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54 mins

The Problem Podcast

Jon Goes Down the QAnon Rabbit Hole With Gabriel Gatehouse

Jon talks with BBC foreign correspondent Gabriel Gatehouse about his work covering the U.S. elections—which turned into reporting on QAnon.

The Problem with Jon Stewart Podcast
Episode 13 Transcript

Jon Stewart: Have you Omicroned yet?

Kris Acimovic: I haven’t Omicroned. Robby?

Robby Slowik: I Omicroned. I feel invincible now that I’ve had it. I feel great.

Jon: You have all the vaccinations and the disease.

Robby: Yes, I am a petri dish.

Jon: Now let me explain what our plan is now. We’re looking to repopulate the Earth only with the strongest, most immune among us. Robby, you’ve been selected.

Robby: Oh, that doesn’t sound right. [KRIS LAUGHS] Also, look, I’m going to need a 48 hour break between each repopulation session. [KRIS LAUGHS]

Jon: All right.

Robby: I’m not built for this anymore.

Jon: No, no, no. I understand that makes sense we’re not doing it naturally anyway.

[INTRO MUSIC]

Jon: Hello, everybody. Welcome to the Problem podcast. We’re here with our tremendous writers, Kris Acimovic and Robby Slowik and Kris, as always, I start by saying, you’re pronouncing your last name wrong. It’s actually Acimovic. I just want to make that clear.

Kris: Well, I will say that Acimovic is a very popular pronunciation of my last name. I’ve heard it a lot. So if you decide that, that’s where you want to end up, we let that happen.

Jon: It’s really just what I’m legally bound to do.

Kris: I respect that. I respect that so, so much.

[LAUGHS]

Jon: And Robby, how are you doing?

Robby: I’m doing well man, I’m good.

Jon: This podcast, we are discussing conspiracies and how they come about and QAnon with this gentleman, Gabriel Gatehouse, who is he’s with “BBC Newsnight.” And whenever you hear somebody with “BBC Newsnight,” you always assume they’re better than you. I just assume he went to Eton and Oxford.

Robby: Yes.

Jon: And had a choice between being delivered, getting a Knightship or maybe working at the BBC. He’s decided through the BBC. So when I talk to him, I was kind of expecting something slightly less comfortable and collegial. But he was lovely and –

Robby: Unbelievably charming.

Kris: Yeah, you kind of expect him to, like, go into a Shakespeare monologue that he just has memorized because that’s what they do there.

Jon: Yes. And then like in the middle of it, just give you all the answers for “Jeopardy.”

Robby: You assume his father is a wealthy industrialist who’s heartbroken that his son has gone into journalism and so charming that charming accent. I feel like I was.

Jon: He’s very charming.

Robby: Yes, watching Hugh Grant fall in love with Drew Barrymore in the fall or something. [KRIS LAUGHS]

Jon: It was said to me at one point. I’m just a boy standing in front of a girl trying to tell you about QAnon.

Robby: About the dangers of conspiracy.

Jon: That’s exactly right. Your writers and I’ve been in enough writers room to know conspiracy theories are not unknown to the writers room.

Kris: No, no, no, no, no. We wade into the conspiracy theory ocean. I would say.

Robby: Regularly.

Kris: Frequently. Wouldn’t you say Robby?

Robby: Yeah, 100 percent.

Kris: Yeah, there’s always somebody who believes one or two. There’s always somebody who’s ready to fight people who believe one or two,.

Jon: Let’s not say there’s always somebody, let’s just say it’s Rob, it’s Rob Christiansen.

Kris: It is Rob. It is Rob.

[LAUGHS]

Kris: If you mentioned chiropractors around Rob, if you mention astrology around Rob, he will –

Jon: He will start to throw down. What’s this? What’s the chiropractor?

Kris: He believes their quacks.

Jon: He thinks it’s fake.

Kris: He thinks it’s quack science

Jon: That re-addressing your spine, reconfiguring your spine should not be a solution to any problem.

Kris: Right, right.

Robby: Oh, you guys think spines are real? You’re way behind.

Jon: Robby going right down the spine conspiracy hole that I didn’t see coming in any way. What’s what’s the worst I’m trying to think of like the big conspiracy theory for all the writers rooms I’ve been in is the Kennedy assassination. That’s always the one that is top drawer. But, you know, I’m antiquated, so I would imagine that it’s now the JFK Jr. It’s all kinds of other stuff. But is there one in particular that’s reared its head?

Kris: We’re in a golden age of conspiracy theories. Now there’s like this whole bucket, and you can kind of choose your own adventure in the conspiracy theory umbrella.

Jon: OK, fair enough. Where are you guys at? What’s been circulating in the room?

Kris: I like talking about simulation theory. I think simulation theory is kind of a fun framework to view the world. I don’t believe it per se, but I mention it with more frequency than I’m proud of.

Jon: Right. And when you say I don’t believe it, per say –

[LAUGHS]

Jon: – Which sounded like a French way of saying I believe it, but I also would like to still be asked to be in meetings.

Kris: Yeah, just like considered to be like part of society. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Jon: Is that just the idea that like, we all live in a simulation?

Kris: Yeah, it’s the idea that we all live in a simulation. It’s more it’s matrix. It’s more like brain in a vat. We’re being sort of –

Jon: Is this your simulation or is it mine and Robby’s?

Kris: No. So it’s none of ours. We’re all in the simulation, and we’re players.

Jon: Oh, it’s like a massive open world.

Kris: Yes. Yes.

Jon: Oh, OK.

Kris: Yeah. And we’re players in various levels in the simulation.

Jon: OK. OK.

Kris: Yeah.

Jon: And do we have free will in this or is somebody playing us or are there people that are NPCs like, what’s the,.

Kris: You knew about the NPCs?

Robby: Oh, yeah Jon is faking ignorant here and now he’s going deep.

Jon: I only know about NPCs because I play a lot of video games, so I know.

Kris: So you know about NPCs.

Jon: I know NPCs.

Kris: NPCs is my favorite part of the conspiracy theory simulation theory because I like to run into somebody and be like, That guy’s an NPC.

