It may be tempting to laugh at Michael Caputo, the top communications official at the United States’ Health and Services Department, who recently accused Center for Disease Control scientists of “sedition” and predicted a socialist uprising would follow the November election.
“Remember the Trump supporter who was shot and killed [in Portland late last month]? That was a drill,” Caputo declared in a bizarre, hyper-paranoid broadcast on Facebook Live on September 13. He added: “If you carry guns, buy ammunition, ladies and gentlemen, because it’s going to be hard to get.”
Canadians often watch with fascination as American conspiracy theorists embarrass themselves. It’s certainly tempting to boastfully tell ourselves that intrigue inventories such as QAnon, which Caputo indirectly referenced in his rant, won’t gain a foothold here.
The thing is, it already has. And the mysterious Q — an alleged U.S. government insider who surfaced on the murky 4chan platform in 2017 with claims that Satanic forces were attempting to overthrow President Donald Trump and his administration — has drawn a following in Canada.
QAnon exploded onto the news cycle in July when Manitoba resident Corey Hurren smashed his pickup truck through the wrought-iron gates in front of Rideau Hall, the grounds currently hosting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family, who weren’t home at the time.
Carrying an illegal rifle, revolver and a prohibited magazine of ammunition, Hurren was apprehended after a two-hour stand-off with police. In a two-page letter shared with Global News by an unnamed, Hurren raved that Trudeau was turning Canada into a “Communist country.” Foreign Policy magazine called this the “most high-profile action inspired by QAnon.”
That Hurren was a member of the Canadian Rangers — he even won an award from the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery — isn’t exactly surprising. Multiple investigations have revealed numerous adherents to far-right ideologies or groups within the military, including the Three Percenters and Soldiers of Odin, who have marched in an anti-mask rally alongside QAnon followers.
But even more troubling is QAnon’s infiltration of Canada’s political sphere.
In 2018, a year after coming just short in his bid to lead the Conservative Party of Canada, Maxime Bernier shared a “must watch video” to Twitter that featured a prominent QAnon YouTuber. A few days later he tweeted about a “future world government” — a trademark Q tenet — that would “destroy Canada.”
Then, in late August this year, Conservative MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay quote tweeted a video showing a 2009 conversation between Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and George Soros, the investor and philanthropist held up by both QAnon and mainstream conservatives as the primary sponsor of the supposed future world government.
Findlay wrote, “The closeness of these two should alarm every Canadian.” Her post was also retweeted by Carleton MP Pierre Poilievre, the Conservative finance critic.
The original tweet shared by Findley was posted by David Q. Milley, a self-described “Canadian Patriot,” “Conservative Millennial” and founding member of the People’s Party of Canada, which Bernier led into the 2019 federal election. The post’s video falsely purported to show Freeland and Soros discussing a world government that would include China and be headed by then President Barack Obama.
Soros turned up in the narrative for the same reason QAnon believes that: a contemporary deep state is trying to become a world government, Democrats worship the devil or liberals drink the blood of children as part of a Satanic ritual — anti-Semitism.
Published in 1903, a fictitious document called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion falsely claims that in the late 19th century a conference of the world’s most powerful Jewish families was convened and a plan to take over the world was hatched.
Almost every QAnon conspiracy is part of a thread that can trace its way back to the Protocols. The notion of the deep state, for example, is interchangeable with that of a future world government, the “state within a state,” a “New World Order” and globalism, and has existed as long as there has been a Jewish diaspora.
It’s within this age-old suspicion of global, Zionist conquest that QAnon flourishes. As a literature, it’s very much of the 19th century — writer Umberto Eco has noted that the period included the Dreyfus affair, the Russian pogroms and racial antisemitism propagated by Social Darwinist philosophers such as Joseph Arthur de Gobineau — although, when attaching itself to high-profile mascots such as Trump, it can quickly adapt to a more contemporary, recognizable reading.
As a result, Q conspiracies are wide-ranging with even dinner table topics such as face masks, homeschooling and tap water being connected. Each ties into supposed deep state “secrecy,” world government “oppression” and globalist “uniformity.” Face masks, for example, check all three boxes. Anti-maskers tend to believe that governments are bloating the figures of COVID-19 infections in an effort to assert more control and that the pandemic itself doesn’t exist. Then there are the actual masks, which are construed as symbols of authoritarian conformity.
What’s important to remember is that while each Q conspiracy item can seem to be concocted on its own — for example, opposition to face masks or 5G — they’re strands of the same thread. So, when Bernier tweets about future world governments, Findlay agonizes over Canadian connections to Soros or Caputo rambles on about disingenuous scientists, they’re in effect strengthening the whole theory, even if unintentionally.
QAnon didn’t invent its collection of conspiracy theories. Nothing about it is original. And it goes without saying that each and every one of its conspiracies is empty, unreal.
In his lecture entitled “Conspiracy” at La Milanesiana in 2015, Eco explained of conspiracies that “an empty secret looms menacingly and can be neither unveiled nor disputed, and this is precisely what allows it to become an instrument of power.” Conspiracies, he added, exist in the first place because “obvious explanations for many disturbing events” are unsatisfactory to many of us; they “do not satisfy us because it hurts us to accept them.”
What QAnon has done, and continues to do, is repackage age-old enmities and paranoias for a contemporary audience after re-emerging from history’s shadows, which has happened many times before, most notably in 1930s Germany.
This is why it’s so concerning that QAnon is infiltrating conservatism in Canada. It’s part of the package now, not quite mainstream but not far off. And it’s imperative that we recognize and name the dangers it poses before the calamities it leads to aren’t unreal at all.
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