QAnon? – what it is and why it matters

JVL Introduction

The rise of antisemitism on the right in the US is now cause for grave concern. It is being amplified by the casual support given to it by Donald Trump.

In this article, first published in Forward on 28 July and recently updated, Michael Janofsky explores the antisemitic conspiracy theories put out by QAnon.

QAnon is a conspiracy theorist whose postings concoct a mishmash of conspiracy theories about government fraud, evil Satanists and more. But most worrying is QAnon’s followers who, as Janofsky puts it gently, “do not like Jews”.

We also publish an extract from David Livingstone Smith’s “The anti-Semitic backstory of QAnon”, subsequently published by Forward, about conspiracy theories and antisemitism from mediaeval times in Europe.

This article was originally published by Forward on Tue 25 Aug 2020. Read the original here.

Just how anti-Semitic is QAnon?

Officials at the Republican National Convention dropped “angel mom” Mary Ann Mendoza from the speakers’ list after The Daily Beast discovered she had retweeted the antisemitic conspiracy theories put out by QAnon.

QAnon is a conspiracy theorist whose postings concoct a smorgasbord of conspiracy theories, like Satanic child-sex trafficking rings, ritual murder of children and the overthrow of the government by a “deep state.”

The tweet Mendoza enthusiastically shared with her 40,000-plus followers accused financier George Soros, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, of being part of an “international cabal” that has controlled every president from John F. Kennedy until Donald Trump. The same tweet also praised “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a turn-of-the-last-century Russian hoax whose fictitious account of an international Jewish cabal has stoked antisemitic attacks for over a century.

Mendoza apologized and claimed she had no idea the QAnon tweets were antisemitic.

All of which raises the question: just what or who is QAnon, and is QAnon antisemitic?

Open QAnon’s current home base, a platform called 8kun, and it becomes immediately clear that it’s not just QAnon raising eyebrows in these freighted political times. It’s also QAnon’s followers. Many of them clearly do not like Jews, as reflected by their responses to the hinted-at conspiracies that build on traditional anti-Semitic tropes.

Reading just a few of them and it becomes evident they blame Jews for ills of the world, dating back thousands of years. These days, they hold Jews accountable for controlling governments, mass media, Hollywood, international banking, the coronavirus and working to bring down the presidency of Donald Trump. And some openly appear to incite violence: One poster volunteered to kill Soros at QAnon’s behest.

“Q inherently is not a violent ideology,” said Vegas Tenold, an investigative researcher at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. “But there are a lot of underlying issues here, and you might argue that Q is a catalyst. Given how massive QAnon is now, posting about government fraud, evil Satanists, things like that, I’m surprised there isn’t more violence.”

QAnon – and nobody knows if it’s a person or group – has been at it now more than three years, drawing the attention of Trump himself, who has retweeted dozens of posts from his supporters that echo QAnon conspiracies. Besides Greene, at least 10 other House candidates have expressed support for QAnon.

Tenold contends that QAnon, the poster, “is not explicitly anti-Semitic, but any old conspiracy theory has elements of ani-Semitism. When you see references to a global cabal or a global deep state of elites, these are clearly associated with Jewish control by elites, bankers and globalists — all elements that smack of anti-Semitism.”

How anti-Semitic are QAnon followers? A search engine known as QResear.ch provides tools to find everything posted on 8chan/8kun, its former and current hosting platforms, culled from 14.5 million QAnon data sources. Type in “Jews” as a search term and it generates more than 86,000 retrievable posts. But don’t read them. They’re not nice.

“And who goes to sites like 8chan?” said Joseph Uscinski, a professor of political science at the University of Miami who specializes in the intersection of mass media and conspiracy theories, misinformation, and disinformation. “It’s not grandma. These are people who already have unsavory views.”

Not all the comments refer directly to a Q post, and that’s the worrisome part to experts who track online hate and law enforcement agencies. While QAnon posts often take the form of prophecy and unspecified suggestions, respondents are left to fill in the blanks with rationales that hew to their own visions of conspiracy. Many feed on antipathy toward Jews, and that’s a trend that experts say has been growing over the last three years.

