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What is QAnon? Why is it popular and dangerous? And how can Christians respond?

Dr. Jim Denison is the CEO of Denison Forum.
His Daily Article and podcast globally reach over 160,000 subscribers. Dr. Denison guides readers to discern today’s news—biblically. He is the author of multiple books and has taught on the philosophy of religion and apologetics at several seminaries. Prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, he pastored churches in Texas and Georgia. He holds a Ph.D and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Janet, live in Dallas, Texas. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

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Protestors hold up a QAnon sign.
People take part in a demonstration opposing the mandatory wearing of face masks in Montreal, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP)

On December 4, 2016, Edgar Maddison Welch drove 360 miles from North Carolina to Washington, DC, where he entered the front door of a pizzeria called Comet Ping Pong. Armed with a 9-mm AR-15 rifle, a Colt revolver, and a shotgun, he walked through the restaurant. At one point, he tried using a butter knife to pry open a locked door, then fired several rounds from his rifle into the lock. Behind the door was a small computer-storage closet. 

Welch traveled to Washington because of a conspiracy claiming that Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring out of the basement of Comet Ping Pong. However, the restaurant has no basement. When Welch realized that Comet Ping Pong was just a pizza shop, he set down his firearms, walked out the door, and surrendered to police. 

Welch has been described as a dedicated father, a devout Christian, and a man who went out of his way to care for others. He had trained as a volunteer firefighter and went on an earthquake-response mission to Haiti with the local Baptist Men’s Association. 

When he went on trial, he wrote a note to the judge stating, “It was never my intention to harm or frighten innocent lives, but I realize now just how foolish and reckless my decision was.” He was sentenced to four years in prison. 

What is QAnon? 

The idea that a cabal of powerful elites is abusing children and getting away with it is part of a movement known as QAnon. This is the name for the family of conspiracy theories promoted by Q (or “Q Clearance Patriot”) as well as the community of supporters who promote and advance these theories. 

The name is derived from “Q,” a mysterious figure (supposedly a military official) who began posting anonymously online. “Q” refers to the clearance level for top-secret material such as nuclear weapons designs. QAnon does not have a physical location, but according to the Atlantic, “it has an infrastructure, a literature, a growing body of adherents, and a great deal of merchandising.” 

Christianity Today calls QAnon “a wolf in wolf’s clothing” and an “insidious internet demon.” They describe the movement as “a conspiracy theory that claims that a secret cabal in government, the media, and other influential institutions is engaged in child sex trafficking, cannibalism of a sort, and the usual conspiracist bugbear of world domination and human sacrifice.” 

One sub-theory in the movement claims that footage exists of Hillary Clinton and her aide “ripping off a child’s face and wearing it as a mask before drinking the child’s blood in a Satanic ritual sacrifice.” 

On October 28, 2017, a new user calling himself Q posted on a right-wing site favored by white supremacists called 4chan. Q predicted that Hillary Clinton would be arrested and massive riots would break out nationally on October 30, 2017. When the day came and went without fulfilling Q’s predictions, adherents concluded that the cabal interfered. 

This highlights a significant feature of QAnon: its unfalsifiability. One conspiracy theory researcher explains: “Q will say something very vague, like, ‘Watch the water,’ [and] because water covers most of the planet . . . there’s going to be a news event eventually that involves Trump and water. And so the QAnon community will look at that and will say, ‘Look, Trump drank a glass of water on camera. Q said, “Watch the water.” That means that Q predicted the event’—which, of course, is nonsense.” 

According to the movement, President Trump and military officials are working to expose a “deep state” pedophile ring with links to Hollywood, the media, and the Democratic Party. QAnon followers believe that the president has already arrested these people and that they’re now wearing ankle monitors. They are being charged in underground courts before being sent eventually to Guantánamo Bay, an event Q calls “The Storm.” 

QAnon followers believe the cabal includes Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and George Soros, entertainers and Hollywood celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Tom Hanks, and Ellen DeGeneres, and religious leaders such as Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama. Many believe that, in addition to molesting children, members of this group kill and eat their victims to extract a life-extending chemical from their blood. The movement’s ideology is deeply anti-Semitic as well. 

