QAnon: the origins of an alternate reality

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Everyone sort of remembers the pizza guy, but no one remembers the mobster. The pizza guy was Edgar Welch, a stupidly chivalric mouth breather possessed of an AR-15 and the righteous certainty that Hillary Clinton was making out like a bandit running a child sex trafficking business outta the basement of a pizza restaurant in Washington DC.

The mobster was Francesco ‘Franky Boy’ Cali, acting boss of the Gambino outfit and an ambassador for the American mob to Sicily’s La Cosa Nostra and the Inzerillo crime family of Palermo.

Connecting the fates of the heavily armed internet doofus and the totally legitimate businessman?

The collective derangement of QAnon.

Usually described as a conspiracy theory, it’s probably closer these days to a shared psychosis, but at planetary scale.

The TLDR version?

To QAnon believers, Donald Trump is not the world’s most dangerous fucking moron armed with the US nuclear codes and no discernible impulse control. He is a stone cold special operator, working with a crack team of military commanders to defeat The Cabal, a human trafficking ring of super elites and Hollywood celebrities.

It would be pretty fucking funny, if it wasn’t a good chance to kill us all.


In late 2016 Edgar Welch, a 28 year-old father of two who liked spend his spare time playing Pictionary with his young family, decided instead to spend some quality time bingeing Alex Jones videos and mainlining subreddits about Hillary Clinton’s secret side gig, trafficking children for George Soros. Edgar didn’t plan to lose his mind and doesn’t much recall how it started.

He was just ditzing around online and an algorithm ate him alive. Probably it began on a mainstream news site with A Story No Parent Could Afford to Miss, but after three days of increasingly fevered link-smashing, Edgar was down on the seventh level of Hillary Hell and the born-again Christian was so angervated in the brain jellies that he tooled up with a fighting knife, a .38 pistol, and his Walmart Kalishnikov to launch an Army-of-One assault on a storage closet at Comet Pizza, an otherwise unremarkable noshery in one of the tonier suburbs of Washington DC.

Duh! Keep up. Because Comet was where John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, sent out for ham and pineapple pizza.

We know this thanks to Wikileaks … who released* thousands of Podesta’s emails into the wild, including a handful with references to a fundraiser at the DC pizza joint.

[*Released. Vb. From the Russian освобожденный, for hurriedly shitposting weaponised agitprop on behalf the GRU a couple of hours after Agent Orange’s pussy grabbing Access Hollywood tape surfaced].

But of course, as Edgar discovered thanks to the helpful algorithms at YouTube, Podesta’s hungry emails had nothing to do with pizza. Clinton and Soros had devised a cunning code for discussing their nefarious scheme. Reddit’s internet detectorists worked out that if you unpacked the hidden meaning of the Comet Pizza emails

“Hotdog” meant “young boy”; “cheese” meant “little girl”; “sauce” meant “orgy.”

Omifuckinggod! It was all code for snatching children off the street and sucking the delicious, life-extending adrenochrome right out of their tiny skulls. And after three days of non-stop, Twinkie fuelled “research”, Edgar Maddison Welch from Salisbury, North Carolina, was having none of it, goddamn you Hillary.

As terrified diners fled the restaurant, Edgar marched in, kicking tables and chairs aside. He was very angry about the child stealing and the brain sucking and getting even angrier as it became obvious that Soros and Clinton had cunningly hidden all the evidence of all the child stealing and the brain sucking. Indeed the more he looked, the less he found, which only went to prove that something was obviously being hidden from him. The absence of evidence was all the evidence he needed.

Finally, spying a particularly suspicious-looking storage closet, Edgar blasted the lock, kicked open the door and charged in, only to find it abso-fucking-lutely somewhat inexplicably full of… pizza dough.

But what about the gaggle of terrified munchkins that Hillary Clinton had conspired to stash in there?

Yeah… so…

“The intel on this wasn’t a hundred percent,” the dumbest Avenger admitted to the New York Times a bit later, before disappearing into the pen on a four year felony stretch for assault and weapons charges.

