Why are people attracted to fringe groups like QAnon?
Why are people attracted to fringe groups like QAnon?
I spent my 20’s researching my family history, trying to determine how and when my family found the Fundamentalist Christian group called The Truth. I was desperate to understand the ‘why’ and ‘how’ 4 generations of my family found this religion meaningful and rewarding, when I had found it so difficult.
Recently I’ve been reflecting on how my family’s story of connecting with, and espousing the beliefs of a fringe group, is similar to those I hear about Q’Anon and to some degree, MRA’s*.
I consider my family through 4 branches - the 4 families of each of my grandparents.
They were from diverse class and educational backgrounds, with little in common at face value. One branch had been wealthy and influential landowners. They had been well educated, with connections to early-white-settlement in Australia and the First Fleet.
One branch was Irish, poor and illiterate. They had migrated to far western NSW as wood cutters, and lived in tents on the railway line out to Bourke.
Two were single mothers, raising large families alone. The single mothers were very different women, and while they had lost (multiple) husbands each, they had different life experiences and raised very different children. One of them had a severe mental health issue, spending long periods of time in mental institutions. The other was fiercely independent, did anything she had to for money, and rode horses for a wild-west show. Her children were wild, witty & uninterested in education. They lived life on the edge & The Truth gave access to a higher purpose. They also got Social Capital from The Truth – access to people and influence they would otherwise have been trapped out of. They were the children of a wild west show rider after all!
The other woman raised children quietly spoken and intellectual, who seemed to thrive in the ridged rules of The Truth.
At the time the 4 branches of my family came into contact with (and ultimately joined) The Truth – they were experiencing loss, trauma, loneliness and isolation. One had serious mental health struggles, one had lost wealth and privilege in the depression, others had lost a child to SIDs.
All of them were vulnerable when The Truth traipsed into town, and promised them eternal salvation, community, & everlasting love. I believe what they found in The Truth was meaning, purpose and community.
This is exactly what I see Q’Anon, and to some extend MRA’s, doing.
Here is what I learned from 4 generations inside The Truth:
1. Human beings want to feel important. We like to feel we are special; we have something that others don’t have. Fringe groups inflate people’s feelings of importance, makes them feel superior and useful, especially when combined with other factors outlined below. Often they don’t believe all the rhetoric inside the group. I have family members who expressed scepticism in The Truth doctrine with regard to the treatment of women and sexual abuse survivors inside The Truth – but ultimately the need to belong and to feel valued is more important than believing 100% of the rhetoric.
2. Community and like-minded people influence you. Who you spend time with matters – My family followed other family members into The Truth. Whole families joined – brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins – entire large families signed up. They wanted to belong, and to fit in with the rest of the family. Its quite unsettling how many of The Truth members are related. We’re either cousins or married to someone’s cousin. People congregate with like-minded people. The internet is not the first and only ‘echo chamber’ and it wont be the only way QAnon thrives. It will thrive in real-life-communities, of similar minded people.
3. Trauma – people who’ve experienced trauma are vulnerable. When you’ve lost a loved one, especially a child – you’re searching for answers. Often these groups offer a kind of ‘answer’ – a way to process your grief.
When you have experienced economic loss, perhaps lost a job or a home – you’re looking around wondering ‘why me’ – why are others getting ahead while I’m not? Fringe groups offer a way to view the world that helps you make sense of that – it’s a conspiracy, a message, its not YOUR fault you took unnecessary financial risks – Its Gods Will or an elite conspiracy – its not YOU personally. It allows you to shift the blame outside yourself. Everyone likes someone else to blame.
4. Health – both mental and physical – play a role. If you are unwell you’re usually in pain, and you’re often struggling financially. When a group sweeps in (usually with charismatic leaders and excited followers) you want to believe this set of beliefs will help make you better or lift you up or at the very least give you a reason to keep living. When you are unwell you also feel you have little control over your health and circumstances – these groups can give you an artificial sense of power and control – that you can BE someone and are part of something bigger. They give you meaning and purpose.
In Summary: Disenfranchised people are easy targets for fringe groups to sell their version of meaning, purpose and power.
A summary warning:
We’re siting in a society with low wage growth, under-employment and a lot of social change swirling around us. When ‘average’ people see minorities and women getting ahead (seemingly) at their expense – it fuels disenfranchised people to seek meaning and ask ‘why me’? and this is perfect conditions for QAnon – perfect fuel for feeding people conspiracy theories. When our political and social system isnt supporting the under/un-employed and helping them to find meaningful employment, when we’re cutting Medicare funded services and not providing enough mental health support in a pandemic – we’re paving the way for people to be attracted to (and find fulfillment in) fringe groups.
4 & 5 generations of my community can tell you- once they’re ‘in’ they’ll create their own physical spaces that live on for generations. If you want a look into the future of QAnon communities – look no further than The Truth, The Brethren, the JW’s and Morman communities.
*Mens Rights Activists