Welcome back to the Trenchant Edges, where we dig through the bullshit of the fringe to find insights worth preserving.
Estimated reading time: 12 minutes, 45 seconds. Contains 2551 words
And emphasis on bullshit today. It’s another Qanon newsletter because I’ve spent way too much of my life tracking this garbage and sometimes I need to vent about it. Content warning today, especially for sexual violence.
I’m Stephen Fisher, your *ahem* humble host and research monkey.
I’m writing this newsletter to my new favorite thing: Dubiously named classical youtube playlists. Music always makes writing better so long as there aren’t any words to understand.
Anyway, on with the bullshit.
When it comes to Qanon there are a few things that just piss me off.
It’s not the fascist underpinning or the backdoor it provides for mainstreaming white nationalism to people who would be otherwise uncomfortable with it in public, those things are obnoxious and evil. But they’re not the rotten heart of what’s wrong with Qanon.
I’m not talking how Q’s predictions have always failed or how Qanon believers mix and match mutually exclusive ideas. That’s mere sophistry and cult shit. Syncretism at its worst, a mere buffet of garbage to pile on your plate.
No, I’m talking about the most disgusting thing about this movement.
Qanon is allegedly about fighting elite pedophiles.
Those people exist.
Thanks to Jeffery Epstein’s hubris about ever facing consequences for his decades of sexual assault, blackmail, and fraud we know some of their names. To pick two at random, Alan “Yet to find a bad cause I’m not happy to champion” Dershowitz and Prince Andrew.
The low-hanging fruit here is to point out that their anti-pedophile messiah himself has a long track record of sexual violence. Donald Trump’s first wife Ivana accused him of raping her in her book, Lost Tycoon. She has since softened that allegation, but it’s joined by dozens of other allegations and many of Trump’s own statements which sure sound like him admitting to crimes.
The two most obvious examples are Trump’s “Grab em by the pussy” line with Billy Bush and the somehow more ominous 2002 comment:
“I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy,” Trump told New York Magazine that year for a story headlined “Jeffrey Epstein: International Moneyman of Mystery.” “He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it - Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”
But no, I don’t even really care about that. It’s the nature of cults to idealize their leaders even when their leaders are awful people.
What I care about is how Qanon believers treat actual victims of sex trafficking.
And I’m not even talking about the more abstract problem of taking energy from helping real sexual trafficking survivors, but actually abusing sex trafficking survivors who challenge their assumptions of how sex trafficking works.
When I first started paying attention to Qanon in mid-2018, it was because I was reading up on the human trafficking industry and saw a bunch of serious twitter spats between survivor-activists and Qanon people.
Since then I’ve spoken to several survivors who have recounted days or weeks of being stalked and harassed by Qanon mobs when they’ve tried to point out holes in the Qanon narrative or recount their own experiences.
The fact is that there are human trafficking networks and they prey on people without social support networks. While I’m sure there are many politicians who abuse people trafficked by such networks, it’s hard for me to imagine any such thing happens around party lines.
There’s no advantage in that kind of partisanship for anyone except for a conservative cult who wants to frame their politics as an ultimate good vs evil.
And let’s be real, the longest-serving Republican Speaker of the House was Dennis Hastur a convicted serial child molester.
Or the allegations against Alabama Supreme Court Justice and failed US Senate hopeful Roy Moore.
Politicizing child abuse only serves to protect abusers.
We know the formula that enables it: Men with public positions that give them public respect that’s “above reproach” and lots of access to kids. And enough wealth backing them that victims are scared to come out for fear that their lives would be ruined and nothing would happen anyway.
Doesn’t matter if that wealth and status come from being a billionaire philanthropist, a politician, or a priest. It’s endemic to patriarchal hierarchies whether they come in the form of cults, religions, or political parties.
The most famous of this class of abusers are Catholic Priests. But Baptists are *FAR* from immune to the exact same shit.
Sidenote: I cannot recommend this podcast because it’s devastating, but if you want a deep dive into the depths of corruption and outright evil of the Catholic Church, journalist Crash Berry’s Devils and Dirtbags is an excellent case study.
That said, just thinking about it has my eyes watering and my skin crawling with rage. I’ve never run into a piece of journalism that made me cry and want to scream as much as this podcast. Just from the sheer quantity of unnecessary harm and trauma inflicted on whole communities by the people allegedly protecting it.
My usual cynicism was no defense. The last work to hit me this hard was Harrit Washington’s superb book Medical Apartheid.
Speaking of Pedophiles
There’s another contradiction at the heart of Qanon that’s impossible to ignore.
