If you’ve been online at any point in the past year—if not, welcome!—your aimless clicks and doomscrolling may have brought you glimpses of the “world” of QAnon: the conspiracy theory that argues that US President Donald Trump is in the midst of a secret war against sex-trafficking, Satan-worshipping pedophiles. Its increasing prominence and power, especially as a worldview dissociated from fact, have compelled many an analyst, journalist, and pundit to festoon their analyses of QAnon in religious language. According to this speculative genre, QAnon is a new American religion, or even a cult. It’s an abusive cabal unlike any other form of belief and practice preceding it.
Enter religious studies scholar Megan Goodwin, co-host of Keeping it 101: A Killjoy’s Introduction to Religion, and author of Abusing Religion: Literary Persecution, Sex Scandals, and American Minority Religions. Fluent in the place of religion in the media, and with a recent book on the religio-political history and power of sex abuse allegations, Goodwin contends that QAnon is far from unprecedented. Goodwin traces the group’s prominence and lineage, as well as its zealous determination to “save the children,” to the rise of the New Christian Right and the Satanic Panic of the 1980s.
Calling QAnon a cult or religion marks the movement for its alterity and supposed irrationality, and hides how its practices are born of American social and political traditions. Its apocalypticism and accusations of pedophilia are but a contemporary symptom of a religiously-inflected political strategy older than Christianity itself. Historical precedents further suggest that the state lacks the tools and incentives to curb the group’s rise. Continue reading