Decoding QAnon: How the delusional theory beloved by far-right loons began
In the previous three installments of this series, I chronicled the attempts made by an old friend to convince me of an outlandish conspiracy theory being promoted by the group of rabid online Trump supporters known as "QAnon." According to my friend, initiates of the Illuminati had teamed up with subterranean demons to torture, rape and eat kidnapped children in underground military bases ruled by the mortal enemies of Donald Trump. He insisted that when Trump is re-elected in November we can all look forward to the abolition of the income tax, the development of "free energy" for all and the public unveiling of thousands of grateful kidnapped children rescued by Trump's private army of "white hats" from cages squirreled away in these Satanist-controlled underground dungeons.
One of the pieces of so-called "evidence" provided by my friend was a YouTube documentary called "Out of Shadows," which took the internet by storm in April. Perhaps the most impactful propaganda film of the past few years, "Out of Shadows" is a thinly-disguised QAnon recruitment video that mixes small slices of truth with a whole lot of lies to confuse the viewer into believing various bizarre theories promoted by QAnon. In this next installment, we continue our analysis of "Out of Shadows" and take a deep dive into the embryonic or chrysalis form of QAnon known as Pizzagate.
Fun with pizza!
The real purpose of the "Out of Shadows" documentary is to promote Pizzagate — and, by extension, QAnon, which must be understood as the original source of the oft-debunked Pizzagate horror story.
I've studied a lot of conspiracy theories over the past three decades, and Pizzagate probably has the flimsiest evidence of them all. It's based on almost nothing except the wet-dream fantasies of far-right loons addicted to delusions about naked kids locked up in subterranean cages while being sexually abused by homosexual Democrats.
In case you don't know this, the Pizzagate scenario began to bubble to the surface when the personal emails of former White House chief of staff John Podesta, then the chair of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, were posted on the internet by WikiLeaks in November of 2016. According to the QAnon crowd, Podesta's emails contain esoteric codes that link Hillary Clinton and other prominent Democrats with a vast network of pedophiles operating out of a Washington, D.C., pizza joint called Comet Ping Pong.
One particular QAnon acolyte, Edgar M. Welch, was so incensed by these revelations that he grabbed his trusty AR-15 rifle, drove six hours from his home in North Carolina to Washington, and pumped a fusillade of bullets into the floor of Comet Ping Pong, hoping to save the aforementioned children locked in those basement cages. Why he would aim his gun at the basement in order to save the children who were supposedly imprisoned there makes absolutely zero sense, but there you go.
In December of 2016, Welch told the New York Times that "he had acted in haste and that, if he could, he would do a lot of things differently. 'I regret how I handled the situation,' he said." He also told the reporter, "I just wanted to do some good and went about it the wrong way." When asked what he thought when he discovered that there were no abused children in the pizzeria, Welch replied with the understatement of the year:
"The intel on this wasn't 100 percent," he said. However, he refused to dismiss outright the claims in the online articles, conceding only that there were no children "inside that dwelling." He also said that child slavery was a worldwide phenomenon.
If I were a devout Luddite, I would use the following passage from the New York Times interview with Welch in a nationwide pamphleteering campaign to discourage people from ever having internet service installed in their house:
After recently having internet service installed at his house, [Welch] was "really able to look into [Pizzagate]." He said that substantial evidence from a combination of sources had left him with the "impression something nefarious was happening." He said one article on the subject led to another and then another. He said he did not like the term fake news, believing it was meant to diminish stories outside the mainstream media, which he does not completely trust. He also said he was not political. While once a registered Republican, he did not vote for Donald J. Trump. He also did not vote for Mrs. Clinton. But he is praying that Mr. Trump takes the country in the "right direction."
If the "right direction" means encouraging people to commit felonies based on monumentally stupid disinformation campaigns spread through the internet, then Trump and his QAnon cohorts have been doing their jobs very well indeed. Welch isn't the only gullible mark to end up in prison due to QAnon's lies.
The following is from Stephanie K. Baer's June 17, 2018, BuzzFeed article entitled "An Armed Man Spouting a Bizarre Right-Wing Conspiracy Theory Was Arrested After a Standoff at the Hoover Dam":
An armed man was arrested Friday after driving an armored vehicle onto a bridge spanning the Hoover Dam and blocking traffic to demand the government "release the OIG report," a call spouted by believers of an internet conspiracy theory, in a 90-minute standoff with authorities.
