Don’t you like the world? Want to have clear ideas about the pandemic? Are you suspicious of the Covid-19 vaccine? The increasingly widespread conspiracy theories are hitting an unprecedented boom in 2020. The perfect cocktail is capped off by the pandemic and the US presidential race, with a Donald Trump encouraging bizarre theories and willingly accepting the role of “savior” of humanity, assigned by QAnon, the most powerful group on the planet of conspiracies and denialism.
“When the US president retweets messages from individuals from QAnon and other extremist groups, he is legitimizing them. Their actions and not questioning their beliefs lead ordinary people to think that these ideas are a reality,” says Kevin Grisham, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at the California State University, which monitors global movements that foster hatred and polarization.
The emergence of the Covid-19 has been the best gift for an underworld – very active on social media – who in recent years had already disseminated quirky theories in the United States but which the pandemic allows to export with great public success. The FBI devoted a comprehensive report on these groups on May 30, 2019 – for the first time in the history of the police agency – which found that more and more individuals or groups moved from theories to action since 2016.
That year, for example, an individual entered Washington DC’s Comet Ping Pong with an AR-15 rifle and a revolver to kill an employee, whoever it was: the conspiracy theory pointed to the restaurant as the cover of a pedophile network with degenerate Democratic politicians… and Hillary Clinton herself. The name of the plot inviting tears or laughter: the Pizzagate.
“The most dangerous current conspiracies? The anti-vaccines. They are creating arguments against a potential vaccine ”
“Conspiracies are not exclusively an American affair. And now they have a great tool to travel everywhere like the Internet. What are the most dangerous conspiracy theories in America today? QAnon’s and anti-vaccine theories. They are managing to create arguments against a potential vaccine and other efforts to slow the spread of Covid-19. As these beliefs grow, they weaken efforts to control and eradicate Covid-19,” warns Professor Grisham.
Europe is no stranger to conspiracies. “In recent history, Europe has been the birthplace of ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,’ a bogus document that continues to be the basis for numerous anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. It has been a British, Andrew Wakefield who has spread false theories about the existence of a relationship between the MMR vaccine (measles and rubella) and autism. Or David Icke, one of the world’s greatest popularizers of conspiracy theories about the coronavirus ”, observes Imran Ahmed, director of the British Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), at the service of large platforms such as Facebook, YouTube or Twitter to detect and advise the expulsion of those groups or people who distort data and promote hatred on the networks
According to a recent CCDH report published by “The Lancet” this October, the accounts of “anti-vaxxers” (anti-vaccines) increased between 7 and 8 million worldwide in 2019. And this year, one in six British respondents say they will refuse to receive a possible vaccine against Covid-19.
The pandemic has given wings to an underground world with diffuse ideas about the apocalypse, technology, the masters of the universe …
The pandemic is being a fertilizer of this underground world because it confirms diffuse ideas such as the Apocalypse, the evil forces, the impact of 5G technology on health or the existence of select clubs in which four cats manage the destinies of humanity. Three are the figures most pointed out by conspiracy theories: Bill Gates, George Soros and Mark Zuckerberg. In confusing days, the apostles of the conspiracy offer clear and concise answers. “People looking for answers to a life that has become unpredictable right now turn to the networks and end up on conspiratorial sites. Many ignore them, but not all. This is particularly noticeable with regard to Covid-19,” highlights Kevin Grisham.
Paradoxically, the efforts of the institutions and organizations that carry out the campaigns against the sites that spread hoaxes and hoaxes end up reinforcing the conspiracy theories. When Facebook banned any reference to QAnon on its platforms on October 6, it only confirmed the prejudices of its 600,000 followers: the evil Zuckerberg, owner of Facebook, intends to silence us and, incidentally, defeat Donald Trump. A similar measure was announced this Thursday by YouTube.
However, these platforms have been obtaining not inconsiderable income from groups opposed to vaccines. The aforementioned CCDH report states that “31 million people follow these groups on Facebook, with 17 million subscribed to similar accounts on YouTube. The CCDH estimates that the anti-vaccination movement can bring 1 billion dollars in revenue to the “social media” sector. Not bad.
QAnon, from child abuse conspiracy to canonization of Trump
Who is behind QAnon? Nobody. And more. The platform emerged in October 2016 in the “4chan” and “8chan” forums with a series of anonymous messages about Pizzagate and, later on, an alleged large-scale kidnapping of minors for orgies, transplants and satanic rites, in which it would be involved a Washingtonian elite of congressmen, senators, journalists, lobbyists, intelligence agents … The founder of “8chan” points to the man who now controls this forum: a certain Jim Watkins, who would try from the Philippines to gain political influence in the United States and export their Christianity to the archipelago. The truth is that his Frankenstein already walks alone, a common denominator to all denialist groups.
Who is so inhumane as not to sympathize with abused children? Little by little they make all possible mistrust theirs, which fuels the myth that QAnon is the creature of one or more espionage agents who know the ins and outs of power better than anyone. The aura of the vigilante in the shade.
If the media deny denial facts, the effect is the opposite: they reinforce their suspicions of plots.
