Politics World Affairs

Threatening letters, satan-worship and Covid-19: how QAnon has made its way into the UK

As Brits tackle a third national lockdown, QAnon conspiracy theories, supported by right-wing extremists, have made their way into British homes, affecting the lives of many, regardless of ethnic background. A former QAnon member reveals how he was brainwashed online.

According to several former and current members, the rapid spread in QAnon theories ranging from microchipped vaccines to Satan-worshipping elites occurred during the first lockdown in March 2019, because people were searching for clarity in a time of uncertainty.

I conducted a questionnaire on 25 participants in my multicultural neighbourhood in Peterborough, which found that 18 of the participants admitted they first heard of QAnon during the pandemic. Almost 33% of the participants believed in QAnon related theories. And out of them, 37% admitted to being ‘active members’ of the group.

One of these self-proclaimed patriots is Mike*. He is a 34-year-old former barman who was made redundant during the start of the pandemic. Mike told me, “QAnon is a group of patriots. We are soldiers fighting for the truth and uncovering corruption across the world… We are fighting for freedom and against the enemies of thiscountry.”

Many people I spoke to echoed Mike’s thoughts. Some of them admitted being part of the group gave them a sense of security and increased their knowledge of world- events. Although, they refused to acknowledge that the information they believe in is false.

Michelle*, a 38-year-old hairdresser and a current QAnon member, said, “I’ve always known these things. There’s so much evidence for them. All you have to do is Google it and it’s all there. It’s not new.”

She states that QAnon has only confirmed her beliefs, “People tell me all the time this stuff is false but it’s not. The Holocaust numbers aren’t real, it’s all false and like sheep the rest of the world just believes it. We’re not the crazy ones. Q is posting the truth… Wake up! The Great Awakening is coming.”

One of the many issues with QAnon theories is that they originate from white supremacist ideology but this has not stopped people from BAME backgrounds from becoming members of the group.

The study I carried out found that more than half of the participants who admitted to being ‘active members’ were Black and/or Asian.

Joshua*, a 46-year-old builder, who identifies as a South Asian male, told me, “it’s not about being black or brown or white, it’s about the truth.” When questioned on the group’s history of antisemitism and antimigrant rhetoric he dismissed the claims and said, “I don’t care about that… So what anyways?”

He then went on to explain what made him become a believer, “it’s all this covid nonsense. They’re [the British government and world leaders] lying to us, they wanna kill us, chip us, brainwash us into being sheep.” He added, “the vaccine isn’t real, they want to microchip us.”

Believing in conspiracy theories is not uncommon, a study conducted by YouGov in 2018 found 60% of British people believed in conspiracy theories to some extent.

Furthermore, a recent study, by the organisation Hope Not Hate, has shown one in four people in the UK believe in QAnon linked theories.

In an interview with the BBC, a researcher for the campaign group Hope Not Hate, David Lawrence, partially blamed a lack of trust in institutions for the spread of QAnon during the pandemic.

Another major factor causing many people across the country to become exploited by white supremacist organisations like QAnon is economic uncertainty.

Harry*, a former Q believer and a 51-year-old small business owner, told me his financial situation and the instability brought by the pandemic caused him to fall victim to the conspiracies. “It was the worry of not having enough money. I had economic anxiety and I was vulnerable. My vulnerability was exploited…and I startedbelieving all this s**t. My business had to close, my employees were sent home, I had no money coming in to feed my family. That’s when I turned to groups online and I met these people who then became my friends. With them I believed that the government was playing with our lives, I believed in Pizzagate and that there was a global plot to kill us with covid.”

Harry refused to tell me if he believed in any antisemitic or xenophobic lies during his time as a QAnon member.

Mr Lawrence, from Hope Not Hate, also told the BBC, “Long before the birth of QAnon, prominent British conspiracy theorists have promoted ideas about elite, occult paedophile circles engaging in large-scale child trafficking and abuse, and British activists are drawing on this broader tradition.”

A willingness to believe in conspiracy theories has caused many adults to become susceptible to outlandish claims like the earth being flat. And figures show there has been a 174% increase in Q-anon posts throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. This means groups like QAnon could be poaching ordinary Brits who are stuck at home and using the internet a lot more.

The stark increase in posts has also led to a worrying trend in misinformation and hate-speech being spread on mainstream social media sites. One of the many reasons for this is because groups like QAnon have moved from less common online forums such as 8chan to more widely accessible sites like Facebook.

An internal investigation conducted by Facebook found more than 3 million QAnon members on its platform, according to NBC News.

