By Briana Brady, Opinion Editor–
Perhaps you’ve driven over a Chattanooga underpass recently and have seen a tattered banner adorned with the words “Save the Children.” Perhaps you, like me, have had acquaintances share an absolutely baseless and false conspiracy theory on social media in the past few days claiming that 94% of reported COVID-19 deaths weren’t actually due to COVID at all, but instead were solely caused by other health factors. Perhaps you’ve seen posts encouraging people to take off their masks during this “scamdemic” because “freedom is worth it.” All of these aforementioned observations are rooted in a conspiracy theory called QAnon, and before I go any further, I want to be clear: I am more than willing to sit down with someone and have a discussion on fact-based disagreements on political policy matters, but I simply cannot even begin to engage in conversations rooted around baseless conspiracy theories that completely disregard logic, science, and any form of concern for the well-being others.
QAnon absolutely scares me. First off, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of people subscribe to at least some of the beliefs of QAnon, originally posted by an anonymous user on the message board 4chan.
If you aren’t familiar with QAnon’s foundational beliefs, they are summed up by BBC as follows: “At its heart, QAnon is a wide-ranging, unfounded conspiracy theory that says that President Trump is waging a secret war against elite Satan-worshipping paedophiles in government, business and the media. QAnon believers have speculated that this fight will lead to a day of reckoning where prominent people such as former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will be arrested and executed.”
QAnon has also been linked to the debunked “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory that you may have heard of back in 2016, which also centered around Hillary Clinton and resulted in violence—specifically, a gunman opening fire at Comet Ping Pong in Washington, DC.
QAnon’s platform essentially asks its followers to subscribe to a sort of cultish religion that idolizes and worships its leader because he has been made President to save those who subscribe to his beliefs from every member of the “deep state” (or in reality, everyone else who doesn’t agree with him). The measures people might go to in the name of this conspiracy are terrifying to consider, especially given what we’ve already seen come from their efforts to mobilize supporters.
In line with their beliefs that anyone working against Trump is part of the “deep state,” and thus, by default are considered pedophiles, QAnon has somewhat hijacked the “Save the Children” movement against human trafficking for their own promotional causes. QAnon followers have shown up to organized events for the legitimate Save the Children Charity to promote their own conspiracies.
President Trump and his family have promoted and welcomed some of the QAnon theories by retweeting them, including Trump’s son Eric, who in June posted a meme on Instagram indicating support for QAnon. Their public promotion of this absolutely nutty theory is only encouraging its supporters to act on their beliefs, which has already resulted in threats of violence.
Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican in Georgia who won her primary and will likely represent the 14th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, is another high-profile politician who also publicly declared her endorsement of QAnon. Her political platform is based in deep anti-Muslim sentiment and shameless support for the 2nd Amendment (even going to so far as to hold and point automatic rifles while threatening Antifa in her campaign ads). Between Trump and his allies, fringe candidates including Greene, and the spreading of misinformation through social media, this once relatively unknown conspiracy theory has become gained a deeply unsettling following.
While I thought I could trust that any logical and decent person who believes in basic science, data, and human dignity would quickly blow off these theories, I am finding that either people I know aren’t logical, decent folks and buy into this stuff completely aware of how it works and what it means, or perhaps they have instead been pulled in by QAnon’s strategic outreach plans.
One example of QAnon’s ability to spread such falsities can be seen in their sprinkling of misinformation throughout one of the most recent conspiracies they’ve latched onto: the debunked accusation that Wayfair was trafficking children through their cabinet sales. By trying to strategically associate themselves with morally unobjectionable stances (like claiming the trafficking of children is wrong), QAnon has pulled in people who might not otherwise seek out their claims and cause. In the process, they have caused harm to individuals and businesses who have done nothing to attract this attention. It’s absolutely terrifying.
Finally, I want to jump back to my latest QAnon-driven observation: the lies that have been spread about COVID-19 statistics through the organization’s channels. Contrary to QAnon-sponsored statements, CDC data did NOT indicate in its latest regular, public COVID-19 statistics update that only 6% of deaths attributed to COVID-19 were related to COVID-19. Instead, the data shows that for those 6% of all COVID-related deaths, COVID-19 was the only cause attributed to the death. All other COVID-related deaths simply had at least one additional health component attributed to the cause of death.
As the United States is rapidly approaching a death toll of 200,000 due to COVID-19, encouraging supporters and the general public to proudly refused and violate mask mandates in the name of preserving freedom is absolutely disrespectful and shameful. Science tells us mask wearing is one of the best things we can do to control the spread and keep fellow human beings healthy. When we know better, we should do better. Wear a mask. Masks aren’t about you and your “freedom.”
I’m deeply alarmed by the QAnon movement, and I think you should be too. Now more than ever, it is vital that Americans remain vigilant about the information that they’re taking in and sharing with others. Further, it is absolutely crucial that we allow science, data, and basic principles of human decency to guide us forward.
Political disagreements are one thing. We can, and should, have them (civilly and in an informed, educated manner). But QAnon isn’t politics, and we shouldn’t have ever allowed it to infiltrate our democracy. Or what’s left of it.