The QAnon Phenomenon

by Thea Halo

When did we become a country where millions of (presumably otherwise intelligent) people believe in conspiracy theories which are so absurd that one has to wonder why those believers aren’t locked up in some exclusive ‘Made for QAnon’ loony bin? We could blame it on Donald Trump. However, simply having Trump as president seems to have given his QAnon followers license to go wild. It’s as if Trump swung open a magic door into the vast unknown and told his followers, “go on in. The universe is the limit there! Let your wildest fantasies run free! I’ll be here to save you from all your most outlandish fantasies when they come true!”

Here are a few of those fantasies/conspiracies:

“An Evil Cult Is Ruling the Planet.”
“Donald Trump Is an American Hero.”
“The Democratic Party Has Sinister Intentions.”
“Barack Obama armed North Korea with Nuclear weapons and he’s Satan.1

And, of course, there was Pizzagate. “Proponents of the Pizzagate conspiracy theory falsely claimed that emails contained coded messages that connected several high-ranking Democratic Party officials and U.S. restaurants with an alleged human trafficking and child sex ring.”2 One ex-QAnon believer confessed that he actually believed CNN’s Anderson Cooper ate babies.3

A new book is also circulating that claims: “Democrats murder and eat children and that the government created AIDS, polio and Lyme disease [and] the world is run by a Satanic cabal led by Hillary Clinton.”4 When asked about QAnon, Donald Trump answered that QAnon conspiracy theorists: ‘like me very much’ and ‘love our country.”5 Apparently that’s good enough for Donald Trump. If they love him, they could do and say what they will.

Some reports claim the QAnon insanity began in March 2016 during the Obama Administration. Donald Trump formally launched his presidential campaign on June 16, 2015. The second alleged QAnon launch date of 2017, would have been after Donald Trump became president.

While Trump’s popularity and all of those QAnon conspiracies might make for some decent sci-fi films, they are reminiscent of mass hysteria. It’s the kind of hysteria that took place when a few school kids in Tanzania began to laugh as a joke. But then the laughter began to spread and those laughing couldn’t stop. At least 1000 people, including parents, fell victim to the laughing sickness when the laughing children returned home. “Now we call it Mass Psychogenic Illness.”6

There have also been ‘epidemics’ of ‘dancing mania’ reported in the Middle Ages,7 and “In the early 14th century in northern France, nuns at a secluded Catholic convent began meowing like a cat. Within one week, all the nuns at the convent started to meow and purr.”8 Many other cases of mass hysteria have been reported.

Purdue University’s Christian Hempelmann told the Chicago Tribune:

“It’s psychogenic, meaning it is all in the minds of the people who showed the symptoms. It’s not caused by an element in the environment, like food poisoning or a toxin. There is an underlying shared stress factor in the population… It’s an easy way for them to express that something is wrong. Mass hysteria begins with a few people experiencing symptoms of severe stress, such as fits, headaches, or nausea. When these manifest, they become rapidly magnified throughout the rest of the stressed population, driven by our innate tendencies to imitate and follow others with whom we closely sympathize.”9

And that is apparently the key… “…driven by our innate tendencies to imitate and follow others with whom we closely sympathize.”

On the surface, the stress that caused QAnon seems to be an astonishing Republican fear of Liberalism, exaggerated, or perhaps born, when a Black man occupied the White House, and accelerating when one of his cohorts, Hilary Clinton, threatened to take his place. The Black Lives Matter movement seemed to have exacerbated the fear that African Americans, and perhaps the offspring of Latino migrants, would become the majority and would one day replace Whites to lead the country.

It appears that many believe Liberalism and Socialism—another boogieman term thrown out by the Trump crowd—is a form of Communism. However, it’s becoming more clear that they are simply code words to disguise the racism hidden in the right wing agenda. Socialism and Communism are now often used when Trump supporters want to convince a Liberal of the dangers that await them if Trump is no longer president. Do they actually believe Trump was saving us from Communism, and that Communism is just around the corner if the Liberals take over? Perhaps those who are not smart enough to get the joke believe that. Or perhaps some of those who spread that fear hope others won’t be smart enough to guess what the use of those terms disguise.

