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 18, 2020 6:46 PM

Bhagat Singh: The Man, The Life, And The Beliefs

Bhagat Singh is one of the ‘big names’ immortalised in the history of India’s freedom struggle and eternally cherished even after almost ninety years of his martyrdom. What makes him stand out is his popularity among the masses being almost on par with the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, despite his beliefs and actions being diametrically opposite to theirs.

Of the freedom fighters who remain mainstream in today’s India— a crowd predominantly made up of politicians with center or right of centre leanings, Bhagat Singh occupies a relatively lonely spot as a young, staunchly left-wing revolutionary who outrightly rejected Gandhi’s philosophy, and preferred direct action over politics.

Newspaper headline after Central Legislative Assembly non-lethal bombing

Bhagat Singh is most commonly and widely remembered in association with an incident where he, along with his friend and comrade B.K. Dutt dropped non-lethal smoke bombs into the Central Legislative Assembly from its balcony in 1929. They also scattered leaflets by the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA), which he was a major part of and was aided by in orchestrating the bombings. He is said to have been inspired by French anarchist Auguste Vaillant, who had bombed the Chamber of Deputies in Paris in 1893.

The bombing gathered widespread negative reaction due to the use of violence, especially from those who supported the Gandhian method. While Bhagat Singh and the HSRA wanted to protest exploitative legislatures such as the Public Safety Act and the Trades Disputes Bill, it is also widely accepted that they additionally intended to use the drama and public attention of the ensuing trial to garner attention to socialist and communist causes. Bhagat Singh and Dutt did not escape under the cover of panic and smoke despite the former carrying a pistol, and waited for the police to find and arrest them. During the trial Bhagat Singh frequently chanted a variety of slogans, such as ‘Inquilab Zindabad,’ which is even today often raised in protests across India.  

March 25th Newspaper carrying the news about execution of Bhagat Singh | Source: Tribune India

However, this was not the trial that ended in Bhagat Singh receiving his execution sentence. Before the Assembly bombings, Bhagat Singh had been involved in the shooting of police officer John Saunders, in connection to the death of freedom fighter Lala Lajpat Rai. At that time he and his associates had escaped, but after Bhagat Singh was awarded a life sentence for the Assembly bombing, a series of investigations led to his rearrest as part of the Saunders murder case. It was this trial— generally regarded as unjust— that led to his much protested execution sentence.

Bhagat Singh was hanged to death on the eve of March 23rd, 1931 and he was just twenty-three years old.

Despite the criticism he received for his actions, his execution sentence was widely opposed and many attempts were made to challenge it. In fact, his execution came on the eve of the Congress party’s annual convention, as protests against it worsened. He was memorialised nationwide as a martyr, and is often addressed with the honorific Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh.

Apart from being a socialist, Bhagat Singh was attracted to communist and anarchist causes as well. In ‘To Young Political Workers,’ his last testament before his death, he called for a “socialist order” and a reconstruction of society on a “new, i.e, Marxist basis.” He considered the government “a weapon in the hand of the ruling class”, which is reflected in his belief that Gandhian philosophy only meant the “replacement of one set of exploiters for another.” Additionally, he wrote a series of articles on anarchism, wanting to fight against mainstream miscontrusions of the word and explain his interest in anarchist ideology.

Bipin Chandra, who wrote the introduction to Why I am an Atheist by Bhagat Singh | Source: Wikimedia

While writing the introduction to Bhagat Singh’s remarkable essay Why I am an Atheist in 1979, Late Bipan Chandra described the Marxist leaning of Bhagat Singh and his associates in the following way;

Bhagat Singh was not only one of India’s greatest freedom fighters and revolutionary socialists, but also one of its early Marxist thinkers and ideologues. Unfortunately, this last aspect is relatively unknown with the result that all sorts of reactionaries, obscurantists and communalists have been wrongly and dishonestly trying to utilise for their own politics and ideologies the name and fame of Bhagat Singh and his comrades such as Chandra Shekhar Azad.”

Bhagat Singh is often admired and celebrated for his dedication to the cause of liberation. However his socialist, communist and anarchist beliefs were suppressed by the successive governments in Independent India. This in a way is the suppression of a revolutionary who has the potential to inspire, unite and motivate the growing population of a spectrum of activists all over India, in direct response to the fast-spreading divisiveness and intolerance in the country, often patronised by the groups and organizations professing the right-wing fascist ideology.

Bhagat Singh’s dreams of a new social order live on, not just in his writings, but also reflected in the hearts of every activist, protester, and dissenting citizen. The fight for freedom, revolution, Inquilab, may have changed in meaning, but it is far from over.

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