Back in May, I released an article about Christians and Conspiracy Theories. It quickly became one of my most-read articles and, as of today, it’s amassed more than 750,000 views. And, with all of that exposure (and a topic as inflammatory as conspiracy theories), comes an inbox packed with deranged and CAPS LOCK-challenged emails.
However, perhaps the most distressing and haunting private messages I received in response to my article were from people seeking advice on how to break the stranglehold a particular conspiracy theory had on a friend or loved one (often a parent). And, nearly all of these heartbreaking testimonies involved QAnon (or, “Q”).
So, who (or what) is Q?
The genesis of the QAnon conspiracy theory can be found on 4chan, an image-sharing website infamous for its inflammatory and misogynistic user community. On October 28, 2017, an anonymous user (who would soon be known as “Q”) claimed he had insider knowledge that Hillary Clinton would soon be arrested and the National Guard had been activated to quell any civil unrest that would result from her capture.
Of course, none of this happened. But the post ignited a frenzy of speculation. Q later claimed to be a whistleblowing intelligence officer in the U.S. Government with a “Q-level” security clearance – which means he has unlimited and unprecedented access to our nation’s secrets. Q continued to “leak” top secret information on internet message boards – written in a fractured style filled with sentence fragments, backslashes, and acronyms – and he soon developed a cult-like following. After a couple of years, a grand narrative began to take shape.
According to those who follow QAnon, President Donald Trump is on the verge of exposing a secret network of Satan-worshipping pedophiles that controls much of Hollywood, the U.S. Government, and the major tech companies.
I’m not joking.
And, because QAnon is driven by far-right political leanings, President Donald Trump is painted as a virtuous genius whose primary justification for becoming President is to save children from ritualistic blood sacrifice and sex trafficking by an interconnected web of (Democrat, of course) politicians, businessmen, and celebrities.
Another key feature of QAnon is that this powerful cabal of child-eating pedophiles communicates to one another using a thinly-veiled code in their emails, tweets, and Instagram postings. And President Trump hides updates to QAnon followers of his “shadow war” in his (many, many) tweets – you just have to know what to look for.
This belief encourages an obsessive and paranoid “scavenger hunt” mentality as QAnon adherents jump from message board to message board “decoding” tweets and “connecting the dots” between current events, high-profile celebrities, and businesses.
“Wow, well this is batshit insane,” you may be thinking right now. “Who would believe this?”
Well, quite a lot of people, actually. In fact, Marjorie Greene, a Georgia Republican who has expressed support of QAnon, is on her way to a seat in Congress. She’s one of 19 QAnon-sympathetic politicians on the ballot in November.
QAnon may be the fastest-growing and influential religious belief system in the U.S. in recent memory. QAnon has prophets (Q), saviors (Trump), sacred texts to interpret (Q postings and tweets), an apocalyptic endgame (the exposure/judgment of evil), and it encourages active participation in a shared worldview. If you’re a pastor, you probably have disciples of Q in your congregation.
QAnon is what I would call a “meta-narrative” conspiracy theory. It can be augmented to include everything and everyone – the Clintons, the Obamas, the Illuminati, Jeffrey Epstein, the Freemasons, George Soros, Bill Gates, Oprah, Black Lives Matter, COVID-19, the “Deep State,” the End Times prophecies found in the Book of Revelation, and even poor ol’ Tom Hanks.
As a result, the tendrils of QAnon are so far-reaching and deep that someone may not realize they’re interacting with Q-related content until it’s too late. And this has become increasingly problematic in recent weeks.
For example, you may remember that baseless claim that Wayfair – an online furniture company – was trafficking children in cabinets sold from their online storefront that went viral a few weeks ago. This ridiculous accusation began life as a Reddit thread, and then spread across QAnon message boards and (interestingly enough) Christian lifestyle bloggers on Instagram.
The crusade to end modern-day slavery and human trafficking has long been a social justice initiative among young evangelical Christians (in college, I participated in several conferences and organizations devoted to this cause). However, the “success” of the Wayfair conspiracy theory among evangelical Christians opened the gates to new fertile territory for QAnon to corrupt and absorb into its fold.
The noble and virtuous rallying cry (“Save the Children!”) has instead become co-opted into another entry point into the QAnon conspiracy theory. After all, who wouldn’t want to Save the Children? And why bother with “divisive” topics like racial inequality, climate change, or healthcare when children are literally being bought and sold under our noses by political and Hollywood elites?
Here’s the deal: Human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children are very real evils that occur abroad and within the borders of the United States. However, NOT A SINGLE CHILD has been rescued as a result of those seeking to expose the Pizzagate, QAnon, and Wayfair conspiracy theories.
Not a single one.
Meanwhile, at the same time, real organizations (like IJM, A21, The Polaris Project, and World Vision) are doing the hard work of rescuing and rehabilitating the victims of sex traffickers and their abusers to justice. However, when we latch onto and promote any heinous conspiracy theory shared on Reddit or by an Instagram lifestyle blogger without fact-checking we muddy the issue and steer the conversation away from the real victims, public policies, law enforcement officers, and heroes making a difference in this dark corner of the world.
Also, a child doesn’t have to be trafficked to be sexually abused. In America, a child is far more likely to be sexually exploited by a parent, youth pastor, family member, scoutmaster, teacher, or close family friend than they are to be abducted and trafficked.
For example, in 2019, the Houston Chronicle released a six-part series that uncovered more than 700 unreported cases of sexual abuse including more than 200 instances of convicted sex offenders being allowed to work/volunteer with children within the Southern Baptist Convention – a loosely connected network of Baptist churches. Or, in 2018, when the Boy Scouts of America declared bankruptcy on account of settlements related to sex abuse lawsuits.
Those aren’t conspiracies. That’s negligence combined with a prideful sense of “It can’t happen here.”
It’s important to be vigilant and educated about sexual abuse and human trafficking, but it may look far more mundane than movies like Taken would have you believe. When we “exoticize” and sensationalize sex trafficking into something that only occurs between secret cabals of elite men and women, we’re probably more prone to missing the signs of child sex abuse when it’s occurring in our own neighborhoods.
As QAnon ropes more and more Christ-followers into it’s tangled web, Christians need to be prepared to confront and challenge those seduced by its addictive puzzle-box narrative and sinister deceit.
Because I can assure you, conspiracy theories like QAnon are destroying family relationships and breaking apart close friendships. They’re distorting reality and perpetuating a toxic worldview rooted in baseless and obsessive speculation, mania, and paranoia. It’s truly heartbreaking to watch people fall into this nearly inescapable pit. And, perhaps worst of all, it delegitimizes and confuses a truly horrific issue that deserves (and requires) the utmost precision and sensitivity to expose and combat effectively.
If really want to “save the children,” stop playing armchair detective, and put your money where your mouth is and donate to one of these fully vetted anti-trafficking organizations: