An HBO documentary unmasks the Qanon conspiracy movement

American Cullen Hoback has spent three years investigating Qanon, a group that emerged in internet forums that encourages far-right conspiracy theories and that gained special prominence in the last US elections; the result is a documentary series premiered by HBO on Monday.

Throughout six episodes, “Q: In the eye of the hurricane” is presented as a journalistic investigation, but the mark of its producer is visible, the Oscar-winning Adam McKay, an expert in turning the American political backroom into entertainment cinema (“The big bet”, “Vice”).

“Q” can disappoint the expectations of those who wait for an in-depth analysis of Qanon’s real influence on American society. and the reasons for its success, although it offers direct access to several key figures in its universe.

Figures like Fredrick Brennan, a 27-year-old American with a congenital disease that stunts growth, software developer and creator of the 8chan forum that hosted the mysterious Q; and the current managers of that forum, Jim and Ron Watkins, father and son, somewhat extravagant businessmen based in the Philippines.

Hoback gives in to the temptation to delight in the ‘freakiness’ of those characters, a bit in the “Tiger King” style that gave Netflix such a good return, but his approach may be inappropriate for a subject like Qanon, which has posed a real threat in public life, despite the absurdity of their approaches.

The series begins with the genealogy of the movement: it all started on October 28, 2017 with a message on the 4chan forum predicting the imminent arrest of Hillary Clinton for alleged pedophilia and corruption using cryptic language and subject to interpretation.

The message was signed with the letter Q, used by officials with access to top-level classified information. The acronym QAnon is completed with the abbreviation for “anonymous”, Anon.

Whoever signed as Q claimed to have secret government documentation, but has never shown proof. He only gave clues, which his followers call “crumbs” and it is they, self-appointed “bakers”, who with these clues “bake” answers to the enigmas.

Q’s followers served as propagators of his messages through other more popular networks such as YouTube, messages that implied that Donald Trump was an accomplice of the movement and had reached the presidency to end the corrupt state.

Some of those “qtubers” are also interviewed by Hoback, including a couple of former Obama voters. They support their theories – pedophilia, Satanism, propaganda classics – on a feeling of disappointment with politics and with the traditional media.

The documentary suggests that behind the Q there may have been several people and that it was spread by the snowball effect. The possibility that it all started from a joke is based on the similarities with the novel “Q”, a book about conspiracies in medieval Europe published in 1999 by the collective of writers Project Luther Blissett.

But its consequences have become tragic, the documentary links to this movement, for example, the attacks on the Christchurch mosques in New Zealand in March 2019, in addition to the recent assault on the Capitol.

The series is interesting insofar as it offers first-hand information and testimonies from the Qanon universe, but at times Hoback seems to get lost in his own labyrinth and, with entertainment taking precedence, one wonders to what extent it encourages the misinformation he denounces.

“Q: in the eye of the hurricane” opens with two episodes on Monday, March 22, and the rest will arrive every Monday in a row.