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Coronavirus meets QAnon – conspiracy, terror threat, new religion!

[ by Charles Cameron — the Phoenix Field Office of the FBI has already suggested QAnon should be considered a terror threat — now two writers in quick succession suggest it qualifies as, or indeed contains, a new religious movement ]
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I’d like to draw the attention of my New Religious Movement (NRM) friends and those working on extremism to three recent posts concerning the QAnon conspiracy as a new religious movement:

  • Adrienne LaFrance, The Prophecies of Q
  • Marc-André Argentino, The Church of QAnon: Will conspiracy theories form the basis of a new religious movement?
  • Marc-André Argentino, There’s a lot that I couldn’t include so I will supplement with a thread
  • **

    The Atlantic article, by Adrienne LaFrance, is the most wide-angle of the three. Let’s start with her rough description of QAnon, pitched to its political side:

    Nine years later, as reports of a fearsome new virus suddenly emerged, and with Trump now president, a series of ideas began burbling in the QAnon community: that the coronavirus might not be real; that if it was, it had been created by the “deep state,” the star chamber of government officials and other elite figures who secretly run the world; that the hysteria surrounding the pandemic was part of a plot to hurt Trump’s reelection chances; and that media elites were cheering the death toll. Some of these ideas would make their way onto Fox News and into the president’s public utterances. As of late last year, according to The New York Times, Trump had retweeted accounts often focused on conspiracy theories, including those of QAnon, on at least 145 occasions.

    What’s interesting about this article, and will be missed by many analysts and other readers because they are blind to religion, is the religious emphasis present from the title, The Prophecies of Q, through the italicized intro, with its subhead “Genesis”, its talk of “adherents” and a “clash between good and evil” and “Great Awakening” that is coming — shades of the “Great Awakening” that Jonathan Edwards was associated with! Indeed, the eschatological (end times) content is even more explicit:

    QAnon carries on a tradition of apocalyptic thinking that has spanned thousands of years. It offers a polemic to empower those who feel adrift.

    and:

    “There are QAnon followers out there,” Shelly said, “who suggest that what we’re going through now, in this crazy political realm we’re in now, with all of the things that are happening worldwide, is very biblical, and that this is Armageddon.”

    Too, there’s the suggestion that QAnon effectively comprises a system of belief, enshrined in the closing, one line paragraph:

    You know all this because you believe in Q.

    And the next day, the Atlantic took things a declarative stage further, heading a note:

    QAnon Is a New American Religion

    **

    Okay, QAnon Is [according to the Atlantic] a New American Religion. But Marc-André Argentino‘s approach is more tight-focused: he actually attends “ekklesia” [roughly, here, “house church”] services with strong QAnon content over a period of a couple of years, and reports back:

    What I’ve witnessed is an existing model of neo-charismatic home churches — the neo-charismatic movement is an offshoot of evangelical Protestant Christianity and is made up of thousands of independent organizations — where QAnon conspiracy theories are reinterpreted through the Bible. In turn, QAnon conspiracy theories serve as a lens to interpret the Bible itself.

    Here are a couple of samples:

    At a service held on April 26, Wagner and Bushey spoke about a QAnon theory, called Project Looking Glass, that the U.S. military has secretly developed a form of time-travel technology. Wagner suggested to e-congregants that time travel can be explained by certain passages in the Bible.

    On May 3, the theme of the QAnon portion of the service was about COVID-19. Bushey spoke about a popular QAnon theory that the pandemic was planned. (There is no evidence of this.) And when an anti-vax conspiracy theory documentary called “Plandemic” went viral , the video was shared on the HCW websites as a way for e-congregants to consume the latest in a series of false theories about the coronavirus.

    **

    The QAnon ekklesia Marc-André Argentino attended is called the Omega Kingdom Ministry, and quotes Q:

    It’s going to be Biblical

    — where Biblical is intended both literally and metaphorically — enormous!!

    This is emphasized in large letters on a greenboard reproduced in Argentino’s subsequent twitter thread, which is also used for four panels explaining the parallels between the Biblical Passover and “Passover II” associated with QAnon, of which I’m reproducing on here:

    The rhetoric here, “For as Benjamin Netanyahu is to Israel, so shall this man be” is nicely reminiscent of Romans 8:14, James 2:26, and [forgive me] I Corinthians 11:12, “For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman>”

    **

    Whether or not the entire QAnon movement as a whole can be considered a NRM [New Religious Movement], there certainly exists within it an ekklesia and ministry.

