In Our Own Backyard: QAnon, Cults, and Conspirituality (part 4: Theatre, Grift, or Passionate Belief?)

Q-swag, image from Glamour Magazine

PART FOUR: Theatre, Grift, or Passionate Belief?

ALEX: Right, and something similar with Tucker Carlson when somebody sued him for libel — the defence was that nobody should take his program sincerely, because it’s obviously it’s just a performance, it’s a mockery. And yet it’s presented on the Nightly News as this pundit telling the truth.
DE: aware.
ALEX: Yeah, it’s a good question, the grifting — with QAnon — and certainly there are grifters there. I think the fundamental individuals who are pushing QAnon — Q himself/herself their self — are aware of the grift. I think QAnon as an entity is this organic thing, everybody’s fooling one another into this gigantic delusion; but I think at its core, there is a grift where the individuals are well aware that there are fundamental lies being popped into the equation here and there, to spread, for a reason, but we won’t know that really until a bit more revelation about Q comes out.

DARSHAN: So I think that this the way that I would frame this is that people have a of them that is all in and 100% passionate. Like I said before when they engage in real life with what’s happening, there’s a dissonance and an incongruence that happens, and that’s sort of uncomfortable. So it’s easier to be congruent when you’re online and you’re in your… persona, almost like your avatar. So I think that there isn’t really anyone that is doing it in an ironic way — apart from the grifters — but …
DARSHAN: Both! It’s the same sort of question with so many cult leaders. It’s like, are they aware of how messed up what they’re doing, is or has their narcissism really blinded them to their delusions of grandeur. So with these people in these positions, they often have the kind of personality where they like the Messiah, and that’s what their followers believe of them. So do they really believe that about themselves? or are they 100% in it for the grift and realize that cultivating that persona is what enables them to continue having a following? My belief is that it varies, leader to leader, but I think that usually it’s a combination of both; so it kind of gets into that idea again that we all have different parts of us. So a really great example is Keith Ranieri of the NXIVM cult. That’s really popular right now. He’s someone to look at that is, I think, most of the way there with understanding what he’s doing and the position of power that he’s in, but I suspect sometimes he does cross over into this alternate persona, this place of really or partly believing that he is a superhuman figure.
ALEX: Yeah, a lot of cult researchers suggest that when we are in a cult, there’s a part of our mind that operates in the cult mind mode, but we still always retain our essential self.
DARSHAN: So there’s like the cult self and the authentic self.
ALEX: Yeah, and when cult ideas or information comes into play, that cult aspect of the mind takes over — takes over the stage show of the body, and is the one that’s communicating and blocking information or expounding on this or that. But always somewhere behind all that, there’s this other part of them that goes about the day-to-day and remembers what life was like before they believed things like this; and we can have a communication with that side, or we can bump up against the cult personality. So I think to a large degree, a lot of the people who are in QAnon, does of them wholeheartedly believe it? No, I don’t think so, but I think they have a part, a personality within them that’s just absolutely all in and trying to drown out the doubt of the other parts of them.
DARSHAN: And getting access to the part that has the doubt is very difficult, and pretty much everyone that comes out of a cult says “There was a part of me that really doubted all along.” But there are very specific techniques that cults use to make sure that people don’t listen to that part. Like phobia indoctrination, we mentioned that before, and another one is . So if you come up to someone who’s in QAnon and you say, “You know, this is not true because of ABCDEF, how many failed predictions are there going to be before you start thinking that maybe this isn’t true?” It’s like these thought stopping techniques kick in — this is true when we get confronted in general, as human beings, with something that we don’t like: we become defensive. We’re not operating with a normal willingness or capacity to look at different perspectives. And it’s especially true when people are really in what they call a sealed social system of control — like mind control situations. So when we try to address people directly with facts and figures and you know, “How on earth did become a Trump supporter?” it’s not going to work, because you’re engaging with their cult persona. So you have to try to engage with the part of them that is their authentic self, that you knew before they got into the cult. You have to start to ask them questions where they think for themselves. As soon as you can see them starting to think themselves, that’s what’s going to actually create change and help… even if you’re just planting tiny little seeds. But you have to do it in this way. That’s very non-defensive — and it’s difficult to do this.

