#QAnon and ‘the Church of Trump’: A Grifter Runs Through It

“Pushing the theory on to bigger platforms proved to be the key to Qanon’s spread — and the originators’ financial gain”:

In November 2017, a small-time YouTube video creator and two moderators of the 4chan website, one of the most extreme message boards on the internet, banded together and plucked out of obscurity an anonymous and cryptic post from the many conspiracy theories that populated the website’s message board.

Over the next several months, they would create videos, a Reddit community, a business and an entire mythology based off the 4chan posts of “Q,” the pseudonym of a person claiming to be a high-ranking military officer. The theory they espoused would become Qanon, and it would eventually make its way from those message boards to national media stories and the rallies of President Donald Trump.

Now, the people behind that effort are at the center of a fractious debate among conspiracy enthusiasts, some of whom believe the three people who first popularized the Qanon theory are promoting it in order to make a living. Others suggest that these original followers actually wrote Q’s mysterious posts.

While the identity of the original author or authors behind “Q” is still unknown, the history of the conspiracy theory’s spread is well-documented — through YouTube videos, social media posts, Reddit archives, and public records reviewed by NBC News.

NBC News has found that the theory can be traced back to three people who sparked some of the first conversation about Qanon and, in doing so, attracted followers who they then asked to help fund Qanon “research.”…

The hell of it is… #QAnon’s true believers probably wouldn’t find its grift-based foundation disqualifying. Believers are notorious for being able to hand-wave away much worse behavior, and it’s been argued that the hardcore Deplorables of Trump’s base are already using his rallies as a substitute for the communal bonding they can’t find in more ‘mainstream’ churches. Alex Wagner, in the Atlantic:

Last spring, my colleague Peter Beinart looked at the increasing secularization of American society and how it had contributed to the rise of political tribalism:

As Americans have left organized religion, they haven’t stopped viewing politics as a struggle between “us” and “them.” Many have come to define us and them in even more primal and irreconcilable ways.

Non-college-educated whites are the Trump base, now set adrift:

Establishing causation is difficult, but we know that culturally conservative white Americans who are disengaged from church experience less economic success and more family breakdown than those who remain connected, and they grow more pessimistic and resentful.

You could draw a straight line from a disenfranchised, pessimistic, resentful audience to Trump’s brand of fear-driven, divisive politics, but this would leave out an equally important part of the Trump phenomenon, and something critical to its success: the elation. Go to a Trump rally, speak to Trump supporters, and the devotion is nearly evangelical…

Durkheim’s theory—that a gathering of the tribe can create a certain energy that renders particular people or objects sacred—goes a long way toward explaining Trump’s infallibility among his supporters. But it also brings to the fore something that Trump critics have missed so far when focusing on his (not insignificant) negatives: Trumpism, like many forms of non-secular worship, makes its believers feel good

Organized worship, cultish or not, has been a method of social bonding for as long as humans have come together in groups. And for as far back as we have records, there’s been satires about the failings of the local clerical class — satires that in no way measure the actual religious belief of the worshippers laughing at them. If the Proud Deplorables are really treating Trump as the figurehead of their communal worship, then the self-interested profit-seeking of #QAnon’s “experts” are not necessarily going to wean them off the conspiracy fantasy, any more than the steady parade of Evangelical preachers exposed as grifting frauds / sexual abusers has weaned their base away.

93 replies
  1. 1
    The Dangerman says:

    Wouldn’t it be hell if QAnon was Trump himself? We already have him, on multiple occasions, pretending to be someone else.

    If he needs anything (not involving anyone named Stormy), he needs massive distractions (see Brennan, John) for his grifting to work.

    ETA: It’s the cashing in that makes me wonder about how close this is to Trump; member of Team Trump in this for the payoff (see Inanuguration money) so …

  2. 2
    Baud says:

    Trumpism, like many forms of non-secular worship, makes its believers feel good…

    BJ makes me feel good.

