What accounts for QAnon’s difference? I’m not sure it’s as simple as saying the campaign centers on protecting children. Plenty of far-right conspiracy theorists, such as the neo-Nazi believers in “white genocide,” make similar claims about defending children but cannot point to such gender diversity across their ranks. So what is going on?
As with all things QAnon, it’s difficult to speak definitively. But my own hypothesis is that QAnon’s apparent success with women has more to do with how its digital network has developed than the actual content of the theory itself.
Most other far-right communities are much more insular, and usually make an attempt to draw their digital borders along race- or gender-based lines by emphasizing purity. In practice it never quite works, because of the porous nature of digital subcultures, but it makes for a hostile environment for non-white, non-male newcomers.
QAnon, by contrast, has looked for converts anywhere it can find them, making the slogan “where we go one we go all” (usually abbreviated to the hashtag #WWG1WGA) its rallying cry. It’s no surprise that anti-Semitism, a familiar staple of so many conspiracy theories, can be found in QAnon communities, but in general, racial purity isn’t a central factor.
It has also mutated as it has spread. QAnon may have started on 4chan and 8chan, but it quickly left such message boards behind for more mainstream platforms like Facebook and Instagram, Ms. Crawford said — platforms where young women are very active. It engaged in a partial “rebrand,” appropriating “#SavetheChildren” and other already-existing human trafficking campaigns and hashtags. And when majority-female anti-vaccine groups on Facebook began suggesting dark forces were at play in the Covid-19 crisis and expanded into anti-mask, anti-lockdown sentiment, QAnon eagerly folded all of these conspiracies into its own master narrative.
Today, the lines between the two have blurred; who is “just” an anti-vaxxer and who has gone full QAnon? It’s not clear that participants themselves draw a distinction. The “Covid-skeptic” communities I monitor on Facebook casually drop in comments about “the cabal” and child trafficking with little to no resistance from the rest of the group and, crucially, no platform moderation. It’s clear that even if these users wouldn’t recognize QAnon itself, or view themselves as supporters, they’re certainly familiar with its talking points.
Those videos of mothers bemoaning the brainwashing of their children? They’re not only compelling and dramatic content, but are also easily shared in other parenting groups with little indication of their far-right origins. It’s not just that women are more likely to become prominent influencers in the QAnon digital network; it is actively useful for QAnon for them to do so.