How do you solve a problem like QAnon?
Supporters of US President Donald Trump, including Jake Angeli (C), a QAnon supporter known for his painted face and horned hat, enter the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo) by SAUL LOEB / AFP via Getty Images)
Organize Right is a regular column on the topic of organizing: How the Right Does It, How the Left Does It, Lessons From Its History And Its Impact On The Present, With Less Punch Than Meander.
It is one thing to suspect electoral phenanigans. It’s another reason to believe Internet randos claims that CIA director Gina Haspel was killed in a firefight to obtain a computer server in Germany in connection with election fraud. Or make public requests to Republicans to detect electoral fraud by boycotting the Georgia runoff so that the algorithm’s subtraction of Republican votes will cause totals in some counties to go negative – the theory is obvious that people, who are smart enough to manipulate elections, are not smart enough to hire programmers who have heard of an absolute worth, or change their own tactics to adapt to those who herald their enemies. Or to claim that a 30,000 pound bomb was dropped on a bunker in Robinson, Maine, killing 50,000 Chinese. Or that 100,000 UN soldiers, including 16,000 African cannibal mercenaries, are training under Russian command in the swamps of Georgia to prepare for an attack on the United States.
Not to be too specific, righties have a thing for believing stupid shit.
We’re not the only ones – Louise Mensch has amassed countless retweets for her breathless announcement in 2017 that Steve Bannon is being considered for the death penalty for espionage, and a Twitter account titled PatriotLouUSA has fooled prominent members of the sphere and has been attributed by some followers with prophetic powers. But no one on the left is as excited or as long with stupid shit as the people on the right. When lefties use stupid shit like happy pee tape rumors, the origins are typically elite lefty circles. Our stupid shit comes from the grassroots, tends towards the implausible and promises soon fame on earth lately: the end of a story in which we win.
This gap exists because left and right are different views and different cultures. Accordingly, lefties have a different failure mode than we do. The right wing failure mode is kook. The left wing failure mode is puritanical. (Puritans tend to be more effective than kooks. Hence, the tendency for members of left subcultures to outdo one another in ideology and punish people who do not share it is quite successful.)
Both sides have a separation between the pro class and the fringe base, but if anything, the Righty pros see the stuff that arouses the fringe base with greater dislike than their counterparts on the left. Puritans who are disciplined and skilled can be more useful than untrained kooks, whose main asset is passion. Because of this, prominent leftists are making use of their puritans, and prominent right-wing extremists smile and nod nervously when their kooks cause chemtrails, hoping they are not afraid of lines in the sky to go out and vote.
There are two concepts that must be discarded. The first is the idea that kook automatically means extremist. It is not so. You can sometimes see right-wing extremist figures trying to recruit the crazier members of the conservative base by appearing at events or posting on social media to defend characters mocked for their madness. History shows that this does not meet the hope of the hard righties. You get some converts, but not masses of them; The attraction to the idea of certain people on white horses does not automatically lead to a longstanding and general support for authoritarianism that outlasts the importance of whoever is currently the captain of fantasy football.
The other side of the coin is the belief in some areas, on the right, that a fancy conspiracy theory is useful as a builder of enthusiasm and morality. Followers of this belief share the philosophy – one could even call it the right-wing popular theory of politics – that energy is not the indispensable requirement, but the alpha and omega of political change, because the side that produces the most energy wins. This belief is particularly common, but not limited to, hard righty types. combative personalities are particularly vulnerable. For example, subscribers to this theory might say, “I don’t care if QAnon is real: it keeps people ENERGIZED and builds enthusiasm.”
But energetic and enthusiastic about what? Suppose you are a great admirer of General Flynn. One day, General Flynn tells everyone who follows him to take to the streets. Okay, now you’re out on the street: what are you doing? You are not on a fantasy street. You are on a specific street in your city. Which road do you choose What do you do when you are there Whatever it is, it will certainly not have a coherent or strategic goal. Forget about adapting to changed conditions. There is no local hierarchy, no chain of command, not even language councils for consensus building. The only source of General Flynn’s orders is his social media, which – as long as it’s not disturbed – is broadcast to everyone in the world at once.
