QAnon cultivates interesting bedfellows. It's one of the things I've found most horribly fascinating about it. It's a conspiracy theory that represents the perfect apex of every exploitative cult tactic that con artists and snake-oil salespeople have used over the years—an inevitable evolutionary endpoint of the art on preying on peoples' desires.
I saw this manifested in a few pieces I recently read that were both initially shocking yet ultimately unsurprising. First up: this Mel Magazine piece about professional fights in MMA and WWE (read: kayfabulists) like Chris Jericho and Brandon "The Truth" Vera have gone all-in on QAnon and anti-tax conspiracy theories.
As such, [economic PhD Ben] Labe continues, "Many of the people working in these fields operate with the mindset of small businesspeople, so-called 'rugged individualists' who think for themselves. They're cynical, hard-bitten, scrapping for every penny and often ruthless to each other, but also the most easily conned, subject to false beliefs that not only have they figured out all the answers to, they managed to do so through cloak-and-dagger study of messages encoded in goofy internet posts."
As an amateur wrestler, submission grappler or mixed martial artist, you win or lose on your own merits; you control your destiny; the buck stops with you. Pro wrestlers engage in athletic exhibitions with predetermined outcomes, meaning their success depends in part on the cooperation of their opponents, but they still rise or fall in the ranks depending on their ability to maneuver dexterously in the ring and talk with gusto on the microphone.
Then this Medium piece about "Pastel QAnon" — the legions of "self-made" mommy bloggers and wellness gurus who have always sold hollow "secrets" to make you feel good, and have now gone full conspiracy theory:
While we often group such people under the "wellness" label, the gauzy and healing tones of an Instagram post are a better shorthand, one that most of us can instantly recognize. Within the group are mommy bloggers, diet promoters, alternative healing advocates, fitness inspo, and general promoters of lifestyle change, and while there are men within these circles, this is an overwhelmingly feminine community.
One way that Pastel QAnon is distinct from traditional conspiracies: it has far more results to speak for it. I don't want to weigh in on a particular solution to a problem, but many folks have found tangible results from following certain lifestyle changes, whether it be a better weight or a clearer complexion. This is mostly due to mundane facts like (i) green tea is good for people, (ii) eating less processed foods is good for the body, and (iii) setting up structures and relationships that encourage healthy levels of activity is the surest way to sustainable improvement. It has very little to do with breaking free from tyranny, or "reclaiming" your body, but good luck arguing against the results that come from plans and books that frame it in such terms. It doesn't surprise me, then, that Pastel QAnon acts with the zeal of the converted, especially compared to old-school online conspiracists (who were almost all edgelords that rarely even liked leaving their computer, let alone tending to their own health), or the standard Facebook/MAGA crowd. Both the edgelords and MAGA folks have, from my perspective, less trust in alternate theories than wellness people do, since for many of them, it's only as true as their computer — everything else (the parts that require daily commitment and effort, and reveals meaningful results to determine the veracity of the theory) is hypothetical. The willingness of the wellness community merging with the totalizing schemas of QAnon is new, and frightening to behold.
That (very long) essay also touches on the Evangelical Christian overlap—the joy of revelation that comes from mining cryptic texts to discover your own "truth." As the MIT Technology Review pointed out, a lot of Evangelicals went down the QAnon rabbit hole after their in-person church services shut down at the start of the pandemic. They replaced one community with the other.
Like thousands of other church leaders across the United States, Frailey had shut down in-person services in March to help prevent the spread of the virus. Without these gatherings, some of his churchgoers had turned instead to Facebook, podcasts, and viral memes for guidance. And QAnon, a movement with its own equivalents of scripture, prophecies, and clergy, was there waiting for them.
Child abuse and human trafficking are, of course, real and terrible phenomena, and they are familiar topics in many evangelical churches. "Saving" children, whether by adoption, anti-trafficking activism, or opposition to abortion, drives a great deal of evangelical activism. It's not uncommon for a church to partner for fundraising or support with a religious or secular nonprofit that helps trafficking victims.
Carter, of the Gospel Coalition, says this well-meaning drive to help is also easily exploited. Among evangelicals, feelings about human trafficking are often so intense that people are only interested in hearing, and sharing, stories about how inhumane and widespread it is. In Carter's experience, his audience is particularly hostile to being told that a trafficking story being shared isn't true. "If it's a problem, it has to be a huge problem. If you try to put it into context, it's seen as downplaying the problem," he says.
Howerton believes it's no accident that QAnon has taken hold among evangelicals now: they are facing tremendous cognitive dissonance. "I was raised evangelical Christian Republican. There is nothing that makes sense for Trump with any of the values that I was raised with," she says. "There's a part of me that thinks that this is a very elaborate false narrative to explain their continued loyalty to Trump."
How conspiracy theories took over pro fighting [Oliver Lee Bateman / Mel Magazine]
Evangelicals are looking for answers online. They're finding QAnon instead. [Abby Ohlheiser / MIT Technology Review]
"This Secret Message Could Change Your Life!": Wellness Culture, Jesus, and QAnon [Snowden Stieber / Medium]
Image: Tony Webster / Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0)