Robby: Oh, that’s horrifying that someone just thought of me that way before. That I’ve had an interaction with someone in they’re like, this guy’s just written by the code. He’s nothing. He’s a nonentity.

Jon: Right. He’s just there to be standing in the coffee shop so it doesn’t look empty.

Robby: Yeah, right.

Kris: Right. He’s a space filler.

Jon: That’s very interesting. So in the old days, the analog days, we would all talk about how people were just extras. Like, that guy’s just an extra because that’s, you know, you’d be on a set somewhere and then you’d go out and in real life and you’d be like, oh man, this just looks cast. It looks like everybody’s an extra in the film, but isn’t there like sort of a strange inherent narcissism in that if it’s that you know that we’re playing the game and there’s just people there that populate the whole thing, like their backstory doesn’t really matter.

Kris: That’s right. And I’m getting played by a really skilled player who is like,.

Jon: Exactly.

Kris: Yeah.

Robby: They’re a blip in my story.

Jon: So simulation theory, that’s the one. And in simulation theory, is there a controlling element who’s Atari or Sega or in simulation theory? Who’s the controlling element?

Kris: I don’t know. I mean, the more you think about it, the more you’re like, “Oh, this is just a tech stand in for religion.” You know, it’s like there’s a God or there’s this ultimate thing pulling the strings, or if there’s not –

Robby: Technology is God, ultimately.

Kris: It makes sense, right?

Robby: This is my, like my conspiracy theory that I think is out there. Like that Tik Tok is a full-on like Chinese psyop built to destroy America by pushing everyone into these conspiracy lanes, ripping people apart that way.

Jon: See, I look at it differently. I think TikTok is looking to destroy America by making us all adept at only eleven second dances.

Robby: Yes, that will be all communication.

Kris: Quick cut Edits.

Jon: Once you do that to a population, they are not capable then of taking on larger challenges, then learning the renegade.

Robby: Well, that’s why I’m raising the alarms, because if your value to society is based on choreo, I’m out.

[LAUGHS]

Jon: Of course, it’s based on choreo. It’s always been based on choreo. All right. Well, we’re going to we’re going to get into Gabriel Gatehouse, “BBC Newsnight’s” international editor. He did a great series called “The Coming Storm.” We’re going to talk to him now. So here we go. Here’s the interview.

[MUSIC]

Interview with Gabriel Gatehouse

Jon: Welcome to the podcast. We are very excited today, “BBC Newsnight’s” international editor, foreign correspondent, award winning Gabriel Gatehouse is joining us. Gabriel, thank you so much. You covered the American election.

Gabriel: I did.

Jon: And that’s and you recently released this seven part podcast series on the QAnon phenomenon in America. And I want to ask you, so were you following the American election and came upon QAnon? Or were you following QAnon and came upon the American election?

Gabriel: The first. I’m a pretty straight ahead foreign correspondent. I was out in the states. I was out in Arizona covering the aftermath of the presidential election. Everyone was outside the Maricopa County counting station and –

Jon: And were you and were you armed? Did you were you open carrying an AK 47 to try and fit in with the local customs?

Gabriel: I was, as Oscar Wilde might say, armed only with my charm. [JON LAUGHS]

Jon: I don’t know if you know this, but in Arizona that’s illegal.

Gabriel: Oh I know.

Jon: That’s the one thing. It’s the one thing you can’t carry.

Gabriel: I concealed carried my charm. [JON LAUGHS]

Jon: Perfect.

Gabriel: I was armed with a microphone and a cameraman and I see this guy and he’s draped in furs and his face is painted and he’s wearing horns. And I go, “wow, that guy looks great.” And I start talking to him and he’s super friendly. He’s like, really great. But the story he tells is just insane. Right?

Jon: Sure, I’m going to give a spoiler alert. Yes. At home, you’re probably thinking to yourselves, “Geez, wearing furs, painted face. That sounds an awful lot like the gentleman that has become known as the QAnon Shaman.” And this is, in fact, the shaman.

Gabriel: But this was before January the 6th.

Jon: So this is pre shaman days.

Gabriel: So I just I have a chat with him and he tells me about how apparently the election is being stolen by a cabal of satanic pedophiles led by Hillary Clinton. So I’m like, I’m really struggling here because, you know, television is a visual medium. I like the way you look. You look fantastic. You seem like a hell of a nice guy. But I’ve got to be responsible. It’s just wrong to go to America and put the craziest guy you can find on a news show, right? That’s just not it’s not responsible journalism.

Jon: Thank you for your discernment. A lot of people, a lot of people wouldn’t go with that decision.

Gabriel: Well, as it turns out, it was a big mistake, right? Two months later, I’m back in London and I’m watching my TV and they’ve all stormed the capital. And then I see him inside the Senate chamber, right sitting behind Mike Pence’s desk. And it’s the guy with the horns. And I’m like, I f***ed up.

Jon: No, Gabriel, you did not f**k up.

Gabriel: I did. Big time. I messed up.

Jon: You exercised what at the time would have appeared to be standard human judgment on the continuum of, am I getting useful information from a person? I mean, the furs and the painted face. He’s creating a spectacle. But when you spoke with him, you in no way could have thought in that moment that America had gone so far down the rabbit hole that this man was actually representative of an entire political movement, did you think to yourself, “Oh, he’s an actor, he’s got these beliefs, but he’s an actor and he’s putting on a show.”

Gabriel: I didn’t actually. I thought he was pretty sincere, but crazy.

Jon: Truly believed in this.

Gabriel: Yeah. Yeah, I think so. I think he did and possibly does. I don’t know. I can’t speak for him now, but, you know, I think he did as lots of people do.

Jon: Now, when you heard the theory, was it the first time that you had heard of, you know, had you been aware of, for instance, Pizzagate?

Gabriel: Yeah.

Jon: Which was the, you know, the earlier iteration of it that this cabal was actually running out of a non-existent basement in a pizza place in Washington, DC?

Gabriel: I’ve been to that pizza place, by the way. It’s really nice.

Jon: Can you tell me anything at all about the pizza there?

Gabriel: The pizza is excellent.

Jon: Now we’re getting somewhere. [GABRIEL LAUGHS] Now we’re getting somewhere. Because that’s the one thing missing from all these stories is the quality –

Gabriel: Is the quality of the pizza. No one talks about that. It’s a conspiracy. The mainstream media will not touch this.

Jon: A lot of cabals. It’s very easy to control the elections and the pedophile ring, but not a lot of cabals can make a good pizza.

Gabriel: Exactly, exactly.

Jon: Freemasons, by the way, notorious for their poor saucing on the pizzas they’re just notorious for it. So you had heard about it before. So when he brings this up to you? It’s not as though it’s it’s wildly out of left field, but his belief that it was involved in just this election just felt like –

Gabriel: So I kind of, obviously I knew about Pizzagate and I kind of vaguely heard about QAnon, but I hadn’t looked into it super deeply. And so I kind of recognized it as, “Oh, this is this QAnon thing.” But I didn’t really understand how significant it was. So I went from Arizona. I went to Georgia and followed these kind of trains that all in the run up to January the six were kind of doing these marches on Washington and-

Jon: Hitting all the swing states and then going in.

Gabriel: Right. And I kept bumping into people who wanted to tell me about Q, right? So it was very wide range of people wasn’t just what you would sort of generally turn-

Jon: Is there a bit of an evangelical zeal to this?

Gabriel: Definitely.

Jon: Because I would think that they would be knowing that you’re in the media, knowing that you’re a journalist, they might be more circumspect. They may be playing it a little closer to the vest, but you’re not finding that they’re seeking you out to to spread the message.

Gabriel: I think being foreign helps, right? My accent.

Jon: Oh, it’s devastatingly charming. [GABRIEL LAUGHS]

Gabriel: It’s not so much.

Jon: I’m having trouble focusing.

Gabriel: Well, I’m very pleased to hear that, it’s not so much that. But when they hear me speak, they don’t consider me part of the American media landscape, so they don’t immediately think I’m the enemy. Right?

Jon: Oh, that’s interesting.

Gabriel: This outsider status is really useful.

Jon: So when they start approaching you, you’re going around to Georgia, you’re in Arizona. You’re all that. Are they giving up the whole bag? Like, in Scientology they don’t tell you the real truth until you’ve put in, you know, you got to put in five years and a hundred thousand dollars before they let you know there’s a volcano and there’s an alien and they don’t open the whole thing up. Are they trying to ease you into it or is this more of a regurgitating flow?

Gabriel: I think QAnon is a spectrum, right? Especially now that, you know, Q this person hasn’t posted for over a year. And QAnon is essentially dead, but it’s been swallowed up by this conspiracy.

Jon: It’s been metastisized.

Gabriel: Yeah, and it’s on a spectrum from, nah I think there’s something dodgy about the election to and they eat babies, right? Those are the kind –

Jon: It goes from, I don’t think these absentee ballots are signed to Adrenochrome is a drug that is used at parties.

Gabriel: Yeah. And Adrenochrome for anyone who doesn’t know is this thing that they believe is harvested from infants blood whom they have to kill under great stress in order to produce this, I suppose it’s a hormone, is it right? And gain eternal life.

Jon: That’s right. Now, as someone with children, I can tell you they produce secretions massively. [GABRIEL LAUGHS]

Jon: I mean, there’s tons of different secretions. Every orifice there is just massively productive. As far as these types of things.

Gabriel: I am with you on that.

Jon: So they’re not so, so they’re not necessarily. Going full, and here’s where it ends in these satanic parties.

Gabriel: Definitely.

Jon: They’re sort of starting you out.

Gabriel: Yeah, I don’t think everyone who sort of believes in Q necessarily has the same set of beliefs.

Jon: OK.

Gabriel: Because it’s a very wide kind of wide ranging.

Jon: Not a monolith.

Gabriel: No, it’s not. And it’s sucked in lots of other conspiracy theories with it. So, you know, there’s a lot of stuff about vaccines and 5G and saurus and, you know, all the old anti-Semitic stuff, obviously, that the drinking blood stuff is just recycled blood-

Jon: Gabrielle, it’s a classic. [GABRIEL LAUGHS] We’ve been running on that one for years.

Gabriel: Centuries. So I think it’s a spectrum. But what for me was so interesting when I started really looking into it and really kind of delving into speaking to these people and trying to understand what they believed and why they believed it, because there’s been quite a lot of stuff done about, you know, what they believe and quite a lot of stuff done about who was behind it and who was pulling the strings. And that’s really interesting. But I hadn’t really heard anything convincing about why. Why would they believe this? I mean, it’s bonkers, right?

Jon: Right.

Gabriel: And what I sort of got to and again, I don’t think this applies to everyone, but it certainly, I think, applies to Jacob Chansley, the Q Shaman guy.

Jon: Right.

Gabriel: If you listen to some of the stuff he says and you take it literally like you think, he literally believes that, you know, Hillary Clinton is running this cabal of satanic pedophiles and she drinks blood and, you know, all sorts of other stuff. And obviously, it’s nonsense. And why would we even spend time looking into that?

Jon: Right.

Gabriel: It’s just pointless. But if you take QAnon as a sort of parable, right, so they believe that a cabal, if you will, or a bunch of people whom we don’t know very much about, they’re not necessarily too much in the public eye or have huge amounts of power in the world because the world is changing through the internet and how the world is run and where the power sit is changing. And they’re effectively running the world in ways that we can’t really see and can’t really understand and we think might not be to our benefit. Then you go, “Well, hold on a minute. Maybe, maybe they’re onto something.”

Jon: That’s interesting, Gabriel. But why? Why sabotage the credibility of that skepticism with something that is so easily like in the basement of the pizza place, just provable and seemingly outlandish enough as to take away from that moment you had just now where you said, “Well, maybe they are on to something,” But why create parables or metaphors that are so outrageous when that’s such a simple and –

Gabriel: When you could just say –

Jon: – Understandable. Yes.

Gabriel: Yeah, well, it’s a good question. [JON LAUGHS]

Jon: Thank you.

Gabriel: That’s it. And as a kind of very balanced and neutral BBC reporter.

