QAnon: The Language of Hatred and Conspiracy Theories

Manasa Sriram

Image 1: People Cheering at a Donald Trump Rally

QAnon has come to gain notoriety across the globe as a pro-Trump political cult centred around the propagation of conspiracy theories. The most widely propagated of these theories rests on the claim that the world is run by liberal elites and celebrities engaged in child sex trafficking. Needless to say, QAnon’s activities have been met with mockery and ridicule; ironically, however, this has only served to engender an exponential growth in the cult during the pandemic, with its reach transcending the borders of the United States of America. In fact, the digitally birthed movement made headway into mainstream politics with its victory of Majorie Taylor Greene’s1 House seat in Georgia in the 2020 national elections. Thus, while shaming has often been an effective strategy by which the international community has condemned deviance from the normative order, in the case of QAnon, an international response by way of mockery has further strengthened the cult and its growth in membership. 

Its evangelist and mythical aspects notwithstanding, QAnon’s activities are premised upon the notion that the world is endangered by “deep-state actors”2 whose omnipresent, liberal nature threatens the standing of the rightful subjects, the non-liberals. An analysis of such a theoretical foundation reveals two explanations for the paradoxical growth of the cult, especially during the pandemic. Firstly, QAnon and its members are already situated in a position of insecurity with regard to the general public. Thus, shaming only serves to reinforce their claim of victimhood, and in doing so, provides legitimacy and strength to their resistance. Secondly, aiming to circulate hate against liberal thought, the narratives of the cult’s theories are framed in the language of the existing normative order not just to construct an image of victimhood but also to define QAnon’s status as the ‘rightful’ and ‘moral’ citizen who needs to reclaim their nation during a period of turmoil.

In characterizing the threat of child sex-trafficking as their primary focus, the QAnons have centered their discourse around propagating hate towards the political left, albeit based on a non-partisan issue that is of concern to everyone. Having effectively cashed in on the hopelessness and insecurities3 of people over persistent and horrific threats of rape and abuse, QAnon has appealed to the emotion of hate that is not targeted towards a particular ideology, but to the perpetual human fear of pain and injury that is experienced in the socio-political status-quo. To elaborate further, we must examine the relationship between emotions and identities. 

Explaining this relationship, Sara Ahmed writes in her work titled Affective Economies, “in such affective economies, emotions do things, and they align individuals with communities — or bodily space with social space — through the very intensity of their attachments.”4 Entangling their identity with that of the nation, QAnon’s appeal to the fear and insecurities of people aids in its expansion as it provides a ready-made target for such people to exhibit their hatred towards  – the liberal subject. While the actual perpetrators of national uncertainty may not be identified, this easy exit helps these people to reduce their fear of uncertainty and abuse. Thus, the subsequent narrative that is generated reproduces their followers’ identities as normative subjects who are injured; simultaneously, the others – the liberal elites and celebrities – are transformed into bodies of the hated through the discourse of harm and injury. As Ahmed notes, this hate is not static, it is economic and “circulates between signifiers in relationships of difference and displacement.”5 It is this constant non-residence that makes it binding among people. 

The discourse relating to above-mentioned hatred originates from the framing of QAnon’s position as a party which is injured and marginalized by the left-wing. Thus, it follows that shaming and mockery are not effective methods to curb their outlandish arguments and actions, for they only reinforce their claims of being injured; by encouraging QAnon’s claims, its support and growth is strengthened rather than hindered. Furthermore, in employing the language of the status quo as a strategy by which to focus on identifiable issues such as child abuse, QAnon has utilised the rhetoric of fighting the moral battle of ‘good’ against the ‘evil’. It is this entangling of the identity of the individual with the collective identity of the nation to which the group owes its fame – that is, its characterization of the identity of each member as the moral and rightful citizen who reserves the right to their home, their nation. Thus, QAnon’s forward march is focused on the objective of supposedly reclaiming its status as representing the ordinary subject fighting grave injustice and victimisation. 

Emotions are excellent motivators of political action; the utilisation of tactics of shaming to curb the growth of QAnon’s ideology and movement is prone to backfiring as it furthers their angst and legitimizes their hate-filled claims. Bringing into the halls6 of Congress an online movement that has inspired real-world violence, it is the need of the hour to reconsider our strategies of resistance to blatant idiocy and baseless conspiracies backed by the sentiments of hatred. 

Manasa Sriram is a 2nd year student of Political Science and International Relations. Her interests lie in exploring the intersectionalities in global political affairs and hopes to pursue a career in the field of public policy.

Footnotes

  1. Rosenberg, Matthew. “A QAnon Supporter Is Headed to Congress” The New York Times, 3 November 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/03/us/politics/qanon-candidates-marjorie-taylor-greene.html
  1. Wong, Julia Carrie  “Qanon Explained: The Antisemitic Conspiracy Theory Gaining Traction Around The World”, The Guardian, 25 August 2021 https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/aug/25/qanon-conspiracy-theory-explained-trump-what-is.
  2. BBC NewsNight. “QAnon: The conspiracy theory spreading fake news” YouTube video, 08:58. 23 July, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8Gd9MJsnnE
  3. Sara Ahmed, “Affective Economies”, Social Text 22, no. 2 (2004): 117-139, doi:10.1215/01642472-22-2_79-117.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Rosenberg, Matthew. “A QAnon Supporter Is Headed to Congress” The New York Times, 3 November 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/03/us/politics/qanon-candidates-marjorie-taylor-greene.html

Bibliography 

  1. Rosenberg, Matthew. “A QAnon Supporter Is Headed to Congress” The New York Times, 3 November 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/03/us/politics/qanon-candidates-marjorie-taylor-greene.html
  1. Carrie Wong, Julia. “Qanon Explained: The Antisemitic Conspiracy Theory Gaining Traction Around The World”. The Guardian, 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/aug/25/qanon-conspiracy-theory-explained-trump-what-is.
  2. BBC NewsNight. “QAnon: The conspiracy theory spreading fake news” YouTube video, 08:58. 23 July, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8Gd9MJsnnE
  3. Ahmed, Sara. “Affective Economies”. Social Text 22, no. 2 (2004): 117-139. doi:10.1215/01642472-22-2_79-117.