It would seem fair to say that the US hard right is not having a great time at the moment. The wonderful Twitter account @copingMAGA is keeping a record of all the craziest, angriest, butt-hurtiest comments as Trump’s army come to terms with the failure of the January surprise — its belief that Joe Biden’s inauguration would be the moment when Donald Trump called in “the storm” and hundreds of progressives would be executed for their pizza-based paedophilia conspiracy. Hey, why were the fences there? Why all the troops?
Hardcore MAGA and QAnon types have since revised that expectation: the storm will now occur in March, the original date of inaugurations as laid down in the constitution. But they’re a dwindling bunch.
For many of the Q army, the whole conspiracy has come apart in an instant. “So it was all a hoax” is the tenor of many comments. It’s the disappointed tone of people who always knew at some level that it might be — like a great party with celebs and free booze that turned out to be a rumour. Ah, but the getting there was fun!
That is one reason why QAnon became so vast and all-encompassing, and why it never resolved to a simpler statement of power but became steadily more baroque in its specificities. If you’re going to commit to a conspiracy, you want it to be the best one ever, a whole alternative world to get lost in.
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Many of the Qsters appear to have begun as straight Trump fanatics. What attracted them to him was the simplicity of his pitch. He was going to fix everything, only he could do it, Americans would be “tired of winning”. The tortuous complexity was all on the other side.
Q emerged — almost certainly as a hoax by a small group at the core of the 8chan/8kun netherworld — and caught on as MAGA began to falter. The factories didn’t arrive, the wall didn’t get built, Hillary didn’t get jail. The foreign policy was confusing — Trump schmoozed up to bad guys more than Obama did — and the genuine improvements in the local economies of “flyover country” didn’t amount to a visible transformation. Mom still worked at the diner; the tyre factory never reopened.
Q can’t have been for everybody in the MAGA army, but its reach is astonishing given how wilfully, surreally, at odds with rationality it is. We have become accustomed to its viability, though none of us would have believed it possible if told in 2015.
Yet why not? Trump’s campaign was a distinctive hybrid of business hucksterism and the occult hard rightism supplied by the likes of Steve Bannon, a devotee of the European beliefs that modernity itself is a product of conspiracies by abstract enlightened illuminati. The Q creators, taking a hint from Bannon’s populism, gave their conspiracy an all-American gloss.
QAnon is a hand-cracked, crowd-sourced version of the grand conspiracies in the great 20th century American novels: Gaddis’s J R, Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. But it’s also the culmination of a half-century of popular conspiracy roaring out of the ’50s: UFOs, shadow agencies, JFK, phantom hitchhikers, the Bermuda Triangle, every pulp-printed book with raised cover lettering bought off a bus-stop spinner-rack. It’s The Da Vinci Code done by Mad magazine, with the vast Walmart-aisle sprawl of American crap providing the raw material.
Q sprawls, aggregates, proliferates on a single plane, a series of interlocking concrete mythemes. No one part of it organises any other. Q sets its followers photo riddles (“Have you worked it out yet?”) that drift into numerology and out again to decades-old true-crime obscurities. It’s equal and opposite to the cultural forms of the elite, which are relentlessly hierarchised.
Many Q followers are middle-class and have degrees, but together with those lacking that they marshal mythical knowledge against the intersecting systems of control laid across everyday life: that culture has been stolen, and technoscience — what is presented as most rational — is utterly mysterious.
To the news that Hillary and Chelsea Clinton are producing a streaming series about Kurdish woman freedom fighters, what can one say but is Congress running a child sex ring from a pizza parlour?
Yet the overwhelming feel of the Q conspiracy is of something running out of steam, as actual Q “drops” have fallen away since the election, and attempts to build from what remains runs on fumes: the inauguration was staged because Kamala Harris allegedly swore the oath on a purse; John F Kennedy Jr is not dead, is Q, and has taken control of Space Force, which will enact “the storm” etc.
A convenor of 8kun has suggested people go back to their ordinary lives, and so on. Since Q was a steered, collective psychotic break, a mass waking dream, that may be more straightforward than it seems. The building of Q across a mass web of co-interpreters — mining Q for meaning, as Bitcoin is mined by maths — mirrored an individual’s dreaming; the non-conscious synthesis of disjunctive elements into an (internally) coherent story.
On the one hand it breaks, as a dream breaks on waking. Yet in the political realm, it leaves the remains of the day. For those on the US hard right who drew their politics from more established and rational, if noxious, sources of white supremacism and ethno-nationalism, the dissolution of Q may be not unwelcome.
For many of the harder right, many of the Q people will have been exactly the sort of deluded carbs-n-YouTube types that they disdain as lumpen America. They will hope to have recruited a few, as Q’s focus on elite Satanism transformed easily into conventional anti-Semitism, but they may also welcome the clarification afforded by the demise of Trump, whose capacity and will to push through a real cultural revolution proved lacking.
For stalwarts of ethno-nationalism and beyond, the fall of Trump may prove an opportunity to build out their organisations with smaller numbers of more hardened and committed people — “winter soldiers” in it for the duration, energised by being in opposition, their mission clarified by such.
The Biden administration, with its centrist core and progressive minor players hiding under the wings, looks to the left like a shabby compromise, but to the right like a Trojan Horse and progressivism’s breakthrough victory.
The assumption that everything will go back to normal ignores the hard-right perspective that history has landed them in the utterly abnormal, and they must tend the tiki flame until the forces of rightness can rally.
Such eras are a call to resistance, guerilla activity, martyrdom and atrocity, and it seems quite possible that a new and more violent phase may begin in which right-wing force comes from the very opposite of the manically networked Q subculture, but from groups willing to go offline, or be online behind clever facades, to practice patience and focus.
Formally speaking, one could see a potential historical mirror on the US right, of the Western radical left in the late 1960s when the failure of mass movements — especially the more carnivalesque ones — led to strategies of small-group armed struggle and eventually to wilful atrocity as a historical “acceleration” strategy.
Although many are keeping an eye out, post-Q, for new Christchurch killers, there is a third possibility: hard-right Charlie Hebdo-style massacres visited on “traitorous” leftist groups — violent actions with contained aims and focused impact as a continuation of the global social war, ceasing to mirror its expansive sprawl, instead swimming as fish within it.
As with everything at the moment, history is an incomplete guide. We may be in a period in which media, image and network so outpace “society” that there is no longer a clear path from the spectacular to action.
If so, the remnants of Q may go the other way; dissolve into a post-political religious movement, explicitly supernatural.
I wouldn’t bet on peace though. The right are not very happy at the moment, and some will be determined to share the misery.