Francesco Cali, meanwhile, really was involved in any number of excitingly Runyonesque conspiracies involving heroin, prostitution, loan sharking, insurance fraud and money laundering. The past tense is appropriate, sadly, because two years into Edgar Welch’s four year bit for the Comet Pizza raid, another QAnon true believer, Anthony Comello, put ten bullets into Cali for reasons unconnected to the Gambino syndicate’s interests in heroin, prostitution, loan sharking, insurance fraud and money laundering, but very much connected to Cali’s side gig as, er, an undeclared agent of the Deep State.

Comello, like Edgar, had ‘done his own research’, where by research we mean that he’d spent way too much time clicking link after link after link until he was no longer in direct contact with reality. He was about a thousand fucking miles away from it, having transitioned to what Salvador Dalí once called the “paranoid-critical mode,” a way of seeing the world anew, with a “rich harvest of unexpected correspondences, analogies, and patterns.” All of them dark.

At 9.15 PM on a bitterly cold and cloudy night, Comello rammed his truck into Frank Cali’s silver Cadillac Escalade SUV, bringing the Mafia boss running to the top of the driveway outside his modest suburban home on Staten Island. As it happened Cali was not much interested in answering a bunch of deranged demands from some 4Chan vigilante who wanted to know all about the unexpected correspondences between Hillary Clinton and ‘the Cabal’.

He was much more interested in giving Anthony Comello a mouthful about his poor driving skills and rapidly dwindling life expectancy. Comello, who would later try to explain himself via a complicated theory about child sex traffickers, drug smuggling, the CIA’s Operation Mockingbird, and links between Australia, Russia and Ukraine, tried to place the gangster under citizen’s arrest. Cali was even less interested in that. So Comello pulled out a handgun and emptied most of the clip into him.

Take that, Hillary.

QAnon, it’s not just for Disgraced National Security Advisors anymore.

Edgar Welch went all John Wick on Comet Pizza nearly a year before the anonymous 4chan poster, calling himself “Q clearance patriot,” lobbed his first meme-grenade into the discourse; a gamer-bro word salad from one of the shittier novels of Tom Clancy.

There was no mention of the Cabal, or Pizzagate or Bill Gates plan to inject everyone with tracking chips. That would all come much later.

A couple of hours after that first post, the same “Q clearance patriot,” followed up with a bunch of questions like “Why does Potus surround himself w/ generals? What is military intelligence? Why go around the 3 letter agencies?”

There are thousands of these posts now, and millions of Edgars and Comellos eagerly awaiting every new ‘Q drop’.

Q’s growing army of superfans variously believe him to be a lone, courageous patriot working deep within the traitorpalooza of the Deep State, a small but gallant Scooby Gang of lone, courageous patriots working deep within yada yada yada… Or the one true superhero of QAnon’s epic fantasy, the bright orange Hercules of our deranged postmodern Odyssey, President Fuckface von Clownstick himself.

In the end, however, who Q is, matters less than what Q means.

The early Q drops were fun, in the way that writing alternate history is fun. You take a few elements from the world of real things and you toss them in a big bowl with some spicy ethnic dressing and a handful of conspiracy croutons for textural contrast. You gave that motherfucker some Swedish fucking chef energy.

Nor were they just the scratchings of some internet rando either.

Nope.

They were part of a whole genre.

Before Q, there was a wide variety of “anon” 4chan posters all claiming to have special government access.

In 2016, there was FBIAnon, a self-described “high-level analyst and strategist” offering intel about the 2016 investigation into the Clinton Foundation. Then came HLIAnon, an acronym for High Level Insider, who posted about various dubious conspiracies in riddles, including one that claimed Princess Diana had been killed because she found out about 9/11 “beforehand” and had “tried to stop it.” Then “CIAAnon” and “CIA Intern” took to the boards in early 2017, and last August one called WH Insider Anon offered a supposed preview that something that was “going to go down” regarding the DNC and leaks. – NBC.com

With this sort of competition, it’s not surprising that Q’s posts were so widely unread at first. He wasn’t offering much you couldn’t get anywhere else.

