RIGHT-WING CONSPIRACY THEORIES AND VIOLENCE IN THE TRUMP ERA

by Lotty Clare

Content warning: mentions of gun violence, child sex abuse

Look closely at a Trump rally and you will see banners and signs with cryptic slogans like ’Q’ or ‘WWG1WGA.’ These are the signs of a growing far right pro-Trump cult-like conspiracy theory that has slid into the mainstream and is growing rapidly. 

QAnon is complex, but the foundational belief of the movement is that there is a cabal of liberal elite satanic Democrats, bankers, and Hollywood celebrities that are involved in a global child sex trafficking trade. Supposedly, information is released in periodic cryptic posts on the far-right chat board 8chan/8kun by ‘Q’. Dedicated followers claim that Q is a high up intelligence official in the administration, and that Trump was recruited by military intelligence to stop the liberal ‘deep state’ cannibal paedophiles. In their eyes, Trump is idolised as an almost god-like figure who will destroy his enemies and save American society and indeed, the world. QAnon has an almost apocalyptic desire to destroy the existing, corrupt world order to usher in ‘The Great Awakening.’ QAnon followers think they are preparing for this Trumpian counter revolution. 

The spread of QAnon

The current instability in America combined with a pandemic has created fertile ground for conspiracy theories to grow and flourish. QAnon has reached out into a political climate of fear and has come out in strong opposition to mask-wearing policies and lent into anti-vax conspiracies. But QAnon in its earliest iterations was the 2016’s ‘Pizzagate’ conspiracy which falsely claimed that the Clintons were running a child sex trafficking scheme in a pizza restaurant. In 2019 Jeffery Epstein died under doubtful circumstances whilst awaiting trial for sex trafficking charges, subsequently, QAnon used these real cases of sex abuse as a kind of gateway into the movement. Their #SaveTheChildren tag seems like an uncontroversial statement, but this softened and appealing front for QAnon has been extremely successful in expanding the conspiracy, especially in reaching women. 

QAnon no longer just exists in the insular, male dominated dark corners of the internet…

QAnon has been historically associated with right wing fringe groups. But there now exists an entire QAnon media ecosystem, with enormous amounts of video content, memes, and more, all designed to spark the interest of potential recruits, then draw them into QAnon’s alternate reality. For example, algorithms will match holistic health people with the anti-vax movement, which will lead on to content on how the vaccine is a method of social control by Bill Gates. QAnon no longer just exists in the insular, male dominated dark corners of the internet, it is on pink coloured Instagram text squares, mum influencer Instagram stories, and then suddenly you are down the rabbit hole.

QAnon and violence 

QAnon is increasingly active offline too, and has now been flagged as a domestic terrorist threat by the FBI. Last year, a woman in Colorado was involved in a scheme with QAnon supporters to carry out an armed kidnapping raid to take her child back, whom she had lost custody of, believing wrongly the foster carers were satanic paedophiles. There have been several other examples where QAnon has certifiably spilled over into violence.

the President is sending a clear message that far right violence is an act of patriotic service, playing into QAnon’s underlying appeal of patriotic crusaders

QAnon merges with many existing conspiracies and far right groups. In the Trump era, conspiracy-motivated violence has echoed a surge in far-right violence. In Kenosha, Wisconsin, police killed Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man, which sparked protests against police violence. A pro-Trump militia which 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse was a part of called ‘Kenosha Guard’ countered these protests with a call to take up arms and then paraded the streets holding guns. In a video it can be heard that the police said that they appreciated them – essentially deputising them. Kyle later shot and killed 2 people on the street, wounding several others. In St Louis amid a peaceful BLM march, the White and wealthy McCloskey couple came out of their house aiming their guns at the protestors. Portrayed by right wing media as heroes exercising their ‘God given right’, they were given the platform to speak at the RNC last month

White violence in America has always been linked with maintaining conservative ideas of morality, but now the President is sending a clear message that far right violence is an act of patriotic service, playing into QAnon’s underlying appeal of patriotic crusaders fighting enemies of of the world. Trump has given the green light to far right vigilantism throughout his whole term. In the last few months he has endorsed QAnon, called BLM protestors ‘terrorists’ and called for supporters and anti-maskers to ‘liberate Michigan’ and other states. 

Trump affirms QAnon 

Trump and the Republican party have undoubtedly been exploiting the energy of QAnon for their benefit. In a recent press conference, Trump said when questioned about QAnon:  “we’re saving the world from a radical left philosophy that will destroy this country, and when this country is gone, the rest of the world would follow“; not only legitimising QAnon but echoing their belief in a world destroying liberal order that is responsible for all of society’s ills. Trump has also amplified QAnon-promoting Twitter accounts in at least 185 instances, and there have been at least 70 Republican candidates who have run for Congress this cycle who have expressed support for QAnon. It is likely that we will see a continuing growth of QAnon and slide into the mainstream. 

QAnon and the future of the Right

Unsurprisingly, many people in America feel divided and uneasy about the future of the country and feel a sense of injustice about the way things currently lie. The QAnon belief system, where truth and lies are blurred, offers a simple answer. As election day looms and in the weeks after, we should expect to see increased urgency and calls for action within QAnon, as well as in the Trump support base as a whole. QAnon adherents may see it as their duty to take action into their own hands to fight the perceived enemy. For people deep into QAnon and linked far right extremist groups, violence is necessary to save the world. A conspiracy theory doesn’t have to be real for it to change the world. It is sometimes difficult to discern where QAnon starts and ends, but it will continue to grow and evolve in tandem with the growth of right wing populism, climates of fear, and lack of online content moderation. I fear it is making the right stronger as it both unifies and expands far right ideology.

Featured image credit: Becker1999 (Flickr)


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