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19 January 2022

The BBC’s The Coming Storm uncovers the origins of QAnon

Part history and part technological quest, Gabriel Gatehouse conducts a chilling investigation into the “plot to break reality”.

By Rachel Cunliffe

In November 2020, just after the US presidential election was called for Joe Biden, the BBC reporter Gabriel Gatehouse was in Arizona covering a Donald Trump rally when he met a bizarre character: a bare-chested man draped in furs wearing a set of horns on his head, who called himself “the Q Shaman”. They chatted, but Gatehouse decided his story – of a shadowy cabal of satanic paedophiles, led by Hillary Clinton, that was trying to steal the presidency – was too preposterous to broadcast on the BBC. You might find the description of the Q Shaman familiar: when Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol on 6 January 2021, he was there, horns and all, photographed in the Senate chamber. Somehow,  a conspiracy theory known as “QAnon” that began on obscure web forums had spread so widely that its believers had tried to orchestrate a coup.

[see also: Should the BBC interview flat-Earthers?]

How did we get here? In seven episodes, The Coming Storm tries to uncover the origins of “a new dark fantasy [that] had infected the bloodstream”. The conspiracy long pre-dates Trump; narratives about the evil machinations of Bill and Hillary Clinton have been swirling around for decades. The first and second episodes trace the perception of the Clintons as corrupt back to Bill’s early political career in Arkansas. This is about far more than his affairs – one interviewee recalls a doctor claiming to have a list of Hillary Clinton’s 50 murders, while a 1994 documentary accused Bill of everything from drug smuggling to assassination.

Part politics, part history and part technological quest, Gatehouse’s thesis is that the groundwork for “an epidemic of disorientation” has been being laid since the earliest days of the internet. His reporting is meticulous, his storytelling as compelling as it is chilling. Millions of Americans now believe the US government is being controlled by a cannibalistic child sex-trafficking ring – and some are prepared to pick up machine guns for their cause. As Gatehouse uncovers who is behind this “plot to break reality”, I wonder if it’s past the point of being able to be fixed.

The Coming Storm
BBC Sounds

[see also: The 6 January attacks never ended]

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This article appears in the 19 Jan 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The end of the party