Images captured during the standoff showed the driver parking a black armored truck across the southbound lanes of the Mike O'Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge at the Arizona–Nevada border around noon, snarling traffic.
The driver was identified as 30-year-old Matthew P. Wright of Henderson, Nevada, according to the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
In a statement, the department said Wright reportedly stood outside of the vehicle holding a sign that read "release the OIG report." The demand appears to refer to an unredacted Justice Department inspector general report, which the bizarre right-wing conspiracy theory known as "QAnon" suggests will expose the "deep state," a supposed shadowy network entrenched in the government.
In a video apparently filmed inside the vehicle and posted online by far-right activist Laura Loomer, the man says, "No more lies. No more bullshit. We the people demand full disclosure."
Instead of attaining "full disclosure," Wright was "booked into the Mohave County Jail on charges of obstruction of a highway, endangerment, unlawful flight from law enforcement, misconduct involving a weapon, and making terrorist threats." Threatening to blow up Hoover Dam to topple the Deep State makes as much sense as spraying bullets into a pizzeria floor to save children who are supposedly trapped in the basement. (It's worth mentioning that the above-mentioned "far-right activist," Laura Loomer, is now the Republican nominee for a congressional seat in Florida — in President Trump's official home district, in fact. Mercifully, she is unlikely to win in November.)
Like the not-quite "100 percent" intel Welch mentioned in the New York Times interview above, the entire purpose of "Out of Shadows" is to lure the viewer into the reality of Pizzagate by wrapping this modern American horror story in "intel" that's partly accurate (e.g., Project Paperclip, the various sub-programs of MK-ULTRA mind control operations, unconstitutional experiments with psychoactive chemicals performed on unwitting U.S. citizens by an intelligence agency run amok, etc.) in order to make all the bullshit seem that much more reliable. In the privacy of your North Carolina home, while surfing your newly installed internet service, all this intrigue can seem dire and the Democrat-incited doom "100 percent" imminent. Meanwhile, if you were to use your God-given brains for even half a second (unlike these two guys), you can see pretty easily that all of this is pure jabberwocky.
Here's an excerpt from Andy Kroll's Dec. 9, 2018, Rolling Stone article entitled "John Podesta Is Ready to Talk About Pizzagate":
Speaking about the [Pizzagate] conspiracy theory and its impact on his life for the first time, Podesta tells Rolling Stone that he learned about it the old-fashioned way: from the news. As Clinton campaign chair, he had spent the final month of the 2016 race locked in hand-to-hand combat with reporters about the contents of his personal emails, which WikiLeaks was releasing in periodic batches to damage Clinton's chances. He didn't have time to reflect on the hack, let alone notice the conspiracy theories bubbling up about him on websites like Reddit and 4chan.
Searching for evidence of illegality or anything sinister in Podesta's hacked emails, wannabe online sleuths decided that mentions of "pizza" were code for child pornography. An anonymous 4chan user posted a list of other supposed code words to search for in Podesta's emails — "pasta" meant little boy, "ice cream" meant male prostitute, "sauce" meant orgy. Soon, the hashtag #Pizzagate appeared and spread like wildfire on social media.
Podesta claims he wasn't overly concerned about his emails getting released: their contents, he now says, were "relatively much ado about nothing." It wasn't until after the election that he realized those emails had become fuel for a horrific conspiracy theory. In his career, he says he had never been on the receiving end of something like Pizzagate. "It's painful and crazy," he says. "I'm pretty grizzled. One big difference is you've got somebody sitting in the Oval Office stoking the conspiracy. That's pretty different than what I've experienced in my years in politics."
Podesta was only one strain of the conspiracy. Another thread formed around [businessman James] Alefantis and Comet Ping Pong. It appears to have begun with a 2008 email included in the WikiLeaks dump in which Alefantis asked Podesta if he would give a speech at an Obama fundraiser at Comet. From there, the trolls began mining every detail they could find about Alefantis and Comet, quickly concocting a parallel theory that said Alefantis, Podesta and Clinton ran a child sex-trafficking ring. Self-styled investigators claimed that symbols on Comet's iconic sign (which had previously been used by a D.C. liquor store that had since closed) were linked to satanic rituals. They said a photo of an empty walk-in refrigerator was evidence of a secret kill room.
