In the three weeks between January 6 and January 20, 2021, I followed the white rabbit, as early Q followers would say. I read QAnon blogs and watched Q-commentators (QTubers). I even signed up for a Parler account. Even in that brief span, I found an alternate reality where the pope was arrested amid blackouts in several countries, and the US presidential election was to be overturned at any moment. The Storm was supposedly upon us. Again.
Whether QAnon is a religion, a cult, a joke, a political movement, or just an online game gone awry, Robert Guffey‘s Operation Mindfuck: QAnon and the Cult of Donald Trump (O/R Books, 2022) is his attempt to figure it all out. Guffey’s pedigree in this area is unmatched. His first book, Cryptoscatology: Conspiracy Theory as Art Form (Trine Day, 2012), explores every conspiracy theory out there. Here’s a prescient line from Cryptoscatology: “In the modern day digital environment truth is as malleable as viscous liquid. You can’t make up anything that won’t come true a few minutes later.” Ever since Q emerged online in 2017, he’s been trying to figure out the appeal, the movement, and its meaning. His efforts are all chronicled in Operation Mindfuck.
Where cognitive dissonance is the default state of mind, QAnons’ frequent refrain of “Do your own research!” echoes that of Behold a Pale Horse author William Cooper. Cooper was viewed as a “P.T. Barnum-style huckster” in UFOlogy and conspiracy circles alike. Guffey quips, “Compared to QAnon, William Cooper was Buckminster Fuller.” (p. 29) Tarpley Hitt writes in The Daily Beast, “There’s an aspect of QAnon obsession that resembles demented literary criticism: every current event encoded with hidden meanings, global criminals desperate to signal their crimes through symbols, millions of messages waiting for the right close reader to unpack them.”
Another problem is that there are coded messages in the QAnon mythos. Figuring out which ones are messages and which ones are just junk is open to interpretation. Throughout Operation Mindfuck, Guffey follows Theodore Sturgeon’s advice he quoted in his book Chameleo (O/R Books, 2015): “Always ask the next question.”
“Before the internet, believing in a conspiracy theory took work,” writes Mike Rothschild in The Storm Is Upon Us: How QAnon Became a Movement, Cult, and Conspiracy Theory of Everything (Melville House, 2021). “You had to know which dank bookstore to patronize and which gun show or truck stop was selling the hot new anti-Clinton video, or find the right shortwave radio broadcasts about UN storm trooper invasions.” The spread of QAnon benefited not only from the internet in general but also from social media in particular. Couple the high-speed transfer of information to foment fears with the lockdown amid a global pandemic, and you’ve got the conditions to galvanize a paranoid conspiracy of the worst kind.
Conspiracy theories are spread online through shared texts as their adherents rally around allusions to those texts. The hidden knowledge allows these groups to communicate with each other out in the open without alarming others or stirring up ire or opposition. So-called “dog whistles,” these allusions, often embedded in innocuous memes, are shibboleths shared by members and ignored by others. QAnon has largely shared references to their own rumors and accusations, but other texts like William Luther Pierce’s The Turner Diaries Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and the Luther Blissett Project’s novel Q are also touchstones.
The phrase “Where we go one we go all” (often displayed as the alphanumeric “WWG1WGA”), falsely attributed to JFK’s yacht, was actually inscribed on the bell on the boat from the 1996 Ridley Scott movie White Squall and is spoken by several characters throughout the movie. The noose from January 6th, aside from its regular connotations, is also a reference to the mass hangings of race traitors in The Turner Diaries (see pp. 160-169). Rothchild writes, “The idea of a popular uprising against the government carried out by armed patriots is copied from the seminal 1978 white supremacist novel The Turner Diaries, where it’s given the Q-esque name ‘the Day of the Rope’.” “6MWE,” which stands for “Six Million Weren’t Enough,” an obvious reference to the Holocaust, could also be a reference to the antisemitism in The Turner Diaries, specifically the Jewish response to the Organization destroying their embassy on page 121: “Weren’t six million enough?” On the possible connections between the Q of QAnon and the Q novel, Luther Blissett member Wu Ming 1 says, “Once a novel, or a song, or any work of art is in the world out there, you can’t prevent people from citing it, quoting it, or making references to it.” For better or worse, this is the world of image boards, memes, and movements.
Q “created an alternate universe online where people can cocoon with like-minded believers who swiftly attack opponents, and wave away uncertainty with calls to trust the plan and hold the line,” Rothschild writes. “Ultimately, the problem with far-right conspiracies is not that there is a critical mass of people stupid enough to believe them,” adds Tom Whyman, “but that people want to believe them, because reality, such as it is, has come so radically apart from their desires.” And, as Eugene Gallagher writes, “politics in its highest expression becomes identical with religion.” Weaving cryptic messages into a larger tapestry of meanings is one of QAnon’s unfortunate strengths and trying to decipher them is one of its adherents unfortunate weaknesses. Drop your Adrenochrome research, and look up apophenia.
Here’s one more quotation that reads like a description of QAnon tactics: “It’s very, very subtle stuff, changing words and giving them a whole new meaning–it creates an artificial reality. What happens is this new linguistic system undermines your ability to monitor your own thoughts because nothing means what it used to mean.” That’s from Walter, a former Scientologist. The similarities between QAnon and Scientology are as striking as their differences.
Given better leadership, a little more time, and tax-exempt status, QAnon could’ve been the next grand scam. Thankfully it doesn’t look like any of that is going to happen.
Gallagher, Eugene V., “God and Country: Revolution as a Religious Imperative on the Radical Right.” Terrorism and Political Violence, 9(3), September 1997, 63–79.
Guffey, Robert, Chameleo: A Strange But True Story of Invisible Spies, Heroin Addiction, and Homeland Security, New York: O/R Books, 2015.
Guffey, Robert, Cryptoscatology: Conspiracy Theory as Art Form, Springfield, OR: Trine Day, 2012.
Guffey, Robert, Operation Mindfuck: QAnon and the Cult of Donald Trump, New York: O/R Books, 2022.
Hitt, Tarpley, “How QAnon Became Obsessed With ‘Adrenochrome,’ an Imaginary Drug Hollywood Is ‘Harvesting’ from Kids,” The Daily Beast. August 14, 2020. Retrieved from https://www.thedailybeast.com/how-qanon-became-obsessed-with-adrenochrome-an-imaginary-drug-hollywood-is-harvesting-from-kids
MacDonald, Andrew (William L. Pierce), The Turner Diaries. Charlottesville, VA: National Vanguard Books, 1978.
Reitman, Janet, Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2011.
Rothschild, Mike, The Storm Is Upon Us: How QAnon Became a Movement, Cult, and Conspiracy Theory of Everything, New York: Melville House, 2020.
Whyman, Tom, “Apocalypse Later,” Logically. January 26, 2021. Retrieved from https://www.logically.ai/articles/apocalypse-later