Pandemic spreads conspiracies far and wide among a range of believers

Conspiracies seem to be a byproduct of a global crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic, and recent reports suggest they are not limited to any one religion or spirituality. What is known as the QAnon movement, which holds to conspiratorial ideas about the existence of a “deep state” seeking to bring down the presidency of Donald Trump, has found a home in a segment of the Christian right, writes Marc Andre Argentino in the online magazine The Conversation (May 18, 2020). The QAnon movement began in 2017 after someone known only as Q posted a series of conspiracy theories about Trump on the internet forum 4chan and has since embraced conspiracies concerning the pandemic. In researching the QAnon movement, Argentino found one of its strongest proponents is Omega Kingdom Ministry (OKM), part of a neo-charismatic house church network called Home Congregations Worldwide (HCW). The organization’s spiritual adviser is Mark Taylor, a self-proclaimed “Trump Prophet” and QAnon influencer with a large social media following on Twitter and YouTube. Aside from “draining the swamp” in Washington politics, Taylor says it’s “our” responsibility to drain the deep state church swamp. They believe the same deep state that controls the world has also infiltrated traditional churches. OKM also raises funds for the Reclaimation Ranch, which is described as a “safe place” for children rescued after being held underground by the deep state. Argentino counted about 300 accounts participating in an OKM recent service, with the congregation moving from Zoom to YouTube to accommodate the growth in attendees.

Argentino does not discuss the prevalence of QAnon (or “Q”) conspiracies among other Christians, but an article in The Atlantic (June, 2020) suggests that its influence is far wider than that found in OKM. Writer Adrienne LaFrance argues that it is also propelled by religious faith, with “the language of evangelical Christianity [coming] to define the Q movement. QAnon marries an appetite for the conspiratorial with positive beliefs about a radically different and better future, one that is preordained.” She cites the influence of evangelical Christian David Hayes, a “Q superstar,” who has 300,000 followers on Twitter and the same number of subscribers on You Tube, going by the online handle Praying Medic. Hayes compares the movement to another “great awakening” in that “the exposure of the unimaginable depravity of the elites will lead to an increased awareness of our own depravity. Self-awareness of sin is fertile ground for spiritual revival.” Comparing the Q movement to the millennial Seventh Day Adventists and the Mormons, LaFrance concludes that “it already has more adherents by far than either of those two denominations had in the first decades of their existence. People are expressing their faith through devoted study of Q drops as installments of a foundational text, through the development of Q-worshipping groups, and through sweeping expressions of gratitude for what Q has brought to their lives.”

Yet the movement appears to have spread beyond a segment of conservative Christians and others in the far right. In the online magazine Medium (May 20, 2020), Julian Walker writes that “many yogis, ecstatic dancers, bodyworkers, meditators — you know, people focused on health and well-being, are all clogging my social feeds these days with the ever morphing paranoid conspiracy theories.” Walker writes that such conspiracy theorists “frame the quarantine, the pandemic, WiFi/cell tower technology, and vaccines as all being part of a vast conspiracy designed to take away our freedoms, track our movements, poison our bodies, and enact an ominous new world order.” In such circles, the metaphor of taking the “red pill,” meaning undergoing a conservative awakening from their perceived liberal conditioning, is becoming more common. A leader in the yoga community, comedian JP Sears, made a video (which has nearly four million viewers) satirizing people who believe the mainstream mediaon Covid-19. He recently published another video satire featuring a fearful quarantine-follower “who is painted blue (because he took the blue pill and chose to stay enslaved and asleep) weakly accepting being told what to do by the government and media,” Walker writes.

This patchwork of groups, teachers and spiritual practitioners overlaps with long-time New Age conspiracist David Icke and other groups ranging from liberal anti-vaccine activists to “full-blown believers in reptilian alien shape-shifters.” This the conspiracy mindset reasoning that is seen in an “ever larger Venn-diagram overlap between the alt-right/QAnon/libertarian/2nd amendment/prep bunker crowd and our pseudoscience/natural medicine/the Secret/higher truth crowd.” Walker concludes that the conspiratorial mindset is perceived as being skeptical, independent, open-minded and brave. This type of thinking can also be an outgrowth of an alternative spiritual outlook that tries to overcome self-limits and distorted thinking but then mutates into a view that “truth is illusion, and make-believe is true.”

(The Conversation,; The Atlantic,; Medium, rlap-19ad346c62f0)