    NRM scholars, as well as FBI agents and other terrorism analysts, should keep their eyes on the QAnon phenomenon.

    5 Responses to “Coronavirus meets QAnon – conspiracy, terror threat, new religion!”

    1. Jean Rosenfeld Says:

      thanks, again, charles for your advance notice of a developing hybrid of urban myths/conspiracy theories, new religious movements–evangelical derivatives, and the trump movement.
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      there is so much now exploding on the web that it takes an army of researchers to notice and compile the data. what is the common thread is something i’ve been paying attention to for decades–apocalypticism. some believed that it retreated after the year 2000, but that does not happen historically, because apocalyptic time, as john r. hall is currently revealing and theorizing about, is not congruent with ordinary time. as with virus infections, there are prodromes and sequellae. we are in the midst of a heightened apocalyptic anxiety, for solid reasons, and the proliferation of scriptural interpretation that speaks to that anxiety is to be expected.
      .
      jean

    2. Sally Benzon Says:

      QAnon is an active and established force that cannot be ignored. I know a couple who are practicing Buddhists and yet have gotten hooked as believers of “Q”. How they were manipulated is something I have a hard time wrapping my head around. The hate of Q is so antithetical to Buddhist practice, yet they don’t see the hate that is part of the foundation of “Q”.

    3. Charles Cameron Says:

      Quite how someone would get from Buddhism directly to QAnon I don’t know, but I can imagine a route between the two via the movie The Matrix.
      .
      Let me explain. Suppose your friends saw the Matrix, they might well identify it as a quasi-Buddhist metaphor. After all, Sam Littlefair, the Lion’s Roar writer who regularly captures Buddhist echoes in aspects of pop culture, took a look at The Matrix last year, and among his comments you’ll find:

      The Matrix itself is humanity’s self-constructed illusory prison of the mind — a handy metaphor for the Buddhist concept of samsara.

      and:

      Neo, the hero played by Keanu Reeves, is the film’s bodhisattva-in-training.

      I’m not a huge fan of The Matrix myself, but I can easily see it as a politically neutral if not left-leaning vehicle that’s fairly compatible with Buddhism.
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      Then, as a Buddhist who sometimes thinks in Matrix terms, you run across this thing called QAnon which, intriguingly enough, uses the Matrix framework, with its red and blue pills, to explain current affairs — which interest and concern you, but you find confusing and out of control, particularly out of your personal control. Scary.
      .
      So you transition from The Matrix to QAnon, as earlier you transitioned from Buddhism to The Matrix. I’ll let a Guardian writer explain the feasibility of that transition:

      There are essentially two ways of looking at the film: 1. The world as you know it is a lie. 2. The world as you know it is changeable. The first way is narrow and pessimistic, but it explains why the notion of “red-pilling” has become so popular in the far right, which seeks to recruit new members by showing them the ugly truth about their environment. When you can persuade someone that their assumptions and perceptions are wrong – that everything they know is sanitized propaganda – they can then see things through an entirely new lens, one helpfully provided by the red-piller. This is how grand unifying theories like QAnon take root.

      That doesn’t explain the conspiracist mindset — but at least it provides a route from Buddhism to QAnon.
      .
      Sam Littlefair, Buddhism and “The Matrix”
      Scott Tobias, The Matrix at 20: how the sci-fi gamechanger remains influential

    4. Sally Benzon Says:

      Charles, thank you so much for your reply. Very thoughtful and detailed. I really appreciate. And, yes, I think that is what happened with this couple. Interesting that you mention Sam Littlefair’s attention to Buddhist echoes in aspects of pop culture. I call it Buddhism by Starbucks. (One of the most pernicious misinterpretations is the insistence on “being positive”. ) I’m sure that this couple has taken some of the aspects of Buddhist teaching that are named, and yet not actually meant to be understood as fixed and concrete forces — such as the Guardians of the Law. What is still so striking to me is the about turn from love and mercy to absolute justice. Anyway, when in doubt, I am always reminded, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, nothing shall be impossible unto you.” Which according to how I heard Pastor Stewart recite it, meant also that we must remember the very small from which we come, and only by carrying the humility of our beginnings can we rightfully take on the larger conditions of calling in our lives.

    5. Charles Cameron Says:

      Thanks, Sally — happy to be of service.
      .
      Sam Littlefair is pretty upscale as coffee houses go IMO. I’d be happy to take a cappucino at his place.
      .
      : )

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