An odd group of conspiracy theorists has sprung up, initially in the US. It is based on what its followers believe is someone in the security services in the US, who leaves cryptic clues online, that the aficionados spend countless hours attempting to decipher. This person goes by the handle ‘Q’ and its followers term themselves QAnon. There is no reason to believe that the person has anything to do with the security services, as anyone with internet access and a moderate facility with words could be the source.
According to political scientist Joseph Uscinski, who specialises in the study of conspiracy theories1, “QAnon is unusual because it offers Republicans an alternate view of the world when they already control nearly the entire government”. Uscinski added: “conspiracy theories are for losers,” and “normally you don’t expect the winning party to use them, except when they’re in trouble”. According to QAnon, every president before Trump was a “criminal” and all were part of the usual old conspiracies: the global banking elite, death squads operating on orders from Hillary Clinton, deep-state intelligence operatives, and Pizzagate-style paedophile rings. In an effort to break this cabal’s grip, according to Q, the military convinced Trump to run for president and now Trump and his allies in the military are about to arrest all these wrongdoers. That coming purge has been dubbed “The Storm” by QAnon, who claim this is what Trump referenced when he said “calm before the storm” in a speech in October, 20182,3.
As if this wasn’t crazy enough, it gets worse. A number of these QAnon conspiracy theorists believed that at Trump’s rally in July 4th, 2019, the late John Fitzgerald Kennedy would emerge from his 57 years of hiding to claim his rightful role as Trump’s running mate, at the age of 103 (he was born in May 1917 and was assassinated in November 1963). If that is not being out of touch with reality, not much else is. QAnon also believed that on July 31st, 2019, all documents relating to the “deep state” corruption would finally be declassified. Unfortunately for QAnon, that didn’t happen. No doubt that engendered another furious round of reinterpretation of the Q clues4. Reality has not been known to impinge on their beliefs.
An FBI intelligence bulletin, dated May 30, 2019, describes “conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists,” as a growing threat, and notes that it is the first such report to do so. The document specifically mentions QAnon, a shadowy network that believes in a deep state conspiracy against President Trump, and Pizzagate, the theory that a paedophile ring including Clinton associates was being run out of the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant (which doesn’t actually have a basement). “The FBI assesses these conspiracy theories very likely will emerge, spread, and evolve in the modern information marketplace, occasionally driving both groups and individual extremists to carry out criminal or violent acts,” the document states. It also goes on to say the FBI believes conspiracy theory-driven extremists are likely to increase during the 2020 presidential election campaign5.
It is easy to say ‘Only in America’ as if such ludicrous beliefs could occur only there. Unfortunately, this is ignoring the reality that these wacky beliefs have also taken hold in Australia. At a recent series of demonstrations bemoaning the lockdown in the capital cities in May, all the usual conspiracy theories were in evidence on placards, and in shouted phrases and ‘songs’. At least one of the placards had ‘WWG1WGA’ on it. This is an abbreviation of the QAnon motto ‘Where we go one, we go all’. It was accompanied by a long list of QAnon conspiracies: that the Covid pandemic was planned; that there is satanic ritual child abuse or sacrifice by the powerful; 5G is the source of Covid-19, not coronavirus; the Vatican contacts aliens through their Lucifer Telescope; among others6. When Prime Minister Scott Morrison was queried about these demonstrations, he simply said; “It’s a free country. People will make their protests and their voices heard”. This was very much unlike his request that people not go to the Black Lives Matter demonstrations7. Morrison would be unlikely to disparage the QAnon demonstration because it is part of the demographic to which the Liberal Party appeals. However, there might be another bit more personal reason he would not want to upset them.
While there have always been fruitcakes around, even in a favoured demographic, the disturbing thing about the current situation is that a significant Australian proponent of the QAnon conspiracy theory is one Tim Stewart. Stewart is a family friend of Prime Minister and Stewart’s wife Lynelle has been employed by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet on the recommendation of the Prime Minister’s Office to work at Morrison’s official Sydney residence, Kirribilli. However, she is not employed in any policy or advisory capacity, and was employed before obtaining the security clearance that is a requirement to work there. The family friendship is lifelong and is largely driven by the closeness between Stewart’s wife and Jenny Morrison, each of whom were bridesmaids at the other’s wedding. So, Jenny Morrison’s best friend is employed by the taxpayer (on $85,000 a year) apparently only to attend to Jenny Morrison8-11.
Tim Stewart tweets under the handle @BurnedSpy3411 and spreads all the usual QAnon conspiracy drivel, quite commonly about the powerful indulging in ritual child abuse. Any real-world arrests or uncovering of paedophile rings is seen as just the tip of a paedophile iceberg, or as a ruse to put people off the trail.
It has been said that these idiotic QAnon views would not influence Morrison’s actions or policies. Indeed, the PM’s office and Tim Stewart have reacted to reporters asking about their relationship by insisting Stewart never tried to influence Morrison’s decision-making. However, he apparently did try, and succeeded12. In October of 2018, Morrison delivered the nation’s formal apology to the survivors of institutional child abuse to a packed Parliament House. In part, Morrison stated: “The crimes of ritual sexual abuse happened in schools, churches, youth groups, scout troops, orphanages, foster homes, sporting clubs, group homes, charities, and in family homes as well”13.
The word ‘ritual’ was not in the Royal Commission’s conclusions, and it passed almost everyone by in that emotional moment but was noted by a conspiracy-debunker and became a global issue. There was nothing ‘ritual’ about the child abuse uncovered by the Royal Commission; it was systematic and its cover-up was often also systematic. Stewart and other QAnon conspiracy theorists campaigned to get Morrison to include the word ‘ritual’ in his apology. This was because it is at the heart of the QAnon conspiracy theory that the elites, including Hillary Clinton and many other top politicians kidnap, rape and murder children, in rituals that are imagined on QAnon websites15. Indeed, some time before the national apology, Stewart sent a text to a colleague “I think Scott is going to do it!!”11 And Morrison did.
Morrison’s own religious beliefs are ridiculous enough, with a belief in the power of prayer, the rapture and all the other prosperity gospel drivel. Couple this with an antipathy to science, especially his refusal to believe in evolution and climate change, and pile on top of this a belief in the wacky QAnon conspiracy theories, and Australia is in very deep trouble.