As adherents continue to attempt to recover and regroup from sweeping bans on Facebook and YouTube, and now TikTok and Patreon, even the most far reaching members of the QAnon ideology have been affected. Included in this are groups that previously skirted downranking by social media sites due to the innocuous nature of the message’s packaging. Dubbed by one Canadian researcher as “Pastel-Anon,” these social media savvy Q-peddlers are adopting the aesthetic of life-style influencers to push the conspiracy.
Following our most recent article on the now international cult’s impact in Canada, a variety of its proponents quickly flooded our social media defending the conspiracy. While we're not strangers to criticism, this was not the usual collection of anonymous accounts and many appeared to exist outside of the stereotypical realm of the far-right that “anons,” as they dub themselves, are often associated with.
The QAnon conspiracy theory was born from anonymous postings on the message board 4chan, where it has proceeded to bounce to the progeny that would follow. While there are disparate factions of believers, all ultimately concede that western society has been subverted by a gang of elite pedophiles -- mostly made up of world leaders and celebrities. The Cabal, as it is often called, strives for a variety of ultimate aims, from abducting children off the street for bizarre rituals to subverting democracy. Whatever the case, these machinations have constantly been frustrated and thwarted by the bombastic politics of Donald Trump, like a messiah who is destined to lead the charge against this purported evil.
The sitting president has been named by Q himself as the leader of the resistance against The Cabal, often referring to Trump as Q+ in the “Q-drop” messages used to communicate with followers. Many of Q’s predictions and theories tread over well worn ground of conspiracy and relate back to the medieval antisemitic concept of blood libel and the now century old piece of debunked propaganda, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. While these make up the very worst parts of the belief system, there is a new element to the theology that is bringing in unlikely followers -- online influencers.
Read our report to find out how QAnon is spreading in Canada
Describing what he originally called the “new age to QAnon pipeline,” Travis View, a host of the QAnon Anonymous podcast, has seen the power of a softer packaged QAnon, one that adopts the aesthetics of social media influencers and social causes to bring its ideas to market.
“We noticed that members of the online wellness and influencer community started getting into QAnon and QAnon themes,” View told the Canadian Anti Hate Network, saying that the co-opting of the #savethechildren hashtag resulted in an upswing in popularity.
“They started promoting inaccurate statistics about saving the children, such as a popular one that 800,000 children go missing every year, which is just ludicrous when you think about it,” View added.
“Really, what we noticed is that these people basically were pulled down the rabbit hole. I followed one particular influencer named Ivy Rose and she had a podcast, Instagram account, and she talks about yoga, you know, healing the colon and stuff.
“It was very innocuous, but then she started talking more and more about Qanon. And that led to her belief that President Trump is going to save the world.”
At time of writing, Rose appears to have been removed from or has deactivated her Instagram account, but many of her contemporaries remain and continue to push alternative health practices, alongside broad theories of child abduction that implicate just about every major world leader.
Canada has its fair share of QAnon influencers, as vlogger and primary spreader of the Wayfair conspiracy -- one which alleges certain expensive furniture items sold online through the Wayfair retailer are actually code to purchase a child for exploitative purposes -- Polly St George, aka Amazing Polly, lives in Kingston, Ontario. The host of Radio Quebec, one of the most popular French-language QAnon shows in the world, Alexis Cossette-Trudel is from Montreal. Both recently were removed from YouTube and Facebook as part of efforts the companies are making to weed out the content from their platforms.
A dive into some of the accounts that came to defend QAnon from our article show anecdotally what View discussed. A cadre of spiritual seekers, replete with the signatures of what Canadian QAnon researcher and PhD candidate at Concordia University Marc-André Argentino christened “Pastel-Anon,” soft hues of light colours, pitches for essential oils and crystal healing, and theories about high and low vibrations and their impact on wellness alongside dark theories of 5G pandemics and mass child abduction for ruling elites.
Argentino has presented his belief in the past that the cult of Q is a “participatory ideological movement,” more than a run of the mill conspiracy theory. Despite the fact that few Q-drops ever come true, followers can actively hasten “the great awakening” by spreading the message through the medium where the new religion took hold -- social media. However, as with most ideologies based around mysterious leaders with hidden knowledge (Q) or that follow near-deified political figures (Trump), doubt is discouraged. Despite the claim that the conspiracy theory encourages followers to think critically and analyze data, adherents are constantly told to “trust the plan.”
“That would mean it’s the only cult that advocates researching and critical thought,” one commenter wrote in response to our critical look at QAnon in Canada. “If you’re willing to dismiss child sex trafficking, you’re just as guilty as the pedos themselves.”
Ignoring that organizations working to stop child sex trafficking have released multiple warnings that Q-ish ideas of trafficking “actively harms” their cause, the resistance these believers face is only more confirmation of the conspiracy against them. The most recent wave of crackdowns from social media companies has had an effect, one that has reduced many -- but not all -- pages and groups that spread the blatantly false Q gospel. A welcome sight to researchers who had been ringing alarm bells for years, the proliferation of the content on social media has been linked to multiple acts of violence and driven a wedge between so many families r/QAnonCasualties now has its own subReddit.
While big tech attempts to dam the overflow of content it was key in spreading to a global audience, the movement has already successfully co-opted various hashtags like #savethechildren, #saveourchildren, and #whereareallthechildren, having even those that are unaware amplify erroneous statistics. According to Vice News, recent research also found that 20% of surveyed Americans believe in at least one of four conspiracy theories that began as part of QAnon.
“Facebook's crackdown has been pretty devastating to the QAnon community,” View said about the recent bans, adding that the company has gone on to ban use of the “#saveourchildren” on Instagram and redirect searches to actual anti-trafficking resources.
“Now the question is that whether or not Facebook will choose to keep up with the ways in which QAnon is going to inevitably take,” View said, “because what we see is as they get banned, they find ways to evade the ban. They create a new account, they create new dog whistles and they create new ways to avoid detection.”
This is part of a series of articles and investigations into trends and new developments among Canada’s hate movements. We would like to thank an anonymous donor and the Urban Alliance on Race Relations for supporting this project.