What is QAnon, and who is the alleged Q? These are the questions film producer and director Cullen Hoback (“What Lies Upstream”) attempts to answer in HBO’s “Q: Into the Storm.” In this six-part docuseries, Hoback investigates the QAnon conspiracy, its followers and the person behind the curtain: Q.
QAnon is an American conspiracy theory that stands by the belief that there is a global child sex trafficking ring led by a group of satanic, cannibalistic pedophiles. This same group, as QAnon’s thousands of followers proclaim, conspired against their beloved former President Donald Trump throughout his time in office.
The conspiracy was developed in 2017 when a 4chan user, under the username “Q,” posted numerous messages introducing themself as a person of high status within the American government with special “Q clearance.” Claiming access to classified intelligence, Q relays information to fellow conspiracists in what is known as “Q drops,” for which followers eagerly await. However, the identity of Q remains a secret that has yet to be revealed.
After watching the first episode of “Q: Into the Storm,” it is difficult not to wonder who Q actually is. This is what the pilot of the series primarily focuses on, but more specifically the amount of power one individual is able to maintain without ever disclosing their identity: an impressive yet terrifying feat. How is it that one person can convince a slew of Americans of preposterous things without ever disclosing their identity? Q hasn’t even given followers a legitimate name to be referenced by, and yet they have thousands believing that Hillary Clinton is a pedophile who eats babies.
It is precisely Q’s anonymity that further fuels people’s dedication to them. Q is someone who, to believers, is a true patriot and the last defense against corruption within the country. Followers speculate about Q’s identity while assuming they are undoubtedly a person of status and an asset to the Trump administration. This is enough for QAnon theorists to justify their trust in and praise of an individual who could very well be an absolute nobody or — more likely — a fraud.
In fact, some QAnon believers are so devoted to the conspiracy that they have become completely estranged from family and friends, while others have lost their jobs. One interview conducted in the documentary’s pilot was with former Chicago Tribune gossip columnist Liz Crokin. After requesting that mainstream media cover the supposed child sex trafficking ring, Crokin was blacklisted from and censored by other media outlets. Now, Crokin barely makes rent as a “QTuber,” or someone who decodes and discusses Q drops for fellow believers.
“Q: Into the Storm” succeeds in including a wide range of QAnon supporters from parents to celebrities, such as singer Joy Villa. This gives viewers more insight into how surprisingly far-reaching QAnon has become. There appears to be a common misconception that QAnon membership is limited to pro-Trump, middle-aged men. The pilot seeks to disprove this misconception by incorporating interviews with women and mothers who believe in the conspiracy.
The show further highlights the power this conspiracy theory holds by presenting the audience with tweets and other online messages posted by QAnon believers. Additionally, numerous video clips of Trump are shown throughout the episode. To most, these clips include insignificant and somewhat bizarre statements made by the former president. To the followers of Q, they contain encoded messages and subtle hints that confirm the theories they believe to be true. In showcasing the so-called “evidence” for their theories in addition to their testimony, “Q: Into the Storm” displays the extreme commitment these people have to their beliefs and the lengths to which they’ll go to find meaning in chaos.
After watching the premiere of “Q: Into the Storm,” it is extremely easy to dismiss the outrageous theories in which QAnon followers’ beliefs are so deeply rooted. Yet the documentary doesn’t aim to debunk or even mock these conspiracy theorists. Instead, Hoback gives these people an outlet for explaining their beliefs to an audience who would otherwise be unwilling to listen.
Even so, the objective of the show is not to sympathize with these followers but rather to expose the extremist views and beliefs they are so willing to abandon everything for. The docuseries effectively informs its audience on the topic while simultaneously proving that even those who seem ordinary can have the most outrageous and alarming convictions. This, as Hoback tries to prove, is the most dangerous thing of all.
Regardless of the audience’s views, “Q: Into the Storm” will undoubtedly pique people’s interest. The series also calls us to question how a phenomenon as nonsensical as QAnon can attract the attention of so many. Yet, with each of the show’s new inquiries comes an opportunity for viewers, subjects and documentarians alike to search endlessly for the truth.
Daily Arts Writer Molly Hirsch can be reached at email@example.com.