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A follower of the bizarre QAnon conspiracy theory has won a Republican primary for a seat in the US senate.
The QAnon conspiracy theory, and a loose online collective who subscribe to it, have been slowly working their way from the far fringes of right-wing social media into more mainstream politics in the country.
The endorsement of QAnon supporter Jo Rae Perkins is a notable development in the creeping spread of the fantastical fringe ideas pushed by the group.
After she won her party’s nomination for a seat in the US senate in Oregon this week, she credited fellow QAnon followers with her victory.
“I stand with President Trump, I stand with Q and the team. Thank you Anons, and thank you patriots. Together, we can save our republic,” she tweeted prior to the results coming in.
During a victory speech live-streamed to social media, Ms Perkins concluded by saying, “As we Q people like to say, ‘Where we go one, we go all’.”
The line is a slogan for the group.
She later deleted both of the election night videos containing QAnon references but her endorsement has raised eyebrows in the US.
So what is QAnon?
QAnon is a theory built around belief in an international conspiracy of high-ranking government officials to kidnap, abuse, torture and kill children.
It was under the same delusion that an an armed man attempted an apparent rescue mission at a Washington pizzeria in 2016 in an internet conspiracy that became known as Pizzagate – widely considered a precursor to QAnon.
In recent years QAnon proponents globbed onto the Trump campaign and attended rallies in ‘Q’ gear in an apparent bid to spread the conspiratorial ideas, however the Trump campaign has reportedly sought to distance itself from the group.
In the QAnon worldview, Donald Trump is working behind the scenes to expose and disrupt a child-sex trafficking ring but has been thwarted by “deep-state” bureaucrats and global elites.
President Trump, according to the more extreme proponents, is fighting back against satanic pedophiles and cannibals.
The narrative is fed by cryptic posts on internet message boards from the anonymous “Q,” who followers believe to be a high-ranking intelligence official, or possibly even the US president himself.
Popular YouTube and social media pages promulgate and analyse Q’s vague messages, turning the obsession into something of a game for many followers.
The nature of internet-based conspiracies gives them a global reach, including in Australia where a close friend of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been associated with the conspiracy group.
This month Facebook moved to suspend a number of accounts related to QAnon citing “coordinated inauthentic behaviour” on its platform, a company euphemism for fake accounts run with the intent of disrupting political elections and society.
Nonetheless a private QAnon group for Australia and New Zealand Facebook users remains up since it was created in May 2018 and currently boasts 3,900 members.
Conspiracy theories in the time of coronavirus
Existing and new conspiracy theories have gained increasing attention during the coronavirus, ranging from the longstanding anti-vaccination movement to blaming Bill Gates for being behind the novel coronavirus.
Ana Stojanov works in the Department of Psychology at the University of Otago in New Zealand where she has spent years researching the rise of conspiracy theories. As with other complex phenomena, the reasons people are drawn to them can vary widely, she says.
“If the content of the conspiracy belief confirms people's worldview they'll be especially drawn to it. The positive feeling arising from ‘being in the know’ and possessing unique knowledge about some event may likewise be satisfying,” she told Yahoo News Australia.
For some people, it’s about gaining a sense of control and order – something which has been borne out in her research.
“Sometimes the alternative to conspiracy explanation suggests that events happen at random, so people prefer malevolent agents over randomness,” Ms Stojanov explained.
Ms Stojanov has been conducting surveys in New Zealand where the coronavirus pandemic has been well contained and doing the same survey in North Macedonia, where the government is perceived as more corrupt and the pandemic response has been poor. Those in North Macedonia are more inclined to believe in coronavirus conspiracies.
“The studies so far show that people who have lower sense of control are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories, though the causality is not yet clearly understood,” she said.
“In uncertain times like during the current pandemic we witness an increase in the circulation of conspiracy theories, especially those relating to the threatening event.”
Any antidote to the wild and unfounded conspiracies that people embrace, such as QAnon, will need to address the psychological comfort the belief provides to people.
“The best shot at reducing their popularity is by examining the underlying psychological needs they serve and looking for an alternative way to meet those needs,” Ms Stojanov said.
with Yahoo News US
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