HBO’s Q: Into the Storm: review
QAnon has turn into a virtually inescapable a part of politics. The conspiracy is organized round an nameless determine known as Q, who was supposedly working inside the Trump administration. Utilizing nameless on-line message boards, Q has despatched a string of cryptic messages a few plan to mass-arrest Democratic politicians and celebrities, who’re supposedly kidnapping and murdering big numbers of kids. (They aren’t.) Q has now spent three years promising imminent arrests, whereas the QAnon group has turn into a form of super-conspiracy concept attracting folks from throughout the world, constructed round cheering for mass executions and martial legislation.
On paper, then, unmasking the particular person (or folks) behind Q feels like an enormous deal. And that’s the objective of Q: Into the Storm, an HBO documentary sequence from director Cullen Hoback. Hoback tracked down a few of the individuals who have supported and popularized QAnon, searching for what HBO calls the “mastermind” behind the concept.
Sadly, Into the Storm isn’t a deconstruction of QAnon a lot as a dirty mirror of it. The six-hour sequence tediously and obsessively charts an alleged interior circle of the motion, whereas glossing over the myriad causes that Q’s messages attraction to folks, in addition to QAnon’s impact on believers and the folks round them. It embodies all the ways in which idealistic journalistic values — a devotion to humanizing topics, a objective of exposing highly effective wrongdoers, and a perception that exposing reality will set folks free — fail in the face of extremist actions.
Earlier this month, a teaser trailer for Hoback’s sequence drew criticism from anti-disinformation researchers, who anxious it may turn into a QAnon recruiting device. The unhealthy information is that Into the Storm breaks a number of greatest practices for reporting on extremism. The excellent news (I suppose?) is that it’s virtually so boring it’s unwatchable. As an alternative of a big-picture overview of QAnon or a meticulous argument for Q’s id, the sequence focuses on a handful of feuding message board operators and YouTube (or “QTube”) influencers, documenting them with a mixture of formal interviews and interminable slice-of-life scenes. Think about Tiger King, however about discussion board trolls checking one another’s Twitter feeds.
Into the Storm is essentially about the operators of 8chan (later relaunched as “8kun”), the anything-goes message board the place “Q drops” are posted. Hoback spent years visiting the Philippines to talk with 8chan’s creator Fredrick Brennan; its present proprietor Jim Watkins; and Watkins’ son Ron, the web site’s former administrator. Brennan has publicly — and pretty believably — accused the Watkins household of being doubtlessly behind Q, and Hoback bought what seems to be unprecedented entry to all of them. For individuals who research QAnon, gleaning new particulars from his interviews will likely be the present’s predominant draw.
However Into the Storm is simply too aimless to make that entry compelling. After the first episode, it turns into largely a documentary about 8chan on the whole, together with a bitter feud between Brennan and the Watkins household fueled by 8chan’s position in a number of far-right mass shootings. Whereas a few of its topics declare they’re apolitical, they’re enmeshed in right-wing politics, vulnerable to supposedly ironic bigotry, and intensely cavalier about racist violence.
The sequence halfheartedly gestures at how these occasions tie into bigger right-wing politics, together with the Watkins’ interactions with QTubers. However big chunks are dedicated to Hoback simply hanging out with the trio — overlaying their blow-by-blow interpersonal drama, lobbing softball questions on 8chan’s many controversies, and letting them hold forth about free speech and their favourite hobbies. The sequence could possibly be hours shorter if it lower supposedly entertaining scenes like Jim Watkins making fart noises along with his arms or explaining methods to fill a fountain pen.
Into the Storm is seemingly attempting to make QAnon’s best-known gamers look absurd. Taking that end result with no consideration, Hoback barely bothers to rebut their statements or provide outdoors context, a tactic researchers have spent years discouraging. What some viewers would possibly see as crassness or a nasty argument, others may simply purchase as charming foibles or a rhetorical triumph. And in contrast with extremism documentaries like Alt-Proper: Age of Rage, Into the Storm barely acknowledges that there are forces taking QAnon significantly and attempting to counter it — or at the very least offering help for the folks it’s harm.
The strategy additionally makes Hoback’s hunt for Q appear bizarrely ineffectual. Into the Storm implies that when you simply speak to a bunch of web trolls for lengthy sufficient, they’ll slip up and reveal their secrets and techniques. So the sequence’s seen analysis principally entails coaching a digital camera on people who find themselves recognized to take pleasure in tricking and manipulating journalists, then asking in the event that they’re Q.
Into the Storm touches on one compelling thesis: QAnon is, at its core, a grift. Jim and Ron Watkins admit QAnon is the solely factor preserving 8kun afloat, they usually have an enormous incentive to maintain Q on the platform. QTubers appear to really imagine some Q claims, however additionally they describe being enticed by how QAnon boosted their visitors. Hoback outlines how the concept unfold from an obscure discussion board publish by means of a right-wing affect machine, together with former Trump officers like Michael Flynn and distinguished media figures like Alex Jones.
However along with being padded by hours of 8chan drama, that is all wrapped in a needlessly conspiratorial framing. The sequence ominously emphasizes officers’ navy ties or their hyperlinks to “psyop” analysis, when all that always appears essential is an effective deal with on viral advertising. It appears remarkably prepared to purchase topics’ self-aggrandizing tales, so when a element does appear bizarre and alarming, it’s onerous to separate that from the hype.
Hoback touts an enormous reveal about Q’s id, or at the very least the title of 1 one that has allegedly operated the account. His declare echoes a reasonably well-known concept about QAnon, and it’s primarily based on parsing some cagey and noncommittal statements by an interview topic. For the causes talked about above, Into the Storm makes it extremely onerous to judge this massive reveal — as a result of there’s little to point that, say, the topic hasn’t simply been messing with him.
Into the Storm additionally elides a serious problem: exposing Q in all probability wouldn’t cease QAnon. The motion appeals to long-standing distrust of highly effective establishments, and it’s notoriously proof against fact-checking or debunking. Since Q’s unique posts, it’s insinuated itself into Christian church buildings, anti-sex trafficking campaigns, wellness communities, and New Age spirituality, generally in ways in which don’t even reference Q as an individual. The folks selling QAnon concepts aren’t hidden in the shadows; they’ve been talking on Fox Information and different right-wing networks, whereas Q goes months with out posting. The sequence references all this — however solely as a fast recap of different reporters’ work.
Greedy for a grasp manipulator feels like a compelling concept. But when Into the Storm is any indication, it’s far much less fascinating than the mundane buildings that made QAnon so in style. (Additionally, a six-hour sequence ought to have room to delve into each.) As a documentary about pro-Trump on-line extremism, Hoback’s work is adjoining to final 12 months’s movie Feels Good Man, which used the Pepe cartoon frog meme to incisively chronicle fashionable politics’ chaotic weirdness. In contrast, Into the Storm merely tries to reply a false conspiracy by discovering a real one — subjecting viewers to a few of the world’s dullest political crusaders alongside the approach.
Q: Into the Storm premieres March twenty first on HBO and HBO Max.
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