Look at these rubes who think Donald Trump is going to ride in on March 4 and retake the country so he can lock up the baby-eating cabal of Jewish space lasermen! What a bunch of morons, right? Yeah, no. Assuming that QAnon and the greater Trumpist cultsphere exists because of stupidity is inaccurate and dangerous.
First of all, I’d like to remind my fellow adherents to the political left that we are not immune to grifts, lies, and conspiracy theories. It was not that long ago that half of all Democrats believed that George W. Bush did 9/11. Bullshit does not have a political alignment, and the fact that the supposedly more educated people on the left fall for it in great numbers should be clear evidence that brain power is not inherently a vaccine against ridiculous falsehoods.
Education is not some bulwark either. I’ve seen dozens of people say we need to teach critical thinking more in high school to avoid this, but I’m baffled as to why they think that would fix the problem. I went to the same high school as a lot of Trump supporters (thanks Facebook!), and they were in the same gifted and talented classes I was. We got equivalent schooling, but I debunk nonsense for a living while they repeat it. These are people who in many cases I personally saw get better grades than me.
Trump’s support among people without college degrees doesn’t tell a whole story either. Yes, he won in 2016 thanks in large part to whites without college degrees, but it’s not that lopsided a group. Looking at some recent Gallup polls, 59 percent of whites without college degrees identify as Republicans, but 41 percent of whites with college degrees identify as Republicans, too. Or look at the other side of the equation. Only 17 percent of Black men have a four-year degree, but 88 percent of them voted for Joe Biden in 2020. Clearly, college is not by itself a protection spell against QAnon.
QAnon is a cult, and arguably the fastest growing religion in the United States. Contrary to popular belief, joining a cult has nothing to do with intelligence. Studies find that members of cults come from “disproportionately from middle- to upper-middle class households, the advantaged segments of the population,” and typically have the educational attainment of the privileged classes. One study of Rajneesehpuram members in Oregon from 1987 found find that 64 percent had earned at least a college degree, with 24 percent with a master's degree and 12 percent with a doctorate.
People do not fall into cults because they are stupid. They become ensnared in them because they are emotionally vulnerable to suggestion, usually because of bad circumstances in their lives. There’s a reason that a majority of the people who have since been arrested for the attempted, QAnon-based insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 were later found to be in some sort of financial trouble (albeit, usually from things like refusing to pay taxes). The Sovereign Citizen movement, which has recently been folded into QAnon like an especially shitty omelet, preys on the same problems. Grifters in that community, particularly people like Russell Jay Gould, use the supposed magic ability of esoteric grammar and the myth of a governmental contract people can dissolve to make people think they can opt out of financial woes that are making them miserable.
All of these groups are suffering under late-stage capitalism, but because they are politically aligned to the right, they are also the targets for a massive misinformation campaign that constantly feeds them lies. From Fox News to Reddit boards to YouTube shouty men like Ben Shapiro, they get an unending stream of poisoned rhetoric designed to play off their fears.
Anyone can fall into nonsense in those circumstances regardless of how intelligent they are. That’s how brainwashing works, and if it didn’t then people wouldn’t keep doing it. QAnon is not a collection of idiots that we can safely feel better than. They are a curated result of decades of careful grooming that has left probably millions of people willingly untethered from reality.
And it could be us tomorrow. If you think you’re too clever for that to happen, you are actively a danger.
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