QAnon and John Jr.

Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest movie, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”, brilliantly exposes the manipulations of our political leaders. His take down of Rudy Giuliani is a satirical masterclass. Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer, was duped into joining Borat’s actress daughter, Tutar, for an interview. After a drink Giuliani is quick to recline down on the hotel bed and eagerly unbuckle his belt.

A serial adulterer, Giuliani has, ironically, made it his mantra to say the US election system is mired in fraud. He actively incites MAGA supporters – pushing Trump’s many conspiracy theories and cultivating anger amongst embittered factory workers against minorities and the socially progressive. This is the part where the movie fails. Cohen seems to imply it is only the American leaders who are to blame. I believe it is naïve to assume that ordinary folk are inherently good and are manipulated into being prejudicial. Trump, in reality, is the conscious projection of millions of Americans. Without them Trump would not be president. Trump only says what his followers want to hear – it is as the psychiatrist Carl Jung said, “The true leader is always led.”

Social media inundates us with information at a frenetic pace. As people, we have an aversion to see events as being random. We are genetically wired to connect the dots trying to make sense of the world we live in. Viruses, bigotry, taxation and our hyper-partisan politics somehow all need to be linked to be understood. The fact people are cognitively hardwired for “could be or perhaps” but not for “absolute truth” allows for the spread of conspiracy theories. It is in this environment QAnon has coalesced.

QAnon is a far-right movement that implies the United States is run by a group of powerful, wealthy pedophiles. Followers believe President Trump is the only person who can stop these pedophiliacs from taking over the world. These same followers take secret cues from a high-ranking official called “Q” who is secretly embedded in the government. When “Q” finally reveals himself Trump will arrest his enemies and send them to Guantanamo. It gets crazier – many followers are anti-Semitic and believe A-list Hollywood actors engage in harvesting adrenaline from the blood of children to produce psychotropic drugs. What binds QAnon believers is that they are all immune to the truth or being fact-checked.

Conspiracy theories play a significant part in American politics. It all began with Protestant voters feuding with their Catholic politicians in the 19th-century. Rumours started to circulate that Catholics had secret instructions from the Vatican to secure enough seats so they could sell the United States to the Pope. No different than the conspiracy theories suggesting President Kennedy was assassinated by the CIA, or 9-11 was an inside government job, or even recently alleging Obama staged Bin Laden’s killing. Many QAnon followers also believe President Kennedy’s son, John F Kennedy Jr., staged his death and is now secretly posing as a Trump supporter in Pittsburgh. John Jr. is their messiah.

I met John Jr. in 1998 while trying to land a contract drawing political cartoons for “George” – a glossy magazine he founded in the nineties. John Jr. was very laid back – in fact, joking with me when I mistakenly hung-up the telephone on him. On the office walls were giant framed posters of Cindy Crawford, tummy bare, posing as George Washington and George Clooney holding a giant, rolled-up American Constitution. There was a framed photo of Mick Jagger on his desk. The entire office space was full of positive energy and youthful exuberance. It is strange that QAnon would believe that John Jr. promised to avenge his father’s death – going as far as manufacturing the quote “even if I have to bring down the whole government.” This sentiment was certainly not apparent in his upbeat, buzzy world of celebrity, media and politics.

Democracy relies on an informed public – rationally responding to real-life facts and challenges.  It now seems there is a large segment of Americans who are untethered from the truth. These Americans are living in an alternate reality based on disinformation. A critic of “George” magazine once said, “The problem has been that George is largely just another vehicle for celebrating America’s obsession with models and movie stars.” Perhaps “George” was a celebrity driven product and like “Vanity Fair” used popular culture to pivot and discuss serious topics. But “George” was fact checked and held accountable. Looking back, that “fluff” was a lot better than the misinformation and a contempt for the truth that has overrun our news feeds today.

Shahid Mahmood is an urban planner and editorial cartoonist. He worked on the historic revitalization of Bucharest and the comprehensive master plans for Makkah and Madinah. Shahid’s cartoons have appeared in numerous International publications including the Guardian and Courrier International.  Shahid is internationally syndicated with the New York Times Press Syndicate; has work archived at the Museum of Contemporary History in Paris; and was placed on the US Government’s No-fly List for his critical insight.