What are the true goals of QAnon? It's the 21st century's ultimate catfish scheme

All the elements of the QAnon conspiracy theory have been carefully selected and repackaged — but by whom, and why?

Published September 13, 2020 12:00PM (EDT)

A man waves a QAnon conspiracy flag at a protest of coronavirus skeptics, right-wing extremists and others angry over coronavirus-related restrictions and government policy on August 29, 2020 (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
A man waves a QAnon conspiracy flag at a protest of coronavirus skeptics, right-wing extremists and others angry over coronavirus-related restrictions and government policy on August 29, 2020 (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

This is the fifth article in a five-part series explaining QAnon. Read part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4.

In the previous four installments of this series, I chronicled the attempts made by an old friend to convince me of an outlandish conspiracy theory being promoted by the group of rabid online Trump supporters known as QAnon. According to my friend, initiates of the Illuminati had teamed up with subterranean demons to torture, rape and eat kidnapped children in underground military bases ruled by the mortal enemies of Donald Trump. He insisted that when Trump is re-elected in November we can all look forward to the abolition of the income tax, the development of "free energy" for all and the public unveiling of thousands of grateful kidnapped children rescued by Trump's private army of "white hats" from cages squirrelled away in these Satanist-controlled underground dungeons. 

One of the pieces of so-called "evidence" provided by my friend was a YouTube documentary called "Out of Shadows," which took the internet by storm in April. Perhaps the most impactful propaganda film of the past few years, "Out of Shadows" is a thinly-disguised QAnon recruitment video that mixes small slices of truth with a whole lot of lies to confuse the viewer into believing various bizarre theories promoted by QAnon. In this final installment, we conclude our analysis of "Out of Shadows," delve into the Jeffrey Epstein mystery and explain why QAnon is the catfish scheme of all catfish schemes.

The strange case of Jeffrey Epstein is left for the very end of "Out of Shadows." What the filmmakers choose to report regarding the Epstein affair is intriguing. Why does the documentary spend so much time talking about the known or alleged crimes of the convicted sex offender who died in a Manhattan jail cell last year, but never mention that the name of Donald J. Trump appears in Epstein's infamous little black book, alongside those of Bill and Hillary Clinton? (Trump's name and contact information are listed on page 85.

As you no doubt know, Epstein was a wealthy financier with endless connections to the rich and famous (including businessmen, politicians, scientists, Hollywood stars and royalty) who ran a child sex ring operation out of his luxurious "temple" in the Virgin Islands. On July 6, 2019, Epstein was arrested for trafficking underage girls in Florida and New York. On Aug. 10, while incarcerated in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York, Epstein won the "Most Improbable Suicide of the Year" Award after he was found dead in his cell under suspicious circumstances.  

An informant who told New York Post reporters he had spent several months in the same "special housing unit" at the MCC where Epstein died claimed, "There's no way that man could have killed himself. I've done too much time in those units. It's an impossibility." The informant said that the height from floor to ceiling in those cells "is like eight or nine feet. There's no way for you to connect to anything. You have sheets, but they're paper level, not strong enough. He (Epstein) was 200 pounds — it would never happen. … There's a steel frame, but you can't move it. There's no light fixture. There's no bars."

Whatever really happened in that cell, there are a lot of powerful people in the world whose lives were made much easier the second Epstein checked out of existence. The real point, however, is this: Instead of focusing on real-world methods of preventing other Epsteins from torturing innocent children, Team QAnon wastes its time searching for Satanic, Illuminati-related symbols hidden in the décor of celebrities they dislike.

For example, in one episode of the aforementioned "Rick B2T" QAnon talk show, Rick's anonymous buddy "Gene" flashes a photo of Ellen DeGeneres sitting on the set of her daily talk show. On the wall behind DeGeneres, to the right, one can see a series of horizontal lines; to the left is a mural that depicts a row of palm trees. "Gene" then flashes a photo of Epstein's mosque-like temple, the walls of which are decorated with a series of horizontal lines. The temple is surrounded by palm trees. A horrified expression darkens the face of "Rick B2T," immediately after which he snarls, "Can you believe that? Her set is Epstein Island! That is just sick!"