  3. 3
    Mary G says:

    Trump rallies do resemble those old time revival shows held in big tents way out in the boondocks. Everything old is new again, I guess. Pretty sure that if Twitler pretended to cure someone of blindness or let them abandon their wheelchair, his hard core 27% would totally believe it.

  4. 4
    The Midnight Lurker says:

    On the wing nut websites, now they’re saying that QAnon is actually a ‘liberal plot hatched by Hillary and Obama to discredit Trump’. My head hurts trying to keep these things straight.

  5. 5
    Mnemosyne says:

    any more than the steady parade of Evangelical preachers exposed as grifting frauds / sexual abusers has weaned their base away.

    This is not quite true — Evangelical and fundamentalist churches have been experiencing steep membership declines, and it’s freaking them out.

  6. 6
    dmsilev says:

    @The Midnight Lurker: Or maybe, saying that QAnon is a liberal plot is itself a liberal plot to discredit QAnon.


  7. 7
    dmsilev says:

    @Mnemosyne: Gee, maybe they should have looked at past American Great Awakenings and realized such a decline was likely. I know, crazy talk.

  8. 8
    The Midnight Lurker says:

    @dmsilev: Outwitted again! Damn you, Q!

  9. 9
    tobie says:

    I feel like I better dust off my copy of The Paranoid Style in American Politics to try to make sense of what’s going on.

  10. 10
  11. 11
    Baud says:

    @dmsilev: Liberals are sneaky.

  12. 12
    Anne Laurie says:


    Evangelical and fundamentalist churches have been experiencing steep membership declines, and it’s freaking them out.

    And Trump voters are trickling away, too. But “The Base” in both cases remains, if anything, even more convinced that theirs is the one true path to eternal happiness!

  13. 13
    oatler. says:

    @tobie:Nazis are really socialists who are really nazis who are NORMAN COORDINATE

  14. 14
    khead says:

    Can I please get a front pager to make fun of Neal Simon? He’s the guy running as an independent in MD and carpet bombing my Facebook page on a daily basis. It appears he is too stupid to realize that he’s really running as a Democratic technocrat who has ZERO chance against Ben Cardin. Seems like something DougJ would do in his spare time.

  15. 15
    dmsilev says:

    Since this is an open thread, allow me to present another episode of Science You Can Use, this time courtesy of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:

    A well-known problem with direct implications for the fracture behavior of elongated brittle objects, such as vaulting poles or long fibers, goes back to the famous physicist Richard Feynman who observed that dry spaghetti almost always breaks into three or more pieces when exposed to large bending stresses. While bending-induced fracture is fairly well understood nowadays, much less is known about the effects of twist. Our experimental and theoretical results demonstrate that twisting enables remarkable fracture control by using the different propagation speeds of twist and bending waves.

    Yes, that’s right, modern science has finally cracked the problem of how to keep spaghetti from fracturing when you try to break it in half: give it a good twist while bending it. A deeper question, perhaps unanswerable by science, is what sort of barbarian would break their spaghetti in half before adding it to the pot.

    Edit. Quoting from the actual paper,

    Rods were Barilla no. 1, 3, or 5 raw spaghetti of length L=24 cm or 20 cm. Cameras used were Edgertronic SC2 (1,972 fps), Photron FASTCAM Mini AX200 (9,000 fps), and Phantom v611 (75,000 fps). Crack propagation was filmed with Phantom v611 at 10e6 fps, using a thicker spaghetti (2r=1.7 mm) for improved visualization.

  16. 16
  17. 17
    Baud says:

    @dmsilev: People with long noodles?

  18. 18
    zhena gogolia says:

    I ran into a neighbor at the gym on Saturday, and she told me that our neighbor across the street (her next-door neighbor) is now totally into Qanon. We’re in deep-blue CT. It’s scary. I don’t even know what it is, but I don’t want to know!

  19. 19
    Baud says:

    @dmsilev: What did they use as the control pasta?

  20. 20
    Anne Laurie says:


    A deeper question, perhaps unanswerable by science, is what sort of barbarian would break their spaghetti in half before adding it to the pot.