Let's examine the evidence that "Out of Shadows" gives us. Given the fact that the documentary is only 118 minutes long, and the topic of Pizzagate occupies about 21 minutes of its running time, we can assume that the filmmakers had time to include only their very best evidence, correct?
Journalist Liz Crokin tells us that, according to the FBI, "cheese pizza" is a common code used by pedophiles to refer to children. The image of a triangle is also used as a code for children, we are told. Let's say that's true. In the Podesta emails, he often uses sentences like "Would love to get a pizza for an hour."
In response to this, the narrator says with a completely serious tone of voice, "Who blocks out an hour of time to eat a slice of pizza?"
It was at this point that I wondered if I were watching an elaborate, Andy-Kaufman-style mockumentary. But the filmmakers are completely serious. Despite the fact that every labor union in America considers an hour to be the appropriate block of time in which to eat lunch, these people are absolutely baffled by the concept of Podesta meeting up with a family member to eat a slice of pizza for an hour. (Personally, I've met with friends for as long as two hours to eat pizza.) And if they're not spending that entire hour eating pizza, the only reasonable conclusion is…
Yes, that they're having sex with young boys. Perfectly logical. After all, there are only two available solutions to this conundrum of what is possible over the course of a single hour. An average human being can either: A) eat a pizza, or B) have sex with a child. There are no other possibilities.
Not only do the filmmakers lead off their Pizzagate segment with this less than convincing piece of evidence, but they state it twice. First, the narrator asks the question, "Who blocks out an hour of time to eat a slice of pizza?" Crokin then rephrases the question, this time cutting down the time in question to 30 minutes (despite the fact that the Podesta email they just flashed on the screen clearly contains the words "an hour"). Here's Crokin again: "You can get a service for a half an hour. You can get a massage for a half an hour. But you can't get food for half an hour. It just makes no sense!"
Only seconds earlier, the filmmakers implied that an hour is too long to eat a slice of pizza. This is immediately followed with the implication that 30 minutes isn't enough time to eat a pizza. In QAnon's coming dystopian Cloud-Cuckoo-Land, what exactly is the appropriate, Christian amount of time to eat a pizza without being accused of being a child rapist? 45 minutes? 38 minutes and 43 seconds? And why can't you eat food within 30 minutes? I've had several jobs that only gave me a 15-minute break, and I discovered you could consume an adequate amount of sustenance within that amount of time.
We then see footage of a former Baptist pastor named Ben Swann telling us that the triangular logo for Comet Ping Pong resembles the aforementioned shape used by pedophiles as a code for "boy love." It never seems to occur to Swann or the filmmakers that there are a limited number of shapes in the universe, and that a triangle seems more logical for a pizza joint logo than an octagon or a parallelogram. (By the way, the filmmakers never mention the fact that Swann was fired from his news anchor job at WGCL-TV in Atlanta for delivering too many reports that "veered into alt-right conspiracy theories.")
At one point Crokin yells into the camera, "[Pizzagate] has not been debunked! If it's been debunked, explain the code words!"
She acts as if the existence of "code words" in Podesta's emails have been verified in the first place. The fact is, I could easily comb through "Out of Shadows" and claim that every time the word "believe" appears, that's actually a code word for "Hey, let's off a hooker tonight." So why hasn't the FBI investigated the filmmakers for being murderers? After all, I said it was a code word, didn't I? Why aren't you investigating it?
Obviously, any word could be used as a code word for something else. Maybe every time I use the word "conspiracy" in this article, I'm actually signaling to my cultist friends to meet me at McDonald's to lick the skin of an ancient psychedelic toad named Tsathoggua. I believe it. Do you believe it? If not, why not? Are you a sheeple? What do you believe is true? What do you believe is false? And why do you believe what you believe?
Celebrities = Satanists
The makers of "Out of Shadows" quickly shunt aside any useful information about actual government malfeasance (e.g., the CIA's well-documented MK-ULTRA mind control program) to make room for the "Successful People Are Satanists" segment. The subtext of this part of the documentary is as follows: You don't have to feel bad if you're struggling under lower-middle-class conditions, because only degenerates who sell their souls to Satan become rich and famous.
