By Jack Rosen, President of American Jewish Congress
Originally published in New York Daily News.
Last week, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that QAnon, an anti-Semitic, racist, conspiracy-touting cult, would be banned from all of the social network’s platforms. His step follows passage of a bipartisan U.S. congressional resolution condemning the group.
The flurry of activity, while welcome, is not nearly enough. These steps are largely symbolic; it is difficult, if not impossible to police QAnon’s social media presence, and the legislative resolution has no resources or enforcement behind it. In fact, several Republican candidates for Congress who have expressed support for QAnon are heavily favored to be elected next month, casting doubt on the staying power of Facebook’s and Congress’ moves.
Conspiracy theories are as American as apple pie. The historian Richard Hofstadter, in his seminal article “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” noted that the phenomenon of “angry minds” and heated exaggeration, suspiciousness and conspiratorial fantasy, were prominent throughout the 20th century. But few are as prolific — or dangerously misunderstood — as QAnon.
Researchers now believe there are millions of QAnon followers in more than 70 countries. QAnon “believers” subscribe to a racist meta-conspiracy theory in which a shadowy cabal of Satan-worshipping bureaucrats and pedophiles seeks to dominate the world. QAnon’s legions see sinister, intermingled plots behind the protests against the murder of unarmed Black Americans, COVID-19 and the upcoming presidential elections. Most worrisome, QAnon followers can be violent; adherents are connected to murders and even a threat to kill Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
QAnon is creeping steadily into U.S. politics. Consider that 11 GOP Congressional nominees — including one running unopposed in Georgia — support the QAnon conspiracy.President Trump — who said QAnon followers “love their country” — is regarded as the hero of the cult. Trump’s disgraced former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, distributed a video of himself taking a QAnon pledge.
Jews are the ultimate source of QAnon’s paranoia. QAnon’s followers believe the blood of children — a modern remix of the old blood libel charge — fuels the cabal’s Satanic plot. They accuse Jewish bankers of controlling the world’s money supply. Old hat, but the conflation of these theories with COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter at this tenuous, uncertain time in our history seems like a recipe for disaster.
The early 20th-century world slept when a fabricated anti-Semitic text known as “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” was distributed around a world roiled by the uncertainty and paranoia that accompanied revolutions, world war and economic depression. The text followed Russian pogroms against Jews. It circulated in Germany before the Second World War. Even though the text was proven to be hoax, Henry Ford himself printed and distributed 500,000 copies of it in America.
The lesson then, as it is now, is that dangerous lies need to be stopped in their tracks, and their perpetrators held to account.
That said, dealing with QAnon is a complex problem. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has already warned that QAnon poses a potential domestic terror threat. However, law enforcement faces a slippery slope when it comes to these types of threats. Perhaps the group should be treated like the KKK, another dangerous, anti-American hate group that feeds on ignorance and prejudice. It certainly should not be welcomed in the halls of Congress.
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This is why Vice President Mike Pence should be applauded for canceling a planned fundraiser hosted by QAnon believers. Still, he did so only after withering criticism. And while Twitter in July banned thousands of accounts affiliated with QAnon and instituted policies aimed at limiting its spread, and Facebook has now banned the group from its platform, a recent report by NewsGuard found QAnon Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages with thousands of followers still springing up like wildfire across the U.S. and Europe. Even at this writing, a search for QAnon networks on social media platforms yields endless pages of results.
The fight against QAnon is therefore a fight against hate speech and violent extremism, and should be treated as such.
First, QAnon should be declared a hate group by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Second, its followers need to be exposed and their communities disrupted before they metastasize further. They hide in plain sight: The viral #SaveTheChildren posts creeping into our social media feeds have nothing to do with the organization of the same name; they are in fact deceptive lures entrapping individuals into the QAnon plotline that Jews kidnap and kill children. Social media companies must be more nimble and creative to counter this.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, social media literacy needs to become part of our educational system’s core curriculum so at least the next generation knows how to think critically and discern fact from fiction. QAnon’s believers clearly fail that test.