    People (like students in their first apartment) who don’t have a big enough pot to boil unbroken spaghetti “stalks”.

    Some of them never get out of the habit, even after they’ve acquired cauldrons big enough to boil multiple lobsters. (Not *me*, mind you — for one thing, I don’t like lobster.)

  21. 21
    dmsilev says:

    @Baud: Such people should add the noodles, let them cook for five or ten seconds, and then stir the softened noodles into the pot.

  22. 22
    FlyingToaster says:

    @dmsilev: The barbarians feeding 3-year-olds. SATSQ.

  23. 23
    dmsilev says:

    @FlyingToaster: That’s a completely fair point.

  24. 24

    @Baud: Those are simply people without a big enough pot for proper pasta, then.

  25. 25
    dmsilev says:


    What did they use as the control pasta?

    Paper didn’t say, but since it was an MIT group, I’m going to assume Prince.

  26. 26

    @dmsilev: Hmmmm, sounds complicated.

  27. 27
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Anne Laurie:

    People (like students in their first apartment) who don’t have a big enough pot to boil unbroken spaghetti “stalks”.

    You hold the unbroken spaghetti in your hand and stir it into the boiling water until it softens up enough to push the last couple of inches down into the water.

    Clearly none of these people were raised by Italians.

  28. 28


    Clearly none of these people were raised by Italians.

    To be fair, having Italian parents is very rare, in the grand scheme of things.

  29. 29
    The Lodger says:

    @dmsilev: A barbarian with a small pot.

  30. 30
    Platonailedit says:


    Bet wolowitz was behind that particular scientific breakthrough.

  31. 31
    Mnemosyne says:

    Also, only a barbarian uses a spoon to help them spin spaghetti onto their fork. I would have been sent from the dinner table in shame for doing that. Shame, I tell you!

  32. 32
    Jay says:

    Nice of all the Marks to gather in one place.

  33. 33
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Major Major Major Major:

    My dad was half-Italian and my mom was not Italian at all, but they still managed to convey this vital information. Heck, I probably learned it from my German-Irish grandmother who was only Italian by marriage.

  34. 34
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Baud: Take a cold shower!

  35. 35
    Onmes Omnibus says:

    @Baud: Phrasing!

  36. 36
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Anne Laurie: Branch Trumpidiots.

  37. 37
    rikyrah says:

    Ed Markey
    ‏Verified account @SenMarkey

    BREAKING: Chairman Grassley has unilaterally ruled 1/3 of the #Kavanaugh records to be “Committee Confidential” meaning anyone not on Judiciary Committee cannot see them. That’s 79 Senators & the entire American public. It’s an unprecedented level of secrecy. #WhatAreTheyHiding?
    10:42 AM – 15 Aug 2018

  38. 38
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @khead: Did you get the email I forwarded to you last night?

  39. 39
    dmsilev says:

    @Mnemosyne: I’m of Eastern European Jewish descent, and this was knowledge which my mom made sure I had before setting up my first apartment.

  40. 40
    trollhattan says:

    @Adam L Silverman:
    And hydrate.

  41. 41
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @dmsilev: Did you clear this comment with Levenson?

  42. 42
    Anne Laurie says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    Branch Trumpidiots.

    To be honest, it’s the Helter-Skelter / Aum Shinrikyo potential that scares me!

  43. 43
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @rikyrah: Last time he did something like this, Senator Feinstein posted them on her website.

  44. 44
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @trollhattan: Always.

  45. 45
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Anne Laurie: I wrote my masters in religion on apocalyptic religious groups. Among the cases were both the Davidians and Aum.

  46. 46
    Paul T says:

    Good for them to make money off the marks. Just brilliant.

