Every February, to help celebrate Darwin Day, the Science section of AIPT cranks up the critical thinking for SKEPTICISM MONTH! Skepticism is an approach to evaluating claims that emphasizes evidence and applies the tools of science. Every day this month we’ll be highlighting skepticism in pop culture and skepticism of pop culture.
Today, conspiracy researcher Stephanie Kemmerer brings her knowledge about the conspiracy cult QAnon, which she gleaned writing the cover story of the March/April 2021 issue of Skeptical Inquirer, to our favorite comic of too-real horror, The Department of Truth.
Hold onto your White Hats, James Tynion IV and Martin Simmonds’ The Department of Truth #4 takes you deeper into the rabbit hole than you imagined. With the underlying plot of multiple conspiracies, it’s no surprise to see QAnon, the biggest of them all, enter into the mix. Cole Turner, the book’s protagonist, calls QAnon a “unified history of American conspiracy theories,” because that’s exactly what it is — a buffet of unreasonable discourse served up on a golden platter.
In a fictional world where conspiracy theories become true if believed by enough people, QAnon adds a level of existential dread that others can’t come close to. Labeled as a “domestic terror threat” by the FBI in 2019 and deemed a cult by former Moonie turned cult expert Steven Hassan, QAnon went from perceived fringe belief to household name on January 6, 2021.
That said, some concepts in this issue bounce back and forth between the hypernormalization of societal systemic structures and the often unfounded conspiracy theories that arise from them. HyperNormalisation, a 2016 BBC documentary, lays out the concept that the world is run by corporations, aided by politicians, in order to create a “different reality” of sorts, which belies the complexities of the actual world. It doesn’t take a huge stretch of the imagination to see how those ideas, and even what’s seen in Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky’s more grounded Manufacturing Consent, could be easily swept into the mire of conspiratorial thinking.
The idea that bad actors in The Department of Truth are manufacturing conspiracies into life takes a decidedly hard right turn (pun intended) toward the dangerous end of the spectrum in issue #4. That end — the one with shapeshifting reptilians, blue avians, “Jewish Space Lasers,” V2S (Voice-to-Skull) technology, flat Earth, and QAnon (which can be used to incorporate all of the others) — does indeed exist in real life, and there are many people who cling to such ideas stubbornly.
Strangely enough, the Department of Truth itself can be compared to a conspiracy theory that swings in the complete opposite direction. The underlying concept of this series, one addressed directly in issue #4, is what’s come to be called “Blue Anon.” Tynion may not even be aware of it, as it’s a newly emerging rift in the anti-QAnon community. Some QAnon debunkers have posited that QAnon was a government-run PSYOP, but others caution such a suggestion could give credence to pre-existing notions of a Deep State, which downplays the level of harm it can cause, while ironically creating a conspiracy theory of its own.
Blue Anon also encompasses the hate-wish posts on social media that imagine former president Donald Trump being put on trial as a war criminal, much like the QAnon followers who fantasize about public executions of Democrats at Guantanamo Bay. Blue Anon can go as far as connecting Trump to nefarious happenings involving Jeffrey Epstein and claims of pedophilia.
Tynion has clearly done his research overall, though, as seen in his use of the Black Hat and White Hat concepts. In hacker terms, a White Hat is a good hacker (think penetration testing) and a Black Hat is a malicious one. QAnon carries these terms into the real world, referring to “good” guys as White Hats and “bad” guys as Black Hats. Such references came up during Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, when some QAnon followers began to speculate that Mueller was actually secretly investigating the Clintons and other Democrats, making him a “White Hat” in disguise.
It’s clear that QAnon believers can find hidden confirmatory “messages” pretty much wherever they look. Another example of this is the perceived relevance of the number 17. Q is the 17th letter of the alphabet, and followers often see public instances of the number as overly significant (the fact that President Joe Biden signed 17 executive orders on his first day in office has even led some to believe he is, yes, an undercover White Hat).
As clear as the book’s message is to most of us, much of QAnon stems from the Chan culture, which intermingles with comic book culture, so it wouldn’t be far-fetched to imagine a QAnon follower reading The Department of Truth and thinking, “Ah, this guy knows what’s up.” Especially when you consider that the first instance of the term “QAnon” doesn’t appear in issue #4 until — you guessed it — page 17.
Editor’s note: Tynion assures us that was entirely coincidental, which either means it really is easy to see patterns in randomness … or he’s a double Black Hat Blue Anon disinformation agent, which makes perfect sense when you think about it.
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