Speed Reads

'crowdsourced misinformation campaign'

Jon Stewart and the BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse try to explain QAnon's irrational allure

The BBC has produced a podcast on QAnon called "The Coming Storm" in which journalist Gabriel Gatehouse attempts to understand why so many people bought into the conspiracy theory. "Where other series have tended to present QAnon followers as crackpots with a tenuous grip on reality, Gatehouse is respectful and maintains a curious rather than condescending tone," Fiona Sturges writes in the Financial Times.

Gatehouse and Jon Stewart dug into the topic on The Problem With Jon Stewart podcast, and they ended up in some unexpected places. If you take the main conspiracy theory points literally — Hillary Clinton and other global elites are in a cabal of blood-drinking pedophiles — "then obviously it's nonsense," Gatehouse said. "But if you take QAnon as a sort of parable," where a group of powerful actors are effectively running things behind the scenes, it makes more sense.

Stewart asked why QAnon followers would glom onto outrageous tales instead of that simpler populist argument. Gatehouse agreed that the "specificity" of Q's outlandish conspiracies helped it succeed where other LARP (live-action role play) "anon" accounts failed, but he also pointed to the "emotive" draw of child trafficking and QAnon's "participatory element." "People are deputized," Stewart said, and Gatehouse agreed, saying QAnon adherents "do their own research" and end up in bizarre places in their search for explanations on how they ended up "at the bottom of the pile."

Stewart suggested this search for "nefarious" scapegoats is in the same "universe" as the "the misinformation that the fascists used in the '30s" or even "the Salem witch trials," and Gatehouse said the big difference is that "the Nazis were in control of the message, but now we've got the internet, like, no one's in control of it." Right, "it's a crowdsourced misinformation campaign," Stewart said. He also suggested "the mainstream American media sowed the seeds for Q's virality by creating that adrenaline and cortisol in people's bodies of fear and always on the verge of disaster and catastrophe." Gatehouse agreed, they ended up talking about the apocryphal Donald Trump "pee tape."

Gatehouse also hinted at why the BBC might be interested in QAnon: "Well, you guys are always first, so wherever you go, we follow. So obviously the wheels are about to come off our democracy as well."

BBC correspondent Stephanie Hegarty also took a look at QAnon, and why it's so hard to quit.