If you get your information from the conservative media, you might not even know QAnon is still a thing, which is strange, because it’s supposedly a right-wing phenomenon. You may find it simply bizarre that the FBI and Department of Homeland Security are issuing warnings about the “digital soldiers” of the QAnon movement turning “towards engaging in real-world violence.”
But if you ever dip into the new media that targets teens and young adults with celebrity news and click-bait quizzes, you’d have a very different impression. In that context, it might be obvious why Joe Biden felt it appropriate to allude to the most extreme conspiracy theories during his recent CNN “town hall event.”
For several generations, trawlers of the young have baited their nets with the idea that kids are superior to their elders, and QAnon is just such an opportunity. In October, Teen Vogue writer Fortesa Latifi surveyed teens “about watching their parents go down the QAnon rabbit hole.” In April, she followed up with some of the same teens about “defying their parents to get the COVID vaccine.” One girl who had worried about her father’s QAnon habit lamented that her mother now “parrots similar false conspiracies” about the vaccine.
On VICE, David Gilbert writes about Bill, who testifies (in the words of the essay’s headline), “I’m a Parkland Shooting Survivor. QAnon Convinced My Dad It Was All a Hoax.” A BuzzFeed daily podcast explores “why your yoga class might be filled with QAnon supporters.” Earlier this month, Celeste Pewter assured her Teen Vogue readers that only “the former president, large swaths of the GOP, and movements like QAnon” are pushing “a lie” that “the government can’t be trusted.”
According to Pewter, the danger of these untrustworthy conspirators is that they might use fear to gain control of the government. To ensure that doesn’t happen, these publications are spinning conspiracy theories of their own. Thus, Gilbert is back on VICE with the dire warning that “there are now 40 QAnon candidates running for Congress in 2022.”
Gilbert bases his claim on a running list maintained by Media Matters for America, a site funded by progressives to undermine Democrats’ political opposition. To create a veneer of research for his claim, Alex Kaplan has combed the Internet and social media for any pretense to connect a Republican Congressional candidate to QAnon.
To become a “QAnon candidate,” all a Republican has to do is retweet or share an article by somebody else who used a hashtag that he or she may or may not have known was associated with QAnon, like “#TheGreatAwakening” or “#wwg1wga” (“where we go one, we go all”). Carla Spalding of Florida, for example, is accused of a single instance of responding to a supporter and adding the latter hashtag, which is no more conspiratorial than “we’re all in this together.”
Kaplan’s project relies on a standard method by which progressives tar their political opposition. The most extreme views and actions that can be found in a nation of hundreds of millions of people are attributed to a trending conservative brand (as has been done in the past with the Tea Party and the Alt-Right). Then, anybody who associates with or references that brand in any way receives a label of tight affiliation.
Clarification and even repudiation are no defense. Josh Barnett of Arizona has explicitly said he doesn’t think Q is “a real thing.” Buzz Patterson of California is on the list despite stating that “Q doesn’t exist. Never has.” After Robert Lancia of Rhode Island found himself on the list because a staffer handling his Twitter account retweeted two Q-related posts, he had to look up what Q was supposed to be.
Media Matters’ dubious methodology hasn’t stopped Democrats and their supporters in the mainstream media from taking political advantage. Just before the election, national and state-level media outlets leveraged the list to put Republicans in a suspicious light. Citing Axios, Forbes, and Newsweek, for instance, the Chicago Tribune warned voters to “take note” that one Republican candidate had used the “wwg1wga” hashtag while another had retweeted a video in which General Michael Flynn recited that phrase.
Earlier this month, Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline promoted the Media Matters conspiracy about a “Q Caucus” to ask for political donations. His email, however, discloses the real purpose of the Q panic when he asks, “Will you rush a donation to protect our Democratic Majority in the House right now?”