poem appears to be in a meme shared by soccer player Tom Brady.
Despite Texas Republicans’ refusal to participate in QAnon culture, several demonstrations were held in Texas in support of the QAnon ideas. On August 8, at a rally in the Tarrant County courthouse, people held signs of various QAnon policies, including “Pizzagate,” which states that a Clintons-operated child sex dungeon is located in a Washington, DC pizza restaurant was established (this was not the case). Similar events were planned in other major cities in Texas.
The rise of QAnon is unique in the field of conspiracy beliefs, according to Kathryn Olmsted, author of the book Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War I through 9/11.
“One of the things that are different is that when you’ve lost a choice, your side usually makes more conspiracy theories,” she says. “The Trump era is unusual because he has the power. He is the winner, and yet his strongest supporters are the greatest believers. Political science teaches us that conspiracy theorists are literally losers. One possible explanation is that he didn’t win the referendum and so they feel like a loser. Because of that, they refuse. It is also possible that they feel like losers in the Culture Wars, and although they control most of the institutions, they still feel besieged and harassed. “
Another aspect is Trump himself. While many presidents have clarified the truth in the name of persecuting their administration’s agendas, none has indulged in the personal advancement of conspiracy theories like Trump. His introduction as a possible presidential candidate resulted from the spread of the racist birthright theory that Barack Obama was not born in America. Since then, an entire Wikipedia category has sprung up to trace the president’s conspiracy theories. With the commander in chief himself part of the Godwin hole of frozen crank ideas, QAnon has become an inescapable aspect of conservative politics.
“Trump is the first president to spread conspiracy theories on this scale,” says Olmsted. “He not only demonizes foreign armies like other presidents. He dealt with obstetrics, anti-Vaxxer beliefs, and so on and so forth. He is indiscriminate to spread it. The jury is not yet sure if more people believe in conspiracy theories today than before, but there is no case for more executives to do so. “
Unfortunately, little can be done about it. The question of how to “deprogram” loved ones who have fallen into an essentially political cult is a popular topic of thought pieces, but the answer remains “not much”. Olmsted says that conspiracy beliefs have often instilled a sense of power and prestige in those who hold them, as has camaraderie. Before people met in person to discuss new data on who killed JFK. Now they gather on internet forums like 8chan, now 8kun, the website where the alleged El Paso shooter published his manifesto. Once they get into a miasm of misinformation, only they can pull themselves out as external parties illustrating the nonsense will only drive them further in.
“I think it’s very important to have a sense of community,” says Olmsted. “There is no satisfaction when you cannot tell others. They met at the local library. Now they meet on the internet and it gives you a sense of belonging. You can argue with people who are just a little conspiratorially curious, but there are some people who are either prone to magical thinking or simply indebted to the ideology of conspiracy theories that cannot be changed. Social science has shown that correcting it only makes them more engaged. “
Which leaves the most pressing question: what do you do when this stops being a former high school boyfriend or random uncle and is the party that controls all three branches of government in your state? Is the Texas GOP just a conspiracy or did they go down the rabbit hole? Reform Austin will delve deeper into these issues in the second part of this story.