July-August 2021 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

A quarter of white evangelical Protestants in America accept the major beliefs of the QAnon conspiracy theory, a new survey indicates.

The survey, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) in late May, found that white evangelicals were the group most likely to accept three major tenets of the QAnon conspiracy.

QAnon, which began to gain traction online during the presidency of Donald Trump, holds that a ring of satanic pedophiles who are highly placed in government and entertainment worked to undermine Trump because he planned to expose their trafficking of children. Its adherents believe that these pedophiles will be purged from public life, and some even insist that Trump will be returned to the White House this year. Many of its followers participated in the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.

The tenets of QAnon have been widely debunked and ridiculed as absurd, but they continue to have staying power. For the survey, PRRI asked respondents to state their views on three issues: Is the world   run by pedophiles, is a purge (often called the “storm”) coming and are things in America so off-track that “true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.”

PRRI found that among Americans generally, 15% believe that pedophiles are in control, 20% believe a “storm” will occur and 15% back violence as a way to save the country.

The numbers were higher among certain religious groups, however. For example, 25% of white evangelicals backed the belief that satanic pedophiles control the world. The numbers were similar for the other QAnon tenets: 26% of white evangelicals backed the idea of a coming storm, and 24% said violence may be necessary to “save America.”

PRRI found that Hispanic Protestants and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also backed some QAnon ideas at higher levels than the general population. Twenty-nine percent of Hispanic Protestants endorsed the “storm” idea, but a smaller figure, 12%, said violence may be necessary. Among members of the LDS church, 18% accept the idea of pedophile control of the world, and 24% endorsed violence to stop them.

According to PRRI, Jews are the religious group least likely to accept QAnon ideas. Only 2% of Jews were classified as QAnon believers. Religiously unaffiliated Americans are also generally skeptical of QAnon claims, with just 9% of them accepting its claims.

PRRI found that acceptance of QAnon ideas is closely linked to consumption of far-right media.

“Interestingly, even after controlling for partisanship and ideology, media news consumption is by far the strongest independent predictor of QAnon beliefs,” observed PRRI in a report. “Remarkably, those who report most trusting far-right media sources are near­ly nine times more likely to be QAnon believers compared to those who most trust broadcast networks such as ABC, CBS, and NBC. Those who most trust Fox News and those who do not watch television news are 2.3 and 2.5 times, respectively, more likely than those who watch broadcast networks to be QAnon believers.”

A separate study released last month by Baylor University found that religious fundamentalists were more likely than other Americans to believe that Democrats are running sex-trafficking rings, a core claim of QAnon. The study also found that fundamentalists were more likely to accept claims that the 2020 presidential election was rigged and that COVID-19 vaccines are not safe.

The FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a report in June asserting that QAnon represents a threat to the nation. The report stated that as more and more QAnon predictions fail, some adherents “likely will begin to believe they can no longer ‘trust the plan’ referenced in QAnon posts and that they have an obligation to change from serving as ‘digital soldiers’ towards engaging in real world violence.”