QAnon continues to make national and international news after a gathering this week in Dallas—and the various QAnon ideas also continue to generate puzzlement in the media. The familiar figure of Trump features in QAnon beliefs when it comes to politics. But this time, in one strand of QAnonism at least, Trump’s name was invoked alongside the expected Vice President-to-be and then President-to-be, the late John F. Kennedy Jr (d. 1999).
According to the Dallas Morning News:
Scores of QAnon believers gathered Tuesday afternoon in downtown Dallas in the hopes that John F. Kennedy Jr. would appear, heralding the reinstatement of Donald Trump as president.
The supporters first gathered Monday night in downtown Dallas, and about 1 p.m. Tuesday there were several hundred people near Dealey Plaza, where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963…
QAnon supporters gather along Elm Street at Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas on Nov. 2, 2021. The group believes John F. Kennedy Jr., who died in plane crash in 1999, will return and reinstate Donald Trump as president…
After a few hours of standing on the Grassy Knoll, waving at passing cars and reciting the pledge of allegiance, the crowd retreated from heavy rains. Some said they expected a revelation Tuesday night at the Rolling Stones concert in Dallas. Others vowed to return at midnight to the Grassy Knoll, where they believe JFK Jr. will appear.
QAnon is an umbrella group, in which different segments don’t always agree on ideologies, Holt said. He believes Tuesday’s event grew out of chat channels that are obsessed with numerology.
Moreover, part of the reporting of apocalypticism and related themes involved the return of a messianic figure and the inauguration of a new era—and the apparent failure of prophecy:
Micki Larson-Olson, who wore a QAnon-themed Captain America costume Tuesday, said she not only believes JFK Jr. is alive — she also believes that his father was never assassinated and that the 104-year-old former president will appear to help usher in a Trump-JFK Jr. administration. How will she react when the former president and his dead son do not show up? “We’ll figure that something happened in the plan that made it not safe to do it,” she said. “If it doesn’t go down how I believe it will, that’s OK. We’ll figure it just wasn’t the right time.” (Dallas Morning News)
But there is a section of the QAnon conspiracy movement that has also latched onto the belief that John F. Kennedy Jr. will reveal he did not die in a plane crash in 1999 and will help usher in a new period of American prosperity...[a QAnon post on Telegram] continued to push a messianic narrative, with the post adding Trump would "most likely" become king of kings, failing to elaborate on what that would entail. (Newsweek)
[T]he younger Kennedy is expected to emerge from two decades of hiding to be named vice president to a reinstated Trump, who in turn will become “king of kings”…In 2019 some believers expected him to return on July 4, again as Trump’s running mate. Another baseless QAnon belief is that JFK Jr. is in fact “Q,” the movement’s anonymous leader, and also a Trump supporter. (Forbes)
Another related theme that emerged from the reporting of the QAnon gathering in Dallas was that it seemed both bizarre and yet incomprehensively popular (even potentially dangerous and socially or psychologically deviant) to the reporters:
The prophecy foretold online, of course, did not come true…a few vowing the Kennedy known as John-John will reappear at a Rolling Stone concert later in the night…The spectacle captivated people, some amused at the ridiculousness of the far-fetched theory that Kennedy faked his death. But the size of Tuesday’s gathering was concerning for Jared Holt, a resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab who researches domestic extremism. The claim about Kennedy Jr. is considered fringe even for supporters of QAnon, a collective of baseless conspiracy theories…The sprawling set of false claims that have coalesced into an extremist ideology has radicalized its followers and incited violence and criminal acts. (Washington Post)
Those attracted to these fringe theories incubated by the QAnon movement have certain personality characteristics, such as having malevolent qualities or leaning toward anti-establishment beliefs, said Joseph Uscinski, a political scientist and conspiracy theory expert at the University of Miami. Uscinski reviewed polling and found QAnon support is founded in anti-social personality traits and behaviors, like narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. (Washington Post)
Experts who have been following QAnon since its inception said that even they were surprised by the number of people who showed up Tuesday in Dallas…“Frankly, I’m kind of shocked at how many people turned out for this,” said Jared Holt, a resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab who researches domestic extremism. “This wasn’t a widespread belief, even among QAnon followers.” While it may be hard not to laugh at some of the theory’s more outlandish claims, Holt said the fact that such a large group was able to mobilize in person is concerning. (Dallas Morning News)
