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US Politics

QAnon well on its way to becoming America's new religion

What is it about the Americans?

A recent picture of ecstatic young male Trump supporters, one clad in a “Trump Won” T-shirt, posed a question for me: did he really believe that and on what evidence? Or is it a question of wishful thinking?

For a society that steadfastly refuses to “establish” any religion, even though most of the founding generation were nominal Christians of one kind or another, the United States has embraced Christian fundamentalism and other beliefs to an extent far greater than any modern society.

But it goes further than that, There is an emotional blotting paper type of appetite to believe in things that would appear improbable to most modern Europeans.

The Church of Scientology is a case in point. Significant and well-placed figures seem willing to ignore the origins of scientology in the far-fetched writings of a very dubious figure, science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard, and to adhere to a sect that keeps most members in the dark as to its ultimate beliefs.

I cannot even attempt to explain their belief in Thetans in the space allotted here, but they can be summarised as types of spiritual entities which have existed for billions of years and who willed the universe into existence – disembodied entities occasionally captured in human bodies.

The niceties of these beliefs are not revealed to people who become members of the church until they succeed in graduating through various challenging stages of development. The documentary Going Clear (available online) shines some light on scientology and it is not a very pretty sight.

The church claims 8 to 15 million adherents worldwide but a US religious attitudes survey suggests this claim is a massive fabrication and that only 25,000 American are thought to be believers.

While European audiences may find the musical Book of Mormon an amusing piece of lighthearted comedy and while many of us are amazed by the zeal that sends earnest young Mormons to our doors seeking converts, there are, according to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more than 15 million believers worldwide – people who don’t see the funny side of the musical at all.

The origins of that book – golden plates of text briefly given by the angel Moroni to one Joseph Smith in the early 19th century showing that Jesus was in America in Biblical times and translated by him into the style and vernacular of the 17th century King James Bible – might appear implausible to most modern Europeans. But Mormonism is a strong and growing church in the Americas.

QAnon is a new phenomenon online dating from 2017 which propagates theories including Trump’s stolen election and another that America is controlled and manipulated by a cabal of liberal paedophiles which abducts and kills children as part of a satanic global conspiracy to dominate us.

They believe Donald Trump is secretly combating that evil cabal. While QAnon is not yet a church, it is well on the way to becoming a politico-religious sect in the way that scientology morphed from science fiction into a self-styled church.

What do Americans make of QAnon beliefs?

While most Americans disbelieve and reject the beliefs of the QAnon conspiracy, recent surveys show that a fifth of Americans share some of its beliefs, including more than 60% of Republican voters who say they believe the last election was stolen. Some 14% of Americans told one recent survey that they regard themselves as QAnon supporters.

Trump has been careful not to alienate QAnon or disown its theories. He courts any form of fundamentalism and extremism he considers potentially useful to his forthcoming bid for re-election.

And that re-election is by no means improbable, notwithstanding the proceedings of the US Congress January 6th Committee. The Democrats are probably within months of losing control of both Houses to the Republicans. Trump is still the most dominant force in the Republican Party.

Can we in Europe feel morally superior and aloof in respect of all these American developments? After all, we rely on the US for our collective security as the Ukraine war has once again emphasised.

Europe has been complacent and misguided in many ways, not least in its misreading of Putin. Those of us in Europe who are still happy to be called liberal feel helpless as the post-Cold War international order fractures and shows signs of crumbling.

Liberal democracy needs its own champions. At the time of writing, the UK is witnessing a nasty and vindictive, cynical political knife-fight among Tory factions – a struggle for control of what appears to be the bridge of a political Titanic. Europe too seems to be led by political nonentities.

Will anything save us from a remake of Make America Great Again? Is there any limit to American credulity?




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