I usually prefer not to spend my time seeking entry to a conference for a Christofascist conspiracy-obsessed cult that is actively promoting a military coup. That is not the kind of thing that I generally enjoy. But that’s exactly what I found myself doing when the QAnon-centric “For God & Country Patriot Roundup” convention came to Dallas, Texas, the city I call home.
For a time, it seemed like the convention wasn’t going to happen at all. The original venue had backed out after a series of critical reports in a local paper. One of those articles detailed the organizers’ denial that the convention was affiliated with QAnon, featuring quotes from one “QAnon John.” Nevertheless, John and his wife, “QueenAnon Amy,” forged ahead undaunted. Local elected officials put up no resistance to the conclave, perhaps in part due to a previous legal battle that resulted in a six-figure settlement for cancelling a pornography festival in 2016. Local activists mulled protesting the event, and one choir group chose to do just that. But aside from counter-demonstration, there was little that concerned Dallasites could do to prevent an extremist conspiratorial movement from descending upon their city.
So, I decided to report on the event from the inside. Initially I pursued the traditional route: I pitched a publication, requested a press pass, and planned to make myself known as a member of the press. But within an hour of submitting my request, I received a rejection. “We’re all full,” the media coordinator wrote. Of course, that wasn’t the truth. General admission tickets were still on sale for $500 the day before the event started. Other journalists had also been denied access. The reasons given varied, but were really besides the point—the organizers wouldn’t grant entry to any reporter who might be even slightly unsympathetic. Instead, they invited in far-right rags like The Epoch Times and Gateway Pundit. Going in undercover was the only option left.
The event began in earnest on Friday night. Hundreds descended upon the Omni Hotel to pick up their badges, forming a snaking line that spilled outside the building. That evening, holders of $1,000 VIP tickets gathered for a reception with the stars of the show. They took selfies with Michael Flynn and rubbed shoulders with QAnon micro-celebrities like Jason Sather. The latter could apparently be heard bemoaning the fact that he had been banned on 14 platforms, as an inside source informed me.
I had arranged for someone else to buy my ticket to ensure my name wouldn’t be flagged and my access revoked right off the bat. I met up with them the next day to pick up my badge. They had already checked out the morning’s events to get a read on the situation on my behalf and told me that the atmosphere of the event was, more than anything, “like church.” And indeed, it was.
Over the course of the next three days, a veritable circus of speakers took the stage to promote a range of depraved and deranged theories. They often invoked God and Christianity in the process. Frayed and disparate narratives were woven together to form a nearly incomprehensible Quilt of beliefs, often deeply religious in tone. It is difficult to exaggerate the parallels between QAnon and other common tenets of historically Christofascist tendencies and organizations. Luciferian pedophile cabals, antisemitic blood libel, government conspiracies, a global Communist government, and a dozen other deeply warped notions were accompanied by thinly veiled calls for God-Loving Patriots to support a military coup in the service of instating some sort of theocratic fascist regime. Few things would please them more than to hail the return of God Emperor Trump.
These are not people that employ a great deal of subtlety or subtext, and one need not read between the lines to understand the implications. Consider the lionization of Trump, Flynn, and Trump lawyer Sidney Powell as modern Founding Fathers who are fighting to reclaim the Republic for “We The People” against an Illuminati cabal. Consider that, when asked by Pennsylvania Republican congressional candidate Andrew Meehan whether they were in Washington on January 6th, approximately one third of the attendees raised their hand. Consider that some 30 million people are estimated to subscribe to the core theories of the QAnon movement. It’s all out in the open.
Whether QAnon leaders are just in it for the grift doesn’t matter. Their ideas are attracting true believers. An attendee I spoke with insisted that, if only the Deep State Global Communist Government were taken out, then we could get on with the work of colonizing the Moon and Mars. Another described how the massive accounting and consulting firm he worked for was pushing Cultural Marxism in the guise of diversity and inclusion programs.
Having already made myself a target by asking for a press pass and only being able to scrape together enough for a $500 general admission ticket, I didn’t get very close to the power players. But I was close enough to leave with a strong impression of the decadence of the event. I witnessed an auction where people spent thousands of dollars on unbearably kitschy and distinctly cultish memorabilia. Ostensibly, the funds were being raised for a veterans’ charity, but given the right’s propensity for defrauding their supporters, this is far from assured. A shoddily constructed Q-uilt went for $6,500. A baseball bat signed by General Flynn went for $8,000. Several Revolutionary War-themed portraits of Trump, Flynn, Powell, and other QAnon favorites sold for thousands each. “This is President Trump and General Flynn, taking aim… in battle together,” said artist Doug Billings of his portrait of the two, pasted glaringly into the historical clash at Lexington and Concord.
As evidenced by the prices of tickets and memorabilia, the demographic was not exactly representative of the working poor. Many of the attendees were expensively dressed, if utterly lacking in taste. They whooped in glee with every mention of “The General” or “The President.” It seemed that for many, the draw of the extremist beliefs promoted at the Qonference was mostly attributable to deep-seated reactionary fantasies. It is not difficult to trace these florid imaginings to fears of being displaced from long-held social positions by minorities and a new generation whose values and politics are critical of the prevailing racial and class structure of the United States. Casual racism was a common occurrence at the event, and there are of course antisemitic undercurrents. This is standard fare on the right, but the tenor of the conspiratorial fervor and revanchist grievance has attained truly stunning levels of incoherence.
