Sunday, October 18, 2020

QAnon: How a fringe internet phenomenon is now mainstream

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QAnon supporter in a Trump Rally | Source: Tony Webster via Wikimedia

In the age of the internet, conspiracy theories come a dime a dozen. They can be shared with an unimaginably huge audience with extreme ease. Most conspiracy theories center around specific large-scale events, but sometimes they do end up centering around a person instead. This has been recently observed in a group of conspiracy theorists called ‘QAnon,’ who are essentially supporters of incumbent U.S President Donald Trump, and believe that he is on a mission to expose a global secret network of high-profile pedophiles (and also cannibals, depending on who you ask).

QAnon followers believe that Democratic party members such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are a part of this group, along with Hollywood celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres. It is even believed that religious leaders like Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama are also in this group.

What is QAnon?

QAnon is an umbrella term for a large set of theories and sub-theories. It is considered a ‘big tent conspiracy theory,’ which means that it is still evolving and adding more claims under its belt. The most pervasive and foundational claim is that of a global cabal of pedophiles, and that Trump’s sole purpose is to unmask them.

It all started in October 2017, an anonymous account calling themself “Q Clearance Patriot” posted the first message associated with QAnon, on a site called 4chan. Q claimed to be a high ranking intelligence officer who knew classified information about Trump’s “war” against the aforementioned global cabal. Q also claimed to predict something called “The Storm,” which refers to the time Trump finally exposes the cabal and brings its members to justice.

The event’s title, “The Storm,” was inspired by a remark made during a photo op around the same time the first post appeared on 4chan. While standing with military generals (who QAnon followers believe recruited Trump to run for President with the aim of destroying the cabal) Trump made a remark about “the calm before the storm.” QAnon followers consider this to be a message for them. There have been many predictions about when this storm will occur, as well as other predictions that later never happened, such as Republicans winning a large number of seats in the 2018 midterm elections. As is common among conspiracy theorists, they twisted the results to continue to fit their beliefs.

The person(s) behind ‘Q,’ as the original poster is known, remains unknown. After first appearing on 4chan Q’s posts bounced around on similar sites. These days the posts— known as “drops”— are posted on a site called 8kun. To date, Q’s posts total to around 5,000, and there are some apparently popular apps that collect all past and present posts in one place. They are usually cryptic and use initials or codes to refer to people, such as HRC for Hillary Rodham Clinton, and POTUS (President of the United States) for Trump. QAnon followers use many common social media platforms like Twitter and Discord to discuss the meaning of the Q Drops.

Other QAnon claims include: Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s collusion with the Trump campaign was actually a cover for investigating Clinton and Obama while Trump only pretended to be involved with Russia in order to force a third-party investigation; the cabal is involved in pedophilia and child murder either because they’re satanists or being blackmailed by the CIA (take your pick)

What was President Trump’s response?

President Trump (L) with Vice President Pence | Source: History in HD via Unsplash

Trump is idolised in QAnon theory, and what he says is monitored as closely as what Q says, and similar to Q’s drops, QAnon followers see messages and codes in things ranging from what number Trump says to what tie he wears, and decode the meaning of these perceived signals.

Anyone who knows anything about Trump knows he is incapable of denouncing anyone who supports him regardless of the absurdity of, or dangers posed by their actions. When asked about QAnon, Trump stated that while he didn’t know much about QAnon, he understood that they “like me very much.” The reporter explained Trump’s role in the conspiracy as a saviour from pedophiles and cannibals, to which Trump replied, “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” He added that he hadn’t heard about that, but was “willing” to help “save the world from problems” if he can. On top of that, whether he knows or not, he has retweeted content from QAnon supporters multiple times.

Public figures are also revealing themselves to be QAnon followers, such as Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican candidate in Georgia who promoted QAnon— and she’s not the only one, joining a small-town mayor who supported QAnon during a radio broadcast. She was backed by Trump, who reportedly called Greene a future star, and called QAnon followers lovers of their country. Greene supposedly has a good chance of being elected to Congress.

Why is this becoming mainstream now?

A QAnon supporting sticker in Brooklyn, United States | Source: Robby Virus via Flickr

The QAnon member base is not a small one by any means. A singular QAnon on one social media platform like Facebook can reportedly have hundreds of thousands of members. It also seems that due to increased Internet usage during pandemic related lockdowns and work-from-home, more and more people are coming to know about QAnon, thereby increasing the number of people who believe and take part in it. There is, apparently, even a recently established church based on QAnon rhetoric that holds sessions via Zoom, and works to indoctrinate people into QAnon through tools such as videos and discussions.

In terms of group dynamics, QAnon has been compared to puzzle games due to the intricacy of the plot it weaves with the help of members’ contributions. Creating a shared reality, a common phenomena among conspiracy theorists, turns a political forum into a social environment, thereby deepening a person’s connection to a conspiracy via that people that they meet in these groups and other social media interactions with QAnon followers.

Perhaps due to the activity of coming together to decode Q’s drops, QAnon followers are intensely involved in the creation of the conspiracy itself, which makes this a unique kind of conspiracy theory, despite many elements of it being those often seen in various older conspiracy theories.

QAnon followers have been making waves offline as well, with a murder and a threat of a murder being attributed to QAnon followers. The FBI considers that QAnon poses a potential threat of domestic terrorism. Photos of Republican rallies in which signs of the letter Q and posters about QAnon are visible are becoming more and more common.

Additionally, QAnon followers seem to be making a joint effort to infiltrate anti-trafficking movements, both online as well as by attending rallies. Many members of QAnon believe that the global cabal is made up of child sex-traffickers or child-eating Satanists, thus making it easy for them to use campaigns such as #SaveTheChildren to lure or recruit people into their ideology. They have also been linked to spreading misinformation about COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

QAnon is a conspiracy theory that combines old and new elements, and which is already causing real harm to people and social causes. What truly makes matters worse, though, is that fact that the person at the center of the QAnon conspiracy, Donald Trump, is just as unlikely to see reason as QAnon followers themselves.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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