Jon: Of course.

Gabriel: I should preface this by saying you could look at this from a sort of Bernie Sanders perspective, right? And actually, a lot of QAnon believers started out as Bernie supporters, and they got really mad when they thought that Hillary Clinton had stiffed Bernie.

Jon: They thought the election was –

Gabriel: And that’s part of the reason why Hillary kind of became – part only part of the reason why Hillary –

Jon: So there’s a much longer history.

Gabriel: – There’s a long history of the conspiracy, because all of that –

Jon: Because of that. Yeah.

Gabriel: But there’s a sense in which some QAnon supporters are actually coming at this from a sort of left wing perspective.

Jon: Sure.

Gabriel: Whereby they feel that their concerns about how capitalism is currently running their lives have been squished have been ignored. There’s been no kind of mainstream outlet political outlet for those concerns. You know, we’ve been so kind of indoctrinated into, you know, economic liberalism, trickle down economics and all of this kind of stuff.

Jon: Right.

Gabriel: And, you know, Bernie Sanders would just be like any kind of especially in America, right? Well, they think, you know, they think we live in a socialist country, guys. We have a conservative government here. But anyway, they think because –

Jon: Wait a minute you don’t live in, hold on a second I have a whole different headline for this podcast. You’re not a socialist.

Gabriel: Apparently, you guys think we are. Anyway. But what I’m saying is that there’s a sense among some QAnon supporters and not all of them, but some of them that there is be no outlet for those kind of concerns about concerns over the way capitalism is going.

Jon: Mm hmm.

Gabriel: That has left them no other avenue, but conspiracy theories.

Jon: I’m wondering if in your mind is the specificity of it, what allows it to kind of catch fire? Is that what gives it its virality? Is it that people don’t accept that “nah it’s got to be something more than that.” And was Q’s secret, the secrecy of it and the specificity of it and the outrageousness of it was that the key you think to it catching such fire? And by the way, it’s not as though other countries don’t have that same sort of underlying populist feeling that there are forces aligned against you. Why hasn’t it caught fire where you are?

Gabriel: Well, you guys are always first, so-

Jon: Awe that’s very kind. Very kind. [GABRIEL LAUGHS]

Gabriel: So wherever you go, we follow. So obviously, the wheels are about to come off of our democracy as well. So that’s very heartening. Look, I think one of the things is, yes, the specificity and more specific than that. What could be more emotive than this idea that there are hundreds of thousands of children being trafficked every year by a by a cabal of politicians and financiers? Like-

Jon: By the way, it’s very interesting that they pick on something that truly is, like sex trafficking. Child trafficking, like this is an issue.

Gabriel: Of course it is.

Jon: And they have locked into like one of the more emotional issues. They’ve just described it to something that from what I understand in terms of the people who are trying to fight actual child trafficking makes it harder –

Gabriel: Yeah.

Jon: – To actually take care of the thing that they seem most concerned about, that that’s of thing.

Gabriel: Right. And it’s the thing and it’s important, but it’s not what they describe it as. So, but anyway, that’s one of the reasons why I think it caught fire so much because it’s so emotive, right? As a parent, you know, I know that any idea that somebody might abduct your kid, you go berserk, right?

Jon: Well, that’s the thing it had. Q in this country has really surprising strength in, you know what you would imagine, the old political demographic of soccer moms?

Gabriel: Absolutely.

Jon: Look, our media, you know, it may not be the most balanced. It may not be the most factual. But man, can we scare the s*** out of people like we do it in every. It’s the business model for the American media and for the new internet media is arson like set everybody on fire because not every day is 9/11 and you’re not really going to watch us when there’s nothing going on.

Gabriel: You need the ratings, as Donald Trump understood so well.

Jon: Boy, did he understand how, he played that thing like a master conductor, the Leonard Bernstein of arsonist. But I think what people don’t realize, and I’d love your opinion on this is how the mainstream American media sowed the seeds for Q’s virality by creating that adrenaline and cortisol in people’s bodies of fear and always on the verge of disaster and catastrophe. They created the environment that allows these types of things to grab such hold.

Gabriel: Yeah, I think that’s right. And I should also say, and this came out of our reporting on the podcast, that the sort of liberal end of the American media and the British –

Jon: What do you mean American media?

Gabriel: Well, I mean, Fox News, a slightly different beast. But yeah, but you know, that’s the sort of MSNBC it’s the CNNs. Like when that Russia story was going on, right? There was Russia stuff, but a lot of it was nonsense. Right?

Jon: Right.

Gabriel: The pee tape, I don’t think there’s a pee tape. I interviewed the spy who we wrote about the pee tape. He thinks there’s a pee tape. I don’t think there’s a pee tape. I looked for the pee tape and I didn’t –

Jon: Gabriel. Let me ask you a question. When you were a young man studying to become a journalist and putting in the hard work, did you ever think that a part of your journalistic career would be, I’m going to interview the spy that talked about the pee tape?

Gabriel: I didn’t. [JON LAUGHS]

Gabriel: And I, but that’s partly because I didn’t study journalism. I studied Russian.

Jon: Oh, you’re kidding.

Gabriel: I speak Russian fluently. I know a lot –

Jon: You are built for this moment sir.

Gabriel: – Right? Right. So it was like the pinnacle of my career, and I was actually freaking out that the better resourced American networks and the New York Times would beat me to the pee tape. Right? So we plotted about how we were going to beat the Americans to finding the pee tape. And we like, I’m serious. I went, I traveled to Ukraine to interview an arms dealer. I knew who knew people who knew people. My colleague went to Istanbul to interview a man who had apparently seen the pee tape. There is no pee tape right? Now that-

Jon: There was a confluence now because the Russians are clearly they are sophisticated in terms of disinformation. They’re really sophisticated in their psyops. I think there’s no question that they’re pretty good about that. It’s interesting that our media will be very gullible or very open to believing a disinformation campaign from somewhere else and very skeptical of a disinformation, it plays to a credibility issue.