Horizontal lines.

Palm trees.

Based on these uncanny symbols, one can only conclude the obvious: Ellen DeGeneres is involved in sex trafficking, just like Epstein.

One wonders how Rick would react if he ever encountered a real Satanic symbol.

If these QAnon people could take a step back from their own weird neuroses, they might realize that there's absolutely no evidence connecting Epstein to Satanism or the Illuminati. (In fact, there's no evidence connecting the historical Illuminati to Satanism either.) The Epstein story is sordid enough without having to drag ancient secret societies into it. These are red herrings that merely deflect attention from the real story, which is that Epstein's sex trafficking ring was being used to collect blackmail material against some of the most powerful people on the planet. 

Here's an excerpt from a Daily Mail article published on May 27: 

Epstein's victims have spoken in depth about his camera [surveillance] system and artist Maria Farmer has described how he had a room at the front of his $75 million Upper East Side mansion full of screens.

Court documents show that other victims told officials that Epstein had his private island in the Caribbean wired up too, as well as his mansion in Palm Beach.

Some have speculated that Epstein could have made his $650 million fortune by blackmailing his powerful friends, such as Prince Andrew and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

Among the others who Epstein knew were former President Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, magicians David Blaine and David Copperfield, former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson and Michael Jackson. 

And in an interview with New York Times journalist James B. Stewart, Epstein claimed to know a "great deal" about his powerful friends, some of his knowledge was "potentially damaging or embarrassing, including details about their supposed sexual proclivities and recreational drug use."

How did Epstein get this complex operation up and running in the first place? Was this elaborate intelligence-gathering plot funded by the money he made as a hedge fund manager? If not, who gave Epstein the resources to get this show on the road in the first place? And how did these blackmail schemes affect the national policies enacted into law by the politicians mentioned in the article above?

QAnon as a form of MindWar

The sources upon which QAnon draws are relatively obscure. For example, the tall tales being spread by Team QAnon in YouTube videos like "Out of Shadows" and "The Underground War, Happening Now" sound suspiciously like the horror stories made up by Special Agent Richard Doty and his psychological warfare military cohorts in the 1980s and 1990s. The apparent purpose of those tales was to deflect the attention of a UFO researcher named Paul Bennewitz away from sensitive intelligence operations being deployed at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, as well as the adjacent Manzano Nuclear Weapons Storage Facility and Coyote Canyon Test Area. This long, complicated, and ultimately tragic story has been documented by Greg Bishop in his excellent 2005 book, "Project Beta: The Story of Paul Bennewitz, National Security, and the Creation of a Modern UFO Myth." 

The parallels between QAnon's tales and Doty's military-funded disinformation campaign — including such oddities as subterranean battles between the American military and otherworldly creatures — are remarkable. Are such cover stories endlessly recycled with slight new twists whenever necessary? After all, why dream up new cover stories when the old ones will do? Who even remembers these obscure details from the '80s and '90s?

Perhaps the real secret behind QAnon is connected to the identity of the one military official who has actually endorsed the anonymous "whistleblower" in public. That lone endorser is retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul E. Vallely. On Oct. 14, 2019, Vallely appeared on Mike Filip's "AmeriCanuck Internet Radio of Canada" talk show and made this provocative statement:

QAnon is tied to information that comes out of a group called "The Army of Northern Virginia." This is a group of military intelligence specialists, of over 800 people that advise the president. The president does not have a lot of confidence in the CIA or even the DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency] much anymore. So he relies on real operators, who are mostly special-operations type of people. This is where "Q" picks up some of his information.

Before you leap to the conclusion that Vallely is just some random nutjob flapping his lips on the radio, let's refer to his official biography on the U.S. Army Pacific website:

Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely is a 1961 West Point graduate who retired as Deputy Commanding General for the US Army Pacific in 1991. A veteran of two combat tours in Vietnam, he is a graduate of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces as well as the Army War College.

