Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Wizard of Q (Gaming Autistic Incels For Fun And Political Profit)


Harpers |  I concluded that the internet and the novel were natural enemies. “Choose your own adventure” stories were not the future of literature. The author should be a dictator, a tyrant who treated the reader as his willing slave, not as a cocreator. And high-tech flourishes should be avoided. Novels weren’t meant to link to Neil Diamond songs or, say, refer to real plane crashes on the day they happen. Novels were closed structures, their boundaries fixed, not data-driven, dynamic feedback loops. Until quite recently, these were my beliefs, and no new works emerged to challenge my thinking.

Then, late last year, while knocking around on the internet one night, I came across a long series of posts originally published on 4chan, an anonymous message board. They described a sinister global power struggle only dimly visible to ordinary citizens. On one side of the fight, the posts explained, was a depraved elite, bound by unholy oaths and rituals, secretly sowing chaos and strife to create a pretext for their rule. On the other side was the public, we the people, brave and decent but easily deceived, not least because the news was largely scripted by the power brokers and their collaborators in the press. And yet there was hope, I read, because the shadow directorate had blundered. Aligned during the election with Hillary Clinton and unable to believe that she could lose, least of all to an outsider, it had underestimated Donald Trump—as well as the patriotism of the US military, which had recruited him for a last-ditch battle against the psychopathic deep-state spooks. The writer of the 4chan posts, who signed these missives “Q,” invited readers to join this battle. He—she? it?—promised to pass on orders from a commander and intelligence gathered by a network of spies.
I was hooked.

Known to its fan base as ­QAnon, the tale first appeared last year, around Halloween. Q’s literary brilliance wasn’t obvious at first. His obsessions were unoriginal, his style conventional, even dull. He suggested that Washington was being purged of globalist evildoers, starting with Clinton, who was awaiting arrest, supposedly, but allowed to roam free for reasons that weren’t clear. Soon a whole roster of villains had emerged, from John ­McCain to John Podesta to former president Obama, all of whom were set to be destroyed by something called the Storm, an allusion to a remark by President Trump last fall about “the calm before the storm.” Clinton’s friend and supporter Lynn Forrester de Roth­schild, a member by marriage of the banking family abhorred by anti-Semites everywhere, came in for special abuse from Q and Co.—which may have contributed to her decision to delete her Twitter app. Along with George Soros, numerous other bigwigs, the FBI, the CIA, and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey (by whom the readers of Q feel persecuted), these figures composed a group called the Cabal. The goal of the Cabal was dominion over all the earth. Its initiates tended to be pedophiles (or pedophilia apologists), the better to keep them blackmailed and in line, and its esoteric symbols were everywhere; the mainstream media served as its propaganda arm. Oh, and don’t forget the pope.

As I read further, the tradition in which Q was working became clearer. Q’s plot of plots is a retread, for the most part, of Cold War–era John Birch Society notions found in books such as None Dare Call It Conspiracy. These Bircher ideas were borrowings, in turn, from the works of a Georgetown University history professor by the name of Carroll Quigley. Said to be an important influence on Bill Clinton, Quigley was a legitimate scholar of twentieth-century Anglo-American politics. His 1966 book Tragedy and Hope, which concerned the power held by certain elites over social and military planning in the West, is not itself a paranoid creation, but parts of it have been twisted and reconfigured to support wild theories of all kinds. Does Q stand for Quigley? It’s possible, though there are other possibilities (such as the Department of Energy’s “Q” security clearance). The literature of right-wing political fear has a canon and a pantheon, and Q, whoever he is, seems deeply versed in it.

While introducing his cast of fiends, Q also assembled a basic story line. Justice was finally coming for the Cabal, whose evil deeds were “mind blowing,” Q wrote, and could never be “fully exposed” lest they touch off riots and revolts. But just in case this promised “Great Awakening” caused panic in the streets, the National Guard and the Marine Corps were ready to step in. So were panels of military judges, in whose courts the treasonous cabalists would be tried and convicted, then sent to Guantánamo. In the manner of doomsayers since time began, Q hinted that Judgment Day was imminent and seemed unabashed when it kept on not arriving. Q knew full well that making one’s followers wait for a definitive, cathartic outcome is a cult leader’s best trick—for the same reason that it’s a novelist’s best trick. Suspense is an irritation that’s also a pleasure, so there’s a sensual payoff from these delays. And the more time a devotee invests in pursuing closure and satisfaction, the deeper her need to trust the person in charge. It’s why Trump may be in no hurry to build his wall, or to finish it if he starts. It’s why he announced a military parade that won’t take place until next fall.

As the posts piled up and Q’s plot thickened, his writing style changed. It went from discursive to interrogative, from concise and direct to gnomic and suggestive. This was the breakthrough, the hook, the innovation, and what convinced me Q was a master, not just a prankster or a kook. He’d discovered a principle of online storytelling that had eluded me all those years ago but now seemed obvious: The audience for internet narratives doesn’t want to read, it wants to write. It doesn’t want answers provided, it wants to search for them. It doesn’t want to sit and be amused, it wants to be sent on a mission. It wants to do.