At This Point, Can QAnon Really Be Banned?

A Facebook purge and Trump’s infection weakens QAnon but not the alt-health libertarians of ‘Soft-Q’

A QAnon sign outside a Donald Trump campaign stop in Mankato, Minnesota. Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

No one can say for sure that 56-year-old pig-farming pornographer Jim Watkins is the Q that hardcore QAnons worship as their rebel prophet. If he isn’t, he’s close enough. Watkins owns Q’s delivery device — an anonymous imageboard called 8kun (formerly 8chan) he runs from the Philippines — and he maintains “custody” of Q through the ability to apply Q’s credentials to any troll he chooses.

What we can say for sure is that none of Q’s feverish predictions about Trump vanquishing the Deep State have come true. Hillary Clinton has not been arrested; photos of Barack Obama as an AK-47-wielding jihadi never surfaced. But Q did correctly predict that the tolerance shown by social media platforms for his increasingly toxic brand might be running thin. On September 17, Qdrop 4734 commanded followers to “Deploy camouflage. Drop all references re: ‘Q’ ‘Qanon’ etc. to avoid ban/termination.”

Yesterday, Facebook announced that its Dangerous Organizations Operations team would be deleting QAnon accounts, groups, pages, and Instagram feeds. For many observers, the action comes too late — more than a year after the FBI labeled QAnon as a domestic terror threat, and now with over 80 Q-sympathetic congressional candidates on the hustings. Early reports from QAnon trackers indicate the purge is a bloodbath, with upwards of 90% of groups removed within hours of the announcement. It’s a clear win for anti-disinformation activists, digital hate group watchers, fair elections monitors, and the growing number of families who have watched a morbid brainworm transform loved ones into paranoid zealots in just a few days of lockdown with YouTube on autoplay.

Hardcore QAnons have been instructed to “camouflage.” But the influence of Q has been stealthily mainstreamed. It flies under the radar via QAnon front projects: maudlin anti-trafficking campaigns, or Covid-denialist movements that conflate public health measures with totalitarianism. Its themes were normalized and gentrified during its pandemic growth spurt. And Facebook itself was a key vector in this mainstreaming, facilitating the recruitment of mommy bloggers, naturopaths, raw foodies, yogalebrities, self-help coaches, MLM reps, and alt-health libertarians.

Facebook’s algorithms brought them all together, and QAnon’s big-tent conspiracism harmonized their grievances against the surveillance state, techno-globalism, corporate media, Big Pharma and Big Farming, medical violation, and the sexualization of children. Some followers started out concerned about vaccines but got hooked by stories of vampiric child abuse. Others who were into crystals and channeling spirits came to believe that Trump was a “lightworker” (a kind of spiritual therapist or warrior who channels goodness and positivity). They wanted to #savethechildren, but wound up posting about Pizzagate. They came for alternative news, but stayed for the fever dreams. These “Soft-Q” users would not identity as hardcore “digital soldiers,” as Q’s adherents call themselves. And so they will dodge, and survive, Q’s war.

Consider 71 year-old Dr. Christiane Northrup, a legend in women’s alternative health, who since April has peppered her nearly 500,000 Facebook followers with meandering sermons about “The Great Awakening” — a QAnon catchphrase she can plausibly link to a history of evangelicalism. Throughout her trippy mashup of Covid-trutherism, anti-vaxxery, and cosmic prophecy, Northrup is meticulously careful to not endorse or even mention QAnon. But this doesn’t stop her from sending her followers to QAnon boosters with a nod and maternal wink. On Twitter, the winks are full-on dogwhistles. Just today she tweeted out a YouTube video by “Amazing Polly,” the Canadian digital soldier who started the Wayfair conspiracy back in June.

Arguably, Northrup’s page epitomizes Facebook’s conundrum. It was, for example, the gateway for the Q-themed “Plandemic,” which was mostly confined to QAnon groups until she posted it to her mainstream following with the ominous lede: “It’s all here.” That single post got the viral ball rolling towards an eventual 20 million views for the film. Ultimately, Facebook banned the video and any related content. But what can it do about Northrup’s page, now waiting there like a lightning rod for the next bolt of disinformation? Digital soldiers need networks. Isolating Watkins followers is one thing, but it’s much harder to define, let alone confront, the impacts of well-loved wellness influencers who game engagement with fear-mongering to enhance their brands.