Gabriel: Yeah, but I think you know what happened in 2016 was, you know, everyone said “Trump campaign is a joke,” right? And then he won. All right. So on the on the liberal end of the American spectrum, people were searching for a way to understand that, to explain that. How the hell did that happen? Like, we were told he couldn’t win. What? What the. And so they –

Jon: You can say f***.

Gabriel: What the f***, right? So this is a grown up podcast so –

Jon: Absolutely. We just talked about a pee tape. [LAUGHS]

Gabriel: We didn’t we didn’t go into depth about golden showers.

Jon: That’s true.

Gabriel: And so say they were like, “How the f***did that happen?” And and they were like, “Oh, OK, the Russians did it. Nothing to do with us.”.

Jon: That’s right.

Gabriel: It’s the Russians, right? The Russians must have done it. Age old Cold War foe, you know, there was such an easy explanation. And then like, they got wilder and wilder. These conspiracy theories about how the Russians had been pinging messages from Donald Trump’s server to a server in Alpha Bank in Moscow and, you know, meetings in Prague and cell phone towers.

Jon: Right.

Gabriel: You know, it all turned out to be. Well, not all of it, but a lot of it turned out to be nonsense. Now, if that isn’t a conspiracy theory, I don’t know what is.

Jon: Oh, and the interesting thing is it speaks to a flattering of kind of American exceptionalism again, which is we would never sow division among ourselves. [GABRIEL LAUGHS]

Gabriel: Yeah.

Jon: Clearly.

Gabriel: Have you watched American TV?

Jon: There must be an outside agitator who you know what they are doing? They’re inflaming racial tension in America.

Gabriel: That never existed.

Jon: That’s not something that we would, now, OK, admittedly, let’s come clean. We did have a civil war.

Gabriel: And a long slave history.

Jon: And a long slave history and segregation and Jim Crow. But we’re completely past that.

Gabriel: We’re over it.

Jon: Look at us.

Gabriel: Yeah Barack Obama, right?

Jon: Thank you. [GABRIEL LAUGHS]

Jon: And so the idea that division in this country has to be manipulated. By some outside nefarious forces again. You know, it seems almost delusional.

Gabriel: Completely. And I’d like to tell you how bad the Russians are at this stuff, you know, they’re not as good as you think. They really aren’t as good as you think. CNN and Bellingcat, this open source, investigative reporting outfit. You know, they managed, they managed to find out who poisoned Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader, like they managed to find out the exact FSB agents who’d done it because they left it all online. That’s how bad they are.

Jon: Oh wow. So this gets to now. So Q takes off in America and it sort of metastasizes.

Gabriel: So the story is that I think it was the 27th of October 2017. This message drops on 4chan, which is like a precursor to 8chan. And it’s like a HRC is about to be arrested. Hillary Rodham Clinton “HRC” is about to be arrested. And then, like, there’s just thousands and thousands of messages at some point early on, it switches to 8chan, which is this different kind of message board. And then this guy in the Philippines buys 8chan.

Jon: And that’s the guy that they’ve now assumed was Q.

Gabriel: Yeah, I should say, just in case he sues us, he’s said he’s not Q.

Jon: Isn’t that something Q would say? Would Q, who’s done all this legwork, just come out and go like, it’s OK?

Gabriel: Well, the trouble is like, you know, whoever was posting, it’s like it started off pretty clearly. It started off as something called a larp, which stands for live action role play, which is a game. Essentially, you dress up as a character. And then it migrated online and on 4chan before Q Anon arrived, there were all these other people like pretending to be high level insiders. It’s like there was FBI anon, CIA anon.

Jon: OK.

Gabriel: And they were like –

Jon: So there are, this all just it doesn’t come out of sort of fully formed in an immaculate conception. There are precursors that that group, this is the one that hit.

Gabriel: Yeah, this is the one that took off. And it took off partly for the reasons we discussed, but also partly because it’s got this participatory element, right. So Q –

Jon: People are deputized.

Gabriel: Right. And Q Anon believers say, do your own research and that’s what they will do. They do their research, which is they spend, you know, 20 hours a day online Googling s*** and then they come up with weird stuff. And then, you know, they’ve got the wall of crazy, where they’ve got the Post-it Notes and the bits of string and the like JFK to, you know, Soros.

Jon: I do that with WebMD, by the way. [GABRIEL LAUGHS]

Jon: I just want what I want to make it clear that, 20 hours a day on –

Gabriel: Yeah, yeah. What’s wrong with me?

Jon: It all depends on what you’re looking for, but why this is not a phenomenon in the United Kingdom? Yes?

Gabriel: Well, it is. It’s here, but it’s –

Jon: So it is.

Gabriel: A much smaller. Yeah, it it’s here in the UK. It’s bigger in Germany, funnily enough.

Jon: Is it because it’s Clinton based that it hasn’t really? Because so much of it revolves around this kind of the Democrats and Clinton? Is that why other countries and do they have a version of it that revolves around Angela Merkel or you know somebody else?

Gabriel: So certainly in the UK, like before Q and on even existed, I remember it must have been 2015. I was reporting on this far right British guy called Tommy Robinson. He was a rabble rouser. He’s a far right nationalist. But after he sort of moved on from being an overt, far right nationalist, he started getting into this thing about child trafficking and pedophilia. And this was before Q Anon. So this stuff is around in the ether. And why is it around in the ether? I think, you know, again, we come back to this thing that the world is changing so fast and people who a generation ago would have a stable job. White people, mostly right? Who a generation ago would have a stable job in their position in society was super stable, are suddenly faced with, “Oh my god, I can’t really afford higher education. I’ll get a zero hours gig economy contract job. If I’m lucky, I have to work three jobs to survive.” What? What the hell happened to my stability, right? How do I explain that suddenly I’m at the bottom of the pile, right? And then you start looking for these kind of nefarious.

Jon: Well, it’s also listen, I don’t think it exists in a separate universe than the misinformation that the fascists used in the thirties. You know, in their rise to power or even, you know, as you talk about a little bit, man, you can go back to the Salem witch trials. The world is not controllable. And if you feel like you know your world especially feels out of your control, it’s natural to search for. I mean, it’s mythology. I’m wondering, have you looked at other moments of this, other pandemics of misinformation and seen how they resolve other than in World Wars and trials for witches.