“The whole phenomenon is worse, largely because of encouragement by politicians who engage in conspiracy theories, particularly President Trump,” said Uscinski. “When more elites like the president are doing this stuff, that’s bad, and that’s dangerous.”

Several recent events demonstrate the inciting power of QAnon even some with no direct link to anti-Semitism:

The man accused last year of killing one person and injuring three others at the Chabad in Poway, Calif. near San Diego, had posted his intentions on the same platform used by QAnon. A heavily-armed Nevada man was arrested on terrorism charges in 2018 for blocking the Hoover Dam. He said he was on a QAnon mission involving Hillary Clinton’s emails. A Staten Island man who embraced QAnon conspiracy theories was charged last year with killing a mobster whom he believed was part of the “deep state.”

In April, an Illinois woman with QAnon postings and threats to Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden on her Facebook page was arrested in New York near the Navy hospital ship Comfort, which she claimed to house pedophiles. The Daily Beast reported her asking authorities, “Have you guys heard about the kids?”

Facebook and Twitter, another popular platform for QAnon-related conspiracy theories, have banned QAnon-related material. Twitter last week removed thousands of accounts that spread conspiracy theories linked to QAnon.

Experts say the ban will only encourage posters to migrate to 8kun or platforms with looser restrictions, like gab.com.

One of the first conspiracy theories to take root among QAnon followers was Pizzagate, which derived from claims that hacked emails from Democratic officials suggested high-ranking Democrats were involved in a child sex ring run out of a pizzeria in Washington, D.C. A man from North Carolina believed it and traveled to the restaurant with a rifle to intercede.

While not directly tied to anti-Semitism, it opened the door to Q followers to discuss their own conspiracy theories, such as the ancient charge of a blood libel, a centuries-old belief that Jews killed Christian children to use their blood in religious rituals.

“There’s something about using children that enables fear and anger to spread more quickly than facts,” said Holly Huffnagle, the American Jewish Committee’s U.S. Director for Combating Anti-semitism. ”With a child sex trafficking ring, you can see how a conspiracy theory can be used against Jews for the blood libel.”

To QAnon followers, she said, “there’s something about the connection to children that makes it anti-Semitic.”

Wealthy Jews is another popular subject that lends itself to anti-Semitic conspiracies. This, from 8kun, is representative: “In 1 Century, Zionist Jews took control of Russia, China, and the United States. and Financial Control of many other countries.” And another: Jewish Cabal Infiltration at Every Level of Our Society made possible by: >$$$MONEY – rothschild’s Banking Monopoly OWN the power to Create Money out of Thin Air.”

References to “Rothschilds” are frequent and a convenient shorthand for Jewish control of, well, everything. The Rothschilds are a wealthy and politically influential Jewish family with roots to the 18th century and the long-time subject of numerous conspiracy theories, including an alleged role in creating a “New World Order” that would erase nationalities and enslave humanity.

In his 2011 book, “Conspiracy Theories: A Critical Introduction,” Jovan Byford quotes researcher Michael Barkun saying, “Ever since the nineteenth century, the Rothchilds, who combined Jewishness, financial wealth and international connections, have been the epitome of the international Jewish conspiracy. The family name continues to feature in conspiratorial narratives to the present day.”

Soros is another favorite target. As a wealthy Jew who has given millions to progressive causes and Democrats, he personifies to conspiracy theorists the notion of a globalist, elitist banker who controls the world, making him a constant punching bag of the fringe right.

Now 90, he has been accused of being everything from a Nazi collaborator– he was not– to anti-Semite to funder of any number of nefarious international schemes.

Among more than 44,000 posts on 8kun that mention Soros is this one: “The reason George Soros hasn’t been arrested could be because he has too many companies that if arrested they will revolt and I believe that will shut down a LARGE portion of the U.S.A., but it might be worth shutting down the U.S.A just a little bit more then the lockdown we are experiencing just to get this ‘Cockroach’ off the world.”