This isn’t exactly an effective way to take direct action, let alone let people know the storm is coming™
The reality is that energy is nothing without structures and habits. Movements that focus on stoking energy don’t do much because they aren’t trying to build structure and when they do they don’t work well within them. Energy alone is enough! And energy arises by itself! Victory is inevitable, supporters of this theory roar, often just before they lose.
Leftists, especially radicals, do two things differently: they investigate cases of “energy” rising up to learn how to fuel and nurture it, and they focus on building or taking over organizations or institutions that can be used in lean times Providing stability and energy can initiate times of abundance. Of course, this requires the necessary skills. The right lacks these skills because we don’t train them. So you see that the energy doubles and triples.
It’s easy and fun to taunt people who fall into rabbit holes because of internet conspiracy theories. But being overwhelmed by their fantasies doesn’t mean people are stupid or crazy. People fantasize when they have a need that is not being met. QAnon’s central fantasy is not adrenochrome or cannibal cults or mole children or any of the myriad insanities of fancy dystopia it represents. The central fantasy is the idea that * things will get better because someone is going to do something. *
Lefty organizer Lisa Fithian talked about society in general, but she pretty well summed up the outcome of our particular ones: “We think someone else is in power, and so our problems are someone else’s responsibility. When something is wrong, we cannot fix it and always wait for someone else to solve the problem, which leads to resentment, weakness, apathy, or anger. “
The Righty base desperately wants to do something, but doesn’t know how. And that’s because the elites don’t want it to learn. The root of our real problem on the right is that elites and the grassroots want different things. So elites do not train the grassroots and are not trained in how to actually bring about change. QAnon is what you get when a naive, untrained base tries to fill that vacuum. What they fill the vacuum is a story of someone doing something, and the end of the story is a big big WE WILL WIN.
That’s the bad news. However, this is a column about how to do it. How do we fix the situation? Could we even use this to our advantage?
The elite’s solution to the grassroots conspiracy theory is the same as the solution for any other grassroots upsurge: if you have to ignore the situation, denounce Kooks, wait and let the energy dissipate. (The elites understand how energy actually works in politics.) This may not work in the best interests of the right at large, but it preserves the elite’s catbird seats quite well. The fringe solution is that mainstreamers and elites should never denounce Kooks and, in fact, use the power they are slowly building up for the purposes of the things that Kooks want. This goes against the basic realities of human nature, regardless of the fact that Kooks are more likely to go too far, put all their faith in a single glorious victory, and then fail. The boring mainstreamer solution is kind of the downside of the fringe solution: Kooks should use their enthusiasm for boring but useful tasks that boring mainstreamers like, such as: B. walking areas and the like. (Reality: The problem with assigning Kooks door knock routes for the candidate you choose is that they are just as likely to try to reach out to QAnon for anyone they encounter.)
Any attempt to contain Righty’s conspiracy theorists and actually make them useful must take into account their real interests and capabilities. And they have it. Many of them are the backbone of America: they have jobs, family lives, and are active in their communities in various ways. They turn out to events and meetings. You are really excited. They are hard workers. You are curious about the world and passionate about making a difference. They are really interested in learning about things that are not immediately obvious. It’s just that they learn them from random YouTube videos because they don’t know how to use PACER to find court records, how to file FOIA claims to get government documents, or how to look up Form 990s to Learn how nonprofits are organized and funded.
… But what if they knew these things?
The kind of people who get into QAnon are unlikely to have big structures and habits. You will never get bored. As Phoebe Courtney, half of the husband-wife Gadfly team behind INDEPENDENT AMERICAN, put it in reference to the 1960s John Birch Society, they are not the way to become “docile district workers.” But if they had the tools and training to actually dig in useful places, some interesting things could show up. It is often noted that the law has a wealth of experts. What we lack are excavators, the dedicated researchers who do the boring job of searching through documents to find messages. But maybe we’ve always had them – they’re just naive and untrained. What if we trained, empowered, and let go of them?
People turn to conspiracy theories to explain a world they cannot understand. If you give them the tools to explore the real world, you’ll be better able to keep them grounded – and reveal some interesting things for the rest of us.
David Hines has a background in international human rights work with an emphasis on recovery from enforced disappearances and mass murder. He lives in Los Angeles.