It was only when Q dumped a shit ton of crazy pizzagate leftovers into the mix that it all came together. As Steve Jobs quipped, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”

(Fun fact; Jobs stole that from William Faulkner who had in turn pinched it from Igor Stravinsky)

Whatever 4chan troll king invented the character of the “Q Clearance patriot”, their genius flex was to write the old pizzagate conspiracy into an early draft of what became the premium meta thesis of 21st century paranoia. That pivot away from merely copying the background chatter of a Jason Bourne movie to straight up stealing all the best story beats from The Exorcist, Taken, and Stephen King’s much-loved short story The Ten O’Clock People was some Oscar-worthy script-doctoring.

(The Ten O’Clock People, was the one where office workers who gather for a mid-morning cigarette break suddenly start recognising that the world’s most powerful figures are actually inhuman monsters disguised as people. The precise neurochemical nudge of that one, well-timed cigarette had tweaked their brains just so, and now they were able to see what was hidden from… What? Where are you going? Hey! Look, I loved that stupid story and you can fuck all the way off and carry on fucking off if you disagree because I think it is the perfect allegorical match for QAnon).

But the pivot to pizzagate still wasn’t enough to break out of the 4Chan message boards, take over the Republican Party, and recruit former National Security Advisor General Mike Flynn to the cause.

Credit for that goes to three pinchweasel grifters and one tech billionaire. Or one billionaire horror-bat wearing a human skin suit if Stephen King got it right.

Los trios Grifteros were Tracy Diaz, then a bottom-feeding YouTuber making beer money off Wikileaks ‘analysis’, Paul Furber, a self-styled ‘web programmer’ from South Africa, and Coleman Rogers, now host of Patriots’ Soapbox a 24/7 YouTube channel for all your QAnon ‘study and discussion’ needs. Back then Rogers and Furber were just moderators on the 4Chan board where Q was working up his act.

It’s at the extremely fucking likely end of possible that Coleman Rogers is Q, or that he was at least an original prankster behind the first ‘Q clearance patriot’ posts. More than once he’s been caught out on his own livestream logging into Q’s super secret trip code protected account.

The QAnon brand now throws off enough money to start online machete fights over the intellectual property. Back in November 2017, however, it was just for the lulz because lulz are all you get paid for running an alternate reality role playing game on a bullshit discussion board for misfit trolls and incels.

Rogers and Coleman appear to have gone to Diaz with a proposal to break the narrative out of the fringe nerd web and into the mainstream via her YouTube ‘presence’. Granted, it wasn’t much of a presence, but Diaz was still bigger than them. And mainstream here doesn’t mean mainstream where you are. They were simply hoping to troll a few thousand rubes and maybe hoover up some five dollar PayPal donations. They’d have got away with it too if it weren’t for those damn kids and…

Oh wait, no. They did get away with it, and the whole thing exploded thanks to your friend from the internet, Mark Zuckerberg.

Taking Q from 4chan to Reddit exposed the role-playing-conspiracy to a wider audience, but Zuckerberg’s 2017 decision to stop serving up news in the news feed, and instead drive eyeballs to Facebook Groups and private interests strapped a ginomrous rocket booster onto QAnon and lit the fuse.

It burned fast and took off.

There are currently thousands of QAnon Facebook groups with millions of members in 71 countries. A Wall Street Journal study (paywalled) found that the ten largest groups have grown by more than 600% since COVID-19 sent the world into lockdown. Where Trump was, once upon a time, the purely fictional hero of this mass delusion, he’s now realised the Quties are out there and they fucking love him. His raging narcissism and their yearning for agency, power an accelerating feedback loop with Trump regularly retweeting some of their batshit craziest content to his eighty-six million followers. Dozens of Q-believers have won Republican primaries for the November election, and some of them in safe seats are going to Congress no matter what happens at the White House.

