PRINT October/November 2020



Graphic from Vinctum’s YouTube video “Future Proves Past—Project Looking Glass,” 2020.

IMAGINE SOMEONE with “Q”-level security clearance in the American federal government joining an online message board’s anonymous hordes to post allusive crumbs of insider intelligence about Donald Trump’s plan to crush the “deep state.” And imagine that this Democrat-controlled shadow government comprises bloodthirsty, adrenochrome-addicted, sex-trafficking pedophiles obsessed with flaunting their vices through a symbolism both totally pervasive and curiously inscrutable. Can you conceive of plots involving secret connections between tweets and George Floyd’s death and a premeditated operation to harm Trump’s reelection campaign—all revealed via a relentless campaign of literary drops phrased in an interrogative and coyly insinuating voice? Have you clocked the sinister parallel between Hillary Clinton’s statesmanship and Alice in Wonderland? Is it possible that in this “greatest military intelligence operation of our time,” Americans have met a prophet to prepare them for the coming storm that will finally drain the swamp?

Imagine! Many have, as if they were one mind, or one person in many people, and none contented. The prolific Q appeals to an aggrieved demographic pining for returns—of John F. Kennedy Jr., for one—and absolutions. Across a morass of material—first appearing on October 28, 2017, on 4chan’s infamous /pol/ board, then migrating to the alternative 8chan before it evolved into 8kun—the QAnon narrative collages American conspiracy literature’s greatest hits of the past seventy-odd years into a contemporary mythic LARP of mistrust with a runaway cult following and a demonstrable trail of violence. At the time of this writing, no fewer than twenty-four congressional candidates in the 2020 general election have endorsed or paid lip service to the conspiracy.

Now that you’re terrified, let me offer consolation: QAnon is a joke. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make its long game of postmodern chaos magick any less dangerous. This is the latest iteration of the lulz agenda, following from the Great Meme War of 2015–16—the alt-right deployment of Pepe the Frog to influence Trump’s election—and the leftist hacktivist Anonymous’s radical trolling operations circa 2008–12 (all offspring of 4chan). In spite of this subcultural root, Q’s mysterious slogans and thematic motifs are often overt, traceable references to mainstream sources. Its rallying cry of “Where we go one, we go all”—abbreviated to #WWG1WGA—is taken from the 1996 Jeff Bridges adventure movie White Squall, directed by Ridley Scott.

All the fact-checking in the world isn’t going to dispel this diseased strain of creative nonfiction, and ignoring it won’t make it disappear either. We’re too far gone. The Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a London-based think tank, issued a report this past July documenting the significant traction QAnon and related conspiracy theories gained online during the global lockdowns in the spring and summer. When it comes to parsing the influence of anons, the critically minded among us become bewildered characters trapped at a never-ending tea party, mired in a contretemps where it’s impossible to either snub the grossest trolls present or sincerely engage with them. The appeal of QAnon lies in the sheer volume of and urgent pace of its updates, written in a supremely oblique and withholding style that invites our exegesis, welcoming an audience into a ritual performance of authorship and interpretation. Q’s posts exemplify and exploit the paranoid style in American politics, that old, preexisting condition of mistrust and persecutory embattlement. But the dispatches of this apocalyptic bard essentially take place in medias res; Q is concerned with the present tense while alluding to a broad time line of nefariousness—not unlike the structure of a Greek epic poem, written down as but one variation of a common narrative.

To fixate on the question of Q’s identity would be, in the conspiracist’s parlance, to chase a false flag. And a group curiously close to Q would likely say the same: the leftist Italian literary collective Wu Ming, a pseudonym translating to “anonymous” or “no name,” which was formed in 2000 as an outgrowth of Luther Blissett, a nom de plume for the same circle of coauthors. In 1999, Blissett published Q, a historical-adventure novel set during the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation that follows an anonymous Anabaptist radical as he is pursued around Europe by Q, a Roman Catholic spy. In a December 2002 essay posted to its website, Wu Ming declared, “We are interested in ﹡mythopoesis﹡, i.e. the social process of constructing myths, by which we do not mean ‘false stories,’ we mean stories that are told and shared, re-told and manipulated, by a vast and multifarious community, stories that may give shape to some kind of ritual, some sense of continuity between what we do and what other people did in the past. A tradition.” This sounds uncannily similar to QAnon’s story for the people. Q often claims that “Future proves past,” setting its readers up to understand time as a circular process, and, in a sense, it’s not wrong. Time ceases to be progressive in Q’s realm, and on the world stage, ancient crimes and sins are eternally recurring eruptions that must be quashed anew by righteous armies in recycled costumery. Anyone with a taste for devotion and a capacity for faith is a potential conscript. Someone, somewhere, is laughing their head off at their joke, having inflamed all sides in a war for what’s true and who’s accountable for it. No need to bother with guillotines when heads are already lost. And here fall the rest of us down rabbit holes that never end, while others await the longed-for storm, not realizing they have drowned beneath its waves.

Paige K. Bradley is an artist and writer; she is the editor of “The Selected Crumbs of QAnon,” broadcast on Montez Press Radio last year.