March 4 a decisive date for QAnon believers

A protester holds a Q sign while waiting in line with others to enter a 2018 campaign rally with President Donald Trump in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Photo: Associated Press
By Barbara Gutierrez

A protester holds a Q sign while waiting in line with others to enter a 2018 campaign rally with President Donald Trump in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Photo: Associated Press

March 4 a decisive date for QAnon believers

By Barbara Gutierrez
Are followers of this right-wing, Pro-Trump premise on the rise? An expert on conspiracy theories weighs in.

They have appeared frequently in news reports. Sporting a large Q on their T-shirts, their flags, or their posters. These are members of the QAnon conspiracy theory. Many were part of the January 6 siege on the Capitol and participated in several anti-mask and anti-lockdown protests in various state capitals.

QAnon is an online conspiracy theory with followers who believe that there is a battle going on between former president Donald Trump and a satanic-dominated deep state that apparently controls the government.

“They believe that this deep state sex-traffics children and eats the children to cover up their crimes,” said Joseph Uscinski, associate professor of political science at the University of Miami, who has studied conspiracy theories for the past decade. The conspiracy theory began in 2017 after an anonymous leader, with a code name Q, started giving clues online for people to follow.

Although the group appears to be ever present in media and a number of stories suggest that it is growing, the number of people who believe in this theory is relatively low, said Uscinski. In a poll he carried out in October among 2,000 registered voters, only 6.8 percent were believers.

“The news is covering it quite a bit because it is flashy and it sounds crazy and it plays into these fears that people have about misinformation and conspiracy theories,” said Uscinski.  

One clue that followers received states that on March 4, 2021, Trump will be sworn in as the real president. Others believe Trump will return to power on March 20. The U.S. Capitol Police is preparing for another assault on the building on Thursday after hearing of reports from extremist groups.

What happens when the date comes and goes and the prophecy does not become reality?

“They change the date,” said Uscinski. “The QAnon movement has been built on prophecies that continuously fail.” For years, followers of the conspiracy believed that Hillary Clinton and other members of the deep state would be arrested and taken to Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp.

Uscinski’s poll suggests that conspiracy theorists have “unsavory personality traits,” such as narcissism. They also are likely to admit that they are sharing fake news, said Uscinski.

But others deduce that although believers in conspiracy theories may seem extreme, they are not different from the rest of us.

“These folks are not necessarily abnormal or crazy,” said Debra Lieberman, associate professor of psychology. “To call them abnormal and crazy could be seen as hypocritical.”

Lieberman said that humans have deeply rooted psychological adaptations to form and belong to coalitions.

“We all have a psychology to adopt a coalition and to adopt the beliefs of that coalition,” she said. Think of religions, she explained, each follows different dogmas and beliefs. Often, the beliefs can seem fantastical “like someone being reborn and coming back to life.” 

Each coalition pushes its own agenda and believes that its doctrine is superior to others, she said.

These conspiracy theorists are not in themselves dangerous, according to  Uscinski.

Experts agree that QAnon does not seem to be a cult. Indeed, they do not blindly follow a leader and do not live in communes.

“I think QAnon would fit a group of individuals who share similar beliefs and attitudes regarding a specific issue or issues,” said Alex Piquero, professor and chair of the Department of Sociology.

And trying to confront them to change their views can be tricky.

“If the goal is to tell them that they are wrong, you will not be successful,” said Lieberman. Like cult members, they have to want to leave the group in their own time, she added.