VAN BADHAM QAnon and On. Reviewed by Linda Godfrey
Van Badham explores the internet’s alternative reality.
This is a book about how internet conspiracies have grown to influence world politics, with dangerous real-life consequences. Badham traces the rise of internet channels from Japanese anime imageboards on 2chan to the creation of 4chan and on to the virulent 8kun.
Christopher Poole, an American, created 4chan as a place where people could write and post images with no boundaries.
Whatever the most inventive, controversial or plain outrageous discussion attracted attention that in turn brought it before more users (and by 2014, the site had an estimated 22 million users every month). Anything less interesting vanished. The baiting, response-provoking mockery of internet trolling became an art form here.
4chan was flooded with images of child sexual abuse, animal cruelty, illegal hacking, cyberbullying campaigns and the harassment and stalking of a child. Misogyny was added to the mix with the explosion of Gamergate, which harassed and vilified female creators of computer games. And 4chan could be darker.
Nazism, woman-hating and anti-Black racism had become dominant themes in online conversation. Their use of extremist imagery soundly mocked the piety of inclusive ‘politically correct’ modern manners …
Far-right groups had found a place where they could spread their ideas. There were many groups, but the one thing they agreed on was that white identity was under attack and ‘political correctness’ and ‘social justice warriors’ were to blame. Donations were sought. And the money flooded in. Badham gives examples of channers who have increased the hype and hysteria to increase their revenue.
Information from 4chan began to make its way to mainstream media via Reddit, owned by Condé Nast.
By 2014 an organised campaign to harass and terrify women out of a cultural space was inherently political, but Gamergate was not merely motivated by political forces and using political tactics. It was drawing the attention of some ambitious political actors.
Steve Bannon was very interested. He had built Breibart News into what he called ‘the platform for the alt-right’.
Then Breibart News promoted Donald Trump as a presidential candidate. Bannon was using the example of Gamergate and 4chan as an efficient model for propaganda and influence operations on the internet.
From here the book draws a straight line through detailed accounts of Russian interference in the US elections that promoted Donald Trump over Hilary Clinton, to the rise of the #QAnon hashtag, to posts by Q themselves, to conspiracy theories about Hilary Clinton, anti-Semitic rants, anti-left raves, promotion of ideas such as that people who wore red shoes were in paedophile rings, that children were being abducted and abused, that Donald Trump was waging war against alien lizard people who could be identified by scars and their red hair. And on and on it goes until the invasion of the Capitol building in Washington DC on 6 January 2021, when President Trump thought he had the numbers to stage a coup d’état. After this date, nothing has been heard from QAnon. There is no clue as to their identity.
About three-quarters of the way through the book there is a story about Donald Trump running for President in 2024 with John Kennedy Jr as his running mate. The news was that John Kennedy Jr was coming back from the dead and would land in Dallas. This information pushed me over the edge. When I shared the news with my husband, he said there were reports of people camping out in Dealey Plaza, where John Kennedy Snr had been shot, waiting for John Jr’s return.
I could not read further for two months. I had to process and accept that people had other ideas about the world to mine. I did go back and finish the book, and in my opinion the information Badham provides gets sadder and sadder. People are killing and being killed because they mistake these conspiracies for reality. To me, it all seems a vicious joke played on a lot of people with the end game of attracting power and lots of money into the hands of a few.
Van Badham has done her research and what she says is backed up by references. There are comprehensive examples of the ‘information’ being peddled, however that ‘information’ does not need to be spread further by this review. But it is there in the book if you wish to access it.
If you care about the future of a civil society and want to live within our western democratic political model, then this is the book to read to get an idea of the forces that have gathered against those ideals.
Van Badham QAnon and On: A short and shocking history of internet conspiracy cults Hardie Grant Books 2021 PB 480pp $32.99
Linda Godfrey is a poet, editor and teacher. She has a chapbook of prose poetry published, Count the Ways, won the AAWP’s First Chapter prize in 2021 and is short listed for the South Coast Writers Centre Poetry Prize. She lives on Wodi Wodi land, on the south coast of New South Wales, land that has never been ceded.
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