NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: Who is telling the truth?
The public’s distrust of the media is high. That’s no secret.
But sometimes that feeling gives rise to conspiracy theorists and notions of who is to blame for the world’s problems.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: One entity claiming to be in the know is “Q.” Just the letter Q. WORLD Radio correspondent Laura Finch has been following this story and she’s here to talk about it.
So Laura, what is “Q,” and why is it popping up right now?
LAURA FINCH, REPORTER: Well, this summer, people started showing up at Trump rallies wearing T-shirts and carrying flags that just said “Q.” In August, a rally with about 200 people showed up in D.C. And the movement really started last fall when an anonymous person started posting on an online forum called 8chan. That’s the number 8-c-h-a-n. The person claims to be a high-level White House aide with exclusive “Q”-level security clearance. Hence the name Q-Anon—short for anonymous.
8chan is kind of a free-for-all online forum, not much regulated. A few years ago, Google stopped letting it show up in search results because of so much child pornography on the site.
REICHARD: Do we have any assurance that Q is someone in the White House, though? And what are they posting?
FINCH: Q is totally anonymous. So, we really don’t know. But experts point out that none of Q’s prophecies have come true.
REICHARD: So Q “drops” these cryptic messages directly on the forums?
FINCH: Yes. For example, here’s one from February which accompanied a picture of Bill Clinton on a trip to North Korea in 2009—quote—”Find the link. Look around. What does it signify? Q.”—end quote.
Clearly, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. In fact, it could mean really whatever you want it to mean. But followers extrapolate on these clues to the point where they’ve crafted a huge mega-conspiracy theory. In their narrative, a) bad guys have controlled the American government for a long time. And b) Trump is a hero who pretended to collude with Russia in order to stop a worldwide sex trafficking ring.
REICHARD: But what is the point of this? Are these followers rallying for anything?
FINCH: I spoke to a follower named Cheryl Sullenger. She told me the point was to help people connect dots that would not otherwise be connected. And it has really turned into an online community. People post videos in which they “decode” Q’s intel drops, and then ask for donations to support their channel.
Cheryl also told me she spends “some hours” each day on this.
REICHARD: Is this any different from other conspiracy theories we’ve seen pop up in the past? Why do you think this happening now?
FINCH: Well, when you look at some of the most common conspiracy theories, they have to do with past events, like 9/11, the Kennedy assassination, or the moon landing. This is ongoing. It’s constant, it’s all-encompassing, and the news cycle is part of it. Even the punctuation of Trump’s tweets might be clues.
In fact, a big part of the Q phenomenon is this idea that mainstream media can’t be trusted. Cheryl also told me that Trump can’t communicate through the mainstream media because it’s “compromised.”
That’s not that far off from what you would hear on Fox News, which is that everyone else is lying to you and only Fox is telling the truth.
REICHARD: Well, and I think Fox isn’t the only news outlet to claim that. Laura, is it really a big deal? Is it something to be worried about?
FINCH: Could be. In July, a Q follower used an armored vehicle to block a bridge. He also had a machine gun with ammunition with him. Fortunately no one was injured. The president has also hosted a QAnon leader in the Oval Office and took a picture with him.
But also, Mary, I have to say that as a Christian looking even briefly at these forums, they felt very dark to me. There’s an obsession there with numerology, symbols, and prophecies.
I emailed about this with Michael Graham at Orlando Grace Church. He’s dealt pastorally with alt-right groups. He told me—quote—”In my pastoral experience the flesh will act out in strange ways when its idols are challenged or confronted. There will be things crazier than QAnon.”
REICHARD: Laura Finch is a WORLD Radio correspondent.
FINCH: Thanks, Mary.