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QAnon is a far-ranging conspiracy theory that alleges, among other things, that a patriotic Trump supporter (or supporters) embedded in the highest levels of the U.S. government has been using internet forums to send coded messages to the American public about a secret plan to arrest and/or execute a global cabal of child-torturing, blood-drinking, Satan-worshipping pedophiles. Despite its self-evident implausibility, the mantle of QAnon has been taken up by a huge number of mostly right-wing Americans, including a shocking number of Republican politicians. Guest host Ryan Grim talks to Intercept reporter Aída Chávez and the Daily Beast’s Will Sommer about the future of QAnon.
William Sommer: QAnon could potentially become more dangerous if Trump loses, because these are people who have become convinced that Trump is gonna solve all their problems. When that doesn’t happen, I think they’re gonna go, like, “Holy smokes, maybe I have to take action myself.”
Ryan Grim: Welcome to Deconstructed, I’m Ryan Grim, DC bureau chief for The Intercept, filling in this week for Mehdi.
At the DNC, Democrats laid out the choice in the upcoming election as one between light and darkness. This week at the RNC, Republicans continued with that theme, promising renewed American greatness with the re-election of Donald Trump, and warning of a nightmare of darkness if the country falls into the hands of Joe Biden.
President Donald J. Trump: He is the destroyer of America’s jobs, and, if given the chance, he will be the destroyer of American greatness.
RG: Behind the carefully-crafted scenes though, a different story has been playing out among the Republican base. A growing number of Republican voters — and even some politicians — have gone completely nuts.
WS: They believe that Trump will basically arrest all of his foes, like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and, you know, either ship them to Guantanamo Bay or just execute them outright.
RG: That’s my first guest today, Daily Beast politics reporter Will Sommer, who has been reporting for the last few years on the bizarre, and increasingly popular conspiracy theory, known as QAnon.
After that, we’ll check in with Intercept politics reporter Aída Chávez, who’s noticed her own friends and acquaintances drifting toward Q in recent months.
But first, we’re going to go back in time a bit. Because as it turns out, panics about satanic child abuse are not a new phenomenon in America.
So today on the show: What is QAnon, where did it come from, and is it the future of the Republican party?
In the fall of 1909, one of the nation’s most widely read magazines, Woman’s World, delivered a shocking exposé to more than two million doorsteps around the country. A few months later, a best-selling book, called “War on the White Slave Trade,” became a national phenomenon. It sparked a moral panic that would reshape the country.
White parents across the country were warned that their girls were being snatched off the street and sold into sex slavery. The book, which was the collective work of Chicago clergy and prosecutors, warned that: “Ice cream parlors of the city and fruit stores combined, largely run by foreigners, are the places where scores of girls have taken their first step downward.” The result, the authors said, was: “The blackest slavery that has ever stained the human race.”
The conspiracy was vast, and for the “safety and purity of womanhood,” federal laws were needed.
The panic set off by that book had been building for a decade or more. In 1881, the YWCA in New York started offering typing classes to women. Pretty soon there were at least 60,000 women working as typists; that number kept climbing. The typewriter — and the income that came with it — started to affect the role of women in economic and social life.
As you can imagine, not everyone was thrilled with that development. For some, the simple sight of women walking alone in the city was a shocking affront. Women, unaccompanied by men, going to dance halls and ice cream parlors, was simply beyond the pale. And most shocking of all, some of these newly liberated white women were choosing to date black men.
Trafficking exposés like “War on the White Slave Trade” provided the public with the perfect outlet for their fear and rage. Whipped into a frenzy, they demanded that the government save the children, and the book’s authors helped write and pass the White Slave Traffic Act of 1910. Better known today as the Mann Act, it banned the transportation of any girl or woman across state lines for any ‘immoral’ purpose.
To enforce the Mann Act, the federal government needed cops. Two years earlier, Teddy Roosevelt had deputized a few dozen former secret service officers as “special agents” of the Department of Justice. Those agents were assigned the task of enforcing the White Slave Traffic Act, and they decided to call themselves the Bureau of Investigation. Within two years, there were some 300 special agents and as many support staff. Though no law ever officially authorized their existence, they’re now known as the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The Mann Act passed on June 25, 1910. Nine days later, on July 4, Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion, fought former champion James Jeffries, dubbed the “great white hope.” Johnson was a racial lightning rod, reviled by many whites for dating white women — the highest crime of the Jim Crow era — and for unapologetically flaunting the wealth his boxing had brought him. He showed no interest in knowing his place. Johnson knocked Jeffries out, and whites around the country rioted.
