The Coming Storm is a BBC podcast hosted by Gabriel Gatehouse. “QAnon and the Plot to Break Reality” is an eight-part series (plus introduction) from January 2022 on the origins, history, and development of what would become QAnon and the build up to the events on Capitol Hill, Washington DC, 6 January 2021. The episodes also cover interrelated discourses of interest to the critical study of apocalypticism, including prophecy, satanic scares, messianism, Christian Right, spiritual warfare, giants, the Great Tribulation, and witchcraft, to name but a few. The episodes can be streamed or downloaded here:
Introduction: Welcome to The Coming Storm
A year on from the Capitol Insurrection in Washington DC on 6 January 2021, Gabriel Gatehouse journeys into the dark undergrowth of modern America. He's looking for the origins of the story that drove the crowds to storm the heart of US democracy. From conspiracy-soaked barrooms in 1990s Arkansas, via spies in hotel rooms in the shadow of the Kremlin, to anarchic chatrooms on the early internet, this is a search for the answer to one big question: did this just happen, or is somebody trying to break reality?
When a mob storms the Capitol in Washington DC, reporter and presenter Gabriel Gatehouse sees someone he recognises: a man draped in furs with horns on his head. He is known as the Q Shaman.
Gabriel had met him at a Trump rally in Arizona, ranting about a conspiracy theory involving Hillary Clinton and a cabal of satanic paedophiles plotting to steal the 2020 presidential election.
The search for the origins of this strange and twisted tale begins in 1993, when the suicide of a White House aide during Bill Clinton’s presidency reveals the first signs of a new information ecosystem that is starting to spill over into the mainstream. Myths about his murder proliferate on the early internet. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. In Arkansas a parallel reality is forming, in which the Clintons are a corrupt and murderous couple who will stop at nothing in their quest for power.
2. Sex, Lies, and… a Videotape
Gabriel Gatehouse discovers a real conspiracy called The Arkansas Project. The aim is to inject lurid tales about the Clintons into the mainstream American press in the 1990s. These stories spin off in different directions. Down one road lie sex scandals and eventually impeachment proceedings. But thanks to an Evangelical coalition the story goes off in another direction, involving Satan and a looming battle between good and evil. A dark fantasy has taken hold which bubbles away under the surface, ignored by the establishment.
3. The Basement
A severely disabled boy from upstate New York is shocked when his online community of video game fans is flooded with porn. He gets sucked into a toxic world of mostly young men stuck in their parents’ basements, making memes out of snippets of popular culture and Nazi symbols. He becomes a major figure in a dark new counterculture germinating on a niche website called 4chan.
As the 2016 Presidential election approaches, a story grows on 4chan about Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, paedophilia, and references to pizza. The story bursts out into the real world when a man walks into a pizza restaurant with a gun.
4. Q Drops
In Oct 2017 Donald Trump says something weird in a room full of military figures: “Maybe this is the calm before the storm.”
A few weeks later a poster on 4chan who calls himself Q starts to tell a crazy story about a coming storm, in which Trump is engaged in an epic battle against a cabal of satanic paedophiles who have hijacked the American Republic.
A group of bloggers mainstream the theory and it starts having a life of its own with real world consequences. Qanon is born. But who is directing it?
A British spy is hired to dig dirt on Donald Trump’s Russia connections. His sources tell him Trump is a Russian agent, a puppet of the Kremlin.
America is gripped by this story. Half are convinced the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians in order to defeat Hillary Clinton. But the other half believes the investigations into Russian collusion are a hoax, a conspiracy by the establishment to unseat a democratically elected president.
The QAnon community takes up this second narrative, in which a renegade General becomes a martyr and a figurehead.
Donald Trump’s fantasy about a vast conspiracy to steal the 2020 election merges with the fantasy of QAnon, about a looming showdown against the deep state cabal of satanic paedophiles.
After the storming of the Capitol in Washington DC, major figures from the QAnon movement gather in Dallas, Texas. Gabriel Gatehouse gets inside their conference to try to figure out who is now controlling this parallel reality. And he confronts General Flynn who is calling for his ‘digital soldiers’ to take over the country from the bottom up.
The Q Shaman, the man with the furs and horns who stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021, is in jail. The movement he came to symbolise appears defeated. But in a small South Carolina seaside town, ‘establishment’ Republicans are fighting a losing battle for the soul of their party, after one of the bloggers who mainstreamed the QAnon conspiracy theory has been elected to a powerful local position.
Gabriel Gatehouse has something to confess. Throughout the making of the series he’s been developing his own conspiracy theory. It’s about a book, called The Sovereign Individual, written by two men who were also pushing stories about the Clintons in the 1990s.
Were the people who seeded the myths that led to QAnon involved in a vast conspiracy to break reality, to divide and conquer and divvy up the spoils?
Gabriel seeks to understand the book, a favourite amongst the tech billionaires of Silicon Valley. They think a new version of the web, based on crypto and blockchain, will bring about the next step in the societal shift driven by the internet. What would that mean for democracy?