  47. 47
    Mary G says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Tell me everything’s going to be OK, or at least which anxiety DefCon we need to be at with this:

    A mysterious Russian satellite displaying "very abnormal behaviour" has raised alarm in the US, according to a State Department official. https://t.co/DlcgQKNpR6— Julia Davis (@JuliaDavisNews) August 15, 2018

  48. 48
    dmsilev says:

    @Adam L Silverman: No, of course not. If his colleagues choose to publish something, that’s all on them. Besides, as an alum of the Institute, I figure I’m entitled to get something back in return for all those tuition dollars and late nights of endless homework.

  49. 49
    jl says:

    Trumpsters can just reply that we should be thankful to Putin for sparking a revolution in digital capitalism to MAGA!, and denounce Mueller’s probe as unAmerican (oh, wait up, Mueller is a secret ‘white hat’ who will surprise the Deep State by arresting Obama, Biden, HRC, Comey, Rosenstein… and maybe we can throw in the little weasel Sessions too now?. Sorry, I forgot).

    And they’ll be happy, fantasizing about how great it is that, in America, just like Trump, at least these three grifters could WIN, could make it rich lying to people and taking their money under false pretenses. Then they can enjoy their asbestos health shakes, pay their 300 percent payday loan to make rent this month, while they crawl off to die in agony due to the fact that their short term health insurance has shafted them after they get sick. Such are the glorious sacrifices needed to MAGA!

    The people that believe this stuff are too far gone to ever help themselves, or the country, out of the current mess. Only thing to do is to politically obliterate them at every future election, and then offer them any socially responsible aid, which some of them will turn down until they are at their last extremity, and they can only be helped at enormous cost. But as Adam Smith said, a sad fact of life is that ‘there is a lot of ruin in a country’ always, throughout history, and we’ll do the best we can once sane people can run the joint again.

  50. 50
    Chaunce1186 says:

    So, basically the neckbeards of Reddit are running the show.
    Can’t we turn off the interwebs to their Mom’s basement?

  51. 51
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Mary G: Same thing I said this afternoon, and you’re not going to be happy with the answer: It could be nothing or it could be something, but we’re unlikely to know either way.

  52. 52
    NotMax says:

    using his rallies as a substitute for the communal bonding

    Have often heard of a contact high. Here, though, what we have is a contact low.

  53. 53
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @dmsilev: Aside from the fact that I’m kidding, I think you missed the teasing point I was trying to make, which is that you’re infringing on Levenson’s gimmick.

  54. 54
    jl says:

    @Baud: ” BJ makes me feel good. ”

    Baud 2020! should point out the Baudist proposal of free beer is simpler and far cheaper policy option than anything else ever proposed.

  55. 55
    Another Scott says:

    @dmsilev: Reminds me of seeing some dead old (Douglas Fir?) trees with spiral trunks out west. Why?

    Function of spiral grain in trees:

    Through spiral grain, conduits for sap lead from each root to all branches. This uniform distribution of sap is indicated by the paths of vessels and tracheids, and has been proven experimentally by means of dyed sap injected into the base of stems or taken up by roots. Trees receiving water only from roots at one side of the root collar nevertheless stay green and continue growing. Spiral grain in bark distributes food from each branch to other flanks of the stem and to most roots. Experimental interruptions of the sap and food conduits caused the cambial zone to reorient new conduit cells in new directions, bypassing the interruption. In particular, spiral grooves cut into the stem surface caused spiral grain. The new cells reorient through division and growth. Although spiral grain is largely under genetic control, trees appear to have a spiral grain especially where needed for distribution of water when root spheres are dry at one side. Compared with straight-grained trees, spiral-grained stems and branches bend and twist more when exposed to strong wind, in this way offering less wind resistance and being less likely to break. Through the bending and twisting, snow slides down from branches rather than breaking them, but the main function of spiral grain is the uniform distribution of supplies from each root to all branches, and from each branch to many roots.

    (Emphasis added.)

    Less likely to break presumably = breaks in one place first, here.

    As usual, Nature worked this out long ago. ;-)


  56. 56
    dmsilev says:

    @Adam L Silverman: I got the kidding part, but I read it as you positioning him as the gatekeeper of all things coming out of MIT (which is where the folks who did this work are based).