The issue of platform.
Specifically, if you’re looking for people to join your fight against pedophilia, as Q supposedly was, why would you post your pleas on 4chan?
In case you don’t know, 4chan has a long history of being a haven for pedophiles sharing pictures and discussing their fetish. Now, that’s not the entire site. Only a few boards would put up with it. But for a long time, it was still a website where you could go get child porn if you wanted.
Why go there?
Q supporters would make vague noises about free speech, but that doesn’t even partially track. There are tons of platforms with minimum censorship that don’t put up with child porn.
Even Alex Jones, himself a right-libertarian cryptofascist, would have been DELIGHTED to spread Q’s message. And it probably would have grown faster than slumming on the chan boards would allow.
Granted, without building the web of social decoders it would also have burned out much sooner.
Actually, I’ve got to stop giving Alex any benefit of the doubt. I just googled about it and apparently that piece of shit sent child pornography in the legal documents he sent to the parents of the Sandy Hook victim’s legal team.
It’s honestly amazing how often fascists and their sympathizers do this, “Accuse the other side of doing the same crimes you’re doing” shit. And I’m going to avoid going into the Libertarian Party’s long history of fighting age of consent laws. Real heroes there /s.
So, Alex Jones wasn’t a good option after all.
I’m just going to admit I fucked that up and move on.
This situation gets considerably worse after Q moved from 4Chan to 8Chan and later 8kun. See, those latter two websites are run by Jim Watkins. Who’s Jim Watkins, an army vet turned Philippines ex-pat turned porn baron.
Jim made his fortune selling uncensored photos to Japanese businessmen and broadened his porn empire from there. He’s repeatedly hosted and profited from child porn websites, by his own admission and domain logs.
Watkins’ life story is too convoluted for us to discuss at length here but the point is he’s at minimum a child porn profiteer, a pig farmer, and a guy who’s repeatedly stolen control and ownership of websites other people have built.
He’s a real piece of shit is what I’m saying.
And Q happily moved to 8chan to continue dropping knowledge.
Now, many of the details of Jim’s life were much harder to learn before his involvement with Qanon (and likely control of the Q account) so maybe it didn’t look like a bad idea to jump to his site.
But you know what wasn’t hard to find in late 2017 when Q jumped to 8chan? Child porn, on 8chan.
See a pattern here?
If your goal is to fight pedophiles, maybe you would want to avoid places where pedophiles hang out.
But that was never what Qanon is about.
Why People Joined This Cult
People mostly join cults when they’re unrooted and looking for both community and solutions to some deep problem in their lives.
For Trump supporters in 2017, particularly of the far-right variety, Donald Trump was a problem. See, he was good at making liberals suffer but a ton of his policy promises were slow coming and many never happened at all.
He bombed Syria, didn’t really build the wall, didn’t take nearly as hardline a stance on immigration as he promised, and failed to bring back working-class jobs. Hillary Clinton remains at large to this day.
His long history of fraud and corruption drawing back to the 1980s was made increasingly clear by any number of investigative reporters.
Every emotional reaction starts to hit diminishing returns at some point and for a segment of Trump’s supporters, triggering the libs just wasn’t good enough anymore.
This was especially true on the far far-right, where they were hoping for a God-Emperor Fuhrer and mostly got a third Bush administration or maybe a 6th Reagan administration. Neo-nazi Richard Spenser didn’t support Joe Biden over Trump in 2020 by accident.
Point is, Trump being a nakedly craven, incurious statusmonger is a problem if you wanted to believe he was a good person or trying to help anyone beyond himself.
And while the media was both skeptical and mean to him, there was plenty of extremely valid criticism amongst the cheap shots.
Here I must pause to cringe at my own early smug dismissal of Trump, especially how hard I laughed when the Daily Show’s John Stewart described the Trump Campaign as providing him “Comedy Hospice” for his near retirement. That was smug liberal bullshit and I should have known better.
It’s much easier to run an insurgent political campaign than it is to govern or reform a system.
So if you’re a Trump Supporter in mid to late 2017 you’re going to be looking for a few things:
A reason to dismiss all media criticism of Donald Trump.
An explanation for why Donald Trump behaves so cravenly.
A way to demonize all of Trump’s enemies who take the easy high ground against the bad orange man.
A way to renew your connections with like-minded people
And if you’re chasing the Epiphany Dragon (and who among us hasn’t), you’re also looking for secret knowledge beyond the shrill lies of the mainstream.
It doesn’t take long to see where all this comes into play.