According to QAnon lore, Donald Trump was recruited by top military generals to run for president in 2016 in order to break up this criminal conspiracy, end its control of the media and politics, and bring its members to justice. QAnon followers who consider themselves “digital soldiers” for the cause take the Q oath, a standard oath to defend the US Constitution with the concluding line added by Q himself, “Where we go one, we go all.” 

The Atlantic reports that “the QAnon universe is sprawling and deep, with layer upon layer of context, acronyms, characters, and shorthand to learn. The ‘castle’ is the White House. ‘Crumbs’ are clues. CBTS stands for ‘calm before the storm,’ and WWG1WGA stands for ‘Where we go one, we go all,’ which has become an expression of solidarity among Q followers.” 

It adds: “The most prominent QAnon figures have a presence beyond the biggest social-media platforms and image boards. The Q universe encompasses numerous blogs, proprietary websites, and types of chat software, as well as alternative social-media platforms such as Gab, the site known for anti-Semitism and white nationalism, where many people banned from Twitter have congregated. Vloggers and bloggers promote their Patreon accounts, where people can pay them in monthly sums. There’s also money to be made from ads on YouTube.” 

Why is QAnon so popular? 

According to a survey of registered voters, 61 percent of Americans say they are not a supporter of QAnon. Another 21 percent say they’ve never heard of it; 11 percent are unsure; and 6 percent say they support the movement. This seems like a small number, but since there are more than 153 million registered voters in the US, 6 percent equates to more than nine million people. 

According to the Atlantic, QAnon “carries on a tradition of apocalyptic thinking that has spanned thousands of years. It offers a polemic to empower those who feel adrift.” The New York Times adds that, unlike other conspiracy theories, QAnon operates “in a different way, and at a different scale, than anything we’ve seen before.” It is deeply participatory, with followers congregating online to decode the latest Q posts, discuss theories about the day’s news, and bond with fellow believers. 

As the New Yorker notes, “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; immense social-media networks; and algorithmic recommendation systems that connect us in ways both empowering and toxic.” 

Twenty-seven political candidates who have endorsed, promoted, or given credence to QAnon content have secured spots on the ballot in November’s general election. Three additional candidates are running as write-ins. 

As Christianity Today notes, QAnon has been especially popular with some Christians. It bears striking similarities to biblical doctrine. Its version of the Fall is the cabal. Q is the movement’s John the Baptist. “Drops” (prophecies made by Q) are its Scripture. And President Trump is its messiah, “ostensibly working at great personal cost to defeat the cabal and usher in a new age of American greatness.” 

Q drops often quote Scripture, a tactic that appeals to believers. It is attractive to Christians who distrust mainstream news sources. Since 46 percent of self-identified evangelicals “strongly agreed that the mainstream media produced fake news,” such suspicion is widespread. 

And it promises a “Great Awakening,” a single event in which everyone will attain the epiphany that QAnon was accurate the entire time. This realization will allow society to enter a utopian age. Many QAnon posts and merchandise feature 2 Chronicles 7:14, a verse that is popular among evangelicals seeking spiritual awakening in our day. 

One church hosts two-hour Sunday services showing how biblical prophecies confirm Q’s messages. Its leaders tell the congregation to stop watching mainstream media (even conservative outlets) because they’re “Luciferian.” Instead, they are urged to watch QAnon’s YouTube channels for their daily media diet and the Qmap website that lists new QAnon conspiracy theories. The church also claims that the same deep state that controls the world has infiltrated traditional churches.  

QAnon is similar to Gnosticism, an early movement that blended elements of Greek philosophy and Zoroastrianism with Christianity and emphasized secret divine knowledge (gnosis is “knowledge” in Greek). Early church fathers such as Irenaeus and Tertullian rejected Gnostic ideas as heresy. 

Why is QAnon dangerous? 

The Polaris Project provides social services to victims of sex trafficking, works with law enforcement to perform crisis interventions for possible trafficking victims, and runs the US National Human Trafficking Hotline. In a blog post, the organization warns that conspiracy theories harm the child sex trafficking cause. 

