While mainstream media and their “information experts” persist with faith-based strategies of ridicule and Big Tech banning, QAnon continues to elude most of its critics by feverishly cultivating its shadowy populism. I consider QAnon to be an internet-enabled and religiously-based trumpist social movement or a networked populist movement with reactionary spiritual overtones. Elsewhere, I have given an overview of its core narratives, origins and popularity (for a true deep dive, check out QAnon Anonymous). Its overall narrative is a standard 1990s New World Order template (which itself has older roots), but now amped up with slick videos, frenetic influencer-agitators, and hashtag-engorged Parler accounts.
A rarely discussed precursor is Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, launched in 1988. Robertson used the then-new media of cable television to expand and sustain his flock. Robertson’s CBN Family Channel centered around The 700 Club, a daily, hours-long news program that decoded world events through an apocalyptic lens. He also wrote a book called New World Order that laid out the Satanic cabal’s centuries-old secret plans for global control, now careening to the End Times.
Beyond the garish accounts of decadent cannibal cabals, QAnon has a tripartite narrative structure of biblical proportions. First, we have the Great Awakening, a period encompassing the last few years in which revelations about how the world truly works are being experienced on a mass scale. An individual experience of epiphany, especially in the sharing economy, demands the personal conversion be spread. QAnon encourages proselytizing which, borrowing from the earlier internet “manosphere”, they call Redpilling.
The Great Awakening is taking place during the “Calm before the Storm.” The Storm is the Old Testamentish second feature in which a military operation will result in the mass arrest of all those devilish Dems. Finally, the most faith-based dimension is the Plan, or the machinations during the calm as well as the execution of the Storm. Trump figures in here prominently, as QAnons consider him a 5D chess player whose seeming failures and missteps are all part of a genius strategy. Above all, as QAnons incessantly assure each other, one must “Trust the Plan.”
Rather than recount its origins or how it spreads conspiracy theories, I want to focus on QAnon’s spiritual militancy and how it fits into Trump’s continued refusal to acknowledge electoral loss or allow a peaceful transition of power, aka the current status of The Plan. This matters because we need to understand what to expect from eager Trumpist civil warmongers, and what QAnon is ready and willing to do in this interregnum.
Interregnum here has a double meaning. It refers to the US period in-between Election Day and Inauguration Day. This period is currently being filled with twists and turns around counting, ratifying, certifying, transitioning and ultimately determining who occupies the White House on January 20, 2021. Interregnum also denotes more broadly a time of open-ended crisis. As Antonio Gramsci put it (and plenty of commentators have recently reinvoked), this is a moment in which “the old is dying and the new cannot yet be born: in this interregnum, morbid phenomena of the most varied kind come to pass.” We could say that we have been living in such a general crisis (economic, ecological, political) for some years, with QAnon now rising to the top of the morbid phenomena heap.
Conventionally, people would see post-election loss as a time of mourning and recouping, a moment to figure out how to remain a viable political entity as outsiders. QAnon does no such thing. “Trusting the Plan” incorporates and re-interprets loss as a temporary stumbling block, even one strategically designed. Their wrong predictions about Trump’s victory are now reinterpreted as part of the Plan. Hearkening back to a version of democratic decision-making that included acclamation (estimation based on clamor) as well as aggregation (counting), QAnon election denialists don’t just say they won, but that it is obvious they won, as it was an overwhelming victory. Their estimation is of course based on their own bubble projected as a mythic tidal wave. To wit: the evidence offered by one prominent QAnon influencer to his audience: “Do you know anyone who voted for Biden? I don’t!”
The only possible reason such a landslide wasn’t registered is of course fraud, theft, and rigging. So what do they do about such a mythic cheat? In the weeks since the media called it for Biden, QAnon intermediaries (the primary Q drop decoders and news interpreters) have taken on two main roles: as salve and as static. Let’s take each in turn.
In addition to providing the usual daily Trump-fawning and news roundups, influencers are providing comfort and support for QAnon adherents. With all of the intense mobilization for and attention paid to the election, now is the time for recuperation. They remind their listeners to Trust the Plan, to take it easy, to not worry, and to spend time with family while the genius Trump team takes care of business behind the scenes. Meanwhile Trump gives them occasional jolts, like pardoning Michael Flynn.
While “Trust the Plan” might sound like a pacifying command, along the lines of their other mantra “Enjoy the Show,” rest assured that the relief is brief. A social movement needs social rest before its next phase (social unrest). The salve is a reintegrative effort—they need to keep the already decentralized movement from falling apart (preventing demoralization) as well as to gather strength.
Commentators from across the political spectrum have characterized post-defeat Trumpists, including QAnon, as undergoing the five stages of grief. This would make sense if we were talking about people who believe that death is terminal. Instead, QAnon’s spirituality comes through again, this time as another kind of interregnum: the period after Good Friday when Christ dies on the cross and before Easter Sunday’s Resurrection. Anons are currently living in a protracted Holy Saturday.