The poster who volunteered, online, to assassinate Soros wrote, “Hey Q

“Just give me the Word

“Will Take out soros and his Minnions.

“Just need a few of my fellow Vets and some AMMO Claymors, etc. “We will get this shit done and over with so everyone else can live happy.

“Am Ready Willing and Able.”

Just as Q’s identity continues to be a mystery, the size of QAnon Nation is a guessing game. Overall, the search website has identified nearly 15 million posts from QAnon-related sources on 8kun. But that does not reflect the number of individuals posting.

“Most Americans don’t know what QAnon is,” said Huffnagle. “But it’s growing in numbers. Many don’t even know what Q is promoting, but they want to be a part of it. It’s community. It gives their lives meaning to the reason for why things are happening.”

Some QAnon followers are showing themselves in ways beyond cyberspace. Trump rallies have attracted supporters holding large “Q” signs and wearing QAnon t-shirts.

And a rising number are running for political office.

In one of Marjorie Taylor Greene’s videos, the Republican House candidate is holding an automatic pistol and warning Antifa “to stay the hell out of northwest Georgia,” her district. In other videos she denigrates Blacks, Muslims and Jews, accusing Soros of being a Nazi collaborator.

Greene, who is running in a solid Republican district, is a true believer in QAnon. There are at least 11, including Greene, as Congressional candidates, all of them Republican.

Most are longshots with only a slim chance of winning. But Lauren Boebert, who beat a five-term incumbent in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, and Greene, the favorite to win the Georgia 14th seat in Aug. 11 runoff, are strong favorites to win in November.

In one of Greene’s videos she praises Q as a “patriot who very much loves this country” and “is very much pro Trump.” In another, from Politico, she points to “an Islamic invasion into our government offices” and suggests that “gangs have held down generations of black and Hispanic men,” encouraging them to deal in drugs and forego an education. “Not a white person thing,” she says.

KochPAC, the political action committee of Koch Industries, which had given the Greene campaign $5,000, was so disturbed by her views that it requested the donation be returned.

In a recent television interview Boebert was asked by Ann Vandersteel, a Florida-based commentator and QAnon disciple, if she thought QAnon was “a bad thing.” Boebert said, said, “I hope this is real because it only means America is getting stronger and better and people are returning to conservative values.”

Whatever the size and reach of QAnon culture, the periodic incidents of violence incited by QAnon is raising alarm among federal agencies.

Last summer, the FBI office in Phoenix office identified conspiracy theories as a domestic terrorist threat, saying, “Anti-government, identity-based and fringe political conspiracy theories very likely motivate some domestic extremists, wholly or in part, to commit criminal and sometimes violent activity.”

An FBI agent in California said in an interview, “When life is threatened we’re very concerned.”

Given the country’s current political climate — a virus claiming a record number of infections and deaths, rising unemployment, a weak economy and persistent racial animus— that can’t bode well for Jews.

“The Jewish community does best with a stable government,” said Huffnagle of the AJC. “Conspiracy theories flourish when government is unstable, and leadership has run amok. People feel disenfranchised, like their votes don’t count. We’re seeing all that now, and it’s scary.”

This story was updated Aug. 26 to reflect breaking news.


 Extracts from “The anti-Semitic backstory of QAnon

David Livingstone Smith, Forward, 2nd September 2020

The anti-Semitic components are not incidental. QAnon may have started in 2017, but its ideology resonates with much older anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, the modern American face of an age-old and very dangerous ideology.

The story begins at the tail end of the twelfth century, when Jewish communities in the Rhineland were slaughtered by marauding crusaders. Their position worsened during the 13th century, and then took a catastrophic turn during the 14th century when the Bubonic plague pandemic raged across Europe.

Jews were accused of spreading the Black Death in a plot to overthrow Christian civilization. Violent persecutions followed in the plague’s wake, especially in Germany, where thousands of this already marginal group were burned to death and whole communities snuffed out of existence.