Mike Madrid, political director for California’s Republican Party in the late 1990s, but since defected to the anti-Trump Lincoln Project says, “There’s going to be a QAnon caucus in the Republican Congress in 2020, count on it.”

The resilience of QAnon, the metastisizing growth and increasing throw weight of the movement’s nuclear powered nuttiness has taken it well beyond the control of the original pranksters. Diaz and Rogers still make some decent bank from their QAnon business line. Furber has been cancelled by rivals in the cult, but none of it matters anymore. The monster has come to life, climbed off the slab and shambled out of the laboratory to tear the heads off innocent village folk and whack the occasional wise guy.

There’s a couple of reasons. Some are practical and even banal, such as the way that Facebook and Youtube are purpose-built as marketing funnels to move consumers deeper and deeper into toxic content wells, because the engagement metrics for extreme bullshit are much stronger and therefore more profitable.

But wait, there’s more!

Our information systems are broken and the old media business model is failing, but beyond that there are millions, and maybe hundreds of millions of people like Edgar Welch and Anthony Comello who feel themselves existentially crippled, their personal agency vanished from the modern world. Falling back to a conspiratorial explanation for why they feel like everything is fucked, doesn’t mean that everything’s not fucked or even that they’re being irrational.

The terrifying brainiac Molly Sauter explains it all in The Apophenic Machine:

As a way to comprehend one’s place within complex global networked capitalism — where actors like Maersk, Walmart, or ExxonMobil organize world-spanning feats of logistics, extraction, and finance-backed violence, or where the Catholic Church priest abuse scandal was front-page news across the globe for years — world-building in the conspiratorial, paranoid mode seems not unreasonable. It finds intentionality and a purposeful human hand where other epistemologies might see, as Keeley puts it, only the “absurdism of an irrational and essentially meaningless world…

One only has to look at the fracking industry, the pharmaceutical industry’s R&D policies, or the Catholic Church scandals to see that our world weeps conspiracies…

They come oozing out of the walls, as Sauter would have it. Meanwhile the hyperlinked mesh of gigantic social media server farms and billions of deeply fallible human addicts supercharges the creation of conspiracies at such a scale and speed that they become less like theories, the user manuals of reality, and more in the nature of fully realised alternative realties themselves.

QAnon reframes the world in the same way that the architects of a really good Alternate Reality Game would do so. It provides a mythic setting in which a small but gallant band of heroes struggle against impossible odds, sort of in the shadows, but sort out in public view too. After all, you can’t cash in the social credit points if no-one sees you throwing down with the Cabal.

Because there is no game bible or canon beyond the thousands and thousands of indecipherable runic brain farts of the ‘Q clearance patriot’, it doesn’t matter that his predictions and theories never, ever pan out. The hive mind simply reformats around new predictions and new events. Nothing is falsifiable. As the Q-believers say, “You can’t prove it’s not true.”

(You can of course, but that doesn’t matter to them anymore.)

QAnon promises belonging to the lonely, meaning to the confused, and agency to the powerless. It recalls Murray Edelman’s theory of political myths, that they help decode complex and bewildering events, giving them order and purpose. Most importantly, these myths and theories tell us who are friends, who are enemies, and what must be done to protect the self and significant others.

For Edgar Welch it meant taking an AR-15 into a pizza joint to liberate a basement full of kidnapped children.

For Anthony Comello it meant killing a mafia boss who was secretly a Deep State agent protecting the powerful figures who put those kiddies in the basement.

For lots of complete fucking gumbies it means anti-lockdown protests and bitching about mask breath.

For millions of Americans, if and when Trump loses on November 3 (or more likely a week or two later when the postal ballots are finally counted) it will mean The Cabal has staged a coup against their Sun King and the adrenochrome harvest is about to commence.

I wonder what they’ll do then?

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