Throughout his 32-year military career, Maj. Gen. Vallely served in many overseas theaters to include Europe and the Pacific Rim Countries. He has served on US security assistance missions on civilian-military relations to Europe, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Indonesia and Central America with in-country experience in Indonesia, Columbia, El Salvador, Panama, Honduras and Guatemala. ...

Vallely commanded the 351st Civil Affairs Command from 1982-1986, including all Special Forces, Psychological Warfare, and Civil Military units in the Western US and Hawaii. He developed and designed the Host Nation Support Program in the Pacific for the Department of Defense and the State Department.

Since his retirement from the military, Vallely has served as a military analyst for the FOX News Channel and is a guest on many nationally syndicated radio talk shows. He co-authored the book Endgame: The Blueprint for Victory in the War on Terror (2004).

A military officer of this caliber publicly endorsing at least "some" of QAnon's information as being authentic, and flat-out stating that President Trump was forming his policy decisions on the same intelligence sources upon which QAnon's posts are based, caused waves of excitement to ripple through the Q community. No longer did they have to rely on faith alone. Here, at least, was "proof" that QAnon was no mere hoaxer.

Yet how many of these QAnon devotees are aware of the fact that Vallely collaborated with Lt. Col. Michael Aquino on the very same "From PSYOP to MindWar" paper quoted in "Out of Shadows"?

In the film, Kevin Shipp is quoted as saying that Aquino "wrote a paper called 'MindWar,' and 'MindWar' was about psychological operations against populations, including the American domestic population, using Satanist techniques and tools." At that moment, the filmmakers flash the title page of the paper on the screen. One can clearly see Paul Vallely's name listed above Aquino's name (though it's misspelled as "Paul E. Valley"). Is it not curious that the filmmakers don't point out that the one former high-ranking military officer who has endorsed QAnon as authentic is in fact the same military officer who commissioned Aquino to write "From PSYOP to MindWar" in the first place? 

In November of 2003, Michael Aquino wrote a new introduction to his paper:

In the later 1970s, Psychological Operations (PSYOP) doctrine in the U.S. Army had yet to emerge from the disappointment and frustration of the Vietnam War. Thus it was that in 1980 Colonel Vallely, Commander of the 7th PSYOP Group, asked me, as his Headquarters PSYOP Research & Analysis (FA) Team Leader, to draft a paper that would encourage some future thought within the PSYOP community. He did not want a Vietnam postmortem, but rather some fresh and innovative ideas concerning PSYOP's evolution and application.

I prepared an initial draft, which Colonel Vallely reviewed and annotated, which resulted in revised drafts and critiques until he was satisfied, and the result of that was this paper: From PSYOP to MindWar: The Psychology of Victory.

Colonel Vallely sent copies of it to various government offices, agencies, commands, and publications involved or interested in PSYOP. He intended it not as an article for publication, but simply as a "talking paper" to stimulate dialogue. In this it was quite successful, judging by the extensive and lively letters he received concerning it over the next several months.

That should have been the end of MindWar: a minor "staff study" which had done its modest job.

With the arising of the Internet in the 1980s, however, MindWar received an entirely unexpected — and somewhat comic — resurrection. Allusions to it gradually proliferated, with its "sinister" title quickly winning it the most lurid, conspiracy-theory reputation. The rumor mill soon had it transformed into an Orwellian blueprint for Manchurian Candidate mind control and world domination. My own image as an occult personality added fuel to the wildfire: MindWar was now touted by the lunatic fringe as conclusive proof that the Pentagon was awash in Black Magic and Devil-worship.

Now that this absurdly comic opera has at least somewhat subsided, I thought that it might be interesting to make a complete and accurate copy of the paper available, together with an Introduction and some historical-hindsight annotations to place it in reasonable context. After all it did — and perhaps still does — have something worthwhile to say.