The cult of Trumpism is also reminiscent of mass hypnosis.

“Donald Trump, in his presidential … race, speaks directly to the voters’ imagination. This is nothing more, or less, than political hypnosis. The ‘hypnosis hypothesis,’ even better than Byron York’s ‘brief theory of Trump’s outrageousness,’ may explain Trump’s persistence as the Republican front runner.”10

One of the most distressing aspects of the cult of Trump is that his followers would rather give up family and friends, and those in their community who actually make a difference for their community, than give up their belief that Trump, a total stranger, is somehow their savior. As Illinois Republican congressman, Adam Kinzinger said on NBC’s Meet the Press, after voting to impeach Donald Trump for the Capital assault, “all of a sudden imagine everybody that supported you, … your friends, your family, has turned against you. They think you’re selling out.” Kinzinger was even told he’s “possessed by the devil.”11

What will these people do when they wake up and realize they’ve been duped, although that realization may be years away, if ever? After all, even the death of over 400,000 Americans under Trump’s watch during the Pandemic made not a dent in his popularity for most. He still received over 63 million votes in the last election. It seems his supporters have an answer for everything. That they worship him because “he’s a businessman and not a politician” is in itself amusing, as black as that humor is. Since when does a businessman accused of tax evasion and other tax crimes, with multiple bankruptcies under his belt, and a claim related to allegations of rape pending in the court, somehow become more honorable than a politician? Judging by the behavior of some of those in congress, that’s not saying much.

It’s as if Trump is the second coming of Christ for some of his supporters. No sacrilege seems off limits.

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  1. Rick Loomis, What Is Qanon? Here Are 5 Core Beliefs of the Shocking Conspiracy Theory, CNN.com. September 26, 2020.
  2. Pizzagate conspiracy theory. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pizzagate_conspiracy_theory
  3. Catherina Gioino, A Former QAnon supporter apologized to CNN’s Anderson Cooper for thinking he ate babies in a shocking clip aired on Saturday night. The Sun, January 31, 2021.
  4. Shawn Langlois, ‘QAnon’ book claiming Democrats eat children is climbing the Amazon charts, Market Watch. March 5, 2019.
  5. Courtney Subramanian, Trump says QAnon conspiracy theorists ‘like me very much’ and ‘love our country’, USA Today, August 19, 2020.
  6. Rose Pomeroy, When a Village Started Laughing… and Couldn’t Stop, Real Clear Science. February 10, 2013.
  7. Dancing plague of 1518, Wikipedia.
  8. Khalid Elhassan, 12 of History’s Most Baffling Mass Hysteria Outbreaks. https://historycollection.com/12-historys-baffling-mass-hysteria-outbreaks/
  9. Rose Pomeroy, When a Village Started Laughing… and Couldn’t Stop, Real Clear Science. February 10, 2013.
  10. Ralph Benko, Donald Trump, Political Mass Hypnotist? Forbes, November 28, 2015.
  11. Myah Ward, Rep. Kinzinger: They claim ‘I’m possessed by the devil’, Politico, January 31, 2021.

Thea Halo is the author of Not Even My Name; a former news correspondent for WBAI in NYC; and a former member of both the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) and the International Network of Genocide Scholars (INOGS). Ms Halo’s historical papers are published in a number of Academic books: Genocide in the Ottoman Empire; Sayfo 1915: An Anthology of Essays on the Genocide of Assyrians/Arameans during the first World War; and an upcoming anthology on the Genocide of the Pontic Greeks (during the first World War in Ottoman Turkey). You can view one of her presentations at the Boston State House @ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nzBfcE4PjTM

One thought on “The QAnon Phenomenon

  • February 10, 2021 at 5:03 am
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    Halo’s take on the cult aspect of Trumpism provides an ethnological explanation to this phenomenon which reminds us just how fragile the human psyche is. This human weakness has been exploited by countless dictators and charismatic religious fanatics. She provides an in-depth analysis of the different aspects of our need to conform to these basic instincts when faced with chaos and fed by misinformation.

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