'Belief in an ongoing war of good and evil': Religious scholar explains QAnon's 'appeal among white evangelicals'
QAnon's potential for violence was made evident on January 6, when some of its supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol Building along with members of the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers and other far-right extremists. Daniel N. Gullotta, a religious scholar at Stanford University, examines the past and present of QAnon in article published by the conservative website The Bulwark on August 2 — and Gullotta lays out some reasons why QAnon is still "potentially dangerous."
Gullotta's article includes extensive discussion of author Mike Rothschild's new book, "How QAnon Became a Movement, Cult, and Conspiracy Theory of Everything." The Stanford scholar writes, "While it is difficult to know QAnon's exact numbers, Rothschild notes that there are probably 'hundreds of thousands who buy into at least some part of the complex mythology.' Indeed, according to a large PRRI survey conducted in March and published last month, perhaps 15 or 20% of Americans believe some of the central QAnon claims."
QAnon believes that the U.S. government has been hijacked by an international cabal of child sex traffickers, pedophiles, Satanists and cannibals and that former President Donald Trump was put in the White House to fight the cabal — which they believe Democrats are a big part of, including billionaire George Soros. QAnon members also believe that R&B star Beyoncé isn't really African-American, but rather, is really an Italian woman named Ann Marie Lastrassi and reports directly to Soros.
As wacky as QAnon's beliefs are, supporters take them seriously.
Gullotta observes, "While QAnon undoubtedly attracts trolls, grifters, and the mentally ill, Rothschild notes that 'there is a strain of critical thinking and writing that sees Q believers…. as searchers yearning for answers and authenticity.' QAnon offers the hope of order in an apparently orderless world; it offers a confusing though coherent explanation for the world's wrongs. Perhaps most importantly, it promises retribution when justice seems lacking."
The fact that conspiracy theorists believe outrageous things, Gullotta notes, does not automatically make them dangerous. But QAnon, Gullotta warns, should not be taken lightly.
"Conspiracy theorists who think the moon landings were faked, ancient aliens were real, or the JFK assassination was covered up tend to be benign, Rothschild explains, because they are focused on the past, fixing what they believe to be errors in the historical record," Gullotta observes. "Because of this, they have little interest in changing the future or even serious proselytizing. For many of them, knowing 'the truth' gives them enough smug satisfaction. What makes QAnon so different — and so dangerous — is its belief in an ongoing war of good and evil in which the stakes are as high as they are real — an ever-unfolding drama concerning the 'Deep State,' Q's apocalyptic hopes for the future, and the role adherents can play in bringing about the coming 'storm.' Even when compared to more violent groups like Aum Shinrikyo and al Qaeda, QAnon is distinctive in how quickly the movement has turned violent."
Gullotta points out that although QAnon isn't a religious sect per se, the movement has gained a lot of ground among White Christian fundamentalists.
"Though Rothschild touches upon QAnon's religious elements, he doesn't do a deep dive into its theological convictions," Gullotta observes. "Because of QAnon's growing appeal among white evangelicals, I think it is best understood as a kind of para-Christianity — that is, something that 'goes with' or 'side by side' an evangelical Christian worldview. For many believers, QAnon is not a significant alternative to their orthodoxy or orthopraxy, but a complicating add-on."
Gullotta adds, "If one already believes that the world is besieged by demonic forces, then fine-tuning that conviction into ideas concerning a secret cabal of cannibalistic Satan-worshiping pedophiles is not a great leap of faith, as we have already seen during previous Satanic panics."
Far-right QAnon supporters now serving in Congress include Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, both Republicans. QAnon was bitterly disappointed when Trump was voted out of office and now-President Joe Biden defeated him in the 2020 election. And Gullotta points out that QAnon supporters continue to be bitter about the fact that Trump is no longer in the White House.
"So long as significant numbers of Americans say they believe in the core claims of QAnon, there is a possibility of resurgence," Gullotta explains. "And so long as its adherents feel certain that Donald Trump will be restored to a presidency that was stolen from him, QAnon remains a troubling and potentially dangerous element in our political life."
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