How QAnon uses religion to lure unsuspecting Christians

Recently retired after serving as a Southern Baptist pastor for greater than 20 years, his time was free and curiosity piqued.

“I started looking into it online,” Neff mentioned. “Doing some research.”

And with that, the 66-year-old retiree, and shortly his spouse, Sharon, fell down one of many web’s most harmful rabbit holes.

It did not take lengthy for Neff to discover the hashtag’s that means. “Where We Go One We Go All” is considered one of a number of mottoes of QAnon, a collective of on-line conspiracists.

The pastor and his spouse, who dwell in Arcola, Mississippi, started watching the huge assortment of QAnon movies posted on-line by “researchers” who decipher the cryptic messages of “Q,” an nameless on-line persona who claims to have entry to categorised army and intelligence operations.

Since its inception in 2017 QAnon has shortly metastasized, infiltrating American politics, web tradition and now — religion.

According to QAnon, President Donald Trump is secretly working to stop a child sex cabal run by Hollywood and political elites who will at some point be revealed throughout an apocalyptic occasion known as The Storm.
During the pandemic, QAnon-related content has exploded online, rising practically 175% on Facebook and practically 63% on Twitter, in accordance a British assume tank.

Although QAnon’s conspiracy theories are baseless — they allege {that a} well-known actor is a secret intercourse trafficker and a number one Democrat participated in Satanic rituals — the hazards the motion poses are very actual.

The FBI has referred to as QAnon a home terror menace and an internal FBI memo warned that “fringe conspiracy theories very likely motivate some domestic extremists, wholly or in part, to commit criminal and sometimes violent activity.” Facebook lastly pledged to ban QAnon content material earlier this month.

Still, some Christian conservatives are falling for QAnon’s unhinged conspiracies.

“Right now QAnon is still on the fringes of evangelicalism,” mentioned Ed Stetzer, an evangelical pastor and dean at Wheaton College in Illinois who wrote a latest column warning Christians about QAnon. “But we have a pretty big fringe.

“Pastors want to be extra conscious of the hazard they usually want instruments to deal with it,” he told CNN. “People are being misled by social media.”

Pastors who preach QAnon-aligned ideas

Some Christian pastors are actually leading their followers to QAnon, or at least introducing them to its dubious conspiracy theories.

To cite a few examples:

  • During companies in July, Rock Urban Church in Grandville, Michigan, performed a discredited video that helps QAnon conspiracy theories. “The nation is being torn aside by the most important political hoax and coordinated mass media disinformation marketing campaign in residing historical past — you might understand it as COVID-19,” the video says. The church did not answer requests for comment and has removed the video from its YouTube channel.
Bethel Church in Redding, California. One of its leaders has shared QAnon ideas on social media.

“If you might be simply studying about QAnon and The Great Awakening, that is the best spot for you,” reads the ministry’s website. Representatives from the ministry did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Paul Anleitner, an evangelical pastor in Minneapolis, said he’s seen worrying examples of conservative Christians preaching from QAnon’s bible: Pastors warning about the “Deep State,” congregants trading conspiracy theories during Bible studies, and, most concerning to him, unsuspecting Christians lured to QAnon through respected church leaders.

“I see this circulating by way of conservative and Charismatic church buildings and it breaks my coronary heart,” said Anleitner, who spent time in Pentecostal churches, where he says QAnon’s influence is distressingly pervasive.

“It’s pulling households aside, pulling folks away from the gospel and creating mistrust amongst folks trying to find the reality.”

Pastor John MacArthur speaking at his California church in August. CNN has blurred a portion of this image to protect a child's identity.

Earlier this 12 months a younger Christian buddy of his recirculated QAnon concepts posted on-line by a nationwide Christian chief, Anleitner mentioned. (He declined to title the pastor on the report).

“I reached out to my buddy and instructed him the stuff he posted got here straight from QAnon,” said Anleitner. “He had no concept.”

And that, Christian leaders say, is a big part of the problem.

Some followers see QAnon messages as sacred texts

QAnon is complex, said Brian Friedberg, a researcher at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government who has studied the movement.

It churns out an almost endless stream of content, from memes to anti-Semitic tropes to Christian Scripture. From its anonymous message board, the dubious ideas circulate through social media, sometimes finding their way into the Twitter feed of Trump and his allies, who have repeatedly boosted QAnon accounts.
Q himself (or herself, or themselves for that matter — nobody fairly is aware of who Q is) has posted nearly 5,000 messages since 2017.
In QAnon, some observers see a mass delusion, others see a political cult, and nonetheless others declare to see the sprouts of a new faith.

