As the MAGAs (Donald Trump’s base supporters) flout the advice of medical experts and instead follow Donald Trump’s lead in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve all but given up hope that common sense or reason might intervene. Even in the face of the virus’ mass devastation, many MAGAs continue to resist lockdowns, refuse to wear masks, and ignore social distancing guidelines, saying they’re not concerned, and/or citing their “liberty.”
Unquestionably, this behavior has contributed to the recent sharp re-surge in the number of cases and deaths in the U.S. With Trump as their role model, many MAGAs are also egged on by conspiracy theory movements that have found highly habitable homes inside MAGA heads; perhaps most notably, even if they don’t know it by name, Q, or QAnon.
Republicans, in general, pride themselves on being the party of small government. Some MAGAs, however, like the man they elected president, tend to be extreme: exceptionally mistrustful of government, science, and the media. They are often disillusioned and tend to embrace conspiracy theories, providing optimal conditions for nourishing the numerous baseless conspiracy theories such as those propagated by QAnon. The fact that Donald Trump retweets many of the conspiracy theories makes them even more credible to these members of his base.
The essence of QAnon is that a deep state cabal of global elites (which includes Hilary Clinton, Barack Obama, and….Tom Hanks) rules the world and controls the politicians, the media, and Hollywood, while covering up its own existence. This deep state is responsible for all of the evil in the world. Donald Trump is their only hope for defeating this cabal, and in fact was elected to stop them. The cabal, then, goes the theory, will do anything to take him down.
If that last part sounds vaguely familiar, it may be because QAnon has now infused its conspiracy mentality into the COVID-19 crisis. In the early days of COVID-19 in the U.S., QAnon was perpetuating the conspiracy theory that the deep state, in its zeal to bring down Donald Trump, had exaggerated the gravity of the virus so that the economy would collapse and Donald Trump would lose re-election.
All of this may seem a little extreme and even unhinged, but it’s not just private-citizen MAGAs who follow QAnon ideology; a number of 2020 Congressional candidates and right-wing media figures believe in it, support the idea of it, and/or promote it as positive for the country. In fact, more than 50 candidates (almost all Republican) who ran for Congress in 2020 have expressed support for QAnon.
When asked if she was familiar with QAnon, Lauren Boebert, Republican candidate for the House in Colorado’s 3rd District, said,
“I hope that this is real because it only means America’s getting stronger and better and people are returning to conservative values,”said “And that’s what I am for. And so everything that I have heard of this movement is only motivating and encouraging and bringing people together, stronger. And … if this is real, then it can be really great for our country.”
Great for our country? A stronger and better America?
“The most dangerous conspiracy theories about the coronavirus are now part of the QAnon phenomenon,” writes Marc-Andre Argentino in an article in The Conversation. “For months now, actors in QAnon have downplayed the severity of the crisis, amplified medical disinformation and have been originators of hoaxes.”
Many of us have an Aunt Cheryl or a Cousin George who refuses to wear a mask or stay inside, and who regularly posts outrageous “evidence” on social media that masks are dangerous, the virus is no more deadly than the flu, and social distancing orders are “tyranny.” These memes and posts are often prefaced with “Do your research” or “Just seeking the truth” (hence the term “trutherism” that is often associated with these conspiracy theories).
Chances are, the Aunt Cheryls and Cousin Georges of the world have never heard of organizations like QAnon. They simply log into their social media accounts, see a post that promises information “they don’t want you to know,” such as “statistics” showing that COVID-19 is less deadly than the health experts have said, and pass it on. Even if they pass the information with the intent of being helpful, it can be deadly.
“The QAnon conspiracies have created an environment of complacency among its followers who aren’t taking the risks posed by the virus seriously,” says Argentino.
Further, they have fostered the idea that the guidelines, recommendations, and mandates put forth by public health experts are nothing more than an effort to control their lives.
Since the tendencies of those who subscribe to the QAnon-originated conspiracies tend to have a wide mistrust of science, the media, and “authority,” information presented as “privileged” or “secret” appeals to them. No amount of evidence, no number of laws or recommendations— not even any amount of surges in the number of COVID-19 cases— are likely to influence them to change their behavior, because they have information that “most people don’t know.”
And so the large gatherings at mega-churches and beaches continue, as do events such as the recent Trump rally in Tulsa and the Fourth of July fireworks at Mt. Rushmore, where the South Dakota governor proudly says that no social distancing will be required.
The FBI has called QAnon’s spread of conspiracy theories a “potential domestic terrorism threat.” It’s also a public health threat.
Here are examples of how QAnon has influenced the MAGAs’ response to the coronavirus:
The COVID-19 “Hoax”
Starting in February, QAnon propagated the idea that COVID-19 was a deep state plot to damage Trump’s chances for re-election. Warnings about the pandemic from public health experts and others were seen as efforts by the Democrats to stop Trump rallies, detract from other domestic issues, and destroy the economy, all to prevent Trump’s re-election.
The “Empty Hospital” Conspiracy
As news outlets reported on hospitals overcrowded with COVID-19 patients, overworked and endangered health care staff, and the threat of running out of ventilators and ICU beds, people associated with QAnon spread an “empty hospital” conspiracy, using the #FilmYourHospital hashtag. The conspiracy challenged people to drive by their local hospital and take a picture of the parking lot. A lot that wasn’t full was labeled as “proof” that what the media was reporting about overburdened hospitals wasn’t true.
QAnon conspiracy theories have led some evangelicals to adopt the idea that the pandemic is the coming of the Kingdom of God on earth, as promised in the evangelical Bible. They see the virus as “spiritual warfare,” and therefore, don’t believe they’ll be affected by it. Only those not chosen by God, they believe, will contract it. This, too, has contributed to the downplaying of the virus in some evangelical and MAGA communities.
It’s a short step, then, to the view that requiring masks, lockdowns, and social distancing, are “tyranny,” and that including churches in the orders against large group meetings are a calculated effort to suppress freedom of religion.
An early QAnon conspiracy theory regarding COVID-19 was the theory that the virus was a Chinese bioweapon, developed and released as a joint venture between China and the Democrats to destroy the U.S. economy and stop Trump from being re-elected. Donald Trump keeps this conspiracy alive with his racist-tinged terms for the virus, such as “the Chinese virus,” and a MAGA favorite, “the Kung Flu.”
Although the conspiracies put forth by QAnon and others may sound wacky, we should take their influence seriously. They, and in turn those who believe them, have politicized a potentially deadly virus, so that in some parts of the country, one’s attitude toward COVID-19 is an indicator of how loyal one is to Donald Trump. The divisiveness and misinformation spread by these conspiracy theories are, at least in part, responsible for its exponential spread in the U.S.
As long as there is support for politicians who see the QAnon movement as a good thing for the country, and help perpetuate its misinformation, we may have to find ways to work around them as we combat the COVID-19 crisis in the U.S. We cannot hold out hope that the MAGAs and others who support such ideology will come around— there is no indication that they will ever stay home.
QAnon Supporter Lauren Boebert Beats Five-Term GOP Congressman |
QAnon conspiracy theory spreads to political mainstage |
CBS News [2020-02-10]