The real purpose of the Mann Act became clear pretty quickly. Federal agents arrested Jack Johnson under the new law for crossing state lines with his white girlfriend, who would soon be his wife. He eventually fled to Europe, not returning until 1920, when he was forced to serve his prison term.
The next wave of women’s liberation came in the 1970s, and again it produced a panic — the so-called satanic panic of the 1980s — as Americans became convinced that satanic day care centers were turning children into sex slaves. The message was clear: Their mothers should have stayed at home.
Then in 2016, with Hillary Clinton seemingly on her way to the White House, the panic surged back. This time, children were being trafficked not out of an ice cream parlor, but a pizza parlor, Comet Ping Pong in Washington DC, and the conspiracy involved people at the highest levels of government. When Trump took office, the theory went, he would expose and smash this conspiracy, and save the children.
In 2018, the conspiracy theory was given legs when the extremist anti-abortion group, Operation Rescue, claimed falsely it had damning new evidence about the evil deeds of Planned Parenthood. The next year, Jeffrey Epstein, at the center of a real-life elite child sex trafficking ring, was arrested and then died mysteriously.
It was up to an anonymous government insider (or maybe a group of them), known as Q, to end this evil. It was his followers’ job to help prepare the country for this Trump-led counterrevolution.
Pro-Q video: The good guys, with control over the NSA, began the Q intelligence dissemination program to invoke an online, grassroots movement that came to be called, the Great Awakening.
RG: This is QAnon, a movement that is now electing members of congress and threatening to infect the entire Republican Party. And it got its biggest boost yet when Trump was asked about it last week.
DJT: Well, I don’t know much about the movement, other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate.
RG: This week at the RNC, Republicans continued their dance, exploiting the energy of QAnon but never explicitly embracing it. Today, we’re going to explore this phenomenon because, as history shows, conspiracy theories don’t have to be true to change the world.
RG: My guest today is a politics reporter at The Daily Beast. Will Sommer has spent the last few years doing a deep, journalistic dive into the world of right-wing conspiracy theories, and he joins me now.
RG: Will Sommer, thank you so much joining Deconstructed.
WS: Hey, thanks for having me.
RG: It’s great to talk to you. Your reporting that you’ve done on QAnon is endlessly fascinating. And I wanted to get from you your take on where does this come from?
WS: Sure. So QAnon really sort of draws on all sorts of sources that we have in our culture, and really just going back decades or even centuries: there’s antisemitic tropes, there’s all these conspiracy theories — everything from the JFK assassination to 9/11 truth to pizzagate. So really QAnon, I mean, the genius of it is it draws on so many things, and it really sort of offers something for everybody.
RG: So who is Q?
WS: Yeah, so Q, this is sort of a big mystery about who Q is. We don’t know if it’s a person, if it’s a man or a woman, if it’s a bunch of people; we don’t know if it’s been the same group of people in control the whole time, or if it’s — basically we have no idea. I mean, QAnon believers think that it’s someone in the Trump administration who is sort of offering them clues. That’s obviously fake, but we don’t really know who it is.
RG: For people who don’t know the driving idea behind Q, what is their kind of central claim and mission?
WS: Sure. So QAnon is huge, and there’s a lot going on, but the way to sum it up is that the world has been controlled by a satanic cabal of pedophile cannibals or, as they call them, pedavores.
QAnon video: I believe that there is a move to wipe the world clean of pedophiles, pedavores, satan worshippers.
WS: These are prominent people in banking and Hollywood, in the Democratic Party, the criminals I’m
QAnon video: The criminals I’m referring to are famous politicians, actors, singers, CEOs, and celebrities, people who have earned our trust, respect, and admiration.
WS: And this cabal is sort of responsible for all the evil in the world, all the problems we have as societies.
RG: And that’s how you get back to JFK assassination and all of that.
