By Sarah Osman
The truth is, Q: Into the Storm is shockingly dull.
Q: Into the Storm, directed by Cullen Hoback. Streaming on HBO Max
Over the decades some truly insane conspiracy theories have festered in our national consciousness: the moon landing was faked; the Earth is flat; Nicolas Cage is a vampire; the Illuminati hang out in an underground bunker in the Denver airport. The latest, and most dangerous, is QAnon, which exploded in popularity in late 2017. QAnon followers believe the following:
A group of cannibalistic pedohpiles, which include Hollywood “elites,” Democratic politicians, and government workers, run a child sex-trafficking ring. This same group also conspired against Donald Trump and is known to “eat and rape babies.”
Despite this outrageous claim, many people believed (and believe) it. QAnon first gained traction on 8chan (which spawned from 4chan, which spawned from 2chan), an online site that has no censorship whatsoever, so users are free to discuss whatever they like however they like. While this sounds like a good idea in theory (like communism), 8chan quickly attracted white supremacists, anti-Semites, and other dregs of society. Unfortunately, QAnon didn’t just gather some nutty undesirables for a lowest common denominator blather-fest; it brought together a gullible crowd right-wing media and even some Republican politicians could exploit and then weaponize. Considering how utterly insane QAnon is, it’s no surprise that a documentary has come along trying to explain the appeal of this stranger than fiction cult. Sadly, the six episodes of Q: Into the Storm break the cardinal rule of entertainment and media — it’s boring.
In fact, Q: Into the Storm is shockingly dull. Throughout the series QAnon believers look straight into the camera and claim that, since they already accept that people eat babies, believing the Earth is flat is a snap. Yet these moments aren’t as amusing or disturbing as they could be. One reason is that Cullen Hoback and executive producer Adam McKay never delve into the psychological appeal of QAnon, never question how (or why) this inane movement took off. The series is content to offer a historical play-by-play of QAnon. Do we need another rehash of what we already know? There have already been plenty of news stories following the doings of QAnon, from “Pizzagate” on. The real questions: Why do so people believe so vehemently in QAnon? And why have its believers turned to condoning (or in some cases participating in) abhorrent crimes?
Various players in the QAnon-verse sound off but we don’t learn all that much. Frederick Brennan, the creator of 8chan, is interviewed, as well as Jim and Ron Watkins, the father-son duo who now own 8chan. Rather than ask these enablers why they never shut down 8chan once it spiraled out of control (to be fair, Brennan admits his initial idea went down the tubes; he is now a vocal opponent), Hoback and McKay choose to play detective. Could one of these guys be the enigma of enigmas — Q? Rather than press the trio on their thoughts (or feelings of moral responsibility) concerning QAnon’s devolution into violence, Hoback goes on a tour of Watkins’s pig farm. Seeing a bunch of piggies is cute, but what does that have to do with the world of QAnon? (Or could one of the sows be … Q?)This is one of a number of instances the documentary veers in absurd directions.
Hoback interviews a variety of other QAnon “experts.” It is crystal clear that they have no idea of what in the world they are talking about, but the director never calls them out on all the hair-raising nonsense. Along the way, I became convinced that the major players know full well that QAnon is a fake — but they can capitalize on the swill via their own YouTube channels. If that is the case, protecting such a lucrative grift (as P.T. Barnum opined in his infinite wisdom, there’s a sucker born every minute) is understandable. Why would these people want to expose their swindle on camera? However, I also believe that some of these proselytizers might actually believe the guff they hawk — and that makes QAnon fascinating, at least on a psychological level. Yet that’s not the story Hoback and McKay want to tell.
Unfortunately, Hoback can’t seem to decide if his subjects are harmless weirdos or dangerous criminal masterminds. And that waffling means that the series often drags. We’re all aware that QAnon supporters aren’t exactly people you would call reasonable — so displaying their irrationality isn’t groundbreaking. As the series goes on, completely unnecessary scenes (such as the visit to the pig farm) are tossed in, some of them containing gratuitous amounts of violence and pornography. Worst of all, at no point does Hoback criticize the amoral raunchiness on display. He tries to remain neutral, a distanced journalist. But is it appropriate in this case? Why isn’t he criticizing QAnon’s blatant racism and sexism?
The bottom line about conspiracy theories is that what’s most interesting about them is not always how they were formed or who created them. We are curious about why people believe them, and what that says about our culture and politics. There is no proof that Q exists, no proof to support Q’s absurd claims — yet people still believe them. What’s up with that? And why now? There is still plenty to be said about the QAnon phenomenon, so let’s hope that Q: Into the Storm is not the final word. The documentary goes in the wrong direction: we do not need to know who Q is or how his minions assert their power on the internet. We do need to know why this craziness took off in the first place. And what the future of QAnon holds — especially considering that many believers are now convinced that they have been duped. And that Q’s still-loyal followers have become pawns in a corrupt political game.
Sarah Mina Osman is a writer living in Los Angeles. She has written for Young Hollywood and High Voltage Magazine. She will be featured in the upcoming anthology Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences under the Trump Era.