QAnon influencer fight night, part ad nauseam

Several prominent influencers in the conspiracy movement are at each other’s throats… again

QAnon influencer fight night, part ad nauseam
Photo by Robert Couse-Baker

Social media influencers who run online QAnon conspiracy communities have spent recent weeks at war with one another, each accusing the others of having fallen away from the one true Q faith.

Just this month, former National Security Adviser turned QAnon folk hero Mike Flynn has disputed allegations that he conducted a Satanic ritual while speaking to a Nebraska church congregation. Attorney and Trump ally Lin Wood, one of the loudest voices of the modern QAnon movement, accused Q-friendly Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green of being a “communist” because she was insufficiently serious in her calls for more sham “audits” of the 2020 election. (That drama led to undercard feuds between Wood and additional influencers.) And arguments over who should and shouldn’t be included in a QAnon-flavored political conference in Las Vegas spawned flame wars between movement influencers that were heated enough that one of them leaked text conversations with another.

This may seem like a dispute over ideology, but it’s best understood as a smash-and-grab for eyeballs from QAnon sympathetic audiences. Though the fight appears at first glance to be a dispute between personalities, it’s really a debate between QAnon influencers who want power and those who want money.

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At the heart of all three skirmishes is the quest to sort the real Q-heads from the poseurs. One of the most aggressive gatekeepers in the movement is a conspiracy theorist named Jordan Sather, who is part of a broader group calling themselves “We The Media.” A longtime figure in the so-called truth movement online where bogus medical cures and predictions of impending social disorder reign, Sather was among the earliest crop of influencers to hop aboard the QAnon bandwagon and incorporate it into his regular video and social media content. Sather has long been skirmishing with other QAnon movement figures, including Wood, whom he accuses of boosting those seeking a quick buck from followers by selling things like Trump-branded coins and a Q-branded cell phone, rather than engaging in Sather’s style of ersatz fact-finding. He insists his approach is a more serious, in-depth examination of the theory that Donald Trump is fighting a secret battle against an elite pedophile network.

Sather’s style of inquiry, however ostensibly serious, isn’t as popular with QAnon audiences today. The pseudonymous Boston-based QAnon analyst who runs the Feminist Proper Gander Twitter account (FPG) told me that the QAnon movement’s bouts of infighting often reflect a fundamental conflict in the community: influencers like Sather want to be sober and venerated tellers of forbidden truths, and QAnon’s audiences want the most unhinged and wacky conspiracy theories available.

“By and large Q followers want to be told that incredible, unbelievable things are happening. They are, after all, ‘watching a movie’ as Q promised they were. And a movie with double- and triple- agents and orbital death lasers and secret underground wars and mole children and a worldwide cannibalistic sex Cabal is simply a more entertaining movie,” FPG said. “But as a result, all the original and old-school Q promoters have two choices: lean into the crazy but ‘compromise the principles of the movement’ or fight tooth and nail and try to discredit the folks who decided to lean into the crazy.”

The effect of this fundamental incompatibility, they told me, is that QAnon has become “a huge group of people without any shared beliefs,”—squabbling factions, rather than a single, unanimous pursuit. And some of the wilder influencer accounts, they tell me, are “siphoning off eyeballs and attention, which in this ecosystem also means engagement, which also means money.” Recently, some prominent influencers, such as Wood, have promoted those crazy (by comparison) accounts over the original and old school influencers, hence this territory fight.

Mike Rains, a QAnon expert who runs the Poker and Politics Twitter feed and records a podcast called “Adventures in HellwQrld,” told me that infighting in the movement is all but inevitable since the prophecy of QAnon—jailed Trump opponents and a new renaissance for Trump supporters—can never actually come to pass. (Because, to be clear, it is an unadulterated fantasy.)

“Those who fail to get results after promising to deliver will be called frauds,” Rains said. “This is why so many QAnon promoters shift Q’s message from ‘Trump will jail all our enemies and save the world’ to ‘Q was just trying to wake us up to think for ourselves.’ If the supposed goal of QAnon was ‘Exposing the conspiracy’ instead of “crushing the Deep State” then you can run the grift for forever because you are selling enlightenment instead of results.”

So what?

I was curious what close QAnon trackers thought about these bouts of infighting and whether they could inadvertently result in intensified radicalization in the movement. After all, I suggested, as new battle lines are drawn, more extreme sentiments that find purchase on the political right, like neo-Nazism and other kinds of racial bigotry, might emerge from the mix.

They saw things a little differently.

“What you’re talking about is radicalization of QAnon followers along traditional lines—into antisemitism, overt racism, etc. That’s absolutely a danger,” pseudonymous researcher Al Jones of Q Origins Project told me. “The bigger worry, for me at least, is that the rhetoric and ideas of QAnon—in particular, the call for mass executions of their political enemies as retaliation for imaginary crimes—might seep into mainstream Republican thought. And infighting among QAnon influencers doesn’t change that threat level very much.”

FPG said that the QAnon movement was more “up for grabs” now than it ever has been, even given its leaderless arrangement, but that radical extremist sentiment only had access into the QAnon universe so long as they didn’t go “too far too fast.” They pointed to Robert Smart, the Florida man who the investigative outlet Logically identified as the author of QAnon’s most openly extremist Telegram channel, whose took gradual steps toward anti-Semitism and Nazi propaganda and still retained much of his audience support.

“A neo-Nazi has always been able to come into QAnon and say what they want. The only things stopping them is the inherent revulsion most people feel towards their beliefs,” FPG added. “But if you do what GhostEzra [aka Robert Smart] did, gain trust and slowly ramp up the antisemetic memes and talking points over months, the audience will accept it better.”

Most of the combatants in this little war are influencers with micro-empires of content to protect, and Rains is doubtful of their interest in full-blown radical extremism. Instead, he said, each fault line in the movement could produce a new leader who “can own a segment of the movement and be seen as an authority figure.”

“I don’t know that any of these people could be turned to radicalization. All these sides have their ‘brands’ they are trying to protect,” Rains told me. “The [We the Media] people as a group, with Sather as the most vocal of them, is adamant about being ‘serious’—or as serious as one can be while still claiming the vaccine will kill you and Michelle Obama is transgender.”

Edited by Sam Thielman