I agree with Aquino. His and Vallely's blueprint does indeed have something important to say. Let's return to their original paper for a moment:

... the MindWar operative must know that he speaks the truth, and he must be personally committed to it. What he says is only a part of MindWar; the rest — and the test of its effectiveness — lies in the conviction he projects to his audience, in the rapport he establishes with it. And this is not something which can be easily faked, if in fact it can be faked at all. "Rapport," which the Comprehensive Dictionary of Psychological and Psychoanalytical Terms defines as "unconstrained relations of mutual confidence," approaches the subliminal; some researchers have suggested that it is itself a subconscious and perhaps even ESP-based "accent" to an overt exchange of information. Why does one believe one television newsman more than another, even though both may report the same headlines? The answer is that there is rapport in the former case; and it is a rapport which is recognized and cultivated by the most successful broadcasters …. For the mind to believe its own decisions, it must feel that it made those decisions without coercion. Coercive measures used by the MindWar operative, consequently, must not be detectable by ordinary means.

Consider this: "Out of Shadows" strategically creates a special rapport with its targeted audience by first presenting accurate — though relatively little known — information about such real-life government conspiracies as Project Paperclip and MK-ULTRA. Then it begins to push all the fear buttons to which any devoted evangelical Christian is likely to respond (i.e., accusations of Satanism in public schools, Hollywood movies and U.S. intelligence agencies), leaving out any information that would connect Trump or QAnon supporter Paul Vallely to the "black hats" (i.e., Jeffrey Epstein and Michael Aquino, respectively), and caps all that off by ramming home the obvious conclusion: Despite what the mainstream media says, QAnon has been right all along.

The final punchline goes unsaid because, after all, the viewer's mind "must feel that it made [its decision] without coercion." But the decision is inevitable: If QAnon is right, who must you vote for in November of 2020? 

In other words, if it's not already clear to you, "Out of Shadows" employs the very same "MindWar" PSYOP techniques supposedly reviled by the filmmakers themselves. That same statement applies just as much to all the other related QAnon material I've cited here. As mentioned earlier, the true warrior accuses his opponent of the offenses he himself is enthusiastically committing. 

In his May 27 Daily Grail article entitled "Civil War Psy-Op: An Alternative Narrative of the QAnon Conspiracy Theory," Greg Taylor wrote:

Seeing as the dominant QAnon narrative — that Q drops are a secret way of informing the public that Trump is the literal savior of the world, taking down the evil cabal of Satanist paedophiles that currently run the show — is based on only tidbits of suggestive evidence and links, I thought I'd put forward a counter-narrative — similarly backed by just suggestive evidence and links, because hey if that's the standard of proof needed ….

What if there is a secret, far-right group consisting of an association of white supremacists, Nazis, mobbed up millionaires, and generally fascist-leaning RWNJs [Rightwing Nutjobs] — and QAnon is a psy-op they created to build an army of useful idiots, who would help spread their message so that eventually a large portion of the population would be compliant when the American putsch goes down?

This "alternative narrative" might not be quite as fanciful as Taylor suggests. In fact, the evidence for the preceding scenario is infinitely stronger than the evidence that Donald Trump has literally saved Americans from being eaten by underground demons.

When I emailed my friend a brief, gently worded but highly skeptical analysis of the QAnon material he had sent me, he responded by sending me an image of an eagle soaring through a fiery Q accompanied by a single sentence: "God Bless America, Where We Go One We Go All." This is a quote from John F. Kennedy that has been appropriated by QAnon as an all-purpose motto, slogan and battle cry. (JFK might be the only Democrat in history considered untainted enough to quote among the QAnon crowd. Ironically, if JFK hadn't been assassinated in 1963, QAnon would now be accusing him of worshipping Satan and having sex with children in some random D.C. pizza joint.) 

The fact that my friend — unable to counter my arguments with anything remotely based on rationality — felt it necessary to respond to my message with nothing more than an empty slogan preselected by QAnon tells you almost everything you need to know about the cult-like qualities of this new American religion. 

