QAnon is the fringe conspiracy theory linked to the far right that’s currently radicalising everyone from Midwestern moms to the teenage gaming community.
Much has been written and theorised about the phenomenon, including its unsavoury links to radical ideologies. Yet despite the stigmas, QAnon continues to spread its tentacles ever deeper into the world wide web. Social media platforms have tried to contain it by censoring accounts and groups linked to the theory but, like lopping off a head of the Hydra, the more they do so the more resilient the movement appears to become. That’s in part because the expectation of censorship is baked into its narrative. The greater the online purges of QAnon become, the greater the proof in followers’ minds that they must be right. This pushes users to parallel platforms and networks and also generates a collective respect for those who sacrificed/ martyred their online profiles for the movement.
But here’s why it’s also wrong to dismiss QAnon as simply the ravings of mad people: there is something sophisticated, sinister and familiar in its modus operandi.
If you examine QAnon closely it follows a playbook. The one established by bitcoin.
So pause with us for a moment, and consider the uncomfortable proposition that QAnon could be to “governance” what bitcoin has now asserted itself to be to money. A challenger parallel network, looking to create its own digital state.
Let’s examine the evidence.
Both bitcoin and QAnon hail from the same anonymous message board systems. Both have also propagated thanks to a core community of known advocates who invested resources to expand and popularise the message.
Both stem from the conspiratorial realm. Bitcoin is focused on the idea that the financial system is a corrupt intermediary whose true agenda is to control of the money supply, and further its own empowerment. QAnon is predicated on the conspiracy that the government, and all other notable institutions, have been infiltrated by untrustworthy elements whose true agenda is their own empowerment at the cost of the people’s.
Both are centred on myth-making and encourage belief systems that keep their communities ever waiting for a promised “Storm” or a “Mooning” event.
Both are remarkably resilient to disappointment of their predictions failing. In bitcoin’s case there’s the ongoing failed prediction that the cryptocurrency will displace the dollar, while in QAnon’s case there’s the unrealised prophecies of mass arrests, or JFK Jr resurrecting in July. In both cases the community takes the failures on the chin, rises to the challenge and doubles down.
Both have a certain viral propagation to them designed to reward “early adopters” with promises of forward knowledge to a sure thing. When the dollar crashes, the bitcoin will be rewarded with the cryptographic keys to the fortunes of the world, and when the deep state is rumbled, the QAnons will be rewarded with the opportunity to propel their candidate of choice to the top of the power pyramid. The two factions mantras’, “Nobody can stop bitcoin” and “nothing can stop what’s coming”, are also extremely similar. (The latter is a particularly nonsense phrase).
Where Bitcoin is obsessed with the democratisation of money, QAnon is obsessed with the “redemocratisation” of the Western political system.
Both QAnon and Bitcoin are originated by anonymous founders — Q and Satoshi respectively — who may or may not be singular people or groups. Both also had a number of similar precursors that didn’t go viral.
Proof of theory
Cryptic messaging, puzzle-solving and anonymity/ pseudonymity feature prominently in both systems.
Both have a common enemy, corruption and untrustworthy intermediaries, and want to use digital systems to eradicate those problems.
Both phenomena, most notably, are obsessed with proofs. In the case of QAnon, contrary to popular belief, Q followers don’t readily absorb a theory into the canon unless it has also been qualified with what they consider to be proofs. Where bitcoin has proof of work, QAnon thus has proof of theory. In both cases anyone can get involved in proof formation, and the more people who get involved the stronger and more resilient the system supposedly gets. More proofs, more resilience.
They both even have sacred numbers: bitcoin’s 21m, QAnon’s 17.
Bitcoin is built on the idea of digital bits forging the basis of the new and improved monetary system by overcoming mathematical paradoxes. QAnon, on the other hand, links itself to the quantum. Q’s drops are intended to spark parallel processing exercises by human brains on a number of distinct, separate and contradictory conspiracies (or puzzles) all at once. It also indulges in mystery.
Both movements draw heavily on meme warfare, logos and a cottage industry of branded merchandise, sophisticated propaganda and video/ media resources which tug on emotions to spread their message far and wide, and to help community members identify each other.
Julian Assange gave bitcoin prominence in its early days. QAnons fight to liberate Julian Assange instead.
Both bitcoin and QAnon utilise the power of online evangelists, bot accounts and brigades to recruit or radicalise new members.
Bitcoin leverages distributed bitcoin processing to overcome the problem of double spending. Bitcoin’s intent is also to create a financial system that can overcome the core paradox of being both secure and private, but also transparent. QAnon leverages distributed human minds to solve age-old enigmas (or conspiracies) to expose the true reality of the world, and to shed light on the secret shadow control-system.
