Written by: Thomas Rawson
Alt-right nationalism sits in the centre of a flat world populated by ancient aliens, devil worshipping political elites, all underpinned by esoteric theories and speculation.
The link between Naziism and pseudoscience is well-established in modern culture but poorly understood. In contemporary media, portrayals of Nazi magic and treasure hunting are ubiquitous, from fanciful portrayals of mystical Egyptology in Indiana Jones to the supernatural elements of popular videogames such as Return to Castle Wolfenstein and Call of Duty: World at War. These depictions are almost always farcical, serving only to emphasise the ludicrous myths upheld by historical Fascists and to cement the National Socialists as the principal stock villains of Western Culture. However, what is often overlooked is the real impact pseudoscience, and esoteric thought still have in modern nationalist circles. The alt-right as it exists today is heavily reliant on ‘big tent’ conspiracies, encompassing all manner of outlandish ideas. From flat earth to blood libel, they all contribute to a thoroughly authoritarian nationalist mindset, the influence of which is critically understated in modern political discourse.
In one of the most prominent demonstrations of the alt-rights power and influence in modern politics, the riots of January 6th, one figure stands out, even if just for his outfit. Shirtless, heavily tattooed and wearing a buffalo skin headdress, Jake Angeli is a notable character of the movement because of how explicitly he bears the mystic and conspiratorial components of alt-right nationalism. In his book, ‘One Mind at a Time: A Deep State of Illusion’ available for sale on Kindle with a 4.6-star rating, Angeli sets out a worldview defined by both traditional political conspiracies with esoteric Gnosticism. ‘Have you ever been looking for something while it is right in front of you unseen?’ he asks, referring to a concept of a collectively constructed world imposed upon reality by subjective perception. He describes a myriad of outlandish claims, centred primarily on accusations of sexual trafficking by U.S. government officials and how an elaborate propaganda system has created an illusion of political consensus. I bring up these arguments not to entertain their validity or even the applicability of the specific philosophical concepts to the movement as a whole but to demonstrate how mystical conspiracies persist in modern nationalist discourse and, as the Capitol Hill Riots demonstrate, continue to motivate political action with extreme consequences.
‘The QAnon Shaman’ is not alone, neither in mindset nor deed. Indeed, as his pseudonym suggests, his extreme presentation stems from an entire community of like-minded individuals who form the popular backbone of alt-right nationalism in the modern West. QAnon, by its very nature, is as conspiratorial as it is authoritarian and nationalistic. The eponymous ‘Q’ rose to prominence on the /pol/ message board of the anonymous forum site, 4chan, where through a series of enigmatic posts, a narrative soon emerged among their growing following. The ‘Deep State’ has co-opted political high society, a group whose villainy and depravity verge into farce. The group is accused of comparative banalities such as pervasive election fraud and manipulation of the media to more outlandish and popular allegations such as international sex trafficking, child sacrifice and ritual cannibalism, underpinned by an ever-changing cloud of bizarre arguments and justifications, divined by the community from the nigh incomprehensible ‘Q drops’ periodically posted by the ever-elusive ‘Q’ themselves.
As a ‘Big Tent Conspiracy,’ QAnon and its surrounding alt-right communities have adopted beliefs from dozens of pseudoscientific and conspiracy theorist groups. UFO and Ancient Alien theorists, Flat Earth proponents and anti-Masonic movements are but a few of the groups who have found their beliefs inducted into the QAnon movement as its scope and userbase expanded. Even the theosophic esotericism, which inspired the mysticism of the Nazi Party themselves, has found a new sense of credibility through attachment to the QAnon movement, placing it in a long tradition of mystic conspiracies in nationalist movements. One popular idea recently adopted by the community has been the belief that JFK junior, who died in a plane crash in 1999, is actually still alive and intends to reveal himself as Donald Trump’s VP and opponent of the Deep State. This absurd idea was widely adopted, and numerous gatherings of proponents have eagerly awaited the return of the long-dead son of the 35th president. However, its appeal was far from universal. Analysts have estimated that only a small proportion of QAnon believers uphold this theory as reality, it being a bridge too far even for those who also believe that Democrat party officials regularly sacrifice children to the devil. This is to say that QAnon is not only an extremely diverse conspiracy theory- it relies on this diversity to increase its numbers and better cement its legitimacy among proponents.