In addition to the salve that allows a movement to recuperate, QAnon is taking on a more direct role in Trump’s overall strategy, namely filling the air with static and noise about the alleged fraud. In 2018, Steve Bannon laid out their media strategy: “flood the zone with shit.” The defeated Trumpists now add the accusation against their foes: “And something stinks to high heaven!” Swarming the infosphere with innuendo, irrelevant details, hearsay, promises (even biblical), faux outrage, speculation, as well as occasional concrete facts generates a fog, or really a fog-machine, of infowar. Even when QAnon agitators get into specifics about numbers of potentially flipped ballots or Dominion affordances or detailed recounts, they are not concerned about getting votes turned over to Trump, for that would mean adhering to measurable democracy. Rather, the sheer amount of question marks becomes a signal of nefarious intent (a negative acclamation).
Disinformation here is not about false belief but manufacturing uncertainty and confusion as a way to disorient, distract, and disable. QAnon influencers generate signal interference in order to render a process or action inoperable. Such static has a strategic goal: to block a clear winner.
Creating doubt around the legitimacy of the election is designed to jam up the certification and ratification process with the hoped-for outcome of faithless electors or dual slates. The targets of the static-fog are thus both specific groups (ratifiers, electors) and, for the longer haul, a networked and amassed movement.
QAnon’s fog machine works as an informational operation in the overall Trumpist strategy of regime-maintenance, namely the blockage. The blockage and blockade are the primary logistical “routes” to continuous rule here, played out in three arenas. First is the juridical/procedural sphere, where the goal is not to get Trump to 270 but to prevent Biden from 270, in essence to block a “clear” winner. They initiated blocks during the tabulations (#StopTheCount!) and, when that failed, they tried to block the calling of the election for Biden (#StopTheSteal!). The juridical arena seems increasingly ineffective given the number of cases getting dismissed, though we have yet to see the end of the revised Trumpian refrain “Build that Stonewall!”
The second sphere, ideological/informational, is where QAnon currently best operates. They create a static that blocks the ability for actors to act based on a clean or even legal election. It’s a hypermediated, zone-flooding, fog-machine effort to confuse and/or persuade actors.
Finally, we have the more conventional type of blockade in the martial sphere, one whose inauguration day logistics are the stuff of QAnon agitator fantasies. Such a martial maneuver would mean stymieing any removal of Trump, despite Biden’s conviction to “escort him from the White House with great dispatch.” Trump’s efforts do not fit the definition of a classic coup in the sense of seizure or overthrow. The hand here does not take or grab power—it holds on, refusing to let it go when it’s lost. This coup is less a sudden grab and more a steady and plodding stall. Stall here brings many meanings with it, from its earliest sense of being a decoy, deception, and distraction to a slowing down of power or motion, and finally to becoming a cordoned place for animals. In other words, the logistics of this “coup” moves from seizing to siege.
We’ve already seen siege imagery in Trump lawyer Lin Wood’s launch of the hashtag #WorldoftheBlocked. With this phrase, as one astute tweet observer put it, Wood “aims to circle the wagons around himself and create an echo chamber where we’re no longer let in to dispute, refute and debunk their dangerous BS.” Others have picked up the hashtag and added it to their QAnon pile.
The #WorldoftheBlocked is a reactionary reappropriation of what Big Tech has done to them: ban, banish, censor. The hashtag often appears in a performative statement in which Wood (or a minion) exiles someone to that world. In one of his early missives, Wood defended his legal defense of cop-loving killer Kyle Rittenhouse by announcing “I condemn Ilhan Omar to World of the Blocked.” The phrase is the misogynist heir to “Lock her Up!”, though now prison cells might be too secular for such a holy war. By condemning, banishing and sending someone to a “world,” Wood and his ilk are mimicking the sovereign act that their God did to Satan. QAnon Woodies are anointing themselves as mini-gods that can cast people into other realms—the fire and brimstone version of cancel culture.
If some variation of the martial blockage happens, we can already glimpse QAnon’s role. In June of this year, the QAnon community circulated an “oath” in which the person would pledge to be a “digital soldier.” Digital soldiers (Michael Flynn took the pledge) swear allegiance to Constitution and nation, which for QAnon is obviously tied to their great leader (not Q, but Trump). Some have started their own media system, drawing from the exodus of those who have taken the oath.
Digital soldiers are waiting for the word that a spiritual-military siege is underway. The Storm will not entail storming the barricades but building them. Whether via a standing army or a swarm of online devotees who transform from meme to movement (as the Boogaloos did), Trump’s campaign chant “Build that Wall!” will become an instruction for his loyalists to fortify him.
Trump’s Great Stall needs a siege mentality, even a spiritual one, in which an echo chamber becomes a bunker. Will QAnon swarm for the Coming In- or Re-surrection? This increasingly belligerent crusade will most likely express itself as the spiritual foundation for the more militant MAGAists like 2nd Amendment fanatics, 3%ers, Oath Keepers, or Boogaloo bois—providing a cosmology and transcendence to turn a secular conflict into an epic and perhaps final apocalyptic battle. What QAnon will do is unclear but make no mistake: their accelerated zealotry, crystallized in their communal refrain “Where We Go One, We Go All,” might take them over a cliff. The question is what this collective martyrdom and rapturous sacrifice will take with it.