WS: Right. And so, like, JFK, the thing was, he was about to take down the cabal, so they got him.
WS: And so then every president since then has been what they call a slave president, working for the cabal, until Donald Trump. And so Trump comes in because — in their telling — the military is like: We gotta get rid of this cabal. And so they hire — they basically recruit — Trump to run for president to bring down these satanic pedophiles.
QAnon video: Donald J. Trump, President of the United States of America, is not only taking on the restoration of our country, but the world in general.
WS: And so the big kind of moment QAnon believers are focused on is called the storm. And this is when they believe that the day they think Trump will basically arrest all of his foes, like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, really just like thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people across the country.
QAnon video: These people are going to face prosecution, they’re going to face serious jail time, and some of them will face the death penalty. There is no other way forward.
RG: And why hasn’t the storm happened yet?
WS: [Laughs.] I think it’s because QAnon is fake.
WS: But certainly, I mean QAnon people tell themselves, it’s, you know, it’s like, it’s the dang deep state that this is such a significant problem, that it’s just really hard to uproot.
And so, you know, they QAnon believers see themselves as sort of these evangelists who are telling the world about what’s gonna happen, so that when the storm does happen, everyone’s like, “Oh, yeah, you know, they did say that about Tom Hanks and Oprah.”
RG: And so the role of a believer here is not just to be an observer, but what exactly? Like, besides — so they need to evangelize, they need to grow the movement so that the ground is prepped for Trump’s counter revolution, is that right?
WS: Yeah, exactly. So the idea behind why Q is putting out these clues is that the Q team, the people in the Trump administration doing this whole thing, decided that, you know, if we just arrested everyone on Inauguration Day 2017, there would have been this, you know, civil war because no one would get the deal. And so Q is going to put out these signals, and then people who get into Q are part of this thing called the Great Awakening, and so they’re going to try to win over their friends or family into this whole thing.
RG: And so we talked earlier in this show about the the panic around what they called white slavery back in the early part of the 20th century. I know you’re a little bit familiar with that. Do you see any parallels between what happened then, and what’s going on now?
WS: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, this is a situation where a prosecutor in Chicago, wrote this book about these kind of fantastical claims of, you know, these kind of slavery rings kidnapping people into sexual slavery across the country. And this was a big hit. And then it went on to inspire some real-life laws.
RG: So what role does Jeffrey Epstein play in QAnon?
WS: Epstein, right now, is kind of a major gateway to QAnon. Q and QAnon believers were talking about Epstein before his most recent arrest, but obviously, a lot of that information was already public. So yeah, that doesn’t really mean Q is operating on, you know, inside info or something.
But since Epstein’s arrest and his death, and obviously Guillaine Maxwell’s arrest as well, those are kind of high-profile incidents of seemingly genuine sex trafficking rings potentially involving very elite, powerful people. And so while that’s not really what QAnon was about, it sort of served as a way to get that stuff in the headlines, and also to sort of be a low-cost way for QAnon people to say, to, let’s say, average average person, they can say, “Well, don’t you think this Epstein stuff was bad?” And they say, “Oh yeah, sure, absolutely” — understandably, and then that sort of is how you get pulled in.
RG: How has Q gotten so big? You know, the mainstream media basically never touches QAnon. Even Fox News, I don’t think goes into them very much, but correct me if I’m wrong about that.
WS: Jesse Watters has been a big QAnon proponent at times, actually.
RG: How so? What’s his line? How does he promote Q without sounding like a complete nutjob?
WS: Yeah, so he says like: You know, Q, say what you want about them, but they’ve been right about a lot of stuff.
RG: Ah. OK. And like the Epstein thing would be like, one of the things they were right about? Is that where he’s going with that?
WS: Yeah. So that gets attributed to QAnon people a lot of the time, the Epstein stuff, or just kind of vaguely, you know, this sense that like, you know, malevolent forces are afoot in the world.
RG: What about the social media platforms? You know, how did they handle them in the beginning? And how are they handling them now? Is there something in the way that Facebook brings people together that supercharged this?
WS: Yeah, I mean, I think social media has played a massive role here. And I think, unfortunately, the vast majority of the platforms have been really slow to act on this. The way QAnon works is it’s such an outlandish system of beliefs. I mean, you’re talking about, you know, Barack Obama drinking children’s blood.