While the arguments of a UFO theorist and a Flat Earther might be completely incompatible, both ultimately derive their beliefs from an acidic distrust of conventional society. Both communities skew heavily towards nationalism as the fundamental force of politics, and both believe that elite groups are attempting to hide the nationalist truth from the general populace. It is only the aesthetics of their beliefs that separate them. This only works to strengthen QAnon as a political force because it allows for an interchangeability of arguments and doctrine impossible to more dogmatically centralised movements. One can believe only a few of the theories put forward by the Q decoders, or you can accept all of them; the foundational beliefs and motivations remain ideologically consistent enough to motivate the performative political actions the QAnon movement is best known for. As Angeli so bluntly describes, reality is an inherently malleable construct whose specific dimensions are dictated by social consensus. (this is what makes them so attractive and powerful) While few in the movement would state this idea so directly, the concept still occupies a foundational position within their conspiratorial reasoning. That there is a hidden truth to be uncovered by suppressing established science and ostracising discrete political groups is a common idea of both the conspiracy theorist and the authoritarian nationalist. The typical QAnon supporter is both.
No matter how outlandish or even comedic these theories are, their impact on modern politics remains profound, even beyond rioters in unusual attire. Surveys taken by Fairleigh University have indicated a link between belief in several conspiracy theories and supporting Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential bid. Later polls showed that those who believed the 2020 presidential election was illegitimate were more likely to hold similar views. This is highly significant for several reasons. Firstly, it reveals the sheer number of believers in even the strangest conspiracies throughout the American population. According to the survey, as many as 22% of participants claim that it is either ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ likely that the American sasquatch exists in the Pacific Northwest. But it also indicates that support for Donald Trump’s nationalist regime is distinctly associated with the conspiratorial mindset. Of course, the most comical beliefs associated with the extremes of QAnon remain largely peripheral. Still, more terrestrial theories such as Obama birtherism, climate change denial and antivaccine tendencies are highly prevalent. Given that such a significant number of people can be brought to distrust political opponents and regard the whims of major news organisations and political groups. The reality-bending aspects of alt-right esotericism can easily find their purchase.
All aspects of these conspiracies are the subject of mockery; the idea that Republican voters could believe in such ridiculous notions was quickly made the subject of farce by commentators and journalists, yet this fails to address the root of the issue. As the existence of Jake Angeli and his peers demonstrate, and the success of QAnon reinforces, these theories are less a genuine scientific endeavour to better understand the natural world as they are a tool to strengthen nationalistic identities. With growing extremism, outsiders and perceived enemies to the will of the chosen few have been singled out and castigated. The internet age has given communities an unprecedented ability to organise and communicate, allowing for these extreme fictitious realities to cement themselves in the minds of an ever-expanding number of people. Whether it be an understanding that the world is a flat disc moving upwards in space at a rate of 9.8m/s or that Pentagon officials oversee the extraction of adrenochrome from their human victims, the result is the same. Their enemies, nearly universally liberal politicians and their supporters, Jews, Muslims and ethnic minorities, are in league with powerful forces arrayed to bring about the end of Western society, and only political centralisation and militarism can prevent them from succeeding. This collective denial of reality is not the wacky hobby of eccentric individuals. It is a potent and extremely dangerous organ of modern nationalism and must be understood as such.
Featured Imagery: (1) David Reinert holds up a large “Q” sign while waiting in line to see President Donald J. Trump at his rally on August 2, 2018 at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania by Rick Loomis for Getty Images.