  57. 57
    FlyingToaster says:

    @Mnemosyne: Wait, that’s what I have the 10-year-old do. At home. Where nobody else can see. She also rubber-bands chopsticks together so that they don’t slip.

    By the time she’s in high school, she won’t need ANY crutches for eating pasta or asian food or whatever. But right now, if we want the long noodles inside her rather than all over the table, a spoon it is.

  58. 58
    Jay says:

    @Mary G:

    So, allegedly it’s a diagnostic and repair satellite, that was inside another satellite , ( Russian nesting doll style)

    My guess is that rather than sticking to diagnosing and repairing Russian Satellites, it’s been coming too close to other peoples satellites.

  59. 59
    FlyingToaster says:

    @dmsilev: I can assure you, NOBODY wants to be a gatekeeper for things coming out of MIT.

  60. 60
    Anne Laurie says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Sometimes the only consolation I can find is thinking that we’re not as well-organized as the Japanese — any group of last-ditch Trump Donaldians attempting to spark the Final Confrontation would likely be incapable of worse than blowing up their own compound, with or without the assistance of outside authority.

  61. 61
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @dmsilev: Nope, not at all. Just the Balloon Juice gatekeeper for science stuff.

  62. 62
    jl says:

    @dmsilev: ” Crack propagation was filmed with Phantom v611 at 10e6 fps, using a thicker spaghetti (2r=1.7 mm) for improved visualization. ”

    Deep State research fraud! Where are the Barilla no. 1, raw, 20 cm spaghettis???

  63. 63
    Onmes Omnibus says:

    @FlyingToaster: There are photos of me as a toddler with newspaper around my high-chair and pasta hanging off of my ears.

  64. 64
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Jay: Nothing worse than a creepy satellite that won’t respect one’s personal space.

  65. 65
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Anne Laurie: They’re not an A-Team…

  66. 66
    jl says:

    @Anne Laurie: i saw a pic of an alt-right demonstrator who could find XL lime green kitchen gloves for his Pepe the frog costume. I thought that was pretty impressive. I can’t find kitchen gloves large enough. I’ll penetrate their cell to find out where they get them.

  67. 67
    FlyingToaster says:

    @Onmes Omnibus:

    There are photos of me as a toddler with newspaper around my high-chair and pasta hanging off of my ears.

    The defense rests.

  68. 68

    @Mnemosyne: Just evangelical churches or all the churches?

  69. 69
    Anne Laurie says:


    I can assure you, NOBODY wants to be a gatekeeper for things coming out of MIT.

    One of the ongoing tropes in Pratchett’s Discworld is the problems that arise because the wizards of Unseen University are careless with their magical-garbage disposal. Warrior Girl is probably the right age to appreciate The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, who are among the more entertaining consequences!

  70. 70
    dmsilev says:

    @Onmes Omnibus: I assume you pay a continuing stream of hush money to whoever holds those photos to keep them from ‘leaking’ out?

  71. 71
  72. 72
    Mnemosyne says:


    Secret trick: she should be spinning the noodles against the bottom of the bowl or plate rather than trying to spin them in mid-air. You’re welcome. 😘

  73. 73
    Anne Laurie says:


    I’ll penetrate their cell to find out where they get them

    If you haven’t already, check Amazon Japan, or the various American-anime sites that branch out into Japanese tchotches.

  74. 74
    FlyingToaster says:

    @Anne Laurie: She might be at about Discworld stage; I’ll see what HerrDoktor has on the shelves and if not, hit the local bookstore(s).

  75. 75
    Onmes Omnibus says:

    @dmsilev: I can’t pay off my mom.

  76. 76
    NotMax says:

    @Omnes Omnibus

    Significantly better than “photos of me dressed as a toddler with newspaper around my high-chair and pasta hanging off of my ears.”


  77. 77
    dmsilev says:

    @Onmes Omnibus: Have you tried?

  78. 78
    FlyingToaster says:

    @Mnemosyne: She has, um, issues remembering to keep things against the sides. As in she scoops ice cream by scooping UP and hence shooting balls of ice cream around the kitchen.