This reminded me of a telltale moment during a 2000 primary-season debate among the Republican presidential candidates. At one point, the candidates were asked to name a particular book that had changed their lives or somehow informed their point of view. Every candidate gave an intelligent, reasoned response — except George W. Bush, that is. This is what he came up with (I am paraphrasing): "The Holy Bible! Yes, sir! I can't explain my personal philosophy any better than that. There's nothin' I can say to explain my heart to all of you if you don't feel the Word of God in your own heart."

In other words, Bush had no intelligent answer to offer, so he fell back on invoking the Bible merely to avoid using his gray matter to formulate a semi-reasonable response. To claim that these words were mere "platitudes" would be an understatement. Bush's response was nothing more than a clumsy attempt to deflect attention away from his obvious ignorance and illiteracy. As we know now, that didn't stop him from winning the nomination and then the presidency (thanks of course to the Supreme Court). Why not? As Buckminster Fuller once observed, "Human beings will always do the intelligent thing, after they've exhausted all the stupid alternatives." Bush was just another in a long line of stupid alternatives. QAnon is the latest one, perhaps the stupidest of the lot. 

The same people who wait on the edge of the seat for the next "Q" message to drop have probably watched the popular reality TV show "Catfish" and laughed at the unwitting dupes who find themselves falling in love with an online phantom too good to be true. Urban Dictionary defines the word "catfish" as: "A fake or stolen online identity created or used for the purposes of beginning a deceptive relationship." 

What better word could be used to describe QAnon's relationship with his/her/their followers? If divine intervention allowed these devout, evangelical Christians to see who was actually posting these "Q" messages, they would no doubt vomit into their Wheaties in the morning. Would they still hang on Q's every word if they could suddenly teleport into a glass-lined office building — perhaps on Madison Avenue or in the Virginia suburbs — filled with a team of tattooed, hipster-aged "influencers" hired by the Trump campaign to comb through decades-worth of obscure conspiracy theories and rebrand them as ultra-right-wing horror stories aimed at the gullible and downtrodden? I doubt it. 

In the final analysis, based on almost 30 years of experience researching conspiracy theories, I can only conclude that QAnon is the ultimate catfish scheme for the 21st century.

P.T. Barnum uttered some wise words in this context. (Maybe you've heard them.) 

Media manipulation has spilled out well beyond the borders of Hollywood. The real battleground for the minds of Americans is Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Reddit, 8kun, etc. That's why we're now seeing books and documentaries (like "Out of Shadows") that claim to reveal the influence of Hollywood. Hollywood now borders on the obsolete. People are more entertained by cat videos on TikTok. To paraphrase Marshall McLuhan: When something is rendered obsolete, it becomes an art form. Rather than producing art, Hollywood itself is the art form. Grist for the conspiracy mill. That's why I subtitled my first book "Conspiracy Theory as Art Form." Conspiracy theories are an art form, and they're now being used to create elaborate fictions deployed to support those in power.

We're told this is a free country. If so, everyone has the right to vote for whoever they want in this year's election. If your informed research leads you to vote for Donald Trump, feel free. I would suggest, however, that if you vote for Trump for any of the following reasons, you've been had:

  1. Because you think he's a devout, Satanist-exterminating Christian;
  2. Because you think he's going to screw over a secret cabal of cultish "black hats" by abolishing the income tax;
  3. Because you think he's going to reveal the existence of Tesla-derived free energy to the world at some point after November of 2020;
  4. Because you think he's liberating thousands of sexually abused children locked up in Illuminati conclaves hidden within or below U.S. military bases;
  5. Because you think he's going to save your flesh from being masticated by the blood-spattered fangs of subterranean beasts.

I may not know much, and there aren't too many words I could ever utter that one might actually take to the bank, but I can guarantee you this: 

President Donald J. Trump is not going to prevent you from being eaten by demons.

By Robert Guffey

Robert Guffey is a lecturer in the Department of English at California State University, Long Beach. His books include the novel "Until the Last Dog Dies" and "Chameleo: A Strange but True Story of Invisible Spies, Heroin Addiction, and Homeland Security." Visit his website.

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