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You and Q’s army?

The QAnon conspiracy theory, focused on a belief in the existence of a Satanic child sexual abuse ring, has been collecting followers worldwide. Here in Australia one of its adherents happens to be a long-time friend of Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

The QAnon conspiracy theory, focused on a belief in the existence of a Satanic child sexual abuse ring, has been collecting followers worldwide. 

Here in Australia one of its adherents is a man called Tim Stewart, who also happens to be a long-time friend of Prime Minister Scott Morrison. 

Now, questions are being asked about Tim Stewart’s influence on the Prime Minister. 

Today, contributor to The Saturday Paper Richard Cooke on what drives people to Q-Anon, and the threat it poses in Australia. 


Guest: Contributor to The Saturday Paper Richard Cooke.

Show Transcript

[Theme Music Starts]

From Schwartz Media, I’m Osman Faruqi, this is 7am.

The Q-Anon conspiracy theory, focused on a belief in the existence of a Satanic child sexual abuse ring, has been collecting followers worldwide. 


Here in Australia one of its adherents is a man called Tim Stewart, who also happens to be a long-time friend of Prime Minister Scott Morrison. 


Now, questions are being asked about Tim Stewart’s influence on the Prime Minister. 


Today, contributor to The Saturday Paper, Richard Cooke on what drives people to Q-Anon, and the threat it poses in Australia. 

[Theme Music Ends]


Richard, let's kick things off with a definition, what exactly is QAnon and where did it all come from? 


Okay, I'll try and summarise briefly, because there are so many tenants of Q. One of the reasons that QAnon has been successful is that it's kind of a super theory of conspiracies. It can accommodate all sorts of pre-existing or speculative new conspiracies and make a sort of unified theory out of them. 


So pretty much the idea is that there are satanic paedophiles or Luciferian paedophiles, they call them sometimes, who are involved in the trafficking, abuse, sacrifice and utilisation of children for producing a product called Adrenchorne, which is supposed to be a kind of drug. These satanic individuals are predominantly leftist politicians or people in the media or especially Hollywood. And Donald Trump was elected as a kind of emissary of the forces of light to take these forces on and ultimately defeat them. 


Qanon is predominantly online, and it came from a kind of precursor conspiracy theory called Pizzagate, if you like. Q is an elaboration on Pizzagate. Pizzagate is Judaism, QAnon is Christianity. And Q is their Jesus.


So I remember when Pizzagate sort of first hit the headlines. It seemed pretty weird and confusing. Do you mind just walking us through what it is and how it fits into this bigger puzzle of QAnon? 


Yeah, so John Podesta, who was the former White House chief of staff and Hillary Clinton's campaign chair, had a tranche of emails leaked.

Archival tape -- -- Reporter 1:

“More than 1900 emails released just this weekend, we are talking about a slow leak, every day a new batch, and the Clinton campaign knows...”


And in these emails, he made repeated references to pizza, and Pizzagate was a conspiracy theory based on the idea that every time he was saying, let's get some pizza, he actually meant let's abuse some children. 

Archival tape -- -- Unknown Person 1:

“What is going on at that pizza shop? What are the references to pizza throughout John Podesta's emails? What is a pizza pack?”


and that these people were involved in ritual child sexual abuse. 

Archival tape -- -- Unknown Person 2:

“Cannibalism, a network of satanic ritual abuse involving George Soros and the entire DNC...”

Archival tape -- -- Unknown Person 3:

“All this pedophile stuff that's going on in Hollywood, it's all connected, it's all connected…”


And the Comet pizza restaurant was supposed to be the place that these children were trafficked.

Archival tape -- -- Unknown Person 4:

“In a nutshell, Pizzagate is real, it is a trap, it's gonna be used as a honeypot, but what it is a keyhole, it's the door to the rabbit hole.”


So this was already a bit of a retread of some tropes which go back to the 1980s and even further than that sort of people being involved in shadowy satanic organisations that are abusing or even sacrificing children. 

Archival tape -- -- Reporter 2:

“28 year old Edgar Maddison Welch from North Carolina, he walked into a restaurant full of customers yesterday, fired the weapon according to police and pointed it at an employee.”


The incident that created the most alarm around Pizzagate. It was an individual. Going armed to the Comet pizza restaurant, pointing his firearms at staff and eventually firing a round before being arrested.

Archival tape -- -- Reporter 3:

“Telling police he was there to investigate a conspiracy theory called PizzaGate…”


This man genuinely believed that there were abused children being kept in the basement of Comet Pizza. My understanding is that it didn't even have a basement, but that he went there insisting on liberating them and fortunately didn't harm anybody.


So after that, people started to take these concerns more seriously. You know, this is not just an Internet outlier. This is something which is causing changes in people's behaviour, which could have lethal consequences. 




And how widespread is it, Richard, how many people actually believe in these things? 


That is hard to judge. There are polls which have shown that up to 25 percent of registered Republican voters believe some or all of the QAnon theory


I mean there are at least two Congresspersons in the freshman class of Congress who were card carrying QAnon adherents. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Bobert were both QAnon on proponents who have since kind of distanced themselves from that upon assuming office. But just recently, there have been concerted sort of joint efforts between some state Republicans and QAnon posting boards or influences to try and encourage Qanon adherents to seek local office at local levels in the United States, potentially as a way to delegitimize future elections. 


And there are multiple people, many millions of people who were involved in QAnon social media groups before most of those were purged by Facebook and Twitter. But it's certainly something which, you know, on the ground in America and increasingly in Australia you notice. I remember meeting people who were into PizzaGate or into QAnon and I've since watched as people at the outer edges of my friends group on Facebook have gotten drawn into this. 




And so, Richard, why is QAnon in the news here in Australia right now?