For example, the National Human Trafficking Hotline received hundreds of reports claiming that the online retailer Wayfair is part of a complex child sex trafficking scheme. These reports originated in the QAnon community. They overwhelmed the hotline, which meant long wait times for victims in crisis or service providers trying to find immediate help for someone in need. 

The FBI considers QAnon and similar conspiracy theories to be domestic terrorist threats and released a report documenting violent attacks and threats of violence. Researchers at Media Matters have tracked multiple such incidents, including: 

  • A Washington man who murdered his brother with a sword
  • An Oregon man who threatened to kill YouTube employees over alleged censorship
  • A man accused of murdering an alleged crime boss
  • An armed Nevada man who used an armored vehicle to block the Hoover Dam
  • An Oklahoma man who threatened to assassinate President Trump

In addition, an Illinois woman inspired by QAnon conspiracy theory videos traveled to New York City in April with more than a dozen illegal knives and threatened to kill former Vice President Joe Biden, according to police and her own social media posts. 

QAnon followers have also downplayed the threat of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and called it a hoax. Many believe the virus to be a deep state plot to damage the economy and otherwise hinder President Trump’s reelection chances.  

As a result, YouTube recently announced that it was updating its policies to prohibit content promoting QAnon. Facebook hardened its rules related to QAnon content; Pinterest, Etsy, and Triller have also announced restrictions on QAnon content. The US House recently voted 371 to 18 to condemn the movement. 

How should we respond biblically to QAnon? 

Let’s consider four biblical responses to QAnon’s claims and practices. 

One: Beware “secret” knowledge 

As we have seen, QAnon leaders and followers communicate in codes only they can decipher. They claim to have inside knowledge of government workings and of future events. This gateway to hidden truth is part of their appeal, a contemporary expression of the Edenic temptation: “When you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). 

By contrast, Jesus declared, “I have spoken openly in the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret” (John 18:20). As opposed to a secret movement for only the initiated, God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). 

Two: Measure prophecies by Scripture and fulfillment 

As we have noted, QAnon followers focus on ambiguous predictions made by Q that, when unfulfilled, are unfalsifiable (“the cabal interfered,” etc.). Jesus warned us, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15). His word teaches, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). 

We are to measure all truth claims by the truth: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). We can trust God’s word, knowing that “no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). 

And we are to measure predictions by their fulfillment: “When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if that word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him” (Deuteronomy 18:22). Unfalsifiable predictions are not from God. 

Three: Refuse falsehoods and slander 

QAnon repeatedly makes predictions that do not come true and slanders religious and secular leaders. However, Scripture teaches that “lying lips are an abomination to the Lord” (Proverbs 12:22). God’s word is clear: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). The Lord warns us, “No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes” (Psalm 101:7). 

Scripture also warns: “Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly I will destroy” (Psalm 101:5). We are “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:2). 

Even when we must defend our faith, we are to do so “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). The Lord announced through his prophet, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness” (Isaiah 5:20). 

We must be vigilant against falsehoods: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8). 

Four: Share truth with grace 

Scripture calls us to “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5–6). We are to “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). 

And we are to teach others to do the same: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In this power, we are to be “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20) as we “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). And we are to share the word of God in the love of Christ (Ephesians 4:15). 

Conclusion 

Christian researcher Ed Stetzer warns that evangelicals must not be “swept up in the bizarre [QAnon] movement.” He writes: “As seekers of truth, we need pastors, leaders, and everyday Christians to address this conspiracy, and others like it, before others are fooled. It’s the Christian’s role to speak up about this and against this.” 

Writing for the Gospel Coalition, Joe Carter states even more firmly that “Christians should care about QAnon because it’s a satanic movement infiltrating our churches.” He notes: “It is likely that someone in your church or social media circles has either already bought into the conspiracy or thinks it’s plausible and worth exploring. We should care because many believers will or are being swayed by the demonic influences of this movement.” 

The rising popularity of QAnon demonstrates the deep hunger in our secular society for community and for truth. We find both in Christ and his people. Now we are called to share what we have received as beggars helping beggars find bread. Leith Anderson: “The simple definition of evangelism: Those who know, telling those who don’t.” 

Martin Luther stated, “It is the duty of every Christian to be Christ to his neighbor.” 

Will you do your duty today? 

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