Baking instead of mining
Where bitcoin miners use digital computer processing power to solve puzzles in a process known as mining, QAnons, also dubbed “bakers”, use the power of expanded human networks to follow “Crumbs” dropped by Q that either confirm or reject their theories. This process is known as baking. Mining prevents double spending. Baking prevents the encroachment of disinformation into the core “truth” narrative being revealed. Bakers are always encouraged to do the research themselves and not just believe things because Q says so.
The core underpinning technology of Bitcoin — blockchain — bundles the information into blocks, authenticates the blocks with proof of work, and posts the authentications into an ever evolving merkle tree at regular intervals. The core underpinning technology of QAnon, is the tripcode which helps authenticate that drops or crumbs really come from Q or other verified bakers. Bakers listen and watch for signals that can confirm their theories, they then seek to authenticate them. The purpose of the tripcode is to ensure people really are who they say they are, even when anonymous. This helps to ward off infiltrators, disinformation agents, imposters and merchants of fake news.
Where bitcoin has the Satoshi White Paper, QAnon has “The Plan”. Bitcoiners are encouraged to trust the “math” of blockchain, QAnons are encouraged “to trust the plan”. The former is overt, the latter is covert.
Qbits and waves instead of bits and ledgers
Blockchain does not concern itself with the passage of time. This is because it’s only interested in the fixed state of its closed 21m coin system and where the “coins” reside at any given moment. QAnons listen for signals from Q or other authenticated and related persons. They then scavenge for information in articles, media and research resources to derive the meaning of the clues. Once predictive theories are established, they ultimately become dependent on the passage of time to prove them true or false. Unlike Bitcoin, QAnon is time dependent because the passage of time is its key validator.
Until theories are verified they run simply as probabilities — or speculations — in the Q world view. Q’s supposed uncanny power to predict the future is cited frequently as confirmation that the Q phenomenon is not a conspiracy. Fresh theories hence are either on the ascendence or in a state of collapse. But even when things don’t go to plan, the rhetoric reminds the faithful that the future is not pre-determined and that sometimes things can change.
Bitcoin’s state of being at any given time is accessible to all thanks to its distributed open ledger, which constantly refreshes its balance-sheet snapshot. QAnon, however, operates more like a profit and loss account, or scorecard, with regular updates about which side is or isn’t winning the shadow war.
Where bitcoin the movement encourages its community to HODL even when the chips are down, QAnon encourages its community to believe in the coming of the Red Wave, even when it’s evidently not coming.
From deep state to Deep Thought
So what does that tell us?
Everything and nothing.
The architects of QAnon, whoever they may be, could have inadvertently emulated many of the processes that brought us bitcoin. But they may also have done it intentionally. They might even be the same people. Either way, if QAnon continues to evolve like bitcoin, the movement could be more difficult to nip in the bud than many appreciate today. Unstopped, it risks forging yet more parallel platforms, parallel media, and in the worst case scenario a counterinsurgency that brings about a parallel government, most likely funded by the world’s most successful darkweb parallel money system, bitcoin. A parallel universe.
Dismissing QAnon as a flight of crazy fantasy is therefore not advisable. A better way to challenge it might be to initiate a competing “enterprise” LARP whose job it would be to leverage humans minds on social media to expose the conspiracy behind the conspiracy. And, indeed, it does appear someone has finally risen to the task:
But here is one other way to think about it.
In Douglas Adams’, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the Magrathean race (which built earth) devises a supernatural-computer called Deep Thought to calculate the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything. Deep Thought understands that it will be surpassed by an even greater computer than it one day. After millions of years of calculations, Deep Thought presents the Magratheans with the unsatisfying answer of 42. Disappointed, they ask it to calculate the ultimate question instead. Deep Thought notes it is incapable of doing so, but that its successor might be able to and goes about designing it.
It explains the new machine will be so large and so complex, that it will resemble a planet — and that life itself will be part of its operating matrix.
Perhaps the most important thing QAnon has exposed is that LARPing on social media is in itself a type of calculating technology. By uniting many human brains on a singular puzzle or task, a user (or game setter) can tap into a new type of collective-problem solving phenomenon that differs from traditional academia, not least because it is purposefully embraces the fantastical and questions long-established norms. In some cases this can be paranoia-inducing and destabilising. But in other cases, the process could help us approach problems from new perspectives to bring about new insights.
QAnon itself may not be the problem. The problem is how we ensure the technology QAnon has unleashed is put to good use.
Technology at the end of the day is neutral. It’s how we use it that matters.