Did John Kennedy Jr. die in a plane crash in 1999? QAnon solves the suspicions: sabotage planned by Hillary Clinton to be a senator for the state of New York. Sexual and financial predator Jeffrey Epstein was imprisoned in July 2019 and found hanged in his cell on August 10? Liquidated by his own and another confirmation that there is “a satanic pedophile plot on a global scale. The attacks of September 11, 2000? Work of the “deep state”, the shadow state that tries to end the individual freedom of the citizen. Lady Diana’s accident? A commission from Elizabeth II to the British intelligence services.
Part of QAnon’s success is in its ability to cast doubt with insidious and rhetorical questions and let followers fuel the debates until the number of posts is so great that it can convince the most skeptical. “They show hyperactivity that sows confusion and suggests that there are many more and they form a large group. This creates the effect of bolstering the conspiracy theory and believing that it deserves to be taken seriously,” says Imran Ahmed of the Center for Countering the Digital Hate. And as the “traditional” media do not usually publish these fabrications or hypotheses not because they are absurd or unfounded but because they are “sold”, the followers see their misgivings about the establishment confirmed.
QAnon is gaining ground in the United States. Its progression in 2020 is meteoric in terms of followers and perception of public opinion. They spread mistrust of the system – 20% of Americans considered it likely in June that the coronavirus was launched by a hidden power, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center – and hatred of elites, a phobia with paranoid overtones, very much in tune with President Trump.
A dominant theory in the QAnon realm is the existence of an evil cabal – a handful of powerful men – that leads the United States and one day, closer and closer, they will get what they deserve and be arrested. What they call “The Storm”. Then “The great awakening” will arrive, awakening and the beginning of a new, more just world. And what is President Donald Trump painting here? It is about the Good that fights against the evil forces of the “Deep state”.
Far from distancing himself from these theories, the president encourages them. The press conference held on August 19 at the White House, amidst the wave of urban unrest after the death of George Floyd, was very significant. A journalist asks him if “he is saving the world from this satanic cult of pedophiles and cannibals” (alluding to QAnon’s theories). Instead of ignoring the premise, the president boasts that he is, effectively, “saving the world from a radical left that wants to destroy this country. And when this country (USA) is gone, the world will follow.”
“QAnon is growing fast,” noted a recent article in the journal “Foreign Policy.” They are stomping and we are in an electoral and pandemic year. “With Covid-19 there are more isolated people looking on the networks for what is happening in the world,” recalls Kevin Grisham. The data confirm this growth. 23% of Americans had heard of Qanon in March. The September percentage reached 47%, according to the Pew Research Center. A year ago, they were less than 10 per cent. And if we leave the United States, the boom is similar. The country where QAnon has the most followers outside the Anglo-Saxon world is Germany, with 200,000 if we add all its platforms.
Boogaloo Bois, the Hawaiian shirts that aspire to a second civil war
Here is a psychedelic group because it naturally combines weapons, jokes and conspiracies named after a film sequel from three to four – “Breakin’2: Electric Boogaloo” and they aspire to organize the second civil war in the United States. They are not a joke even if they seem and their members are called “Boojahideen”. The stardom to fame from their online forums came in May when a sergeant named Steven Carrillo, 32, killed two law enforcement officers in California within a week. His home had an arsenal. And before being arrested, he had the detail of writing, with his own blood, the phrase “I became irrational.”
A good definition of the style of this group lacking leadership and on the rise after their demonstrations of force this summer in the streets of the US cities with the largest number of protesters. They were mistakenly taken by some for Black Lives Matter sympathizers when, in fact, an anti-police bias dominates them. The pandemic has been a stimulus for this group that has adopted Hawaiian aesthetics and phrases. In their forums, they have been very aggressive in criticizing the lockdowns, which they see as unequivocal proof of their conspiracy theories about the strength of the state and the supposed desire to stir fear of the coronavirus to gain ground at the expense of the individual rights. Two of its objectives: to overthrow the Government – whether it is a Democrat or a Republican, it gives them both – an uncompromising defence of the right to possess firearms.
RAGE against the Vaccines, or mistrust in the pharmaceutical industry
The anti-vaccination movement has been around for two centuries, but never has it been so easy to create opinion and reach the segments of the population prone to find the arguments that support their suspicions. This is the case of the “RAGE against the Vaccines” movement, whose website has 36,000 followers and the ability to radiate “doctrine”. The potential vaccine against Covid-19 and everything related to its trials have triggered visits and fortified this movement whose arguments differ little from those used in the late 19th century in Europe. It is worth remembering the historic demonstration in the British city of Leicester with more than 100,000 people in 1985. The pressure from these groups was so great that the new Vaccination Law of 1898 included the conscience clause that allowed avoiding compulsory vaccination.
“There is a new world war in the networks as regards health and science, especially about Covid-19 but also about mistrust towards large pharmaceutical companies and governments,” says Neil Johnson, from the Institute of Data, Democracy and Politics from the George Washington University. A recent report by this institution confirms that although a minority, anti-vaccines appear to be the majority on the networks due to their activism and number of websites. They especially target Bill Gates, to whom they attribute the ability to have a vaccine, the prelude to a fabulous business. There are worse things: they suggest that their Foundation has “intentionally sterilized the children of Kenya.”