trusting the science, not the plan

At Commonweal, I have a brief cover essay on the January 6 Capitol insurrection and QAnon, the far-right theory that—among other beliefs—claims cultural and political elites from the Clintons to Bill Gates are covert pedosatanists intent on destroying America. Recent writing from the New Yorker and the Atlantic has painted QAnon as a “new religion” that has abandoned “reason, objectivity, and other Enlightenment values,” but I think this religious framing misses the mark. In light of the overwhelming complexity of our overlapping crises and QAnon’s stubborn “pretension of omniscience,” I revisit the writings of Walter Lippmann to argue that Q’s followers should be seen not so much as “a sect of believers with scriptures and sacraments” but instead as a mob of “self-deluded know-it-alls.” And acting out of epistemic hubris, of course, never ends well:

But these clips of the Capitol riots underscore the perils of confident prediction. After the so-called QAnon Shaman scribbled “It’s only a matter of time, justice is coming!” on a Senate desk, he led his fellow insurrectionists in triumphant prayer, their hands aloft: “Thank you, divine, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent creator God, for blessing each and every one of us.” They assumed that Providence had led them there and would grant them “the divine and omnipresent white light of love and protection.” But the Storm passed, Trump surrendered. QAnon’s prideful omniscience collapsed at the moment of Joe Biden’s pious request—“So help me God”—and prophecy turned out to be fantasy. Our present is the one End of Days they had never predicted, every arrest a rapture, every mugshot a revelation.

Read the rest in the June issue of Commonweal.

[Update: I had the opportunity to underscore some important points about Lippmann’s proposal for “intelligence work” in the July issue.]