capitol riot

QAnon and the Bright Rise of Belief

A U.S. flag attached to a QAnon symbol flies outside the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

During a childhood of compulsory Catholic masses, hundreds upon hundreds of them, I perfected the art of retreating deep into an imagined world, such that I never did learn the liturgy. But this I remember: The Romans were ridiculous, objects of pity and derision — get with the program; this man is magic. Narratively, early doubters existed to make the rest of us feel superior in our belief. Ninety nine uniformed schoolgirls stared at the image of a spiked corpse and ate what we were told was his flesh. It was a beautiful thing to do.

Six days into this new year, ecstatic believers attacked the Capitol. The images from this riot are, in large part, images of unrestrained joy. Followers of QAnon forced their way through, believing that, there, they would receive further instructions from the president. He was going to greet them, affirm them, assume the throne for another four years. Rhapsodic with purpose, his disciples crushed against one another. Ecstasy is always and everywhere the enemy of the state. Brought outside ourselves, we are dangerous to order.

There’s an American positivity about QAnon, a hale resistance to fatalism. QAnon brings good news. The enemy (pedophiles, eaters of babies, the pope) is apparent, and the good guys are winning. There is a plan in place to clear the world of wicked-doing, and an all-powerful man executing that plan. January 6 was meant to be “The Storm,” a day of reckoning. But when that didn’t materialize, Q’s faithful regrouped and bounced back. The Joe Biden you see on TV is merely an actor, keeping the peace while strings are pulled backstage. Donald Trump will return to the presidency sometime in March. Positivity, it turns out, is endlessly plastic.Dark to Light,” tweeted Ashli Babbitt the day before she died.

QAnon is not a state religion, but it is a religion for which the state has made space. “The infiltration of our political infrastructure by evil and secret powers is not a conspiracy,” writes someone calling himself SerialBrain2 in the collaborative work, QAnon: An Invitation to the Great Awakening. I would express this thought differently than SerialBrain2 does. That said, we live our lives in the shadow of the largest secret bureaucracy in the history of the world. How large we don’t know, as the budgets are classified. There exists, absent any conspiracy at all, a vast “alternative geography” of agencies and their contractors, staffed by well over 100,000 ordinary Americans who cannot tell their families what it is they do. More than one percent of Americans have security clearance, which suggests less a security state than caste system.

The infiltration of our political infrastructure by secret powers post-9/11 is not a product of paranoia; it is a solid foundation on which to build an enduring set of beliefs about a Satanist pedophilic cabal. “The relevance of the NSA in this story cannot be understated,” writes one Joe M in Great Awakening. The National Security Agency figures with particular prominence in this theology because it has been particularly aggressive in granting itself godlike powers. It has undertaken illegal mass surveillance of Americans based on justifications so secret even its own lawyers cannot read them; it has repeatedly lied about bulk information collection until leakers or whistleblowers force it to do otherwise. There are, across the bureaucracy, an unknown number of programs so classified few in Congress can be informed of them, and those few with access cannot tell us what they learn. Against such a vast backdrop of unknowing, it is hard for those charged with oversight to know how to even frame an inquiry. In his recent book Dark Mirror, Barton Gellman quotes former Michigan representative Justin Amash: “You have to start just spitting off random questions. Does the government have a moon base? Does the government have a talking bear? Does the government have a cyborg army?”

Does the government have a talking bear? Is the government run by a cabal of Clintons and Bushes trading in small children? Donald Trump drew attention to an absence and projected upon it an imaginary world. Instead of objecting to the individual crimes of that state, he pointed to the whole structure — a secret, parallel government of officials running secret programs with secret money, “unelected deep state operatives who defy the voters to push their own secret agendas.” Trump supporters could not know what went on at Langley or Fort Meade, so Donald Trump painted a picture for them: A bunch of men no one had elected, whose names no one knows, were conspiring to destroy the man they had chosen to lead them. This was the “deep state.”

Q is a whistleblower; he would not exist without Edward Snowden. (Q stands for Q clearance, which Q, ostensibly some sort of deep state official, would like us to believe Q has.) Q is the source you conjure when you feel truth is only available via disenchanted insiders. Q’s various prophecies are incredibly fucking weird, which doesn’t necessarily distance them from other texts to which people turn for spiritual guidance. There is, as one often finds in American abortion politics, a particular focus on the perfect innocent savaged by the selfish cosmopolitan; reading Great Awakening is like reading the story of Julian Assange as narrated by Marquis de Sade. And yet, with repetition, anything becomes mundane. “There’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take this global cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles out,” says Georgia representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, “and I think we have the president to do it.” A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! True believers speak of Satanism with the bored fluency of someone selling condos.

Ashli Babbitt made her way into the Capitol, deep within a raging crowd, first through a door on the northwest side of the building, then up the stairs, around the second floor, and, finally, close to the House Chamber where members of Congress lay scared on the floor. There were doors flanked by windows, and behind them an officer with a gun drawn. Men around Babbitt smashed through the windows with the end of a flagpole and a helmet. Wrapped in a Trump flag, she pushed her way to the front of the crowd. A fellow believer hoisted her into space left by the glass. Now she’s a martyr to the cause.

Softened by centuries, how does the narrative reveal itself? The state is corrupt, rigged against The People for the benefit of a perverse global oligarchy. A golden-haired leader emerges to save the children of the innocent. At the eleventh hour, he is betrayed by his most loyal subject, and the Storm is delayed. Believers are forced underground. Now they wait, and plan, and wait some more. He’ll come again.

By springtime, half a million Americans will be dead. It doesn’t matter whether the prophecy is right or the prophecy is wrong. In the negative space around the bright rise of belief, the rest of us argue using words that no longer work. Do you even know how to frame the question? Surrounding the birth of every new theology, forgotten or ridiculed, are the people who watched their neighbors come apart from the world. Dark to Light. We are the dark. It’s stifling in here, and full of fear.

QAnon and the Bright Rise of Belief