On Saturday, October 28, 2017, a user named “Q Clearance Patriot” posted the following message on a 4Chan imageboard: “Hillary Clinton will be arrested between 7:45 AM – 8:30 AM EST on Monday – the morning on Oct 30, 2017.”
Thus began QAnon, an influential conspiracist movement on the fringes of American politics.
The QAnon Deception by James A. Beverley is a fair-minded, well-researched introduction and critique of this movement. The author is associate director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion in Woodway, Texas; research professor at Tyndale University in Toronto, Canada; and a specialist in new religions. He writes for a general audience, though as an evangelical Christian, he occasionally offers a theological evaluation of Q or warns of its infiltration in some quarters of American Christianity.
According to QAnon lore, Q Clearance Patriot — more commonly, “Q” — is “a high-ranking military figure who works with President Trump to provide important data on what is going on in Trump’s battles to defeat the enemies of democracy,” writes Beverley. (A “Q clearance” is a national security designation allowing a person to view top-secret intelligence.) Q posts cryptic messages (“Drops”) to user boards (first 4chan, and now 8chan/8kun) to update followers (“Anons”) about the progress of Trump’s battles.
Q’s messages seem to be cryptic by intention. One reason is supposedly defensive, to keep democracy’s enemies guessing. Another reason is to force Anons to think for themselves. As Q wrote on August 17, 2018: “This movement challenges people to not simply trust what is being reported. Research for yourself. Think for yourself. Trust yourself.”
Even so, a number of early QAnon adherents have shaped the basic contours of the movement. They are known as “bakers.” According to Beverley, the most influential of them are James Coleman Rogers (“Pamphlet Anon”), Paul Furber (“Baruch the Scribe”) and Tracy Diaz, (“Tracy Beanz”).
As a movement, QAnon is a clearinghouse for conspiracy theories. Beverley writes, “The QAnon belief system is composed of a conglomerate of conspiracy theories. Some are old ones involving the Rothschilds and the Illuminati, while others are new claims involving Donald Trump.”
The movement’s “ultimate conspiracy,” however, involves “Satanism and child sacrifice,” according to Beverley. “Joe M,” an influential QAnon baker, summarizes the matter this way:
The purest of pure evil — beyond theft, corruption, murder, and blackmail — is the kidnapping, torture, raping, and sacrificing of children. The perpetrators are Luciferians and Satan-worshippers. They run pedophile networks across continents, through the Vatican, and underneath the cover of charities and child protective services. In short, they target and infiltrate any organization that puts them closest to their victims.
Obviously, pedophilia is evil, and all should oppose it. But is satanic child sacrifice really the goal of a cabal of global elites? That is a central claim made by QAnon adherents.
And that brings us to The QAnon Deception’s assessment of the movement. Throughout the book, Beverley rightfully and helpfully reminds readers not to attack the motives, intelligence, or sanity of QAnon adherents. People of good will can be wrong, after all, even grievously so.
What needs to be evaluated are QAnon’s truth claims, the statements QAnon makes about how the world works. On that count, QAnon is a failure. Beverley scatters his criticisms of QAnon throughout the book, helpfully gathering and summarizing them in the Afterword. They fall into three broad categories:
Doubts about Q. Though Q posted 4,953 times between October 28, 2017, and December 8, 2020, no one knows Q’s identity. Though QAnon lore portrays him as a high-ranking military figure, there is no proof of this, and some lines of evidence suggest several people post as Q.
Moreover, Q posts appear exclusively on imageboards (4chan, 8chan/8kun) that Beverley describes as “the racist, bigoted, sexist, and hateful basements of the Internet.” Why would a morally upstanding military figure reveal the existence of a global conspiracy of satanic pedophiles on imageboards infamous for, among other things, posting pornography (including child pornography)?
As quoted above, Q encouraged Anons to think for themselves. So, why do they subscribe to the beliefs of someone they know nothing about?
Doubts about Q’s Drops. Second, Anons follow Q because they believe he offers them an insider’s perspective on a global conspiracy. His predictions are like Ariadne’s thread, leading Anons out of the labyrinthine confusion of day-to-day politics into the clear light of day about what actually drives current events.
The problem is that many, if not most, of Q’s predictions don’t pan out. Take the first Drop quoted at the outset of this review. It made a very specific prediction about the date and time of Hilary Clinton’s impending arrest. More than three years later, that arrest still has not happened. Failed predictions — including about President Trump’s 2020 reelection — are leading many Anons to grow disillusioned with Q and the QAnon movement.
QAnon’s Harms. Third, Beverley writes, “the QAnon movement has harmed individual, family, social and political life in America and around the world.” It has impugned politicians without evidence, predicted events that didn’t happen, divided Americans needlessly, and inspired a few extremists to commit crimes.
Though The QAnon Deception was published a month before rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, it is not coincidental that the most photographed person who participated in that event was Jake Angeli — the guy in the fur hat with horns — who is known as the “QAnon Shaman.” Belief leads to action, it seems, and bad beliefs to bad actions.
I highly recommend James A. Beverley’s The QAnon Deception to readers interested in learning more about QAnon. Its criticisms of the movement hit their target. And as a Christian minister, I especially appreciate those occasions when Beverley turns from his general audience and addresses his fellow evangelicals about Q’s influence among some of our fellow churchgoers. His book deserves a wide and influential reading.
James A. Beverley, The QAnon Deception: Everything You Need to Know about the World’s Most Dangerous Conspiracy Theory (Concord, NC: EqualTime Books, 2020).
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P.P.S. This review first appeared at InfluenceMagazine.com and is posted here with permission.