According to the non secular view of QAnon, Q is a postmodern prophet, “Q drops” (aka his messages) are sacred texts and Trump is a messianic figure who will conjure “The Storm,” an apocalyptic revelation exposing evildoers.

A QAnon flag is flown during a rally in support of President Trump on October 11, 2020 in Ronkonkoma, New York.

If QAnon is a new religion, it bears the birthmarks of our truth-deprived time: Born on an obscure internet image board, it spreads through social media, preaches a perverted form of populism and is amplified by a president who has demonstrated little regard for facts.

But in Mississippi, the Neffs said they see QAnon as a source of “behind the scenes” information — not as a religion.

“It’s kinda like checking Fox News or CNN,” — that is, a place to find the latest news, said Park Neff, who has a masters in divinity and a doctorate from New Orleans Baptist Seminary. “It simply appeared to be good, strong conservative thought.”

Like her husband, Sharon Neff said she saw no contradictions between QAnon and Christianity. Instead, she saw important connections, as did many of her friends and fellow church members.

“What resonated with me is the thought of shifting towards a world authorities,” she said, “and that truly goes together with the Christian perception concerning the End Times.”

QAnon’s ‘red pill’

In some ways, QAnon echoes the concerns of politically engaged, ultra-conservative evangelicals.

It interprets world events through the lens of Scripture or Q posts. It’s obsessed with a grand, apocalyptic reckoning that will separate good from evil, deeply distrusts the media and finds an unlikely champion — and hero — in President Trump.

Neff also said she likes that Q quotes Christian scripture extensively and claims to be exposing child trafficking, a problem that she said she and other Southern Baptist women have been fighting for years.

That’s no accident, say experts who have studied QAnon. The group intentionally uses emotionally fraught topics, like suffering children, to draw Christians to their movement.

“That’s a recruiting tactic,” said Travis View, a host of “QAnon Anonymous,” a podcast that seeks to explain the movement. “It’s their purple capsule.” (Travis View is a pseudonym he uses for safety. )

A man wears a QAnon sweatshirt during a pro-Trump rally on October 3, 2020 in the borough of Staten Island in New York City. The event was held to encourage supporters to pray for Trump's health after he contracted Covid-19.

View in contrast it to a religion that proselytizes by providing potential converts seemingly mundane companies earlier than laying the laborious promote on them.

“The ‘Save the Children’ messaging could be very efficient, as a result of everybody desires to shield kids.”

It’s also tailor-made for evangelicals, View said.

Lately, he added, QAnon has been holding “Save the Children” rallies, while carefully concealing its involvement.

The tactic has been effective, said Anleitner.

“People who begin with ‘saving the kids’ do not stay there — and that is the issue,” he said. “It’s like Alice in Wonderland. They observe the rabbit and enter a very completely different framework for actuality.”

Ready for the Great Awakening

Friedberg said he sees elements of his experience as a young evangelical in the QAnon movement: Its seamless blend of Christianity and nationalism, its promise of spiritual knowledge and the primacy of scripture, and, finally, the desire to evangelize to friends and family.

But Friedberg said he doesn’t see QAnon itself as a religion.

“This is an data operation that has gotten out of the direct management of whoever began it,” he said. It’s an operation, he added, that likely would not exist in a less polarized, confusing and frightening time.

Under somewhat similar strains, a group of 1840s Baptists called the Millerites predicted the Second Coming of Jesus.

When Jesus didn’t arrive, the Millerites were greatly disappointed, but they adjusted their apocalyptic timetables and soldiered on, eventually becoming the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

A QAnon supporter at Mount Rushmore National Monument on July 1, 2020 in Keystone, South Dakota.

Travis View mentioned he sees echoes of the Millerites in QAnon. Numerous QAnon “prophecies” have proven false. Hillary Clinton was not arrested in 2017, Republicans didn’t rout Democrats during the 2018 midterm elections and Trump has not imprisoned his political enemies at Guantanamo Bay.

These days, Q shies away from giving specific dates, View noted, suggesting a shift in tactics. Even so, believers attempt to explain away any contradictions between QAnon and reality, just as the Millerites did centuries ago.

Park Neff, the Baptist pastor, said the failed prophecies are all part of QAnon’s master plan.

“Some of it looks like deliberate misinformation to throw off the opposite aspect,” Neff said, “as needs to be obvious to anybody who watches the information. Sometimes he (Q) does it to rattle their cages, generally to maintain them guessing. It appears to work.”

Meanwhile, Neff, like many interested in QAnon, looks forward to the Great Awakening. The pastor said it won’t be like the other Great Awakenings, the religious revivals that torched through early America.

This one, he said, will concern the state, not the church.

It will start when the prevailing evil in our government is finally revealed, he said, and end with Trump validated and all the bad people jailed on an island far, far away.

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