IN THE MEDIA

QAnon is more than a conspiracy

Oct 19, 2020 | Naomi Levin

Senator Malcolm Roberts holds a copy of Agenda 21.
Senator Malcolm Roberts holds a copy of Agenda 21.

Daily Telegraph, October 19 2020

 

This week, in a move described as a “hammer blow” to the QAnon movement by one commentator, Facebook removed hundreds of QAnon pages and groups from its social media platforms.

It was a significant – and overdue – move by the social media giant over a movement that is gaining dangerous traction in Australia.

While it is easy to dismiss QAnon’s nonsensical ramblings about children apparently being trafficked through sewer tunnels, it is less easy to dismiss QAnon supporters’ forays into racist commentary. This commentary is being pushed by Australian politicians, perhaps unaware of the rabbit hole they are leading their constituents down.

QAnon is an online movement that surfaced in the United States in 2017, but has infiltrated other countries, including Australia. It is based on cryptic messages distributed via social media by an anonymous source known as Q – who is apparently a senior US official. It is ostensibly a far-right movement, but attracts anti-establishment types on the far-left too. It is highly pro-Donald Trump. It also has a strong vein of antisemitism.

The coronavirus pandemic has enhanced the popularity of QAnon in Australia. Australians are gathering on social media to lament lockdown measures. There they discover a treasure trove of theories about the “real reasons” behind the lockdown and eventually, many are introduced to Q. Facebook, which has taken strong action this week, was a gateway for many into the world of QAnon.

QAnon is not a membership movement so it is impossible to know how many followers it has. Academic Marc-Andre Argentino estimates Australia is in the top-5 countries for QAnon activity. But how has QAnon – a movement ostensibly embedded in the US – got traction in Australia?

Researcher Dr Kaz Ross, from the University of Tasmania, has suggested that One Nation politicians have raised conspiracy theories that may have led Australians down the QAnon rabbit hole. There is no suggestion, however, that One Nation senators are themselves involved in or supporters of QAnon.

One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts’ Parliamentary speeches in support of the baseless Agenda 21 conspiracy theory are one potential opening.

Agenda 21 was a non-binding sustainability plan adopted by UN members in 1992, but Dr Ross explains: “The belief that ‘Agenda 21’ is a blueprint for corrupt global governance has become a core tenet of QAnon in Australia.”

One Nation leader, Pauline Hanson, in attempting to move an “All Lives Matter” motion in the Senate in June, may also have led Australians toward QAnon.

The “All Lives Matter” slogan – used in opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement – has been adopted as a rallying cry of far-right movements and as a mantra of racists.

“It sickened me to see people holding up signs saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ in memory of this American criminal [George Floyd]. I’m sorry but all lives matter,” Senator Hanson told the Senate.

She went on to proclaim that more white people die in police custody in Australia than black people, while neglecting to mention that only 3.3% of Australia’s population is Aboriginal, and that the Aboriginal population is significantly over-represented in deaths in custody figures.

The ideas raised by the One Nation senators – Agenda 21 and All Lives Matter – are not only fringe, but they both play on racism; in the case of Agenda 21, antisemitism explicitly.

As Dr Ross wrote of Senator Roberts’ Agenda 21 Senate speech: “Any talk of ‘global bankers and cabals’ directly taps into longstanding antisemitic conspiracies about supposed Jewish world domination often centred on the figure of billionaire George Soros. The pandemic and QAnon have also proven to be fertile ground for neo-Nazis in Australia.”

Argentino has also observed a “fair amount of antisemitism” on Australian QAnon notice boards.

In the US, QAnon’s supporters have left death threats for Jewish Democratic political candidate Scott Wiener.

While the clues dropped by Q do not espouse violence, the FBI has identified QAnon as “very likely” to “motivate some domestic extremists, wholly or in part, to commit criminal and sometimes violent activity.”

Australia’s own ASIO explained in a recent statement that the risk of violence associated with Islamist terrorism remains a larger threat in Australia, however “extreme right-wing groups and individuals represent a serious, increasing and evolving threat to security.”

A number of prominent US terrorism incidents have already been linked to extreme-right movements like QAnon, including a deadly shooting at a Californian synagogue in 2018.

QAnon should not be dismissed as fringe quackery; it is a dangerous movement that is gaining support locally and could have real life consequences for those who are targeted by its supporters.

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