Junk mail is one thing. Mail from an extremist cult is a whole other mess.
Like many throughout New England, I recently received what’s been dubbed the “QAnon postcard.” On its front there’s an array of notable faces framing the words “The True Story of Qanon” and a QR code. Then things get really bizarre.
The advertised “true” story on the flip side is a hodgepodge of lies about COVID-19, Sept. 11, and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, plus an obligatory side dish of doomsday prognostications. It’s less a postcard than a conspiracy theory bingo card seemingly fashioned by someone drowning in Fox News and Internet cesspools.
This kind of foolishness, which arrived on April Fools’ Day no less, deserves nothing more than an eye roll and a trip to the recycling bin. But the invocation of QAnon makes this something beyond another sketchy promotion. The sender’s address is given as a post office box in Portsmouth, N.H., but no one seems to know who’s behind this mailing, who’s footing what’s probably a sizable tab, or the motive behind it.
Perhaps I’d find clues if I scanned the card’s QR codes or visited its email address, but my mother cured me of that sort of thing. Years ago, an envelope arrived from what appeared to be the Unification Church, led for decades by Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who conducted mass weddings for church-arranged marriages, claimed he was the messiah, and bought full-page newspaper ads defending Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal.
That letter disturbed my mother so much, she made me throw it away — but not in the house. I tore it up, balled up the remains, and tossed it in a public trash container a few blocks away.
Without question, Moon was a cult leader. But unlike QAnon followers, Moon’s devotees never participated in a deadly insurrection to overturn the results of a presidential election.
Unlike other cults, QAnon has no designated leader. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, the “Q” name “is the umbrella term for a sprawling spider web of right-wing Internet conspiracy theories with antisemitic and anti-LGBTQ elements that falsely claim the world is run by a secret cabal of pedophiles who worship Satan and are plotting against” former president Donald Trump.
Trump isn’t mentioned in the postcard’s text, but his photo is featured alongside those of Big Tech megalomaniacs (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk); politicians (former president Barack Obama, Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, former New York governor Andrew Cuomo); performers (Mel Gibson, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Taylor Swift); and far-right provocateurs (Alex Jones, Ann Coulter); among others.
While the postcard is “certainly controversial,” Steve Doherty, a United States Postal Service spokesman, told NBC 10 Boston’s Alison King, “there doesn’t appear to be anything in the mailing that would make it illegal to send through the mail.”
If these postcards violate no law, this could mean we should expect more of this propaganda from an unhinged lot the FBI labeled a “domestic terrorism threat” — and that was before the Jan. 6 insurrection. Prominent among the throngs with Trump banners and Confederate flags were people wearing QAnon garb and holding up handmade “Q” signs. Some of them breached the US Capitol, pummeled police officers, and went hunting for lawmakers barricaded in their offices.
Instead of shunning QAnon, Republican lawmakers adopted its mendacious talking points on nonexistent voter fraud, the efficacy of COVID protocols, and purported pedophilia rings among Democrats. This was glaringly obvious in some GOP senators’ disgraceful performances during last month’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Ketanji Brown Jackson. Unable to attack Jackson’s qualifications, they drilled down on a manufactured theme that she gave lenient sentences to those convicted of possessing child pornography. That it was untrue didn’t matter; Republicans followed through on a scurrilous lie Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri tweeted before the hearings.
It was perhaps the most significant Republican nod yet to the QAnon faithful, a boost to normalizing the conspiratorial claptrap doused in hate, racism, and attempts to shred democracy. About 16 percent of Americans now say they adhere to QAnon theories that “government, media and financial worlds are controlled by Satan-worshipping pedophiles,” an even larger percentage than when Trump was president.
Under normal circumstances, one could laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. But this perilous moment is anything but normal. With little daylight between many Republicans and QAnon, American right-wing politics is mainlining extremism. Now after spilling from the bowels of the Internet to the halls of Congress, these dangerous beliefs are literally landing on our doorsteps.