The Global QAnon Phenomenon

“The Great Awakening” Worldwide

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Demonstrators at a political rally hold QAnon signs in Bucharest, Romania, August 10, 2020 (Shutterstock)

Spotlight 1 — United Kingdom

The summer of 2020 witnessed a number of anti-lockdown protests across the United Kingdom in response to the British government’s measures to curb the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Demonstrations organized in London, Birmingham, Manchester and other major UK cities by groups such as StandUp X, Save Our Rights UK and the UK Freedom Movement have brought a rich tapestry of British conspiracy theories and fringe politics out of the woodwork. The August 29 “Unite for Freedom” rally in London is illustrative in this regard — thousands of protesters gathered in Trafalgar Square before a motley crew of key speakers including David Icke (bête noire of the British intellectual establishment whose publications have endorsed the anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the theory that the world is controlled by a super-race of lizard people), Piers Corbyn (brother of erstwhile Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and prominent climate change denier) and Professor Dolores Cahill (chairwoman of the Eurosceptic Irish Freedom Party who was recently asked to resign from an EU scientific committee following her statements that vitamin supplements cure COVID-19). QAnon banners and symbols of support were reported as well-represented among attendees who represented socio-political causes ranging from support for Brexit, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and the British Union of Fascists, and opposition towards 5G telecommunications networks, face masks, vaccinations and pedophilia. The Trafalgar Square event is no anomaly: on August 22 a rally held in Nottingham in support of military veterans’ rights hosted a large QAnon turnout and an event organizer proclaiming correspondence with a “General from Q”. Given these developments, it is not surprising that the UK is now second only to the US with regards to its output and engagement with QAnon-related Twitter content. The trajectory is clear — QAnon inserts itself where it can engage and cultivate influence through proximity to prevailing conversations and amenable demographics, drawing individuals in slowly through its relatability to other causes which masks some of its more outlandish facets until its followers are more deeply entangled.

QAnon supporter marches with a pro-Brexit rally in London on March, 29, 2019, the day the UK was originally cited to leave the European Union. (Shutterstock)

Spotlight 2 — Germany

Barely existent when the pandemic first hit in March, Germany’s QAnon community is now one of the largest outside of the US according to The New York Times. The onset of COVID-19 again appears to have provided ingress for QAnon content to gain a foothold within growing popular discontent towards the German government’s measures to contain the virus. An August 29 demonstration organized by anti-lockdown activist group Querdenken 711 attracted 38,000 protesters to Berlin, where a break-away group attempted to storm the Reichstag, Germany’s parliament building. Group members were identified as far right extremists, carrying the black, white and red flag of the pre-1918 German Empire vaunted in neo-Nazi circles, as well as QAnon symbols and paraphernalia. Tellingly, Querdenken 711’s founder, a Stuttgart-based entrepreneur named Michael Ballweg, is also an avowed QAnon supporter, proclaiming the movement’s rallying slogan of “Where We Go One, We Go All” as he addressed crowds at another anti-lockdown protest on August 1.

A QAnon supporter in Hanover, Germany attends an anti-lockdown rally, May 16, 2020 (Shutterstock)

Spotlight 3 — Brazil

Over the past few months Brazil has become one of the biggest epicenters of growth for new online engagement with QAnon material and communities. Although public displays of support for the conspiracy have not been as pronounced as those witnessed in Germany and the UK, perhaps due in part to the relative paucity of Portuguese-language QAnon content, momentum appears to be gathering around the hoax as Brazil continues to experience wide-scale socio-political disruption due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Demonstrators at a pro-Bolsonaro rally in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, May 15, 2020. From left to right, their banners read “The media is the enemy” and “I am an American — I support Bolsonaro” (Shutterstock)

What can these three case studies tell us about QAnon?

(Shutterstock)

QAnon is not — as some may believe — really about Satanic worship and cannibalistic baby farms, as much as this may grab headlines and imaginations. Although the COVID-19 pandemic may provide the flashpoint the hoax needs to expedite its transition into the mainstream, at its heart QAnon is about empty political discourse, alienation from the democratic process, capitalist exploitation and unanswered global challenges.

Qanon ideas finds its traction among disaffected voting classes who no longer feel that conventional party politics can offer a meaningful way to engage with processes of representation and change. This is not just America’s problem — these are issues which affect all countries and contextualism which citizens organically engage with; QAnon spam-bot campaigns act merely as a force multiplier rather than a singular driver of engagement. To assume otherwise is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of QAnon as the premier political conspiracy of our times and its damning commentary on our extant systems of government.

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