Culture

How The QAnon Movement Is Growing In Australia

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QAnon is one of the biggest conspiracy movements in recent history.

In the past year QAnon has really broken into the mainstream, picking up tens of thousands of followers around the world, including here in Australia.

So, what do we need to know about the movement?

And how is QAnon spreading in Australian conspiracy groups?

In Australia, the movement has gained a huge amount of traction during the pandemic and even mainstream figures like Pete Evans and former AFL star Gary Ablett Senior have dipped into the QAnon universe.

The whole movement started in the dark corners of the internet in late 2017.

QAnon followers basically believe that President Trump is waging a war against a network of global elites who supposedly engage in acts of paedophilia, as well as blood and organ harvesting with children that they keep locked in secret underground tunnels across the world.

Dr Kaz Ross is a lecturer from the University of Tasmania who researches online extremism and she told me that a lot of the central ideas were taken from white supremacy groups.

Dr Kaz Ross: “This whole thing is a rehash from some early neo-Nazi material, which posed that there was an Illuminati made up of evil Jewish people who were running the world and they were also paedophiles praying on children. So underneath it it’s actually antisemitic.”

Eventually, QAnon reared its head in more mainstream parts of the internet – where it really exploded – and the QAnon belief system has now become an umbrella for other popular conspiracies.

Ross told me that once followers believe that the world is being run by a Satanic paedophile ring, it’s easy for other beliefs to fall into that universe, like conspiracies around 5G, face masks, anti-vaxxing, and believing COVID-19 is a government lie.

Even though social media sites have tried to crack down on it, QAnon has really flourished in established online conspiracy groups

Ross explained to me what it is about QAnon conspiracies that seem to hook people in.

KR: “I think because it provides a happy ending. In the end the plan will win and Trump will win and there will be a great awakening and we’ll move into a great period of spiritual human happiness, the evil cabal of paedophiles will fall and there’ll be a good ending. And I think that’s what makes it very appealing.”

But she also explained that here in Australia, the way the pandemic itself has happened might be partially responsible for the conspiracy’s growth.

A lot of Australians don’t know anybody who is sick or has died of COVID-19, so people are looking for alternative ways to understand lockdown.

The belief system is also morphing here in ways that are really specific to Australia.

QAnon beliefs here are focusing on the Victorian Premier, Dan Andrews because of his involvement with China’s Belt and Road initiative, claiming that it is a conspiracy to bring communism to Australia.

There are also even weirder beliefs starting to emerge – including one theory that’s beginning to take hold which claims that Uluru may be one centre for the underground tunnels and there are children being held captive beneath the landmark.

It all sounds pretty wild – but are there any real risks here?

More and more accounts are emerging of how damaging it is to have a loved one start believing in QAnon and join the movement.

But there’s more to it than that: US experts are also saying that QAnon is an unpredictable strain of extremism and there have already been violence incidents in the US that are linked to the conspiracy.

Ross said that it’s difficult to address a problem like this but she believes that the government should use a combination of scientific and digital literacy training to try and dissuade people from believing QAnon posts when they come across them.

But because a lot of followers came with the pandemic, Ross also said it might just be a matter of waiting it out.

KR: “You can only hope after the pandemic that people will start reconnecting with their friends and family in real life and maybe some of this will die down a bit.”

 The Takeaway

QAnon is an enormously successful conspiracy movement and there are legitimate reasons for us to take it seriously as a form of online extremism.

It’s also difficult to say what will happen to QAnon as the pandemic dies down but for the moment, policy makers should really be paying attention to its growth and trying to stem its spread.