RG: [Laughs.] Uh huh.
WS: So that, you know, I think in a pre-internet world, you know, these people would have been confined to maybe some zines, some mailing lists, you know, obviously, the John Birch society is sort of a precursor to this. But I think these people basically would have struggled to find validation for their beliefs because, you know, you might have one person in one town or one neighborhood who would believe this, and they wouldn’t be able to connect with people who would say: No, you’re not crazy. It’s the people who don’t see this who are crazy.
But online these people can all find each other and kind of spin off each other. You know, often what happens is QAnon believers will become alienated from their families. And then they’re like, well, but that’s OK, because QAnon is my new family, like me and all the detectives online. So they’re really able to sort of reinforce one another.
RG: So what is #SaveTheChildren and is this a new advent, kind of a new strain of QAnon that we’re seeing in the last weeks or months?
WS: Yeah, so the pandemic has kind of kicked off a new stage of QAnon. We’re seeing QAnon, right now, move beyond the classic QAnon type, which is sort of a boomer, white, probably evangelical Christian, and a Trump supporter. But the pandemic has really shot up interest in Q and QAnon more broadly. And the latest iteration of this is the #SaveTheChildren or the #SaveOurChildren hashtags.
And Save the Children is a legitimate anti-child trafficking organization. But its name has been hijacked by QAnon people who kind of gussy up their beliefs about, you know, children being eaten in this kind of vague: Don’t you think child abuse or child sexual abuse is bad? Which, you know, of course everyone does. And so they have these rallies. And while it’s this very surface level, like, you know, stop-abusing-kids stuff, then you see someone with a sign that’s like “John Podesta drinks blood,” or like pizzagate stuff.
And so this sort of serves, especially on Facebook, as a gateway to get a lot of people into it. I think what we’re seeing with #SaveTheChildren is that QAnon is moving beyond the older, white Trump-supporter demographic. The #SaveTheChildren marches in LA, for example, hundreds of people turn out, and these are often Black or Latino people, young people, women, people in their teens or 20s. So I think we’re really seeing QAnon blow up with new groups of people. And adding into that QAnon is also getting really big on TikTok, so, you know, I think a lot of teens are getting into it as well.
RG: Hmm. Can you talk a little bit about the, I don’t know if you would call them, “lone wolf” QAnon folks? You wrote recently about Cindy Abcug, the Colorado woman who was planning to assault the foster care home where her son was living. Tell us a little bit about her, and what that plot from her signifies in terms of the kind of, a next, more violent phase of QAnon where people who haven’t even heard of it are now potentially going to be on the receiving end of some of its violence.
WS: Yeah, I mean, I think one of the most fascinating things to watch about QAnon since 2018, has been the ways that it spills over into violence because, at its core, QAnon is telling people that really like the most heinous things you could possibly imagine are happening and people are getting away with it. And so what do you do about that?
So in the case of Cindy Abcug, this was a woman in Colorado who had lost custody of her son. It’s not quite clear why, but it seems like the state had a pretty strong case against her, and so her son was now in a foster home. And so she became convinced through QAnon and these various QAnon networks that not only did she not have custody of her son, and that was bad enough, but she decides that her son is basically being fed into the QAnon, cabal sex-trafficking ring and is gonna be, you know, heinously abused.
So she teamed up with these QAnon believers; they sent a guy with a gun, and who claims to be this ex-sniper. And they’re basically plotting — she gets a gun — essentially, allegedly an armed assault on this foster home. And, you know, according to what Abcug who told her daughter, who eventually tipped off the police, she claims that they were like: Yeah, you know, people are probably gonna die, people are gonna get hurt, but, again, these are satanic pedophiles, so it’s kind of like, who cares? And so she was really on the verge of this, allegedly, and then the cops moved in, and she ended up fleeing and sort of entered this network of QAnon fugitives where they kind of provide each other with material support.
RG: What’s the reaction among the broader Q community to that? Is there a strain of it that says: Listen, you know, don’t take your eye off the ball, we’re waiting for the storm? Or is it more like what you described that this kind of violence is encouraged and actually given material support through, you know, helping her hideout afterwards?
