America’s modern Day of Infamy, this most recent January 6, cannot be recalled without recalling the haunting question: Who was really behind it? Trump, himself? The Proud Boys? The Oath Keepers? QAnon?
Surely, QAnon, whatever it is, seems to rise to the forefront as scenarios are rehashed again and again about the principle motivators for the huge assault on the nation’s Capitol that day. Most reviews of the many videos documenting the event reveal it was considerably bigger than many first thought, a massive physical assault and sacking of the nation’s most important seat and symbol of its democracy.
Had a few things turned out differently, it truly could have interrupted the certification of the Electoral College vote that day and could have resulted in a much higher loss of life, including of members of Congress and very possibly the vice president.
For all its seemingly ubiquitous presence in the course of the 2020 presidential campaign and at the January 6 riot, Q and QAnon with all its symbols and pervasive followers amidst the fray, have remained mysterious, with most ordinary citizens baffled by the strength of its following. How can otherwise seemingly rational people believe the certifiably crazy belief system of this cult, even to the point of risking their lives and those of others to act on it?
Its fundamental belief is that a Satan-worshipping cabal of elites who practice pedophilia is running the world from behind the scenes, and that Donald Trump is some kind of divine warrior sent to destroy it. Q him or herself, the belief goes, is some kind of deeply embedded but highly-placed anonymous intelligence operative who sends cryptic messages out through the Internet to swelling numbers of followers.
Two attempts to get at the root of this cult have been made in the past week, including the concluding sixth hour-long segment of a documentary series that aired on HBO last Sunday night, filmmaker Cullen Hoback’s “Q: Into the Storm,” where the identity of this Q figure is ostensibly revealed as one Ron Watkins, who until this point had only been seen as an operative of the mysterious Q’s efforts at posting online messages.
The other was an essay published in Sunday’s Washington Post Magazine by Marisa Meltzer entitled, “The New Age Roots of Q: Masculinity, Spirituality and the Strange Convergence of Counterculture and Hate.”
The former, Hoback’s documentary series that included many scenes of the sacking and tied together events leading up to it that surely linked Trump and key right wing allies like Gen. Flynn, Roger Stone, Alex Jones and Steve Bannon to it, failed for its unwillingness to deviate from its perceived primary goal of identifying who this ostensibly singular person, this anonymous character of Q, actually was, or is.
Meltzer’s work does a much better job at identifying the problem represented by QAnon, which is to scan its core psychological elements and how they turned otherwise ordinary citizens, or so it would seem, into devotees of a completely crackpot belief system.
Over time, it is this pursuit that is most important to our national security and national well being going forward.
Meltzer uses her own involvement in the cults of the counterculture from an earlier period to help her readers grasp how someone could become a true believer in the QAnon world view. She defines one QAnon devotee as a “freedom fighter for Donald Trump…zeitgeist-y, sensitive New Age-guy version of masculinity and something more nefarious…of unlikely connections and strange bedfellows, of mixed martial arts fighters and poets, evangelical Christians and yoga teachers…a hybrid of conspiracy theory beliefs and New Age culture.”
It goes back to the original so-called “men’s liberation” movement rooted in Robert Bly’s 1990 book, “Iron John” that spawned the current heavily bearded aesthetic among some males. She traces its beliefs back to ideas of Gnosticism from the era of early Christian sects.
But the flaw is that it ends there. Myself once swept into a counterculture cult in the 1970s that provided key insights into their workings, the evidence points to a sophisticated psychological profiling cult operation whose roots go right back to the Soviet KGB and Vladimir Putin.
Nicholas Benton may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.