QAnon is making local news in Australia because Four Corners, the flagship national current affairs show, has explored the links between Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister, and an old friend of his, family friend called Tim Stewart, who is one of the leading local proponents of QAnon. And their suggestion is that he may have sought to influence the Prime Minister, influence some of his views, influence some of his language potentially. 




We’ll be back in a moment.



Richard, we're talking about the alleged links between QAnon and Scott Morrison, the ABC's flagship investigations program, Four Corners explored those this week. Can you tell me a bit about what they actually laid out? 


Yeah, there is an old family friend of the Morison's called Tim Stewart. His wife, Lynelle Stewart has been employed at Kirribilli House and both Tim Stewart and his son, Jesse Stewart have become leading proponents of the QAnon conspiracy theory in Australia.

Archival tape -- -- Reporter 4:

“Late last year the Stewart family became so concerned, they took the extraordinary step of reporting Tim and Jesse Stewart to the National Security Hotline several times.” 


And there was a suggestion that Tim Stewart had sought to influence Scott Morrison and sought to feed him some of the phrases or ideas that may have originated with QAnon. 

Archival tape -- -- Reporter 4:

“The programme reported a text message received by an associate of Stewart with a copy of a message he had sent to his wife, LaNelle.“

Archival tape -- -- Unknown Person 5:

“An army of victims and therapists would specifically love it if Scott's apology referenced ritual abuse victims. This exact wording is a key phrase for victims.” 


Tim Stewart claimed that he had suggested to Scott Morrison that Morrison used the phrase ritual sexual abuse while making Australia's formal apology to victims of institutional abuse.

Archival tape -- -- Scott Morrison:

“The crimes of ritual sexual abuse, happened in schools, churches, youth groups…”


Morrison did use that phrase, but whether or not that came directly from Stewart or indeed whether it matters is not something that he or his office spoke to directly. 

Archival tape -- -- Scott Morrison:

“I find it deeply offensive that there would be any suggestion that I would have involvement or support for such a dangerous organisation, I clearly do not.” 


Even the argument made by the program is that the link is tenuous. But QAnon people take absolutely everything as affirmation of their view, even though their entire sort of religious aspect was built around the re-election of Donald Trump, many began to decide that Biden was in fact part of the plan to take on the Luciferian paedophiles, they are sort of self generating. 



So, Richard, this is essentially how Q works, right? It uses these phrases that are kind of code words amongst the adherents and within the movement. It picks them up and blows them up and kind of makes them the almost secret key to unpacking this large conspiracy?


That's right, I mean, I think one of the best descriptions that I've heard of QAnon is that it's an online game, that doesn't seem natural at first. But for the people who put these clues together, for the people who know these code words, for the people who, um, no particular tropes like wearing red shoes, does become a way to gamify their understanding of politics. And it's also something that they can seek themselves


One thing I've noticed about QAnon proponents is that their friends tend to abandon them when they start expressing these beliefs and then vociferous new Qanon-affiliated friends take their place. So you can see how that process ratchets people further and further away from the people that they were before. 




And Richard, I mean, how serious do you think the risk is, not just in this particular context that you're talking about and perhaps not even thinking about the relationship between Tim Stewart and Scott Morrison, but more broadly. 





Is it just this kind of silly, ludicrous, kooky Internet theory or is it something that can have tangible and dangerous effects in the real world? 



Well, Morrison himself called it a dangerous organisation that suggests that there are people that security agencies are keeping an eye on.


The FBI sort of look at it as one of a number of domestic terror threats, some of which are conspiratorial in origin. QAnon has not produced a whole lot of political violence, 


There's only been one murder that I know of which has been linked to QAnon, and that was of a mafia crime figure, where a Gambino underboss was shot by someone who was a Q adherent who thought that he was somehow linked to the conspiracy. 


There has been someone who blockaded a dam, the road over a dam. There have been some people who have prepared weapons caches. 


But if we're talking about sort of triaging it as a risk, if we look at the number of people who are in QAnon and the amount of violence they've produced versus a website like Stormfront, which is, you know, the major white nationalist forum on the Internet. People posting on Stormfront have committed more than 100 murders between them. So QAnon is not an especially high physical risk. I think its risk is more to the long term political health of the nations where it really takes hold. 



What do you mean by that? What makes it a risk to political health?



Well what I mean is that QAnon is part of a broader movement, especially in the United States, to delegitimize electoral results in which Democrats are elected, the overwhelming majority of Republican voters believe that Biden did not win the 2020 election. 


So there's a body of people who are especially invested. They're not interested in evidence to the contrary of their position. They see themselves on a moral, even a religious crusade. 


And those people will play a role, perhaps an integral role in future efforts to delegitimize these elections. I mean, if you have local electoral authorities who are stacked with QAnon influences and there are real efforts to do that right now, an election like 2020, the outcome of it would look very, very different. 


And I'm concerned that that's what we're going to see in the coming years. 



Richard, thanks so much for your time today. 


Thanks Os.


[Theme Music Starts]

Also in the news today: 

From midnight tonight, Melbourne’s 25km travel limit will be lifted and those in the city will be able to have two visitors per day to their home.

Density caps for indoor venues have also been increased, but the state government has foreshadowed that further restrictions will be eased slowly.

And after four weeks the ceasefire negotiated between Israel and Hamas has been broken, with the Israeli military resuming airstrikes on Gaza yesterday.

The bombing campaign followed a far-right Israeli march through East Jerusalem, which Hamas said was a provocation. In response it launched flammable balloons designed to damage crops and fields.

I’m Osman Faruqi and Ruby Jones will be back in the hosting chair tomorrow.

See ya next time.

[Theme Music Ends]


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