The deeply paranoid nature of the beliefs peddled at the event were matched by the organizers’ treatment of the media—or at least, the media they don’t like. Journalists were considered the enemy. Over the course of the conference, at least three other ticket-holding journalists were ejected from the event. VICE reporter Vegas Tenold was spotted interviewing people across the street from the event when the host, QAnon John, took away his pass. Will Sommer of The Daily Beast was escorted out by security and police, to a standing ovation. However, Brace Belden, host of the TrueAnon podcast, successfully infiltrated the event and maintained unfettered access; he ended up taking selfies with General Flynn and former Trump attorney Sidney Powell. As this all unfolded, a member of the security team indicated via Twitter that they were “on the hunt” for me and that I would be swiftly ejected if found. Others openly doubted my presence on Twitter, called me a liar, and suggested I had an inside source feeding me information.
Yet despite their insistences, I was in fact present as one speaker, Edmee Chavannes, outlined her hope that Christians attain total control over government, media, education, finance, and more or less the whole of society. Another, going by the name The Kate Awakening, argued that it doesn’t matter who is behind Q. “Q could be a group of military intelligence… They could be a gaggle of space aliens. They could be a diabolical pimple-faced 17 year old in their mother’s basement with a bag of Doritos balanced on their chest, it doesn’t matter.” To her, the most important thing was that people learn how to do their own “research.” It was clear that to Kate, the ‘friends she made along the way’ in the course of this “research” were one of the key attractions, hinting at the loneliness and alienation that can drive people to the psychic salve of conspiratorial thinking. And of course, that drives loneliness in turn. Several speakers described the social consequences of involvement in the movement. Trump’s former campaign photographer, Gene Ho, said he had “lost everything,” and former Trump foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos described losing friends, family, and business contacts. Adherents lacking such positions of power have suffered even greater alienation.
But not all of the speakers were from the fringe. The event also featured the chairman of the Texas Republican Party, Allen West—who later resigned from his post—as well as elected officials like Congressman Louie Gohmert and Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller. Neither appeared bothered about sharing the stage with people who spoke seriously about the threat of witchcraft or the pervasiveness of pedophilic adrenochrome harvesting. Rather, they seemed thrilled to be speaking to the crowd.
It may seem difficult to take this all seriously, given the general absurdity and the incompetence of the event security. Still, these are ostensibly “serious” people, regardless of whether they share a stage with snake-oil-peddling nobodies like Jason Sather. It is still cause for concern when major figures in Republican politics are openly embracing a choose-your-own-conspiracy Christofascist movement whose most fervent adherents have proven capable of being prodded into acts of stochastic terrorism. However farcical the execution, these people did gather in our nation’s Capitol with the aim of overturning an election.
Perhaps most disturbing was that General Flynn appeared to endorse a U.S. military coup, of a type resembling the junta in Myanmar. On February 1st, that country’s military refused to accept the results of an election, deeming it fraudulent. They then seized power, occupying key infrastructure, detaining opposition leaders, and meeting all who protested with brutal violence, leading to the deaths of hundreds. Notably, that coup has been the object of envy in QAnon forums. When an audience member asked of Flynn, “I want to know why what happened in Minamar [sic] can’t happen here?” the general replied: “No reason, I mean, it should happen here. No reason. That’s right.”
Flynn has since walked back his statements, but there is certainly cause to doubt his sincerity. Flynn’s CoupAnon comment came after a set of slides appeared on the screen behind him, one featuring a popular phrase among Q acolytes: “The military is the only way.”
The movement appears as strong as ever, far from discouraged by the hundreds of arrests after the January 6th debacle. Recent polls show that 10-20% of Americans endorse some of the the underlying beliefs of the QAnon movement, and political organizations at the local level have taken up the charge, now that the Real President is out of office. The attendees at the QAnon conference, who came from all over the country, were encouraged by speakers to get involved in local politics and bring their agenda to fruition.
A far-right political group here in Dallas, the Dallas Jewish Conservatives, has hosted several of the featured guests of the QAnon convention at their own events. Right-wing comedian Evan Sayet, Texas GOP chairman Allen West, and agriculture commissioner Sid Miller have all made appearances, as well as other conspiracy peddlers like failed congressional candidate Russ Ramsland and hack author Trevor Loudon. The Dallas Jewish Conservatives have also involved themselves in local city council races, hosting a debate and raising money for conservative pro-police candidates. In addition, Dallas school board races have been won by QAnon believers. This is a familiar Republican playbook: dominating small-time elections and furthering the radical right’s power from the ground up. But worryingly, there is a renewed level of energy that recalls the mobilization of the Tea Party, yet in an even more impossibly contorted and disturbingly unhinged permutation.
We must resist the propagation of these twisted beliefs and the infiltration of their supporters into actual politics. The latter is already well underway in the Dallas area. It’s likely happening near you too. The endorsement of full-blown reactionary delusion by significant Republican figures at the Qonvention is yet another example of the worsening metastasization of this movement.
It remains to be seen how thoroughly QAnon will permeate the state. Easily exploited, those who adhere to its mutable tenets have already made considerable progress in gaining access to real platforms and real influence. It’s crucial that we continue to shed light on their connections to actual power and reveal their agendas for what they truly are. Looking past the pure bizarreness that verges on psychosis, the movement represents a distillation of various bigotries and an intensification of the reactionary grievances that have long driven both fascist sympathizers and the broader right. It is new only in the frenzied pace with which it changes and spreads. If the fervor on display at the Qonvention is any indication, QAnon supporters and their beliefs may prove as ineradicable a force as the most ardent of evangelical zealots. These people are easy to mock, but no longer are they so easily dismissed. ♦
Steven Monacelli is an independent journalist and the publisher of Protean Magazine.