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Trump vs reality: Jitarth Jadeja

Supporters of Donald Trump, including Jake Angeli aka the 'QAnon Shaman', enter the Capitol building, 6th January 2021. Photo: Saul Loeb via Getty Images

This is the final interview in an eight-part series.

Jitarth Jadeja
Former QAnon follower

If there was one moment when Jitarth Jadeja fully understood just how far he had fallen down the rabbit hole, it was when he paused before apologising to CNN anchor Anderson Cooper for once believing that he ate babies.

Jadeja, a recent graduate based in Sydney, Australia, had been fully immersed in QAnon since 2018. It’s an online conspiracy theory which follows Q, a purported anonymous US security operative who has posted ‘leaks’ that prove the world is run by a cabal of satanic paedophile cannibals – and that Donald Trump has been leading a secret war against them. This war, adherents believed, would culminate in ‘the Storm’, when leading Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden – alongside liberal media figures such as Cooper – would be rounded up and executed, before Trump imposed martial law. It may sound preposterous, yet it formed a crucial base of support for a president who never disavowed the bizarre claims.

Conspiracy theories were foundational to Trump’s rise to the White House. He came to political prominence, in part, off the back of “birtherism”, the false claim that Barack Obama hadn’t been born in the US, making him an ineligible presidential candidate. As leader, Trump railed against the dark forces of the ‘deep state’ and muddied the water on many issues so that objective truth, or even agreement on the same set of facts, became hard to obtain. The president disputed photographic evidence showing that the crowd at Barack Obama’s inauguration was larger than at his, and challenged official government weather reports by apparently extending the path of Hurricane Dorian to Alabama with a black marker pen. He peddled the theory that the 2020 election was stolen from him, claiming that voting machines built by a company called Dominion had deleted 2.7 million of his votes. The Washington Post counted the false or misleading claims Trump made in office. By 20th January 2021, the day of Joe Biden’s inauguration, there were 30,573 of them.

Jadeja discovered QAnon on 8chan, a notorious far right message board. Before long he was spending all day and night online reading conspiracy literature, trying to connect the dots, cutting himself off from friends and family. It appeared to give him the answers he was looking for. In addition to the ‘leaks’, Q would post ‘proof’ that Trump himself was sending secret signals to QAnon followers. In August 2020, when asked whether he was “secretly saving the world from a satanic cult of paedophiles and cannibals”, Trump replied: “I haven’t heard that, but is that supposed to be a bad thing or a good thing? If I can help save the world from problems I’m willing to do it.” He said he appreciated the support of QAnon members who, he had heard, were “people that love our country”.

The Q community is Trump’s base now”

Trump and QAnon followers entered something of a feedback loop. “The Q community is Trump’s base now,” says Jadeja, who says claims made on Q forums “flowed downstream into the mainstream conservative ecosystem”. One such claim was the Dominion voting machines conspiracy. “They were talking about it [on Q boards] back in 2017,” he says. “They come up with some bullshit. It reaches Trump. He talks about it. They [Q followers] then say, ‘It must be true.’ And it goes around and around. It’s like a wave signal in a room full of mirrors. It gets amplified each time and ricochets.”

Jadeja saw the light when he realised none of Q’s predictions were coming true. He got out of what he now calls “a cult” and wrote a mea culpa on Reddit, which led to his bizarre CNN appearance. “Q had implied that he [Cooper] was part of the cabal. Some people genuinely think he’s a robot,” says Jadeja. “That was playing on my mind when he asked, ‘Did you seriously believe that Democrats drank the blood of babies?’ I blurted it out, ‘I’m sorry. I thought you ate babies.’” “Looking back,” Jadeja admits, “it is kind of strange.”

Jadeja now tries to help others escape QAnon, including his father, whom he introduced to Q in the first place. Q, whose identity remains unknown, hasn’t posted since December. When Trump supporters stormed Capitol Hill in January 2021 many flew banners or wore T-shirts with Q emblazoned on them. Although ‘the Storm’ didn’t take place, prompting some to have a moment of clarity, Q’s influence remains and some fear it will morph into something more dangerous.

Trump, Jadeja says, remains a “God figure” for the QAnon community. And he will want these people on his side if he stands in 2024. “Trump needs these guys, they will die for him,” he says. “And the Republicans need them, too. I haven’t seen anything that tells me that this is not going to continue to get worse.”

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