Gabriel: So the difference between, you know, what the Nazis were doing with their propaganda and now is that the Nazis were in control of the message. Right? But now we’ve got the internet like no one’s in control of it, apart from the algorithms and-

Jon: It’s a crowdsource disinformation campaign.

Gabriel: And people like us in the media have lost control of the national conversation. Right? Thirty years ago, you know the topics that we put on on the TV or on the radio and what newspaper editors put in the newspaper, that’s what people would talk about. And obviously, we wouldn’t put nonsense about cabals of satanic pedophiles on the TV or the radio because it was not.

Jon: Unless it was, you know, going to get good ratings.

Gabriel: Well, yes, you did that in this kind of panic in the 80s, right? Yeah.

[LAUGHS]

Gabriel: And you look at the witch trials. The first witch trials coincided with the invention of a radical new piece of communications technology, which was the printing press. And I don’t think those two things are an accident, right? That’s not a coincidence that we’ve got the printing press and the witch trials, which panic and we’ve got the internet. And now this thing.

Jon: So is it is there something in in the human brain that has to evolve to? In other words, will my children, for whom technology is much more native, will they be more resilient to the types of misinformation or the types of virality? But then there’s a herd immunity to misinformation that builds up. I hate to keep going back to the pandemic metaphors.

Gabriel: No, you’re right. And this misinformation is a virus. Q Anon is a virus and it’s spreading. I hope so, but I am not sure that it’s going to happen in our lifetimes or in our children’s lifetime. I mean, if you look at the witch craze lasted for a full 200 years, pretty much.

Jon: Wow. Yeah, now see, I did not know that.

Gabriel: And the problem, what’s happening now is that, you know, people, maybe they’ve stopped now, but for a while, everyone was like, “We need better fact checking. We must have fact checking programs. We must fact check everything. Fact check Donald Trump fact check, fact check, fact fact check.” That is pointless. That does not work with the people who believe this.

Jon: So even the absence of a basement in the pizza place doesn’t change.

Gabriel: Says who? Says who there’s no basement, says you or CNN or the BBC. You’re part of the conspiracy, you know?

Jon: Can’t you check? I went to check.

Gabriel: No basement?

Jon: No basement.

Jon: But good pizza.

Gabriel: Great pizza. But in all seriousness, Jon fact checking isn’t going to work. The only thing that works is telling a better story. And you know this idea that a cabal of of evil doers has seized control of the levers of power and that there’s an undercover bunch of good guys led by Donald Trump fighting them, and that there will be an ultimate showdown in which good will triumph over evil. That is a hell of a strong story, right? That’s a better-

Jon: How does Trump end up being the good guy when for most of his life, as far as I could tell, he’s part of the cabal. You know, he’s –

Gabriel: I think a part of it is that he’s just such a mesmeric figure like, you watch Trump and he’s a –

Jon: Tremendously charismatic.

Gabriel: Just like, and right place, right time. The guy who tells it like it is, quote unquote. So I think he’s the right guy, the right place at the right time. The guy who was running against Hillary like Hillary was evil. Ergo, the person running against her was good.

Jon: You know, you said something earlier that I thought was really interesting, which is it’s kind of a crowdsourced misinformation that no one has control of. Previous misinformation campaigns, whether they came from, look, the United States is no stranger to psyops. I mean, for God sakes, we overthrew the Iranian government with misinformation in the 50s, and-.

Gabriel: We helped. Don’t don’t write us out.

Jon: By the way. Thank you. We do appreciate that. And Standard Oil, thanks to you as well. But more importantly, how in control of the monster that’s being created. Are the forces on the right? You know, Donald Trump said something very famously here, and I’m sure you’re familiar with it, he said. I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and it wouldn’t affect my votes. That’s, I think, true, but I don’t think he could vaccinate somebody on Fifth Avenue and not lose votes. And that’s my point, which is as this metastasizes. At what point? Because the monster always turns on the creators. Always.

Gabriel: I think, I don’t think Donald Trump’s in control of it at all. I don’t think he ever was. I think he is an incredibly canny politician, and he recognized very quickly that the people who believed in Q also liked him, so that was good for him. There’s a great clip in that fantastic clip where the reporter asks him about Q Anon.

Archival “The theory. It is this belief that you are secretly saving the world from this satanic cult of pedophiles and cannibals. Does that sound like something you are behind?”

Gabriel: You guys, well, I dunno. But is that supposed to be a bad thing?

Archival: “Is that supposed to be a bad thing or a good thing? I mean, you know, if I can help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do it. I’m willing to put myself out there. And we are actually we’re saving the world from the radical left philosophy that will destroy this country.” [JON LAUGHS]

Gabriel: You know, he’s genius. So, so he fed it. But he wasn’t in control of it, but he definitely fed it. And there were more importantly and very seriously, there were people in the Trump orbit who were deliberately trying to coordinate the message with Q and were very deliberately doing that. And that’s part of what-

Jon: And what role then also because you have Facebook. So now you have these mass disseminators of information like Facebook and their business model relies on the type of engagement that you’ll get from a really virulent emotional conspiracy theory for Facebook. Their best product is information that enrages.

Gabriel: Mm hmm.

Jon: Because that’s that’s how they make their their money.

Gabriel: Yeah. What can I say? We’re screwed. [JON LAUGHS] It’s over.

Jon: Gabriel!

Gabriel: I’m sorry.

Jon: No, we got to end on a more hopeful note.

Gabriel: I know I’m really sorry.

Jon: You’re actually quite pessimistic about-.

Gabriel: I’m so pessimistic.

Jon: What is it you’re pessimistic about? People’s ability to discern real information from false information. What that means in terms of democracy? Here’s part of the problem. Democracy is an analog system. There’s no question it’s it’s about deliberation. Consideration. Compromise. Checks and balances. We’re in a digital world. Is this form of government outmatched by the technologies that surround it?

Gabriel: Yes.

Jon: OK, then we’re done here. [JON LAUGHS] That’s it we’re done.