WS: Yeah. So I mean, there’s all these different sorts of factions of QAnon. Whenever a QAnon violent incident happens, typically, they say: Well, that’s a false flag, that’s not us, we’re a peaceful research movement. That’s one of their big lines.
But consistently, I mean, there’s kind of this disconnect between fantasizing about the violent murder of your enemies, saying that, you know, Donald Trump would sanction it and that these people are demons essentially, and then saying: Well, but, you know, we just screw around online about it, no one should do anything about it.
And so, you know, I mean, the images these people have, whether they’re like demon hunters or crusaders. And then you know, these spill into, obviously the Comet Ping Pong shooting was sort of an early antecedent of this: someone tried to burn down Comet Ping Pong, one guy murdered his brother allegedly, another fellow killed the the head of a mafia family, according to police, and then kind of showed up in court with a Q on his palm. You know, there have been plenty of these incidents. But each time this happens, they say: There’s a false flag, but, you know, I kind of don’t really mind that it happened, essentially.
RG: So how many Q folks are successfully running for Congress or for lower offices right now? Not precisely, but how big is this getting at the electoral level?
WS: Sure. So in the primaries, there were a huge number of them. You know, Media Matters did some great work tracking this.
Now most of the primaries are over; I believe there’s a little more than a dozen QAnon-affiliated people who have either made positive comments about QAnon, who have gone on QAnon YouTube shows, all the way to, “QAnon is real”; “I love Q.”
So there are a couple interesting cases. I think probably one of the biggest ones is Jo Rae Perkins.
Jo Rae Perkins: Hi, my name is Jo Rae Perkins, candidate for the U.S. Senate in Oregon. Where we go one, we go all. I stand with President Trump. I stand with Q and the team. Thank you Anons, and thank you patriots, and together we can save our republic.
WS: Obviously she’s not gonna win that, but this is someone who is so into QAnon, her campaign said, “No, she’s not into QAnon,” and then she broke down crying and said, you know, “Q is like Jesus to me.”
And then you know, you have Marjorie Taylor Green in Georgia, probably the most interesting case, because she just won a run-off in a really Republican District, which means that she will almost certainly win a seat in Congress in November.
RG: And tell us about Mary Ann Mendoza, activist from Arizona, who was supposed to speak at the Republican National Convention. They ended up pulling her video after she tweeted out a QAnon meme. Tell us a little bit about the dance that the Republican Party is doing here with Q folks. They clearly don’t want to be explicitly platforming and endorsing QAnon folks, but they don’t seem to be very vocally distancing themselves either.
WS: No, I mean, there is this game that the Republican Party and the Trump administration are playing.
So, basically since 2018, when Q people started showing up in force, with Q signs and Q shirts at Trump rallies. Seemingly, you know, according to on-the-ground reports, either the Secret Service or campaign security told people to cut that out and was banning QAnon paraphernalia; there was kind of this attempt to not make it as public how much of the Trump base is really into QAnon.
But then, you know, you see Trump retweets QAnon people all the time; he invited some to the White House social media summit; Dan Scavino posts these kind of wink-wink QAnon memes.
And so to the normal person, the normal voter, this is meaningless to you because you don’t know the code words. But then when you say to the Trump campaign: Geez, kind of weird you’re doing this, they say, well, I don’t know what you’re talking about.
So in this case, you know, Trump endorses Marjorie Taylor Greene, he says she’s gonna be a big Republican star. And so just over the past couple weeks, I think QAnon, the administration’s had to grapple with it more. I think the latest case we’re seeing is that they say, “well, I don’t know about that” — even though obviously, you know, you could look it up pretty easily.
In the case of Mary Ann Mendoza, this is this is one of these so-called “angel moms” whose, you know, child was killed in some sort of interaction with an undocumented immigrant. And she’s been a big Republican star and she was set to speak. And then the morning of her speech, she tweeted this, just like deranged, antisemitic QAnon thread. She referred her fans to check it out about like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and like, let’s subjugate the goyim. So it was sort of just like a little too on the nose, I think in terms of antisemitism.
RG: And what did you make of Trump’s comments during the press conference about Q? And also what did the Q folks make of them?