"Out of Shadows" wishes to leave its audience with the impression that the vast majority of Hollywood celebrities are involved in devil worship. If you believe "Out of Shadows," every night in Los Angeles is an endless Satanic orgy, "Eyes Wide Shut"-style. The "evidence" provided, if viewed objectively, often makes the exact opposite point from the one intended by the filmmakers.
For example, we're shown a brief excerpt from Jerry Seinfeld's TV show "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee," in which Eddie Murphy tells Seinfeld a story about meeting Sammy Davis Jr. During this meeting, out of the blue, Davis told Murphy, "Satan is as powerful as God," and only when Davis noticed Murphy's bemused reaction did he start backing away from it. Rather than pointing toward the notion that Hollywood is overrun with covert Satanists, Murphy's anecdote would seem to suggest the opposite: Casual discussions about Satan and his powers are sufficiently unusual that Murphy found this one strange and amusing. That's why he chose to tell this story to Seinfeld on camera. That's why they're both laughing about it. If Satanism was so commonplace, neither Murphy nor Seinfeld would find this tale in any way unusual or humorous. Besides, Davis' flirtation with Satanism in the 1970s was hardly a deep, dark secret. I first heard the rumor about Davis' friendship with Anton LaVey, the head of the Church of Satan, when I was in high school during the 1980s.
For some peculiar reason, one of the few Hollywood celebrities mentioned in the documentary who is not painted with this broad Luciferian brush is Kanye West. We see West strutting back and forth across a massive stage, screaming at his cheering audience like an evangelical Christian preaching to his parishioners in a Southern tent revival: "Y'all been lied to! Google lied to you! Facebook lied to you! Radio lied to you!"
Lied to you about what, exactly? The filmmakers don't allow the clip to continue. Though vague, indeterminate esoteric symbolism in Lady Gaga and Katy Perry songs are shown and reshown in "Out of Shadows," the filmmakers neglect to mention the fact that Kanye West wrote a song called "Lucifer Son of the Morning" for rapper Jay-Z. This is a case in which the "symbolism" is hardly covert, and yet this hit song written by West doesn't even receive a brief mention.
Let's hand the mike over to rapper Professor Griff (formerly of Public Enemy and author of "The Psychological Covert War on Hip Hop" and "Symbology: The Psychological Covert War on Hip Hop Book 2"). The following quote is from an interview with Griff posted on YouTube on July 9, 2012, entitled "Professor Griff Discusses Occult Rituals in Hip Hop Part 2":
If you want to operate in that $20 million club — and higher — the 100 million club these brothers were operating in ... oh, you gotta pay the price. You gotta bond yourself to these [Luciferian] people forever. Look at some of the other people who bonded themselves to this demonic energy .... When Kanye West wanted to be up in that space so bad, he ... signed on, became a Mason and took the oath, wrote "Lucifer Son of the Morning" for Jay-Z, and that was his initiation. And sure enough, he lost his mom...."
You'd think a quote as incendiary as that would be gold to the makers of "Out of Shadows." Why not include it? Is it because the filmmakers didn't want to cast any aspersions on Kanye West? Is it because West has been such a vocal supporter of Donald Trump's presidency and pledged to vote for Trump again this November, before abruptly announcing the possibility of throwing his own hat into the campaign (a strategic move seemingly aimed at siphoning off Black votes from Democratic candidate Joe Biden)?
Rather than connect the author of "Lucifer Son of the Morning" to Luciferianism, "Out of Shadows" tries to convince us instead that renowned performance artist Marina Abramović is a high priestess of the Church of Satan. As evidence, the filmmakers point toward Abramović's 1987 work "Spirit Cooking," which began as a portfolio of eight etchings illustrating 25 letterpress prints of what the artist refers to as "aphrodisiac recipes." This portfolio is included in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, proof positive that demonic forces are at work.