There’s just enough evidence to point towards the half-truths Q is built on to get a person curious and invested in the story.
Early Q drops repeatedly discuss Operation Mockingbird, a CIA plot to control US media to ensure public support of the American Empire. And there’s a TON of evidence that continues.
Fun game to play, see how many former Intelligence Community members now have jobs on mainstream TV news. It’s more than you think! And 100% more than should be allowed. Fuck those people.
You can see the effects of this with how much liberal opposition to the CIA and FBI has diminished in recent years. It used to be obvious that those are bad organizations that do a lot of crimes in dubious support of the American empire.
Now that’s a tough pill for many on the so-called left to swallow.
But I digress.
Slowly, Q drops built a narrative around a secret pedophile ring run by democrats that Trump has been working against for 20 years. Befriending many of its members only to turn on them when The Plan was ready to clean house.
Every time he did something stupid, it was just a ploy. Dilbert Cartoonist Scott Adams is the great case study in this kind of hyperdimensional rationalization. You can contrarian yourself into a pretzel.
And make no mistake, despite his incuriousness, Trump is good at some things. Hell, he has a few skills where he’s among the best in the world. Few can optimize outrageous behavior for media attention better than he can. He’s a fool, sure, but he didn’t become a powerful fool by accident. He’s spent decades doing it.
And you don’t need to be that smart when you have that much practice.
This is the flaw in 99% of the attempts to demean Trump. You can’t nickel and dime a guy successfully using his strategy. His rhetorical strategy is about getting people to support him 100% or not at all. And the only thing that changes that kind of loyalty is a big shock of disillusionment.
And often not even then as the current Q movement demonstrates.
So we can kinda see how the Trump movement was well-groomed for something like Qanon to show up.
Early Q drops focused pretty heavily on Hillary Clinton’s imminent arrest, which soon broadened to a much larger slew of arrests and convictions. Within a week of starting, Q ended a post with:
They never thought they were going to lose.
The calm before the storm.
This was the beginning of what would become an apocalyptic narrative. Soon, the Storm would come and all of the elect’s enemies would be punished. Their faith would be vindicated and everyone would have to admit they had failed.
All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in M̶o̶b̶y̶ ̶D̶i̶c̶k̶ The Cabal.
This is what I mean by the difference between a theory about a conspiracy and metaphysical conspiracism. The latter is a totalizing category: You’re either Us or Them. Good vs Evil.
It’s immensely emotionally satisfying, which is good because that’s the payout for holding onto a delusion.
You might recall a similar edge in UFO Investigator Richard Dolan’s AD: After Disclosure.
It’s also front and center in the fantasy of Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins’ Premillennial dispensationalist best-selling novels, Left Behind.
In fact, this kind of revenge fantasy is a dead giveaway you’re dealing with severe cultlogic. I can’t think of a single time I’ve seen this edge in someone’s work and ended up thinking they’re writing a well-reasoned and researched piece. If you can think of a possible exception to this, let me know. I wouldn’t mind being wrong here.
Even Richard Dolan, who’s far from being a fool, managed to write an entire book about UFO disclosure without once considering the possibility that there are no extraterrestrials and the UFOs were just exotic earth-created technologies.
Imagine the military created a weird way to project holograms at great distances. Being mostly made of light, such a device would easily be able to duplicate any visual feat ascribed to UFOs. Perhaps such technology would bounce back sound waves for some reason, accounting for the Radar contacts.
Point is, I think Richard Dolan is a smart guy but he didn’t even consider that his most basic assumptions might be wrong. Which is foolish.
A bunch of AD would still be true even if all the military secrecy over the last 70s years was just about hiding bleeding edge technology.
It helps to keep an eye out for people with this kind of chip on their shoulders.
Lord knows I used to be one of them and it sucked.
The Greener Grass
It might even be better for Qanon that the storm never comes. Ideals rarely survive the very real challenges of ruling and the revolution they clamor for would accomplish little beyond enshrining a regime exactly like the one they believe already exists.
No meaningful structural change would occur and most believers would be at least as far up shit creek as they are today.
And that won’t stop the core believers from holding to most of their beliefs even if the storm and trump completely collapse as narratives.
You can’t remove information from the brain once it’s there and having been a Q-believer will continue to shape people’s beliefs for the rest of their lives, just as any former religion does.
This is more epistemologically complex than most observers really credit, and even the most Q-skeptical former believers will find themselves unpacking that tangle of ideas for years to come.
And I doubt they’ll be the most common kind of former believer.
Anyway, tomorrow we’ll actually get to the intersection of project management and Q.
See you then.