I think I've grasped QAnon for the first time
I've been writing about it over the last year and I finally understand why it's so hard to leave
I’ve had a lot of people writing to me asking me to talk about what’s going on in QAnon-land right now, post Biden’s inauguration.
I wasn’t going to, because I hate all of it so much. But then I remembered the time I was in their shoes, too — and then this newsletter came spilling out.
If you want to share it — this is the link: www.webworm.co/p/belief
Looking at the faces of QAnon believers this last week or so has been rough as all hell.
Over at QAnonCasualties on Reddit, the stories come thick and fast:
“My dad is completely broken after losing my mum to Qanon despite living so far away from America (New Zealand) and previously having far left views. He continues to blame himself for not realising her exploring these conspiracies sooner and not intervening sooner. I don't know how to convince him that it’s not his fault…”
“Here I am at 80, a recent widow and mother of a precious daughter who has spent the last two years immersed 4-5 hours a day “doing research” on what is really going on in the world. Globalists vs nationalists, good vs evil, her recently acquired vocabulary. She is married and mother of four teens…”
“My wife has been following the trump and QAnon stuff closely for the past few months. I had no idea what it really was until the last couple of days. I asked if she’d consider that it was all BS if Biden was inaugurated and Trump left office and she said for sure but now I realize she was just 100% convinced it was going to happen. She had a short period of sadness and confusion. But now is right back at it…”
People are right back to it, alright. The fact their fictional universe in which Trump got another term didn’t come to fruition didn’t matter.
They just… pivoted. Changed the dates. Moved the goal-posts for their perceived “rapture”. I know this, because I’m in a bunch of Telegram channels being fed stuff like this. This group alone has hundreds of thousands of views.
“The wait will soon be over.” But it never will be.
Because QAnon is a belief system people have fallen into, and they can’t just switch it off. QAnon gave people structure, hope and something to do each day.
It was a worldview they placed over every aspect of their lives — and it made their lives make sense. There was a goal to work towards.
It gave them a higher purpose. It was the right thing. They could help people. They could convert others and make them see the light.
It gave them community, hope and a place to worship.
Their belief was their identity.
Life was better with QAnon because life made sense.
Why the fuck would you leave that behind?
I’ve felt exactly what they felt. It was around 18 years ago now, maybe more.
Because Christianity was a belief system I’d fallen into, and I couldn’t just switch it off. Christianity gave me structure, hope and something to do each day.
It was a worldview I placed over every aspect of my life — and it made my life make sense. I had a goal to work towards.
It gave me a higher purpose. It was the right thing. I could help people. I could convert others and make them see the light,
It gave me community, hope and a place to worship.
My belief was my identity.
Life was better with Christianity because life made sense.
Why the fuck would I leave that behind?
For ages, I didn’t. No way, not a chance, don’t be insane.
This belief was my way of living and existing in the universe. I couldn’t imagine experiencing life in any other way.
But things started to slip in my reality. The reality as I believed it — and the reality in front of me — started to diverge.
The more people I met and the more things I learnt, the more little things started to nag at me. I met a Jewish girl at university, and it occurred to me that according to my belief system, she was going to hell for all eternity. Didn’t make sense. Filed it away.
I realised I was probably bisexual but I couldn’t act on it because that was the worst thing I could do. Didn’t make sense. Filed it away.
And I started to feel like I was going a little bit insane. Two worlds, happening at once. The thing I’d believed since a kid, and the world I was experiencing. Somehow, both had to remain true, while at odds.
The world as I saw it didn’t align with the world that was happening. My biology and my environment was telling me the opposite to what I believed.
I couldn’t drop the belief, because the belief was me.
So, I made some adjustments to stay sane. I dropped little elements of it. Maybe heaven and hell weren’t literal places — maybe that was metaphor and a more convoluted poetry. Maybe the earth wasn’t 10,000 years old. Maybe God used evolution to create. He was guiding it.
Gays were still bad though, very bad, unnatural. But a certain part of the human population seems to be born that way? And the animal kingdom too? No, no, nope. No way.
I adjusted and I juggled. And yet reality still nagged.
I bought a lot of books about how to keep my faith while not. I devoured Jesus for the non-religious. And things kept dropping away, but I still believed the core stuff — so I was fine. I had never been wrong about my belief… I just had to adjust some things. No reason to be embarrassed.
What else was I to do? Who was I without my belief?
With all this in mind, I watched this QAnon believer speak just before Biden’s inauguration — and just after it. His internal reality and the reality he’s just experienced have parted ways. I know that feeling. I remember it oh-so-well. It fucking sucked.
I was there, for years.
And plenty of people are there now. They will do anything to retain the belief system that makes the world, and their place in it, make sense. Not just Q — a lot of beliefs. Better to keep them than to throw them away, because that would make us wrong; duped; embarrassed.
Eventually, the duality of reality vs my faith couldn’t battle it out anymore, and I walked away.
I started to find out who I really was. Took ages to come out of my shell. It opened me up a world I never dreamed was possible — new friends, new experiences, a new life.
To be clear here — I’m not doing a Ricky Gervais and saying I know all the answers and everyone should drop their religious beliefs. But I had to drop mine. And I know how hard that journey was for me, personally.
In a way, I appreciate going through all this — because I totally get the mental gymnastics QAnon adherents are experiencing. I feel empathy for them.
I hope that one day their internal reality shifts to fit what is actually happening. It’s less stressful and there’s less mental juggling.
And they’ll realise the thing they assumed had made them free was actually trapping them the entire time.
I found this article hugely insightful - how QAnon cements people's loyalty through the same psychological tactics used by game makers https://medium.com/curiouserinstitute/a-game-designers-analysis-of-qanon-580972548be5
David! I also identify as a recovering evangelical and didn't realize you had a similar departure from faith. I hadn't really connected the two experiences before reading this, so thank you for encouraging empathy. It was a terrifying time in life where I didn't feel like my feet were on solid ground, and I'm sure this is how a lot of people are feeling right now during Biden's first week. Thanks for the perspective.