QAnon and beyond: 20 experts who can explain why people believe conspiracy theories

Rallygoers lined up to enter the Target Center arena for a Donald J. Trump for President rally in Minneapolis. (Courtesy Tony Webster via Creative Commons)

Nearly half of U.S. adults have heard of the once-obscure QAnon. Twenty percent of them say this collection of far-right conspiracy theories birthed in online forums is good for the country, according to a Pew Research Center survey. But the vast majority disagree.

Conspiracy theories have a long history in America. But in the current era of misinformation and disinformation, experts monitoring QAnon and the influence its grand, unsubstantiated narratives have on believers warn of its dangers. A 2019 FBI report labels fringe conspiracy theories, like QAnon, a growing domestic terrorist threat in the country. 

QAnon conspiracy theories have popped up on the divisive 2020 campaign trail and in the debates about how to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Some evangelical pastors also report that church members are spreading them on social media. Scholars and commentators have noted the parallels between QAnon claims and Christian beliefs. They also question whether these fringe ideas could become the foundation for a new religious movement.

This edition of ReligionLink features experts who may be able to help you cover the tangle of unfounded tales being spun today and the people who believe in them. 

Background information

QAnon explained:

USA Today reports QAnon “baselessly claims that there is a ‘deep state’ apparatus run by political elites, business leaders and Hollywood celebrities who are also pedophiles and actively working against (President Donald) Trump.”

Commentary on QAnon and religious belief:

Further reading on conspiracy theories:

Related research

Surveys:

Additional resources:

Potential sources

  • Marc-André Argentino

    Marc-André Argentino is a doctoral candidate at Concordia University and his research looks at how extremist groups use technology to further their causes. He is studying the growth of the QAnon movement, including the emergence of what he considers to be a QAnon church.

  • Michael Barkun

    Michael Barkun is a professor emeritus of political science at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York. He is the author of A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America and Religion and the Racist Right: The Origins of the Christian Identity Movement.

  • James Broderick

    James Broderick is an English professor at New Jersey City University and co-author of Web of Conspiracy: A Guide to Conspiracy Theory Sites on the Internet.

  • Angelo Carusone

    Angelo Carusone is the president and CEO of Media Matters for America. The progressive research nonprofit analyzes conservative misinformation in the media. The group is monitoring QAnon support among politicians.

  • Rachel Hope Cleves

    Rachel Hope Cleves is a history professor at the University of Victoria, in British Columbia. Her studies include conspiracy theories in public life.

  • Karen M. Douglas

    Karen M. Douglas is a professor of social psychology at the University of Kent. She studies beliefs in conspiracy theories.

  • Adam M. Enders

    Adam M. Enders is a political science professor at the University of Louisville. He studies conspiracy beliefs, political polarization and misinformation.

  • Mark Fenster

    Mark Fenster is a law professor at the University of Florida. He wrote Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture and The Transparency Fix: Secrets, Leaks, and Uncontrollable Government Information.

  • Eduardo Gamarra

    Eduardo Gamarra is a politics and international relations professor at Florida International University. He is also the director of the school’s Latino Public Opinion Forum.

  • Phil Howard

    Phil Howard is director of the Oxford Internet Institute and author of the book Lie Machines: How to Save Democracy from Troll Armies, Deceitful Robots, Junk News Operations, and Political Operatives.

  • Filippo Menczer

    Filippo Menczer is a computer science professor at Indiana University Bloomington and the director of the school’s Observatory on Social Media.

    Contact: 812-856-1377.
  • Joanne Miller

    Joanne Miller is a political science and international relations professor of the University of Delaware. Her areas of expertise include political psychology, misinformation and conspiracy theories.

  • Alex Newhouse

    Alex Newhouse is a researcher at Middlebury College’s Center on Terrorism, Extremism and Counterterrorism, where he looks at right-wing and online extremism as well as religious fundamentalism.

  • Brendan Nyhan

    Brendan Nyhan is a government professor at Dartmouth College. His areas of study include fake news, fact checks and digital media literacy.

  • Josh Pasek

    Josh Pasek is a professor of communications and media at the University of Michigan. His areas of expertise include misinformation and misperceptions.

  • Nancy L. Rosenblum

    Nancy L. Rosenblum is a professor of ethics in politics and government at Harvard University. She co-authored the book A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy.

  • Ed Stetzer

    Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as executive director of the school’s Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He was formerly the executive director of LifeWay Research, a division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. He blogs on a variety of subjects related to American evangelicalism for Christianity Today.

  • Patricia A. Turner

    Patricia A. Turner is a professor of world arts, culture and African American studies at UCLA. She wrote the book I Heard It Through the Grapevine: Rumor in African-American Culture.

  • Joseph E. Uscinski

    Joseph E. Uscinski is a professor at the University of Miami whose research includes conspiracy theories. He co-authored the book Conspiracy Theories: A Primer, which examines why people believe in them.

  • Travis View

    Travis View is a conspiracy theory researcher and a co-host of the podcast QAnon Anonymous.