DARSHAN: There are different kinds of cults; and I think a lot of cult experts consider MLM to be like a Business Cult. So I actually grew up in a family that did MLM, so I have quite a lot of familiarity with that way of thinking. And I tried to do it for a while, and the way that it impacted me was very much similar to stories that I hear of people who are in cults. There’s a lot of blaming yourself if you don’t do well in the business, so there’s never any sense of accountability for the organization itself — or in the case of a cult with a leader, there’s never any accountability for the leader. It’s always something wrong with the participant. But that’s not really what you were asking… I would say yes, the grift element is there with QAnon. We just recently found a website that was called Red Pill Living, that we thought was pretty apropos. So, I think it’s an MLM. They’re selling all kinds of nutritional supplements based on like… getting red-pills. So, you know, they have like a melatonin product that they call Sleepy Joe Biden or Sleepy Joe or something like that. And all the different products are based on all this language around QAnon —
ALEX: — and there’s a lot of individuals who are promoting books and whatnot, who are obviously wanting the QAnon myth to survive and working hard after the explosions of January 6 — where a lot of people left the camp — needing to keep it alive, trying to find other stories in order to sell their books. But I think a lot of the grift really is in self-promotion more than merchandising. We have this new phenomenon where with Instagram and whatnot, you need a certain number of followers in order to be making some money off of those platforms. And using the tag lines from QAnon like “where we go one we go all” —
DARSHAN: — or “save the children” —
ALEX: — or The Great Awakening… you put those hashtags on there and all of a sudden —
DARSHAN: — you go from like, you know, 500 followers to like 20,000 followers. It’s very tempting for a lot of people to start adding that on; and then as we know as human beings when things are going well for us, it’s more incentive for us to start believing also in what we’re teaching. So some people might be doing it just for the grift at first, but then a lot of them probably start believing what they’re selling. But I would say yes, the influencing side of it would be more the real grift than selling merch for example, although that is a thing too. They make money off of merch.
ALEX: But I think that the grift really here, when it comes down to who ever has been currently role-playing as Q, is a political one — driving driving us to the right, making fascism palatable.
DARSHAN: Making Fascism Palatable; I’d say that would be the tagline for QAnon.
ALEX: For political purposes. A lot of other Cults have been apolitical; most of the big cults tend to support right-wing leaders, but it’s only because the politics of the right tend to be more permissive towards churches, and not taxing the churches, and allowing for religious freedoms and whatnot. But this is one where the actual of the cult was to empower a particular leader in mainstream secular politics, so it’s different in that way.
DARSHAN: In general the alt-right seems to be a lot better at weaponizing this kind of disinformation campaign in order to manipulate people to come on side. The left is not as good at it and don’t seem as willing to do it. So right now a great example is, people aren’t really talking about the insurrection so much because they’re too busy talking about Dr. Seuss. So when Dr. Seuss wrote about when people were getting concerned about environmental concerns, then the conservative right was basically like let’s cancel Dr Seuss! They couldn’t stop demonizing Dr Seuss when he was a tree hugger. But now as soon as Dr. Seuss Enterprises wants to pull a few obscure books that had racist tropes in them, the right goes nuts about censorship and cancel culture. They will take something that normally you wouldn’t even think about too much, not a big deal. But they’ll take it and they’ll sensationalize it and they’ll make it in order to create a diversion away from some of the more extreme things that are going on right now… such as looking at some of the information that’s coming out about the Insurrection.
DE: Wave-the-red-flag distraction tactics are getting quite sophisticated at this point.
DARSHAN: And taking issues that are really non-issues… like I don’t care about having bathrooms that include trans folk. Like would I care about that? Why would care about that? Very few people would actually care about that, but it has become this huge talking point because it’s a way to sensationalize things. It’s kind of like the hijab effect in Quebec when they were putting all the attention on the hijab in order to distract us from other issues. These are things that people wouldn’t normally care about — because because progressives are really fighting for . That’s mostly what progressive causes are about, and the alt-right and the conservative right, they want to stop a lot of that. So they’ll take things that really aren’t a big deal, make them huge. and then people will start getting really upset about cancel culture this and censorship that … and all of this kind of stuff even grabs people on the left and start talking about it instead of looking at things that are actually real human rights violations, that the alt-right is perpetrating every day.

ALEX: Yeah, exactly that sort of the rallying cry: “Do your own research, think for yourself,” but I think it’s the easy way out. When you’re asking somebody who is Q-indoctrinated, you know, “Demonstrate to me that what you believe is is true,” generally they cannot do that. So it’s so much easier to say, “Well you’ve just got to do your own research. You know, go online and do what I did, spend thousands of hours and get yourself mesmerised and then you will believe.”
DARSHAN: I remember following this one writer who said that she asked so many people involved in QAnon “Just show me, just show me how I can know all the things that you’re saying are true, like And she said eventually what it came down to after asking all of these people was, “You just got to kind of like sit in it for a while, marinate in it for a long time. Until you believe it and follow the memes.” This is what she was told: , that is the way to find evidence to support their their belief system.
ALEX: Yeah, you’re right there.

ALEX: Yes. It’s a faith-based thing.
ALEX: — I feel like it already is —
DARSHAN: I feel like it already is too. Kind of what it is, a combination of a religion and a political cult.
ALEX: And I think it will evolve into something very different, and I think maybe yes, like Seventh-Day Adventists it will deny its origins and become something else. Already after January 6, or even earlier after the election, it kind of abandoned this whole narrative of Rescuing Children, and suddenly it was all about election fraud.
DARSHAN: Showing its true colors.
ALEX: So it just evolves and we’re already seeing so many of these people who were sharing all kinds of QAnon things online six months ago, now they are just doing the anti-vaxxer stuff now or.. Covid is a hoax, anti-mask, Deep State stuff. So it’s evolving, it’s changing, and they are now denying that they were ever part of QAnon and never believed that sort of thing.
DARSHAN: So QAnon used this narrative of the children to hook people in, and then it kind of abandoned that once it realized it didn’t really it anymore. It’s now got all of these adherents and it can use all of these adherents to perpetuate all of these other alt-right messages like Covid is a hoax and anti-mask, anti-vax…
ALEX: So now the children in the tunnels will never be rescued.


Part One: What is QAnon? Part Two: The Narrative, and Susceptibility
Part Three: Among Our Friends
Part Five: Why Worry?

Retired; ex-software engineer. Paleo-feminist. Sailor. Arduino tinkerer. Enviro. Libertarian Socialist (Anarcho-Syndicalist, kinda). Writer. Altermondialiste.