On Saturday, writing for The New Yorker, Matt Alt explored the ways that the QAnon conspiracy theory — which holds that Trump is trying to bring down a world-spanning Satanic sex trafficking operation by Democrats and the Deep State — is essentially a new version of an age-old paranoid belief system, repackaged for the age of the internet.
"QAnon is a conspiracy theory, but it is many other things as well, by turns an online troll campaign, a Messianic world view, a form of interactive role-playing, and a way to sell T-shirts," wrote Alt. "QAnon sounds like the plot of a Z-grade horror movie, but it is a product of the Internet and, more specifically, of social-media networks."
Above all, wrote Alt, QAnon is the re-emergence of a fanatical belief system that is responsible for some of mankind's greatest atrocities.
"In his 1957 treatise on eschatological belief systems, 'The Pursuit of the Millennium,' the late British historian Norman Cohn examined 'millennialism' — the conviction that a savior will arrive to punish evil and refashion the world into a paradise for the faithful," wrote Alt. "Focussing mainly on medieval Europe, he was one of the first academics to quantify how populations beset by social change and economic inequality are uniquely susceptible to end-of-times conspiracy theories ... It is such delusions, Cohn believed, that paved the way for dark episodes in human history, ranging from the Crusades to Nazism."
"You might suppose that, with all the information now available to us, millennialist thinking would be in decline rather than running rampant online," wrote Alt. "But the warning signs were present from the early years of the Internet: a conspiracy similar to QAnon emerged in Japan in the nineties, offering a prescient glimpse of how the 'information superhighway' would not lead to the rational utopia that its supporters had prophesied." This conspiracy theory, known as Aum Shinrikyo ("Supreme Truth") drove young Japanese believers to release nerve gas on subways, killing thirteen people and injuring thousands.
"Conspiracy theories blossom in trying times, but today they are supercharged by the tools of our hyperconnected communities—the Internet, ever-present in our homes and smartphones; massive social-media networks; and algorithmic recommendation systems that connect us in ways both empowering and toxic," concluded Alt. "As illustrated by the recurring struggles of post-industrial information societies as disparate as Japan and America, human nature virtually guarantees it."
You can read more here.