I usually write about conspiracy theories, not for conspiracy theorists. This one is different. This is a piece for people who have been part of the Q Anon movement. Specifically, the people who are beginning to get tired of its endless empty promises, and are starting to get skeptical.
(For everyone else, if you aren’t familiar with Q Anon or the promises he’s made about December 5, here is a concise overview. And here’s a little background on some specific ways Q’s predictions have failed, and how it ties in to other conspiracy theories.)
So here we are again. Q and the Q Anon community made a lot of promises about #D5, and then nothing happened. Just like when he predicted that Hillary Clinton was about to be extradited, or that Trump would lead a huge military parade, or that martial law was going to be imposed. And the response is going to be the same as it was all those times: First, Q and a few true believers are going to urge everyone to “trust the plan” and make more vague promises about how the pain is surely coming any day now for those damned Democrats. Second, they’ll go back to his vague, mumbled promises and try to connect them to whatever news they can find from the 5th to manufacture the appearance of an accurate prediction.
This time, if you weren’t already aware, Q and his most dedicated followers have been predicting Big Things for December 5. Exactly what Big Things depends on what and how much you read between the lines of his choppy little nuggets; Q mostly stopped making specific predictions after a series of embarrassing failures. He learned the lesson of horoscope writers and started making vague, open-ended predictions, so that no matter what happens he can always go back and claim to have predicted it. But people wouldn’t pay attention to Q if he didn’t promise apocalyptic drama, so whatever you think he’s predicting, it’s supposed to be a big deal.
So it’s no surprise that Q created a lot of extravagant, impossible expectations. Some people thought that JFK Jr. would turn out to be alive and well, having been fighting the Deep State in secret all this time—maybe even as Q himself. Or Trump would announce that Mueller has actually been playing on his team all along, using the Russiagate investigation as a distraction while secretly investigating Democrats. Or maybe the DOJ would suddenly pull the trigger on 60,000 sealed indictments and start shipping tens of thousands of liberals, Satanists, child molestors, cannibals, Democrats, and/or Jews to Guantanamo Bay, to be tried and shot dead by military tribunals.
But none of that happened on December 5th. I’m very confident about that, even though I’m writing and posting this on the 4th. That’s because by now, we all know that Q is a LARPer. He makes bogus predictions because he doesn’t know what’s going to happen any more than you do. The only difference is, he’s figured out a good scam for getting attention and being crypto-famous. Instead, we’ll get lots of excuses about secret maneuverings delaying things behind the scenes, and true believers demanding that we all Trust the Plan and stop asking why Q is always wrong.
I won’t pretend that I was ever a Q believer. I’m a skeptic who studies and writes about conspiracy theories. But what I’ve seen over the last year is a lot of people drifting from the Q camp towards the skeptic camp. They wanted to believe in his fire-and-blood predictions, but got tired of the inevitable disappointments. And so the odds are, even if you were ever on the Q train, you’re a doubter now. And why not? How many times does a self-declared prophet have to get it wrong before you’re allowed to realize he’s just making it up as he goes along?
So I thought I’d share some thoughts for people leaving the Q camp—a leaflet to grab on your way out the door.
You got scammed. You didn’t just wake up one morning randomly believing that a secret agent man was airing the Deep State’s dirty laundry through staccato fortune cookie-sized blurbs and childish rhetorical questions. The person or people behind the Q account scammed you by lying to you. The victims in this story are the people who fell for Q’s lies and spent their time, energy, and even money on bogus promises. (Yes, money. A lot of people are making money off of Q merchandise. The people posting as Q are probably making some of it. If they aren’t, well, this wouldn’t be the first time someone ran a scam to get attention rather than cash.)
There’s a reason you got scammed. Time for some serious self-reflection. The Q scam isn’t a good scam. He’s making some very silly predictions, and predictions that keep failing. When the rest of the world pointed and laughed at Q believers, it turned out that they were right and Q was wrong. So why did you keep believing when it was obvious to everyone else that Q was lying? That turns out to be a hard and interesting question. The answer is not that you’re stupid. Smart people fall for dumb scams all the time. In fact, a lot of people think that smart people are more likely to fall for dumb scams, because they’re able to construct better, more credible justifications for believing something they want to be true. I can’t explain why you personally fell for the scam, because it’s different for every believer. But based on how the human mind works, it probably had a lot to do with Q’s secret weapon: the community of Q believers. People like you helped sell the Q scam to you, and if you participated actively in that community, you probably made it more credible to other people in turn. That means…
You might have helped scam others. Q on his own is just another anonymous hoaxer, yelling gibberish into a crowd. It’s the Q Anon community that made that gibberish stand out from the background noise of nonsense on 4chan. That’s because we listen to the people in our networks much more carefully than we listen to strangers, and we believe them more easily. Sometimes that means friends and family, but it also applies to the people you interact with on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, or whatever other social media blackens your desk. Random ranting on 4chan doesn’t move the needle for many people, but once a few of them start sharing it… and then a few of their connections start sharing it… and a few of their connections start sharing it… well, sooner or later you have people believing that the Army is about to round up Democrats. If you’re exiting the Trump train, you were on the receiving end of this game of shouty nonsense telephone. But were you also a node who shared it with others? If so, do you have any portion of the responsibility for misleading them? I couldn’t answer that question for you—I can’t even make you think about it. But it is worth thinking about.
Not everyone will get out. Look at the Q Anon movement today. It’s still full of people—although less than there were at the beginning of the week—claiming that whatever hit the headlines proved his prophecies to be true, and demanding that everyone Trust the Plan and WWG1WGA, forever and ever, amen. It’s a lesson in how the brain works. It doesn’t matter how much evidence there is proving that Q is making it up as he goes along; for some people, the pain of admitting it was a hoax is greater than the pain of believing in that hoax. The costs of believing are less than the costs of reconsidering, so they won’t reconsider. When you see the die-hard Qists trying to keep the movement running, what separates you from them? How were you able to pull your head out of the rabbit hole, and why haven’t they? Again, I can’t answer that question, and again, the answer’s going to be different for everyone. And again, this is still something that’s important to think about.
This isn’t the last scam. The hardest point is last. Earlier I said that even, maybe especially, smart people fall for dumb conspiracy theories. And that’s true. But it’s also true that people who fall for conspiracy theories like Q will keep falling for conspiracy theories. There are lots of explanations for why that’s so, some of which are probably right. But even if we don’t fully understand why it’s true, we all know that it’s true. And that means that you, dear ex-Qist, are very likely to fall for some new conspiracy theory before long. That’s one reason why it’s worth thinking about how you got out of this one, and why the dead-enders didn’t. The “mental hygiene,” or good habits of skepticism and reasoning, that it takes to question Q Anon are also good defenses against getting tricked again. But not perfect defenses, not by a long shot. So maybe the best takeaway here is simply to remember, and really believe, that you can be fooled and that you have been fooled in the past. (And yes, that applies to everyone. I’m a conspiracy theory skeptic, and I try to remind myself all the time that I can be fooled and that I have been fooled in the past.)
So what lessons do you think people should take from the Q Anon hoax? I’d love to hear your thoughts, here or on Twitter.