Ruknoon Dinder

Cannon Editor

 

Content warning: the following article contains strong references to violence, death, sexual assault, human trafficking, terrorism and misinformation 

A few months ago, I was finishing up my yearly binge of The Boys (the show, not my close male friends. Also, spoiler alert) and a particular scene really struck a chord in me. The episode in question begins with a cameo appearance from Charles Koontz, or potentially better known as “fat Neil” from Community. Charles plays the role of an ordinary man living by himself in a world populated by superhumans. He maintains a pleasant association with the owner of the corner shop where he buys snacks when the seemingly normal character is easily manipulated by the propaganda and fear-mongering of anti-superhero television and social media into viewing them as a threat to society. Finally, this short sequence ends in horror when he ultimately murders the shopkeeper simply because he suspects him to be a superhero in disguise. 

On the surface, this might feel like another flavour of your run of the mill “anything that doesn’t look like us is the enemy” trope that Hollywood has historically directed towards cultures privileged North Americans know nothing about. some of you may know that one of my hobbies is using fictional profiles to gain access to places I am usually unwelcome in. And as I browsed through the posts within 4chan, QAnon sites and Parler, a sinister similarity began to surface between Charles and anywhere with a strong populist movement. And it all clicked on the day of the White House terrorist attack. But I will give you a shot at figuring it out for now with a few clues. 

Let’s start with what QAnon is: A theory that has simultaneously managed to convince every conspiracy theorist and deceive every “normal/ rational” user of the internet. I say deceive because even though many people have a surface level understanding of what QAnon is: the story of a 4chan user named Q pretending to be a top government official with information that implicates all the big politicians and officials of satanic rituals and infanticide. People also think that all Q/Make America Great Again/ Where We Go 1 We Go All people are brainwashed to burn the world and hate everyone which is a fairly understandable misconception. But the hilarious truth is that QAnon is a game. A fairly simple play in human psychology. One we have all played at some point. It is an inverted puzzle game. Like charades or Pictionary. The object is defined for you, the pieces are created, you just have to see the pattern to get the answer. And if you have played these games, you know how easy it is to fool the players while making them extremely confident in their answers. It is called Guided Apophenia or “forcefully creating the tendency to perceive a connection or meaningful pattern between unrelated or random things (such as objects or ideas)”. 

Let’s now look at how Apophenia works. Say you were doing an escape room, figuring out the clues. Without meaning to, your eyes venture to three of the pieces of tape that make the shape of a perfect arrow pointing right at a blank wall. You believe it has to be a clue. You get determined to figure out what the clue means and the whole game gets derailed. Funnily enough, it is not a clue. But since you are adamant that is and since there obviously is no clue there, you keep hunting for more clues that fit your conclusion and not the other way around.  You are not even at fault because it all fits so well. It was better and more obvious than the actual clue that was hidden. It was all a random chance but made sense and your actions are all completely logical. And remember you are a rational, democratic, sane, good person.

In a puzzle game, it is easy to fall off the track because there is a track. Game masters want you to find the answer in a fixed way and not following that way is a loss. QAnon is a mirror reflection of this dynamic. Here Apophenia is the point of everything. There are no scripted plots. There are no puzzles to solve created by game designers. There are no solutions.

QAnon grows on the wild misinterpretation of random data, presented in a suggestive fashion in a milieu designed to help the users come to the intended misunderstanding. Getting lost is the point. No path IS the path. They have pre-seeded the conclusions. They are constantly getting the player lost by pointing out unrelated random events and creating a meaning for them that fits the propaganda message Q is delivering.

The ideas of QAnon are presented as knowledge, but they are in fact beliefs. That is the major difference between QAnon and an actual game: that Q is almost pure propaganda. That is the sole purpose of this. It’s not advertising a product, it’s not for fun, and it’s not an art project. There is no doubt about the political nature of the propaganda either. From ancient tropes about Jewish people and Democrats eating babies (blood-libel re-booted) to anti-science hysteria to Donald Trump being Jesus’ son who has returned to dismantle the Anti-Christ union, this is all the solid “reliable” stuff of authoritarianism. A belief in purging what (they wrongfully think) is evil. And while I will not deny that a great deal of bigotry, racism, sexism, xenophobia was already previously present within these groups, we must not also forget that a number of very rational folks have also been sucked into this propaganda. With a healthy sprinkle of debatable truths (Trudeau essentially condemning the economy by leaving the budget to balance itself) with total lies (Bill Gates implanting people with microchips so he can supply child trafficking victims to Trudeau), it always maintains the feeling of you getting close to the truth, it just being a throwing distance away. When players arrive at the “correct” answers they are showered with adoration, respect, and social credit. Like a role player in Witcher 3, the “happy ending” is the one that the group strives for and makes the story the most enjoyable. The idea that bolsters the theory, the “correct” answer is the one that provides the poster with the most credit. It’s like a survival of the fittest but for stories. The plausible ones remain but somehow still bolster their false beliefs. It’s truly fantastic. It’s like a snow removal truck in a forest. It will never realise if it goes off the path, because it is creating the path whatever direction it goes in.