Again, the filmmakers supply absolutely no evidence for the accusation that Abramović is a Satanist, much less a high priestess of the Church of Satan. I doubt if any of the QAnon followers had ever heard of this high-concept artist or her work before these rumors began circulating through the nooks and crannies of 4chan. I picture a couple of guys in their middle-American man cave, surfing the internet while knocking back Red Bull and/or Keystone Light, when they stumble across out-of-context photos of Abramović's performance art, get mildly aroused while imagining her spreading her legs for Lucifer or Baphomet or Moloch or Tom Hanks or Bill Clinton, become overwrought with an extreme case of religious-based guilt, and then immediately rush to a chatroom to condemn Abramović for her seductress ways. "Oh my dear Lord, that Jezebel needs to be locked up and burned with the holiest of holy waters! Lock her up! Lock her up!"
To anyone with an open mind who's not already familiar with Abramović's art, I suggest taking a look at Matthew Akers' 2012 documentary "The Artist Is Present" to see what her work is actually all about. Most of these evangelical sleuths have seen a few photos of her 1997 multimedia installation "Spirit Cooking" (an outgrowth of her original 1987 portfolio), in which Abramović utilized pig's blood to scrawl her "aphrodisiac recipes" on white walls, and conclude that she's the mistress of the Dark One Himself. (Ironically, almost nothing Abramović has envisioned could come anywhere close to the senseless violence on full display in the Old Testament. Imagine a devout Catholic vampirically consuming the blood and flesh of Christ every Sunday morning, then turning around and being horrified by the faux ritualism of Abramović's stunts.)
It would be nice to say that these allegations are the harmless nattering of brain-dead philistines. "Why not just ignore them?" one might say. But these allegations are now spilling out of the solipsistic confines of 4chan. This past April, Microsoft actually decided to delete Abramović's advertisement for a device called the HoloLens 2 after QAnon-hypnotized right-wingers flooded the company with complaints about the artist's alleged connections to Satanism.
Here's an excerpt from Alex Greenberger's April 15 ARTnews article explaining this blatant act of censorship:
Uploaded by Microsoft on April 10, the [YouTube] video was an advertisement for the HoloLens 2, a headset that allows users to see digital imagery with the outside world still in their view. (Mixed reality, unlike virtual reality, is not all-encompassing — viewers can see their surroundings while experiencing the headset's moving images.) In the video, which is now deleted from YouTube, the artist discusses her new mixed reality work, The Life, and tells viewers, "I believe that art of the future is art without objects. This is just pure transmission of energy between the viewer and the artist. To me, mixed reality is this answer."
There are no explicit mentions of Satanism in the video, which also features interviews with an official at Christie's — which plans to sell The Life in October for more than $775,000 — and the work's director. Also included is a demonstration of The Life.
When viewers don headsets, they can see Abramović wearing the red dress from her acclaimed 2010 performance The Artist Is Present. She slowly walks around, and her image sometimes appears to blink because of digital effects. The artist has described The Life, which debuted at London's Serpentine Galleries in 2019, as being a performance accessible anytime, anywhere.
Shortly before the video was deleted earlier this week, it had been "disliked" by users more than 24,000 times …. As of Wednesday morning, a link listed on Google for Microsoft's page dedicated to Abramović's art redirected to a website for the tech company's arts-related initiatives.
Abramović even felt the need to deny being a Satanist during a 2016 interview with ARTnews, soon after Trump's supporters began spreading this rumor, but such a denial (a completely unnecessary one, of course) sidesteps the main issue of this cowardly act on Microsoft's part.
Let's pause a moment, however, and say that Abramović is a Satanist. There's this little thing called the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, with which "Christian Patriots" should be intimately familiar. It guarantees the freedom of religion. That includes Satanism. For Microsoft to discriminate against Abramović for being a high priestess of the Church of Satan (if she were one, which, once again, she is not) would be even more outrageous than the company pulling the video merely because it received 24,000 "dislikes" on the internet.
Some evangelicals, of course, consider any religion other than Christianity to be Satanic. Why not start pulling down YouTube videos made by Muslims or Sikhs or Mormons? It doesn't take long for a simple fallacy to snowball its way down a slippery slope into outright authoritarianism.
Robert Guffey is a lecturer in the Department of English at California State University, Long Beach. His books include the novel "Until the Last Dog Dies" and "Chameleo: A Strange but True Story of Invisible Spies, Heroin Addiction, and Homeland Security." Visit his website.