A QAnon ‘Digital Soldier’ Marches On, Undeterred by Theory’s Unraveling
Valerie Gilbert posts dozens of times a day in support of an unhinged conspiracy theory. The story of this “meme queen” hints at how hard it will be to bring people like her back to reality.
Every morning, Valerie Gilbert, a Harvard-educated writer and actress, wakes up in her Upper East Side apartment; feeds her dog, Milo, and her cats, Marlena and Celeste; brews a cup of coffee; and sits down at her oval dining room table.
Then, she opens her laptop and begins fighting the global cabal.
Ms. Gilbert, 57, is a believer in QAnon, the pro-Trump conspiracy theory. Like all QAnon faithful, she is convinced that the world is run by a Satanic group of pedophiles that includes top Democrats and Hollywood elites, and that President Trump has spent years leading a top-secret mission to bring these evildoers to justice.
She unspools this web of falsehoods on her Facebook page, where she posts dozens of times a day, often sharing links from right-wing sites like Breitbart and The Epoch Times or QAnon memes she has pulled off Twitter. On a recent day, her feed included a rant against Covid-19 lockdowns, a grainy meme accusing Congress of “high treason,” a post calling Lady Gaga a Satanist and a claim that “covfefe,” a typo that Mr. Trump accidentally tweeted three years ago, was a coded intelligence message.
“I’m the meme queen,” Ms. Gilbert told me. “I won’t produce them, but I share a mean meme, and I’m kind of raw.”
These are confusing times for followers of QAnon, a deranged conspiracy theory birthed in the bowels of the internet. They were told that Mr. Trump would be re-elected in a landslide, and that a coming “storm” would expose the global pedophile ring and bring its leaders to justice.
But there have been no mass arrests, and Mr. Trump is leaving office on Wednesday under the cloud of a second impeachment. Many prominent QAnon followers have been arrested for their roles in this month’s deadly mob riot at the U.S. Capitol. They are being barred by the thousands from major social networks for spreading misinformation about voter fraud, and law enforcement agencies are treating the movement as a domestic extremist threat.
These setbacks have left QAnon believers like Ms. Gilbert hoping for a last-minute miracle. Her current theory is that Mr. Trump will not actually leave office on Wednesday, but will instead declare martial law, declassify damning information about the “deep state” and arrest thousands of cabal members, including President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Like any movement its size — which is almost certainly in the millions, though it is impossible to quantify — QAnon contains a wide range of beliefs and tactics. Some “anons” are veteran conspiracists who have spent years exploring the theory’s many tributaries. Others are newer converts who have only a vague idea how it all connects. There are law-abiding keyboard warriors as well as violent, unhinged radicals.
There is no question that QAnon, which began in 2017 with a series of anonymous posts on the 4chan online message board by “Q,” a person purporting to be a high-ranking government insider, has outgrown its roots on the far-right fringes. It is now a big-tent conspiracy theory community that includes left-wing yoga moms, anti-lockdown libertarians and “Stop the Steal” Trumpists. QAnon believers are young and old, male and female, educated and not. Every community in America has its fair share of them — dentists and firefighters and real estate agents who disappeared down a social media rabbit hole one day and never came back.
“This is not just young, male incels who live in their parents’ basements and can’t get a real job,” said Mike Rothschild, a conspiracy theory researcher who is writing a book about QAnon. “QAnon gives you a target to point your anger at, and it gives you something to do about it. That’s something that can appeal to anyone who is disaffected in any way.”
Ms. Gilbert’s elite pedigree — she attended the Dalton School in Manhattan and worked on The Harvard Lampoon with Conan O’Brien in the 1980s — illustrates the wide range of people who have ended up in Q’s thrall. And her story hints at how hard it will be to bring those people back to reality.
(c) New York Times