By August, Soft-Q recruits started gathering in mostly unmasked rallies in cities across the U.S. They marched under the banner of #savethechildren and carried placards doubting Covid, comparing vaccination to rape, but also appealing for world peace. There were guitars and drums, rattles and dreamcatchers. Whereas Watkins’ world is overwhelmingly white and male, these protests were well-attended by women and were racially and generationally diverse. Soft Q isn’t a Boomer thing or a MAGA thing. Its most disruptive power is its ability to bring together left and right in a paroxysm of suspicion — and hope. When defining this horseshoe effect in 2011, sociologists Charlotte Ward and David Voas dubbed the term “conspirituality”, writing that it “appears to be a means by which political cynicism is tempered with spiritual optimism.”

The infiltration of QAnon into the spirituality and wellness worlds happened so fast and got so toxic that a team of social-justice-oriented yoga teachers felt compelled to launch a “We Stand Against QAnon” campaign across their social feeds. Yoga influencer Seane Corn posted the statement to her 108K IG followers. It won praise from those appalled at how quickly a brainworm could rip through an industry. But by email, Corn described the equal amount of acrimony the post drew and explained she had to delete racist, sexually violent, and anti-semitic comments on the post. Corn ultimately froze the thread altogether when it became a vector for even more Q-rhetoric. “I didn’t have the bandwidth to keep checking all the comments to make sure they weren’t causing harm,” she wrote.

On the whole, the Soft-Q space is less politicized than the battlegrounds of old-school Q. Their product isn’t violent revolution but crisis spirituality, in which global stressors open new markets for channeling, “ascension” (the reportedly painful process of leapfrogging into higher dimensions), and herbs to improve immunity and vibrations. For an influencer like Northrup, the advantage of not endorsing QAnon is that she’s safe from the purge, and may even be able to grow her influence as someone who sagely floats above the meme wars.

But nowhere is Soft-Q’s freedom to detach from worldly responsibility — and evade the threat of deplatforming — more visible than in responses to Trump’s journey with Covid.

The President’s feed went dark for almost a day after he tweeted he was infected with the novel coronavirus. Q himself went silent in the chaotic days between October 1 and 6. Hardcore QAnons, unfazed, plowed forward with their flexible prophecies: Trump isn’t sick, they said. He decamped to the fortified Walter Reed to make way for a weekend purge of Deep State pedophiles and returned to the White House triumphant. His heaving chest, the anxious doctors, the West Wing “outbreak” — it’s all kabuki to obscure the coming “Storm” during which the Democratic elites will finally be arrested. For QAnon patriots, Trump can and will do anything to make the White House pure again, including catching Covid, pretending to catch Covid, recovering, pretending to recover, or even dispatching his clone to the hospital — possibly his recently dead brother Robert — while he stays aloft in Air Force One. Most of all, they need him alive.

But for Soft-Q, Trump’s status as a lightworker or trickster figure transcends his function as the head of state or even his trials as a sick human being. This takes a lot of pressure off. They don’t need him to triumph on the earthly plane, they don’t need his vitality for their revolution. Because Trump can inspire personal evolution whether alive, dead, or ghostly, Soft-Q proponents are far less focused on the material world. While old-school warriors are posting feverishly throughout the vigil, Soft-Q has mostly kept quiet, or continued on with its vague gospel of transformation, or selling its self-help courses. This might also speak to the relative privilege and whiteness of Soft-Q proponents. However the politics play out, they may be just fine.

Kej Raj, a Soft-Q spirit channeler with 25,000 followers on Twitter, tweeted in July that Trump’s bodyguards were extraterrestrials. “With their higher dimensional abilities, awareness,” Raj wrote, “they can see, sense, and act in a way of course which the average Earth human cannot. Swiftly detecting, preventing any dark agents from succeeding with their ‘task.’”

I asked Raj by email whether this alien status made Trump’s limousine safe from Covid.

“Trump is not only being protected energetically by the higher forces,” Raj wrote, “but also physically.”

In August, Raj asserted that Trump “is attending a special meeting with the Galactic Light Forces in Greenland, at Thule Air Base. The energies there are so high/positive. May also take a tour on their starships.”

I asked Raj if this was a regular occurrence.

“The meetings between the president and positive ET [extraterrestrial] high ranks have been happening for well over three years now,” Raj wrote. “And they continue to occur. Physical and other means of communication.”

There’s only so much social media platforms can do with the mess they have hosted and caffeinated. They can target QAnon content in data streams, but it looks like Soft-Q is already glowing among the stars.

Investigative journo: conspirituality & cults. Co-host at Bylines: GEN, The Walrus. More @

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