I sure hope that I’m wrong, but QAnon feels like it’s a terrorist group in its infancy that has the potential to inspire many lone wolf attacks in North America, especially now that Biden and Trudeau are firmly in power. They’ve been led by themselves into thinking that just about every Hollywood celebrity or politician with liberal leanings are out there drinking the blood of children killed in Satanic blood rituals (I wish I was making this up…). All Q had to do was appear as an enigma and say there was an answer to their frustrations against the status quo. He certainly does not exist and these people certainly have no way to prove their claims. But this won’t stop them. If these “patriots” truly believe, and that they will liberate the world with an assault rifle and Call of Duty level plot armour, then violence seems almost inevitable. Remember, they literally thought they could invade Congress without repercussion.

It’s called “stochastic terrorism”, and this is where far right conservatism comes in to nurture Q’s crazy beliefs instead of quashing them as liberalism usually does. It’s been a centrepoint of the right-wing playbook for quite a while now. It’s substantially less disrupting than a traditional terror cell; all you really have to do is never stop broadcasting the propaganda that you were probably gonna be broadcasting for other purposes, anyway. If you think of it as if it were economics, it requires much fewer resources to radicalize new inductees into your thoughtsphere if you just cast a broad enough net. Create a system where the inductees themselves find out more targets to radicalise, and it becomes a self sustaining worm. Also, they’re sort of similar to independent contractors, in that they aren’t actually connected to you in any concrete way and it’s nearly impossible to cogently argue that you’re culpable for what they do. You lose all control over when and how these acts play out, but these acts happening at all are going to tend to serve the desired purposes. Flood the news cycle with more drama to make it easier to slip more falsehood through the firehose, and being an ad hoc advertisement for the whole thought movement, to find more future radicals who may be inclined to dedicate their lives to the same purpose. I keep drawing from this single example since it pertains to North America, but I sincerely think a large swath of the Republicans had nothing to do with the attack at the US Capitol. Yet it would also be foolish to think that they did not tend to the flames and add fuel to the fire until it became an uncontrollable inferno. How many of you know about the butcher from Manitoba who attacked 24 Sussex Dr. with an assault rifle in an aim to kill Trudeau? How many links do you think he had to terrorist groups? None. He was completely and utterly radicalised by a social media account.

That is why I do not agree with the term “lone wolf”. That might have been true before the internet age, but now? No. I think the idea of a person who consumes a lot of an idea on the internet, is not self-radicalizing. They’re being radicalized by other members speaking to one another in posts through the internet. It’s no different than a person being pulled into a neo-nazi group through a series of face-to-face meetings in that respect. And the actions at the Capital certainly show that these people are not acting on their own. This groupthink further emboldens them in their belief of being right and their insistence on you “doing your own research”, because they are certain that once you truly study the cases, you will see how right they are and join them. It would have been a beautiful example of people being encouraged to research a topic before discussion if not for the fact that said topic is grounded entirely in delusion.

If you haven’t figured it by now, QAnon does not simply publish propaganda, they manufacture it. Going back now, Charles’ character was so engrossed in seeing any clue of a superhuman inside the innocent shopkeeper, he ignored the fact that he was just another ordinary human-like Charles, and still killed him because he could not bring himself to unsee the fake clue. The rhetoric here is that QAnon and related groups create actual terrorists by giving them fictional terrorists to fight. This amoral, uncaring, empathy and humanity-free style of modern conservatism should have no foothold in a modern world. But it does because its audience is being guided into a projection of evil. The real irony is that western radicals love pointing fingers at like-minded, identical radicals in the middle east: people who have become indoctrinated by extremism under the pretext of fighting for their religion, while searching for a sign of the Anti-Christ in everything they disagree with and attempting to establish a theocracy themselves.

This is one of the most fascinating forms of indoctrination I have ever witnessed and one that makes me question how deserving we are of free speech on the internet. Should we, in our quest to ensure liberty, equality and fraternity, allow questionable agencies to covertly undermine them? Should we allow an unrestricted supply of lies and delusion by the media to people? And should social media allow echo chambers of conspiracy theories to exist? Are we hoping that one day these very delusional people see the light? Because the pessimist in me does not have high hopes for that. 

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