WS: Yeah, I mean, so Trump’s been asked about this a couple times. The first time he kind of brushed it off. I should say here to foreground it, QAnon people are obsessed with Trump being asked about QAnon, because they say: Well, if it’s so ridiculous, someone should just ask him about it. And unfortunately, they’ve kind of gotten what they wanted out of it.
DJT: I don’t know really anything about it, other than they do, supposedly, like me.
WS: And then someone says: Well, I mean, these are people who think that you know, you’re at war with these, you know, a cabal of cannibal pedophiles. And he says:
DJT: Is that supposed to be a bad thing or a good thing? If I can help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do it, I’m willing to put myself out there. And we are actually.
WS: And so for QAnon people, this was all they could ask for. He all but affirmed it, you know, in the way they’re looking at it. So you know, I talked to this one big QAnon promoter, and he was over the moon. He was like, you know, QAnon lives to fight another day, this is gonna help us win so many more people.
RG: What’s been their posture toward you? Do they think that you’re a pedophile cannibal, too?
WS: Yeah, a lot of them do. [Laughs.] My interactions with QAnon people kind of run the gamut: some of them are convinced that I’m secretly an agent for Q and that by writing all these articles about how ridiculous, dangerous QAnon is that I’m really kind of spreading the word.
You know, I had this one guy call me and he was like, “Will, like, I’m really concerned for you, you got to come clean, you gotta, you know, come on board with the Q team before it’s too late.”
But a good amount of them, they found some quote-unquote evidence that I’ve eaten pizza at Comet Ping Pong. And now they kind of use this and they like, you know, they have kind of an image macro about me, and they share, it’s like a meme, and so they’re like, you know, they kind of use it like this ultimate trump card that I’ve eaten pizza before.
RG: But where do you think this is heading, if you had to guess?
WS: Yeah, I mean, I think a big kind of crux moment for QAnon is going to be what happens in November. Either Trump wins, and then I think the Q people will, you know, kind of be emboldened, or Trump loses and I think we enter sort of a more uncertain territory.
I think there are a lot of folks who are hoping that kind of the veil will lift from QAnon believers’ eyes and that they’ll kind of blink and be like, “oh, what happened?” But I think in reality, QAnon could potentially become more dangerous if Trump loses, because these are people who have been convinced that Trump is going to solve all their problems, both personally, and in this imagined world of cannibals. But when that doesn’t happen, I think they’re going to go, like, holy smokes, maybe I have to take action myself.
RG: So one last question. If you had to guess, who is Q?
WS: [Laughs.] That is a great question.
I mean, I think Q is probably just some random person who is just a 4chan user, who may be running a YouTube account or something that’s making a little money off of QAnon? I think it’s really unclear. I mean, I think it’s someone who’s probably grifting to some extent, but it’s not, you know, going to be some big revelation, I think.
And I think most importantly, even if we found out who Q is, QAnon has built-in mechanisms to move beyond that revelation. You know, even if someone came out and said, “Yeah, I just made all this stuff up to get rich. Haha, dummies!” I think QAnon people have told themselves like, “Well, maybe Q isn’t real. But what he told us was true.” So they’re ready to move past. It’s kind of QAnon without Q is ready to go.
RG: I lied. I do have actually one more question.
RG: If you do have a family member or a loved one, you know, who’s deep into the Q phenomenon, what have you found that has worked that is able to kind of de-radicalize those people?
WS: Yeah. I mean, this is just a super, super hard question, and it’s one I get a lot from people who have really lost, you know, often older parents or, or you know, their significant others to QAnon.
A tip I got from David Nyberg, who has a book coming out about, basically how to deal with friends and family who get into conspiracy theories is — let’s say you have someone who gets into conspiracy theories, obviously you want to decide, you know, how important is this relationship to you. If it’s somebody you went to high school with on Facebook, who cares. But, you know, if it’s a parent, for example, and if they’re getting into it enough that it’s really sort of interfering in your relationship or how they operate in the world, you know, you sort of want to basically keep the lines of communication open, try not to hit them directly with facts — as tempting and understandable as that may be — and then you try to kind of figure out what personal issues it is that’s driving this person towards conspiracy theories. You know, maybe it’s sort of a feeling of hopelessness in regards to their own personal situation; a sense that the world is kind of getting out of control or something. And then you sort of try to pull them back from there and connect on a sort of personal, emotional level.
