Since the presidential election, QAnon followers have been forced to reckon with an identity crisis. “Q” failed to post for over a week after the election, and in that time questions about his legitimacy began to emerge among his followers. If the master plan was for Trump to save the world from pedophilic-“deep-state”-Satan-worshipping Democrats, how could he have possibly lost? If “Q” truly knew top-secret government information, how could he have been so wrong in so many of his predictions? These questions led a significant number of QAnon supporters to question their allegiance to the conspiracy movement, but since then the movement seems to have shored up its support. Many QAnon supporters who were at first at a loss for how the election results fit into the crazed QAnon narrative have successfully generated a new theory that the Dominion voting machines gave millions of Trump votes to Biden, demonstrating their inability to give up on the idea of a Democratic “deep-state” conspiracy. Though, Trump’s right-wing populism and jeremiads directed towards Hillary Clinton and the “deep state” paved the way for the original spread of QAnon and continuously stoke its flames, in our current political environment right-wing populism will remain attractive to those who feel resentment towards our current political system regardless of whether Trump is in office. The deep connection the QAnon conspiracy theory has to right-wing populism and the widespread dissemination of false information underscores the lasting threat that QAnon poses to democracy in the United States.
While right-wing populists generally “rail against their partisan opponents and against ethnic and other out-groups,” QAnon takes the right-wing populist ideology to the extreme through its use of baseless conspiracies . Trump’s rhetoric possesses a high level of Manicheanism and anti-pluralism , but the QAnon movement goes even further by claiming that Trump is the moral savior against powerful individuals (namely Democratic politicians, while invoking their connection to minorities) involved in satanic rituals, pedophilia, and child abuse. This extreme good vs. evil dichotomy is even more dangerous to democracy than typical right-wing populism. The level of immorality and disinformation prescribed to the “outsider” magnifies the extent to which followers view the Democratic Party and minorities as an existential threat . Right-wing populism erodes democracy because it limits who constitutes the people, creating an anti-pluralist culture which justifies undemocratic behavior and leads to a reluctance to accept electoral loss . Additionally, QAnon’s use of extreme disinformation, which has been proven to influence elections , in conjunction with its anti-pluralist ideology decreases these individuals’ ability to accurately hold politicians accountable when voting . The ability that QAnon followers have demonstrated, to use fantastical conspiracy theories to this end, illuminates how the threat is made even more potent when right-wing populist ideology is combined with a fundamental detachment from reality. That one of these supporters now holds a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and that the theories have spread across borders underscores that this threat persists despite the loss of Trump.
Despite a large amount of evidence to the contrary, there exists a strain of thought that says the content of QAnon’s founding conspiracies are so absurd, so deranged, that it will be little time before its proponents come back to reality. This way of thinking argues further that a Biden win makes much of the conspiracy theory untenable and that, regardless, the QAnon associated member of congress does not have the potential to wield any real power. Thus, QAnon does not pose a serious ongoing threat to democracy. This sort of thinking is a mistake.
QAnon’s right-wing populist appeal allows it to attract a broader following than just those who believe the core conspiracies. Indeed, a new study by Brian Schaffner indicates that a majority of QAnon Supporters familiar with the key conspiracies, do not fully believe them. Both Hochschild and Mueller argue that right-wing populism appeals to those who feel resentment towards the current political system, those who feel left behind, and those who in some way feel disenfranchised . The quick spread of the Dominion voter-fraud conspiracy exemplifies that QAnon can offer a home to disaffected Trump supporters even as he has lost the election and even if they do not believe its most deranged theories. The movement of QAnon into the Republican mainstream poses a serious risk of continuing democratic erosion. Additionally, QAnon’s spread to the U.K. and Germany since the start of the pandemic demonstrates the movement’s malleability and ability to attract certain discontent individuals regardless of whether a right-wing populist leader is in power. With building support for the theory, we can expect to see a further polarized U.S. society , more dissemination of false information, a decrease of accountability for Republican politicians , and further breakdown norms of mutual toleration . Though we would need to address the polarized schisms in our society even if QAnon did not exists, QAnon threatens exacerbate these issues. QAnon’s extreme right-wing populism and dissemination of false information encourage identity based-democracy, as it taps into resentment to “send partisans into action for the wrong reasons,” increasing polarization and the inability to compromise , and as we can see that is unlikely to go away simply because the theories seem crazy or because Trump is out of office.
Though the Weimar Republic, unlike the U.S., was an immature democracy and had a number of differentiating factors leading to its fall, the role that mass media played in helping the Nazi’s gain legitimacy in the political system warns of the danger of the election of Marjorie Taylor Greene . In fact, the language used in QAnon’s pedophilic conspiracy mirrors that used in the Nazi’s description of their Jewish conspiracy. Rather than utilizing fascist anti-Semitic rhetoric, QAnon uses conspiracies and right-wing populism. The threat QAnon poses to the United States and its citizens is not of the same magnitude, but the political power that this propaganda has supported certainly encourages violence, false information, polarization, and identity-based democracy all factors which contribute to the erosion of democracy.
 What is Populism, Jan-Werner Mueller, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016, 19-20.
 Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, How Democracies Die (New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2018).
 Gunther, Richard, Paul Beck, and Erik Nisbet. “Fake News Did Have a Significant Impact on the Vote in the 2016 Election.” Ohio State University.
 Nacy Bermeo, “On Democratic Backsliding,” Journal of Democracy 27(2016): pg. 11-12
 Arlie Russell Hochschild, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right (New York: The New Press, 2016).
 Lilliana Mason, Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became our Identity (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2018) pg.6
 Maja Adena and Ruben Enikolopov et. al, “Radio and the Rise of The Nazis in Prewar Germany,” The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Volume 130, Issue 4, November 2015, Pages 1885–1939, https://doi.org/10.1093/qje/qjv030.
 Cinar, Ipek, Susan Stokes, and Andres Uribe. “Presidential Rhetoric and Populism.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 50, no. 2 (2020): 240–63. https://doi.org/10.1111/psq.12656.