QAnon, for a while, virtually merged with the Republican Party. Many Trumpist Republicans still accept QAnon’s attacks on Democrats. QAnon’s disinformers, now identified as the founders of the 4chan alt-right website (later 8chan, now 8kun), started in 2017 by claiming they get secret information available to no others. They don’t; it’s all made up.

I initially thought the Qs were proclaiming their sexual orientation. I would have told them, “Heck, you don’t have to be anonymous any more.” Instead, “Q” purports to be the source’s “Q-clearance.” Q is a secrecy classification given to a few with the need to know about nuclear bombs. The “Q” theme was picked up and spoofed over the years in jest at obsessive secrecy.

(The Department of Energy rather than the Defense Department supervises the manufacture of nuclear bombs because the Atomic Energy Commission was folded into DoE when it was formed in 1977. This is also useful to hide the precise size of our nuclear-weapons budget.)

A precursor to QAnon was the 2016 “pizzagate” online fantasy that charged leading Democrats with running a satanic, cannibalistic child-trafficking ring from the basement of a D.C. pizza parlor. One gullible young man believed it literally and attacked the pizzeria. He fired three shots from his AR-15 and could have easily killed someone. He pleaded down to four years and served three (light). Variations on pizzagate keep resurfacing on Q posts, often with anti-Semitic undertones.

Gullibility sustains the paranoid American right, which periodically uncovers massive plots to snuff out American freedom (e.g., McCarthyism, John Birch, birtherism). Urged on by President Trump’s lie of election fraud and amplified by QAnon, thousands of susceptible people stormed the Capitol, many waving “Q” banners. The bizarre fur-and-horned protester carried a Q placard. Q-type posts encourage Republican state legislators to pass voter-suppression laws. A QAnon believer runs Arizona’s ballot recount that uses infrared lights and looks for bamboo in the paper — illustrating the term “bamboozle.”

The 30% of Americans who refuse to get vaccinated fall for fringe anti-science claims on social media and Fox News. Anti-vaxx has become, in effect, a GOQ protest movement that could harm the party, especially if deadly variants spread. Well, don’t worry. Virus pandemics come in three waves; a fourth is not permitted.

Several elected Republicans repeat QAnon’s calumnies against Dr. Fauci and Congresswoman Liz Cheney, recently demoted. Few Republicans publicly denounce QAnon. What they really believe we cannot know; their pronouncements may be purely opportunistic (which is kind of comforting). GOQ legislators figure that if some of their primary voters believe QAnon, they’d better not antagonize them.

QAnon allegiance in primaries, of course, may hurt Republican candidates in general elections. Democrats are likely compiling quotes and clips for 2022 and 2024. The Democrats’ current task is to make QAnon look so ridiculous that few will wish to be associated with it. TV spoofs to this end are perfectly legal. Voltaire practiced ridicule as the sharpest form of criticism.

Russian intel does their utmost to help America rip itself apart, and repeated evidence has surfaced that Russian trolls picked up and amplified QAnon charges, including ones related to coronavirus (i.e., making sure we get sick). Eventually, Russian intrusions become acts of war, a threat the fuel-pipeline ransomware raised.

President Biden must deliver these accusations to Putin’s face. Otherwise, Biden will look weak and ready to back down. Their proposed June summit meeting — now increasingly doubtful — could blow up. Well, let it. After the 1960 U-2 shoot-down, Khrushchev accused Eisenhower of lying (well, Ike fibbed) and walked out of their Paris summit. What good is a summit under false pretenses? I’ve always doubted summits; most are more duels than diplomacy. In 1961, Kennedy’s summit with Khrushchev in Vienna was hostile and convinced JFK to fight in Vietnam.

Since no one claims QAnon, its platforms could be legally hijacked or mimicked. Surely we have the technical expertise for that. Suppose Q or something like it discovers that Trump was in league with Russians, which is true. Suppose a faux-Q finds that Republican fund-pleaders are diverting the proceeds, an entirely plausible charge. Use shadowy charges to fight gullibility, rage to fight rage. No point being too polite in this rough, high-stakes electoral competition. And if nobody knows who you are, they can’t sue you.

The Q movement, dropped from Facebook and Twitter, is fading. Its nutty failed predictions have disillusioned some believers. Q will long be studied as a flareup of stress-induced mass paranoia. We can expect other outbreaks.

Losing one or more elections will sober the Republican Party, and it will abandon Q, something probably already under way. Many will say they never really believed Q but went along to win primaries. The true-conservative remnants of the old GOP will reconstruct the party and criticize Democratic proposals. As President Biden stated, democracy needs two parties.