But, you know, that’s really easier said than done. And, you know, I think there’s really very few examples of this successfully working, unfortunately.
RG: Will Sommer, wild stuff. Check him out at The Daily Beast. Thank you so much for chatting with us.
WS: Thanks for having me.
RG: That was Daily Beast politics reporter Will Sommer. For a long time, the stereotype of the average Q fan was that they were all right-wing baby boomers. But recently, The Intercept’s politics reporter Aída Chávez has started to notice a new phenomenon on her Facebook feed. Aída, thanks so much for coming on the show.
Aída Chávez: Thanks for having me.
RG: So you’ve noticed something interesting going on in your Facebook feed. Basically, what have you seen among people you’ve grown up with lately?
AC: Sure. So I grew up in a pretty conservative place. And so it’s not unusual for me to be scrolling on Facebook and see posts about Trump or guns or other, you know, conservative issues. But I have noticed that starting a few weeks ago, I’ve just been seeing a lot of QAnon and pizzagate posts, and #SaveTheChildren and hashtags about pedophiles, and it’s actually pretty jarring to see like, such a big shift in people you’ve known your entire life.
RG: Have you spoken to any of them?
AC: Yeah, recently, I reached out to this one girl who I’ve known since like, I don’t know, maybe the fifth grade. That was our first time talking in like, a few years actually. I was asking her about when she got into QAnon and pizzagate stuff and I thought it was really telling. She said that she just started getting into it a couple weeks ago, and despite being really conservative, she wasn’t an OG pizzagate person. She just started getting into it recently.
RG: What was it that got her into it?
AC: It was actually her mom, which I thought was really interesting.
AC: And she wasn’t the only person who I spoke with who had been indoctrinated by their parents. I spoke with another girl, interestingly enough, they’re both from law enforcement families, too.
AC: So they had been hearing from their parents for some time about this QAnon stuff. And in one case, she thought the claims were outrageous, and she just started consuming the content, reading the books, watching the YouTube documentaries, and that sold her — and the other girl was sold right away.
RG: Are any of these young women parents themselves?
AC: Yeah, one of the friends who I interviewed, she is a stay-at-home mom to, I think, a two-year-old son. And so I think that is definitely another pattern that I found in doing interviews with my friends. I have a couple other friends who are young moms, they’re actually not conservative at all, they’re quite left-leaning, pretty liberal people, but they got into it out of just like this deep fear of trafficking and like pedophilia. And since they have a kid, like they’re young moms, they’re actually really scared. And I’ve tried explaining how trafficking and sex trafficking has been hijacked by QAnon, and this fringe, far-right movement; I guess it doesn’t really make sense to them, because they’re just like, inundated with all this fear-mongering of trafficking. And so they consider it like a very serious threat.
And you know, who can argue with that? Because, you know, trafficking is something that’s universally disgusting.
RG: Right. And to pick up on that theme, there is a there there in the sense of the Jeffrey Epstein scandal. Did Epstein come up in your conversations with any of your friends?
AC: Yeah, absolutely — all of them. And I think that is also a danger for the friends I mentioned, who are actually quite left-leaning. I think a problem is that with how Democrats didn’t really handle the Epstein stuff, they kind of ceded that ground to the far right, I think.
RG: This is fascinating. Please keep us updated.I don’t know about you, but I like to tell myself that this whole Q thing is just a bunch of old Trump supporters and not something to worry about. But I’m not so sure anymore. It is definitely something to keep watching.
Anyway, Aída, thanks so much for coming on the show and stay safe.
RG: That’s our show! Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our producer is Zach Young. The show was mixed by Bryan Pugh. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Betsy Reed is The Intercept’s editor in chief.
I’m Ryan Grim. Mehdi will be back next week! If you haven’t already, please subscribe to the show so you can hear it every week. Go to theintercept.com/deconstructed to subscribe from your podcast platform of choice: iPhone, Android, whatever. If you’re subscribed already, please do leave us a rating or review — it helps people find the show. And if you want to give us feedback, email us at Podcasts@theintercept.com. Thanks so much!