Column: QAnon’s monstrous conspiracy theories fit the Trumpian moment

A QAnon-inspired demonstration in Hollywood against supposed child trafficking.
A QAnon-inspired demonstration against supposed child trafficking in Hollywood in August.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

On the season finale of “Saturday Night Live” in May 2017, Tom Hanks was described as “universally adored by pretty much every human alive.”

That was the gag. Hanks could bring the divided country together, according to the sketch, because he is an anodyne delight to all, virtually impossible to dislike.

And that is exactly why Hanks — sweet old Mister Rogers-Sully-Gump-Woody — has become an archenemy of QAnon.


QAnon, of course, is the goth telenovela animating dangerous political action on the right, with a story line about how the world is run by a spooky syndicate of Satanists committing cartoonishly grisly misdeeds, including cannibalism and ritual child abuse.

To qualify for one of the villain parts in the ongoing tall tale, which is serialized on the internet for the cognitively vulnerable, it’s best to be blameless.

Blameless, like Hanks, almost to the point of caricature. Clean of thought, word and deed. Ready with a quick smile and a helping hand. If you’ve spent your life meeting your marks and being of service to others, you might make a perfect Satan.

That’s how Hanks became Hanksibal Lector. He’s so good, he’s got to be evil.

This is the way to understand QAnon: It’s a series of inversions of reality. The story may seem complicated, with detours involving the ghost of John F. Kennedy Jr. and Hanks’ fictional quest for asylum in Greece.

But the logic is simple. Good is evil, and evil is good. If Hanks is lovely, he must be vile. If Donald Trump is deceitful and barbaric, he must be … the Chosen One.

These inversions are not just a daft alternative-reality game for Facebook drunks. QAnon is a pseudo-religion with a worldview straight from the playbook of Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. It’s the kind of twisted conspiracy that any competent president would quickly put to rest.


Unnervingly, Trump has promoted QAnon and its adherents: “I understand … they like me very much, which I appreciate,” he said. “These are people who love their country.”

Several GOP candidates on the November ballot appear to have fallen prey to QAnon superstitions and slogans to some degree. Mark Cargile, a congressional candidate in California’s Inland Empire, has the QAnon hashtag slogan (#WWGOWGA; “Where We Go One We Go All”) on his campaign Twitter profile. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who may well win a House seat in Georgia, has called QAnon’s anonymous internet prophet Q a “patriot.” Some media estimates count as many as a dozen GOP candidates as Q-adjacent, among them Lauren Boebert, a Republican nominee for Congress in Colorado, and Jo Rae Perkins, running for the Senate in Oregon.

What makes QAnon’s outlandishness worth keeping an eye on is its sinister precedents.

Gregory Stanton, a cultural anthropologist and genocide scholar, elegantly summarized QAnon on the Just Security site: “A secret cabal is taking over the world. They kidnap children, slaughter, and eat them to gain power from their blood. They control high positions in government, banks, international finance, the news media, and the church. They want to disarm the police. They promote homosexuality and pedophilia. They plan to mongrelize the white race so it will lose its essential power.”

In this way, Stanton explains , the QAnon tale is not just similar but identical to “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the century-old Russian handbook of murderous anti-Semitism that helped set the stage for the Holocaust.

QAnon, like the “Protocols,” leans hard on the so-called blood libel, in which Jews were said to be consuming the blood of Christian children in a Passover ritual. In QAnon, the cannibals are a touch more diverse — many are Jews, sure; some are prominent Democrats; but there is also Chrissy Teigen, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Hanks.

The ridiculousness is the point, as QAnon merges with the crazy side of the American psyche. That pizza joint in Washington, D.C.? A den of devil-worshipping child molestors! Hillary Clinton? Headed for Gitmo! Bill Gates? He invented the coronavirus!

The United States did not sink into savagery over the last four years because of a real-world problem. It has sunk because the Trump machine relentlessly conjures defamatory snuff and porn out of thin air — and uses hyper-stimulating ghost stories as a pretext for its barbarity.


Trump came to power in 2016 spinning stories of rapes and murders that were not happening in an America, where violent crime has been decreasing for the last quarter century. He used his tales of invented carnage to advance the real thing, which is now luridly in evidence with police murders, hundreds of thousands dead from the pandemic, climate crisis conflagrations and hurricanes, and children still caged at the southern border.

And that’s how a blood libel works. The hysteria it engenders creates the carnage it decries.

One hundred years ago, crime rates among Jews in Europe were extremely lowmuch, much lower than in other communities, according to historians. But that truth was turned upside down by the kind of thinking in the “Protocols.” The most law-abiding were portrayed as criminal, monsters. And we know what happened next.

It’s hard to tell where our 2020 conspiracy theorists will go from here, but Q says the apocalypse is nigh and the demonic ones are going down.

This is grim stuff. A vocal faction of Americans — some seeking high places — are trafficking in rubbish: 5G is deadly, COVID-19 is a hoax, blue-state pedophiles roam the halls of Congress. No wonder they might also believe Tom Hanks — Tom Hanks! — is a cannibal.