During these centuries, Jews were increasingly demonized and thought to be literally in league with Satan. As historian Norman Cohn writes, “however helpless individual Jews might seem, Jewry possessed limitless powers for evil. And already then, there was talk of a secret Jewish government — a council of rabbis located in Moslem Spain, which was supposed to be directing an underground war against Christendom.”

Jews, it was said, ritually sacrificed and cannibalized Christian children, draining them of their blood which they then mixed with matzoh dough for the Passover meal.

By the 19th century, these narrative strands had been woven together into the theory that a secret cabal of Jews — the “Elders of Zion” — controlled the fate of nations. This theory found its most toxic expression in a notorious book, the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” first published in 1903. The Protocols purported to be the record of a meeting of the Jewish “deep state,” at which they discussed their plans for world domination.

A few decades later, Nazi ideology breathed new life into these tropes. The demonic Jew was reborn as the Untermensch, the subhuman adversary of German civilization. Jews were represented as inherently depraved, and their depravity included a penchant for pedophilia. An illustration from the Nazi children’s book “The Poison Mushroom” shows a grotesque and menacing Jewish man offering candy to two blond youngsters, Hans and Elsa; the book explains that the Jewish character has been offering Elsa sweets, inviting her to come along with him, and not to tell her parents, and concludes with a ditty describing Jews as Satanic child abusers: “A devil goes through the land/ The Jew he is, known to us all /As murderer of the peoples and polluter of the races/The terror of children in every country!”

Jewish ritual murder, too, played a large role in Nazi propaganda. Julius Streicher, the editor of the influential gutter-press newspaper Der Stürmer, devoted a special issue to it in 1934. Hitler had it suppressed after an international outcry, but Streicher insisted that the outcry proved that international Jewry would stop at nothing to conceal their murderous and cannibalistic practices from the gentile world.

Hitler described Jews metaphorically as blood-sucking creatures, and often spoke of them draining blood from the German Volk. Others followed suite. For instance, political theorist Carl Schmitt drew on images of ritual murder and cannibalism when he wrote in 1938 that “the Jews stand by and watch how the people of the world kill one another. This mutual ‘ritual slaughter and massacre’ is for them lawful and ‘kosher,’ and they therefore eat the flesh of the slaughtered peoples and are sustained by it.”

You can hear the echoes of QAnon in all of this. QAnon may seem to be merely a bizarre, even laughable, delusion. But history shows us that there are circumstances in which groups with such beliefs can move from the margins of political culture to its center, where they have devastating consequences.

Read the full article here.

David Livingstone Smith is the author of “On Inhumanity: Dehumanization and How to Resist It.”

Comments (3)

  • JanP says:

    Thank you JVL a really useful article for understanding the history and reincarnation of the anti Jewish myths. Some parallels with anti Gypsy and Traveller myths about child kidnapping and hidden wealth, only on a much larger scale. Hard to know where to start to counteract it or understand the spread.

  • James Martin says:

    There is also significant overlap with the anti-vaxxer/anti-Bill Gates/Covid is a hoax loons around Icke and Piers Corbyn (who said recently that trade unions are ‘evil’). You can see some (but so far not many, it’s mostly those without strong labour movement history and links) of the Corbyn left being pulled into this crap, attracted by it’s superficial anti-establishment/anti-MSM lines. At some point the centrists will pick up on this and the AS around it and it will be yet another stick to beat the left as a whole with.

  • RC says:

    Why not start with the anti-Gypsy/Roma/Travellers myths, which are regularly repeated by the Daily Mail and by John Lord Mann as well as other LP members? Provision for GRT people is grossly inferior to that provided for the ‘settled community’; they are frequently traduced, regularly persecuted and occasionally firebombed. Now Patel is threatening GRT people with confiscating their homes if they trespass – ie try to find pitches which it used to be a legal duty for local authorities to make available. Ealing Council boasts of its unwelcoming environment vis a vis GRT people.
    As far as I know only one LP member has even been suspended for vicious anti-GRT incitement; Lord Mann by contrast was rewarded with a peerage and the accolade of ‘AS Czar’ – what grotesque irony.

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