Last month, Seth Brown, the executive editor of the Biblical Recorder, a Southern Baptist newspaper in Cary, N.C., delivered a stark warning to Christians. He had become increasingly concerned about the posts some of his fellow Southern Baptists were sharing on Facebook. “If you start clicking through, it doesn’t take long to find out some of this is coming from accounts that are QAnon,” Mr. Brown told me, referring to the viral conspiracy theory that claims a cabal of left-wing, satanic pedophiles is secretly plotting a coup against President Trump.
Mr. Brown, an evangelical who has served as a volunteer pastor himself, knows all too well that pastors have little time to tumble into an online labyrinth of convoluted Q theories. So he wrote an explainer on QAnon’s ever-evolving machinations, cautioning readers that as Christians, they must “reject the movement’s fanatical and dangerous messages.”
Some of QAnon’s dizzying pileup of false claims — that the Covid-19 pandemic is overstated or even nonexistent, for example — have been embraced by Trump fans, Republican congressional candidates and the president himself. Mr. Brown and others say they are proliferating in white evangelical circles, even as many of the people sharing the content may have never even heard of QAnon.
Warren Throckmorton, an evangelical who is a psychology professor at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, says the Q-adjacent claims he has seen on social media relate broadly to the notion that the president “is being unfairly maligned.” Evangelicals are drawn to these posts, Dr. Throckmorton added, because they reinforce their belief that Mr. Trump is under attack. “It’s a way of trying to justify their support for the president,” he said. “Anything that makes Donald Trump look honest or compassionate or good, they’ll spread, without checking out where it comes from, who posted it, who the source is.”
QAnon began with an October 2017 post on the far-right message board 4chan, thought to be the first time the anonymous poster “Q” issued a conspiratorial missive, known as a “drop,” to the world. The Atlantic’s Adrienne LaFrance, who wrote a definitive investigation of QAnon, told NPR, “I never got to the point where I was confident enough in Q’s identity to say with certainty who it is.”
But one thing we can say about Q is that he, she or they are highly unoriginal, mining conspiracy theories as ancient as the anti-Semitic blood libel. If you’ve been around the corners of evangelical America as I have, it’s apparent that Q is at least a student of, and perhaps an adherent of, the conspiracies that have long permeated conservative evangelical culture.
Many QAnon posts and merchandise feature a Bible verse that is popular among white evangelicals, 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
In the evangelical world, this verse means that God will heal America of abortion and human trafficking, which is often described as “modern-day slavery.” In the QAnon world, it means God will free America of the satanic denizens of the “deep state” who are running a global child sex trafficking ring. In both worlds, Mr. Trump is under siege. And online, the two worlds are converging.
There are also connections between QAnon and end-times prophecies. In the most common version of this scenario, before Jesus returns, believers will be raptured to heaven and will be spared a period of tribulation, during which the Antichrist will attempt to rule via a “one world government” and force people to adopt the “mark of the beast.” Over the decades, many technological and governmental innovations, like grocery store bar codes, Social Security numbers and vaccines (including a potential coronavirus vaccine), have been suspected of being such “marks of the beast.” The United Nations and the European Union have been decried as precursors of that “one-world government.”
Some white evangelicals speculated about whether Barack Obama was the Antichrist, or just a “sign of the times.” Of course the point was not to actually determine, definitively, whether the first Black president was the Antichrist. The point was to make people wonder aloud about it or post about it on social media.
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