Gabriel: So, democracy is done in the states, right? Who’s ever going to accept the result of an election again? That’s not going to happen. The party’s over right? But more importantly, perhaps that the model on which these social media companies, these digital companies work are fundamentally incompatible with what is probably the biggest challenge right now, which is trying to save the planet from going up in flames. Right? Arguably, and democracy. And the kind of social media debate are two things that really are incompatible with with saving the planet, arguably a totalitarian system like China, where whatever the party says with its kind of 25 year plan, that goes and there’s no arguing with it, arguably that might be a better shot. So, so maybe China will save us.

Jon: I think these are fascinating points because the agility of democracy to deal with more catastrophic things. You’re right. But you know, we see this. And if I can sort of broaden it, we see it in our capitalist markets that the bad actors are more agile. They’re more able to overwhelm what you would think is the immune system to continue our analogy of the planet. It’s being overwhelmed by these new technologies. But, now here’s the but, we have always had this duality. And don’t you have any hope that you know the things that we’re talking about Facebook, the internet, all these things, these are tools. They’re agnostic. There are new technologies. We can fill them with things that are unifying and edifying and illuminating, or we can pervert them. But the thing that I always come back to is, we always do both. And it’s always a pendulum swing. And I do believe and I hate to end on an optimistic note, but I do believe that there is within us that other side that is illuminating, edifying, constructive and utilizing the same tools that are showing this destruction. And that’s the battle.

Gabriel: I agree. But the problem is that the good stuff doesn’t make the money, as you pointed out. So we need to reset the economic model.

Jon: The incentives.

Gabriel: The incentives, otherwise I think we are a bit screwed.

Jon: Well, that I can’t think of a better way to end a podcast than that.

Gabriel: Just a bit screwed. Just to be clear, I am not a kind of pro-China totalitarian, just to be very clear. Just to be very clear.

Jon: Everybody’s got to clarify everything. Gabriel, thank you so much for joining us today. The podcast is really just fascinating. It’s called the coming storm. Please listen to it. Please check out all of Gabriel’s work on… It’s called I’m sorry, the BBC.

Gabriel: Yes, yes, it is.

Jon: Sounds made up to me, but OK. [GABRIEL LAUGHS]

Gabriel: It’s fake news.

Jon: We really do appreciate it. Honestly, really fascinating and really interesting how it’s always interesting to me to for someone to come over and kind of get a macro observation of how our system functions because we’re so embedded in it. And it’s really difficult at times to have that self-reflection.

Gabriel: It’s been a great pleasure, Jon. Thank you so much for having me on.

Jon: Thank you so much.

[MUSIC]
Jon: All right, we’re back. Gabriel Gatehouse, ladies and gentlemen, he is the gate house to knowledge. Boom. He don’t think this is going away. He thinks it’s embedded now. Are you guys? Do you have Qs in your circle? Do you have Qs?

Kris: I have Qs in my extended circle like people’s mothers and sisters and stuff. Yeah.

Jon: And there are levels of like people believe that there are, you know, child trafficking. You’re like, “Yeah I think that’s right.”

Robby: There’s that.

Kris: Right.

Jon: And then once they get into like and it happens under a pizza place and you drink the blood, you’re like, “All right, that’s a little too specific.”

Robby: Yeah.

Kris: Right. But you can go in wherever you want to go. If you’re like somebody who’s like, I don’t know about vaccines, there’s like a little entry into Q Anon for you. That’s kind of the strength of Q Anon there, like all conspiracy theories, welcome.

Robby: They’ll find what took you in.

Kris: Yeah.

Jon: You know, and there’s always just enough meddling by the powers that be to justify. You always find enough evidence of unseen powers intervening in the affairs of mortals to justify sort of the further leaps, right? Well, are you saying that they’ve never, you know that they don’t gather in Davos and create interest rates? Like you’re saying, they don’t just print money out of nothing? No, you’re right. They do that by that. So, how come you don’t believe that there’s a tracking device in your vaccine? Like, there’s enough there that it’s very hard to just say like that never happens. The only thing that you can imagine is. I think a lot of people attribute to malevolence what can be generally described through incompetence.

Robby: I think one of the things that Gabriel said that really resonated was like fact checking doesn’t work with this stuff. You have to tell a better story. But how like, how if you’re if you’re like, rooted in reality, do you tell a better story than a global cabal of shadowy billionaires or –

Kris: Yeah or like lizard people.

Robby: Trafficking in child blood? You’re like, I can’t tell a better story than that.

Jon: So that’s my point is, though, it’s like global cabal of billionaires. Like, yeah, people. People use money to buy power and influence, and they make changes to things that affect your life. It’s how they move into the lizard thing, but I always assumed the lizard thing was kind of like a trope, like a go to like in the way that, you know, comedians all have tropes that they go to for jokes, you know, it’s always that like that the the guy with the Canadian girlfriend. Yeah. Isn’t that just a trope?

Robby: I think Lizard is like the jump, the almost comedic leap, but I think-.

Jon: That’s what I’m saying.

Robby: There’s a lot of people who do believe like a healthy amount who believe that there are rich people drinking baby blood and harvest.

Jon: That’s the one where you’re like, “Hmm, I would think if you’re a rich person and you have access to like, incredible pizza –”

Robby: Yeah.

Jon: – “Why would you do the other thing?”

Robby: Why would you go with the baby?

Jon: Oh, we’re going to, you know, we’re going to have tonight babies blood. What? I’m rich. I can get to Tonto’s. I can have a guy drive out and pick up Jon’s pizza.

Robby: Get a calzonne right now.

Jon: Why do I want babies blood?

Kris: What’s weird to me about all of it is that the cabal, like, you don’t have to say that there is a secret cabal. It’s happening obviously in front of us. So you don’t have to go –

Jon: It’s not much of a conspiracy.

Kris: Yeah, it’s like, Yeah, that’s happening. So I think the lizard people and like the blood babies and stuff, it’s like, Oh, we got it. We are obsessed with the secret.

Jon: We’ve discovered something.

Kris: Yeah, yeah.

Jon: I think that’s probably part of it because it is, you know, there’s a secret cabal of billionaires, you know, Citizens United. I think that Citizens United.

