An Italian novel is at the center of a meta-conspiracy theory about QAnon

“Do what is possible, and then move on.”
“Do what is possible, and then move on.”
Image: AP Photo/Matt Rourke
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In 16th century Europe, a Protestant priest seeks to disrupt the social order by joining a variety of religious revolts and wars happening in Europe. His real name is unknown, but his pseudonyms include Gustav Metzger, Lucas Niemanson, Lienhard Jost, Gerrit Boeckbinder, Lot, Hans Grüeb, Ludwig Schaliedecker, Titian and Ismael. His adversary is the villain Q, a spy working on behalf of the Catholic Church to maintain the status quo.

Sounds familiar? The battle between establishment and progressive is a pretty standard story throughout history. In this case, it’s also the plot of Q, a 1999 novel, conceived by the author as ”a handbook of survival skills” for people wanting to push against the status quo. Strangely enough, although the book was created by a left-leaning collective in Europe, two decades later, it is being linked to a rightwing US conspiracy theory.

Who are Wu Ming and what do they have to do with QAnon?

The book was written by a now-defunct European artistic collective operating in the 1990s under the name Luther Blissett. Though originally comprising hundreds of members, Luther Blissett is now represented by its heir, an all-male Italian group known as Wu Ming. The book was originally written in Italian.

In Chinese, Wu Ming (无名) means “anonymous” or, with a different tone (五名), “five people.” It indeed originally comprised five people: Roberto Bui (Wu Ming 1), Giovanni Cattabriga (Wu Ming 2), Luca Di Meo (Wu Ming 3), Federico Guglielmi (Wu Ming 4), Riccardo Pedrini (Wu Ming 5, who left the group in 2015).

Wu Ming’s ethos is rooted in working class, revolutionary ideology, though it doesn’t identity with a specific party or concrete political project (link in Italian). The collective has published several books, including novels, short stories, essays, many of which translated in various languages. Consistent with the group’s belief that authorship should be devoid of ego, several books are available for free download from their site.

Wu Ming is rather influential in Italy’s leftist cultural scene, and it’s connected with a foundation that involves other collectives working on creative writing projects, historical anti-fascist research, and music. Through these politically tinged projects, they challenge the more mainstream left politics and promote a sense of playful mischievousness. It is the latter that might have prompted the birth of QAnon, as the rightwing result of a leftist prank.

The conspiracy theory behind the conspiracy theory

QAnon, for those who have been able to remain clueless about its existence, is a rightwing conspiracy theory. It centers around a social media user called Q who claims to have secret information about the Trump administration and its would-be saboteurs. The general fuzzy narrative is that Donald Trump fighting a large pedophile ring with representatives in Hollywood and other centers of power.

As Buzzfeed points out in an interview with Wu Ming, the conspiracy theory behind the conspiracy theory is that leftist pranksters inspired by Wu Ming’s novel Q created a fake internet person named “Q.” Under this guise, they share fake news in alt-right forums, getting users worked up over implausible revelations like the claim that Hillary Clinton approved the kidnapping of 3,000 children around the world.

Others are beginning to suspect that QAnon might be a prank targeted at older internet users—people like Roseanne Barr, who is a strong supporter. As Hanna Kozlowska writes, quoting Joseph Uscinski, associate professor of political science at the University of Miami and expert on conspiracy theories:

“[O]lder users [who] can sometimes be intentionally tricked into joining a QAnon group. “These people who haven’t necessarily been raised as digital natives are naively sort of navigating their way through Facebook which is like a giant library with no Dewey Decimal System”