    We are working on it, I promise.

  79. 79
    dmsilev says:

    @FlyingToaster: Pratchett wrote a few ‘young adult’ Discworld novels in addition to the main set; maybe start with those?

  80. 80
  81. 81
    Mnemosyne says:


    All right, I’ll allow a special dispensation as she works on her motor skills. Just remind her to keep the spoon low so it will be easier to transition her to the bottom of the plate. 😉

    And with that, I need to go nurse my incipient migraine. Good night, all!

  82. 82
    Mnemosyne says:


    I think the membership numbers for mainstream churches have leveled out and the big losses are now from the evangelical churches. I haven’t looked the numbers up lately, though.

  83. 83
    Onmes Omnibus says:

    @dmsilev: It wouldn’t wash. Thanks for asking.

  84. 84
  85. 85
    FlyingToaster says:

    @dmsilev: It’s not been part of my reading (HerrDoktor is the Pratchett guy; I’m the Cherryh and Bujold completist), so I really do have to consult with him. She’s read most of the Harry Potters, I think; seen all the movies through Goblet of Fire, and everything Studio Ghibli has to offer, and right now I think she’s finishing the newest Katie Slivensky novel, and next is the latest Wings of Fire novel. She’s also memorizing the soundtrack to Hamilton. Plus 5th grade starts in 3 weeks.

  86. 86
    FlyingToaster says:

    @NotMax: Her dad’s shown her that. Which doesn’t fucking help…

  87. 87
    Steeplejack (phone) says:


    Maybe the Tiffany Aching books, starting with The Wee Free Men. One of Pratchett’s best characters.

  88. 88
    David Evans says:

    All this just confirms my long-held view that spaghetti is the wrong shape for pasta.

  89. 89
    Chris Johnson says:

    @Mary G: w.r.t Russian space satellite stuff, I would bet a small sum of money that this is simply evidence that the Russians have something of an advantage in space warfare and have come up with good ways to attack satellites.

    The reason is, Trump was pushing for a ‘Space Force’. It’s a setup: the reason he’s doing that is, it would be useless because Russia has enough of an advantage to make a US ‘Space Force’ completely impotent. It’s kabuki, and Trump is doing it on purpose either knowing it’s useless or because Putin/his connections to Russia got him to start thinking about the subject, knowing he would Trump it up and that it would be useless.

    The funny thing is, it would be large corporations that would slap Russia senseless if Russia took to sabotaging satellites. It’s not just about nation-states anymore: Russia is not that big an economic actor and they could be very unhappy if important enough entities got mad at them. To set up the US chasing a ‘Space Force’ only to render that desire useless would be a revenge thing, strictly about nation-state rivalry. If such posturing got too damaging to financial interests, it wouldn’t go over well.

  90. 90
    Boris, Rasputin's Evil Twin says:

    @dmsilev: Well, THAT just drove me to drink

  91. 91
    DonL140 says:

    Belief cannot be defeated by facts. Belief resists reality. The wall of cognitive dissonance remains intact, and rebuilt. Belief is a fourth basic need: Food, shelter, clothing and something to believe in.

  92. 92
    boatboy_srq says:

    @dmsilev: Barilla doesn’t hold with twisting. They are on record opposing all twists of all types. Try TFM’s house brand: they’re not nearly so parochial.

  93. 93
    Martin says:

    I would like to state, for the record, that some time back I predicted this was a scam to sell t-shirts relying on the unbelievable nature of the conspiracy being peddled to act as a Dunning-Kruger filter to hook only those individuals most unable to accept that they were being scammed, and therefore those that would most eagerly and reliably part with their money.

    This is how a lot of spam works. You want to know who would fall for a really shitty email peddling Viagrå, well, now you know. Nigerian email scam is deliberately poorly written to avoid hooking people that will figure out it it’s a scam after the scammer has put in a lot of time and effort. They want people that are so utterly clueless that they’ll never catch on.

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