Kris: It’s a Supreme Court,

Jon: Right? I think the Supreme Court decided that that was OK, that we were going to go with that.

Robby: It’s also like these guys, they’re taking a Adrenochrome to stay young. It’s like, have you seen George Soros’ face? Like, It’s not working.

Jon: Right.

Robby: He looks like he’s skydiving.

[LAUGHS]

Kris: Well, and Peter, I think that’s – [KRIS LAUGHS]

Jon: How is, by the way. Rupert Murdoch –

Robby: Yeah.

Jon: – Doesn’t look like he’s skydiving,

Robby: And he’s ninety something?

Kris: Well, this is where you’re like, man, he must have a deal with somebody like, this is how it starts. You’re like, What’s Rupert Murdoch doing to stay young?

Jon: Right. I’m assuming it’s embalming fluid. [KRIS LAUGHS] Well, that’s all the billionaires. There is a part of me that whenever I meet one, I just want to say one thing and one thing only. I just want to lean in, get right in their ears and say. “Death will be victorious.” [LAUGHS]

Robby: Yes.

Jon: Because there’s that.

Kris: Yeah.

Jon: You do you get that sense that they’re like, “I’m just going to invent this thing, and I’m going to and money and power is going to keep me alive.”

Kris: Yeah.

Robby: Peter, Peter Thiel is like literally trying to live forever.

Kris: Doesn’t he have a like a really? He has a blood boy. Doesn’t Peter- [LAUGHS]

Robby: This is how it starts.

Jon: This is how it all started. He has. So, Kris, basically we’ve gone from. “Yes, I do believe that that money has too much influence on today’s society,” to, “You know, Peter Thiel as a blood boy.”

[LAUGHS]

Kris: I think he does.

Jon: He has a farm of blood boys. I believe it. If you visit him at blood boy farm.

Robby: Yeah.

Jon: You will find –

Kris: That he has the young men who are –

Jon: Thousands of blood boys.

Robby: It’s an HR nightmare, but it pays OK. [JON LAUGHS]

Jon: Yeah.

Kris: The Salem witch stuff lasting two hundred years was a wake up call. I was like, “Oh, that was what? Like five weird years?” And then we got through it. I did not realize that.

Robby: Yeah.

Jon: And you always imagined, you’d like to point it out to like, “Oh, that was a primitive time when we would still talk like, it’s OK to poop next to your house, right? That’s OK. What can happen? I’ll be fine.” So you imagine it to be a more primitive time. But you know, it’s funny, even in those what we imagine more primitive times. I was reading some of the somewhere where they talked about, you know, we think of the dark ages as this time of an enlightenment and just barbarism and all those things. But apparently during this dark time like science was moving forward, it wasn’t as monolithic as I think people would view it in history.

Kris: Well, it’s like the Dark Ages has a branding problem in that way that we hear dark, and it seems like maybe there’s like some good stuff happening there.

Jon: And also, there was obviously the plague and the Black Death. But beyond that.

Kris: Well, I mean, do you think we’ll look back at this time and say that this is a dark age? You don’t Jon or do you?

Jon: It honestly depends on how it plays out. I think this will either be in a regression from the mean of progress. Or it will be. And a historical blip in an era. But I think a lot of it depends on, in my mind, what happens to the kind of new axis powers the more fascist Eastern European countries. How well are they going to band together and what will be the consequence of those actions that that to me will be? Where this thing gets chalked up.

Kris: I guess we’ll see.

Jon: I’m so excited! [LAUGHS]

Jon: Here we go. Beautiful, guys. Before we’re going to go, staff writer Jay Jarden is going to answer the question, do Black people care about Q Anon? I think I know the answer. But let’s let Jay Jurdan have at it.

[SOUND – STATIC]

Do Black people care about QAnon Segment

Jay Jurden: Does QAnon matter to Black people? Hell yeah, it matters to Black people. White people are gathering in secret meetings to talk about imaginary people gathering in secret meetings? I don’t like the sound of that at all. QAnon tried to take down celebrity pedophiles and didn’t even bring up R. Kelly. They aren’t even good at the one thing they’re trying to do. Q folks think JFK and JFK Jr. are still alive. They are ruining our fun little Tupac conspiracy. So yes, this unfortunately affects Black people. They can’t even do conspiracy theories right. Go back to fun stuff like Bigfoot and Moth Man and Marilyn Manson being the best friend on the wonder years. You know, innocent fun. QAnon is not only about stirring up a very dangerous white base in this country. It also took away a really fun Black nickname. Because of them I can’t even say that my homie Q told me something without getting banned from a pizza place. I might not even be able to listen to Schoolboy Q if this keeps up. I know the podcast listeners are big TDE fans. They even stormed the Capitol, and that very much affected the lives of Black people in D.C. They just continue to make s*** up and ruin my night. Q and On is just America’s worst improv troupe. Groups of white people who love a certain letter of the alphabet are always going to put us on high alert. First K now Q, A is probably next, you know, for a cappella groups. So, yes, this matters to Black people.

[SOUND -STATIC]

Jon: That is our show, everybody once again, I want to thank Kris and Robby for joining me. We sat together, we laughed. We listened to Gabriel Gatehouse. Just want to make sure people know this is all is not a simulation. It’s this is real. I’m a real boy. Real feelings. All right. Thanks, Kris. Thanks, Robby. Thanks for listening. Check out the problem. Check out our newsletter. Subscribe at our website. We have a website. Have you guys been on the website?

Kris: Yeah.

Robby: Yes.

Kris: It’s a it’s a fully functioning website.

Jon: Does it have merch?

Kris: That’s one thing that we should start thinking about, merch.

Jon: If there’s no merch, we’re not even a real entity.

Kris: It’s true.

Robby: Mostly cookies being funneled back to the Russian government. [KRIS LAUGHS]

Jon: F***ers. All right, kiddies. TheProblem.com. Check out the Apple TV+ show. We will be back next week. Until then, good bye.

Kris: Bye.

Robby: Thanks, guys. Bye.

Jon: Bye bye.

Jon: The Problem with Jon Stewart podcast is an Apple TV Plus podcast and a joint busboy production.

 

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