The outlandish theory posits that JFK Jr. has been in hiding for more than two decades and would return as Trump's vice president…Since gaining prominence four years ago, the QAnon conspiracy movement has been rife with predictions that have failed to come true. Among the most popular of the failed predictions was the claim that Hillary Clinton would be arrested, which originated as far back as 2017 (Newsweek)
Anon supporters have reportedly gathered in Dallas, Texas, in anticipation of the return of John F. Kennedy Jr., who they believe will announce a 2024 presidential run alongside Donald Trump, despite being dead for 22 years—the latest crackpot claim from a movement that believes the world is run by a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles… JFK Jr. is a popular figure within the QAnon movement, and his death has been used for conspiratorial fodder in the past… Despite its many ludicrous views, QAnon has plenty of online supporters, some of whom have been arrested for terrorism and in connection with the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. (Forbes)
However, are the themes of a returning messianic figure, reinterpreting prophecy in light of changing events, and the expectation of an imminent transformation, really that alien to American culture? The reporting in Newsweek of a QAnon devotee unintentionally suggests they are not:
But, the belief that JFK Jr. will return is too far-out for other followers of the QAnon conspiracy movement. John Sabal, who organized the QAnon For God & Country: Patriot Double Down convention in October, said the belief JFK Jr. would return made the conspiracy movement “look absolutely insane." Sharing the prophetic-style post from the aforementioned popular Telegram account, Sabal added: "Here's another example of new-age blasphemous hot garbage propaganda that's currently in circulation. None of this is of our true movement or was ever mentioned in a single drop. Never Ever. There is only one king of kings and that is our lord and savior Yeshua/ Jesus Christ. This couldn't be more wrong.” (Newsweek)
The problem according to Sabal (or at least how he has been reported) is that the wrong people have been given the messianic traits—not that the idea itself is ludicrous. Indeed, as Sabal implies, the ideas concerning a society dominated by the demonic, the imminent transformation of the world, the return of Jesus, and the reinterpretation of prophecy in light of changing events is as old as (and older than) Christianity itself. The New Testament has Jesus talk of the imminent kingdom (e.g., Mark 9.1) and his own return (e.g., Matthew 16.28; Mark 13.30), with some of the earliest followers expecting his return within a generation (e.g., 1 Thessalonians 4-5). This expectation was reinterpreted and pushed to a more distant future as time passed, with John’s Gospel having Jesus address and downplay rumours of his imminent return (John 21.23), while 2 Peter 3 attempts to deal with critics who mocked predictions of Jesus coming.
Nor are such beliefs of returning messianic figures to be simply associated with sensationalised apocalyptic and millenarian groups—they were incorporated into mainstream religious movements, even if the expectation of the return gets pushed into a distant future. In America, ideas relating to demonic dominance in the present, dispensationalism, rapture, predictions of dramatic transformation, a returning Messiah, reinterpreting prophecies as the Cold War morphed into the War on Terror, and the elevation of a favoured politician have, of course, been integral to influential strands of evangelical Christianity and Christian nationalism with major political clout (see, e.g., CDAMM articles on Hal Lindsay [forthcoming], CUFI, John Hagee, Christian Zionism). More recently still, some American evangelicals have been incorporating QAnon theories and Trump messianism into their beliefs and biblical interpretation and Jesus himself was referenced in the Capitol Hill riot on 6 January 2021.
Influences (including apocalyptic influences) on QAnon also come from a mix of ideas, imagery, and movements that are not necessarily just Christian (e.g., far right, New Age, Norse, shamanic, libertarian, 4Chan)—perhaps no more strikingly embodied than by the figure of the “Q Shaman” Jake Angeli.
We can add to this explanation of influences the rise of the so-called “Nones” in America and elsewhere in the West, i.e., the phenomenon of those who increasingly do not identify with an established church. Nevertheless, the relative popularity of the QAnon movement is partly due to its cultural familiarity because its apocalyptic ideas associated with evangelical Christianity in particular have been at or near the heart of American popular and political culture for decades, even as they change in light of historical events, religious affiliations, and new political loyalties.
Prof. James Crossley is an Academic Director of CenSAMM