One of these potential members was Harry. He briefly described how he was radicalised, “The virus was something new, nobody had heard of it before and it left me scared so like most people I turned to the internet to search for answers. I ended up falling down a deep rabbit hole and became brainwashed. I met friends from Facebook groups who would tell me things like the stuff about 5G towers. At first, I didn’t believe it, but they were so persistent, so it slowly changed my mind and I started thinking all that stuff too.”

He opened up about the dangers of the group and warned, “People need to beware of what they read and believe online… it can be dangerous.”

The threat that QAnon poses to democracy was displayed during the insurrection at the US Capitol, which led to the death of 5 people, including a police officer.

The Global Network on Extremism and Technology has even labelled QAnon a “violent ideology”.

Like many people, QAnon consumed Harry’s life and impacted his relationships. “My wife nearly left me… It was that bad. She was scared for me. She was scared of me. To her it was like I had become a monster… But I started listening to her advice because I knew she loved me, and she was kind to me even when I wasn’t kind to her or myself. I didn’t want to lose her… I was lucky because it was still relatively new to me.”

Unfortunately, many people across the country aren’t as lucky as Harry. Julia*, a writer from the South of England, lost a childhood friend to QAnon. She told me, “It was heart breaking to lose her. I think groups like QAnon offer a sense of belonging, they make people feel important and give them a sense of self-importance.”

Some former members have been offering advice to people on how to help a QAnon believer change. One former member posted a Reddit AMA in which he explained the best methods to help someone and described how he felt during his time as a member. In his post he insists on creating a sense of stability around the person so they can turn to you, as well as exploring their doubts.

The man who goes by the username “u/diceblue” says, “A significant portion of these theories present a gloomy, scary view of the world. My days obsessed with The Truthtm were some of my most depressed. Realize that behind the obsession, arrogance, and certainty is a lot of repressed fear and hurt.”

“Conspiracy thinking hooks the brain because it feels like critical thinking. Even though it isn’t,” he added.

Ben Collins, a reporter who has carried out extensive research on the group, wrote in the Neiman Lab Prediction for Journalism 2021, “A lot of people disappeared off into a bad space in 2020. It was their only way to cope. Don’t blame them. Let’s take their journey seriously and give people the words to welcome them home.”

Some Q believers are so extreme they’d be classed as white supremacists, but your friend, neighbour or family member could just be starting to follow the group and

there may still be time for you to save them so, by following the advice given by Collins and former members like the ones I spoke to, you could save someone from the hands of Q.

*Names have been changed for privacy and safety.

**Towards the end of my investigating into QAnon, a letter was posted into my home by a Q believer. In this letter, there is a call for warriors who are willing to fight. The letter is just one example, of many, that shows this group is not niche, and poses a huge threat to British society.**


David Willetts: a father’s sacrifice to strive for success

David Willetts shares his tale of strength and determination in becoming the Defence Editor for Britain’s top-selling newspaper, The Sun, whilst juggling the responsibilities of fatherhood.

Sat across me in the cafeteria of News UK, Willetts drinks his white americano and begins reminiscing about his childhood. He grew up in a small market town in rural Northamptonshire called Raunds. Although, he confessed he doesn’t remember much about growing up there apart from it having the countries smallest zebra crossing.

He currently resides in South-East London with his wife, Amy and two kids, aged six and three.

Like any good parent, “[he] starts by dropping off the kids to school.” Then in the evening he said, “I leave at six-ish and then I pick up the kids, bath them, feed them and go to bed.”

Consequently, his busy schedule doesn’t give him time to relax. He chuckled and said, “I got two kids, so hobbies don’t exist.”

David moved to London after he received his English degree from the University of Portsmouth, he said, “A friend suggested I do journalism, so I tried to get into journalism college, and I failed the first time. Then I tried another one in London and they let me on the course.”

“You’ve just got to work hard and hope for the best.”

“Often, I’m not the most talented person in the room, but I never said no so I was always willing to go do stuff and I was always enthusiastic. I remember when I first started at The Sun and we were all in competition to get that job and whenever the news editor said, ‘There’s this going on’, they sort of groaned. I was always like, ‘No, I’m going. I’ll do it’. 

He’s had to make a few sacrifices, “I’ve missed weddings, I’ve missed birthdays, I missed my surprise 30th birthday. I missed it all.”


David’s slightly unhealthy drive to be the best was clear, “In the early days there was no work-life balance, there wasn’t. There was just work but that was okay because I was pretty obsessed about it and I didn’t mind.” He admitted, “It was hard, it was tough.”

Over the past 11 years, he’s had several front-page stories and written hundreds more, ranging from Afghanistan to Parliament, but the ones he regrets the most are the Baby P stories, “I think a lot of the coverage was misguided and I think we got it wrong but that wasn’t necessarily my decision. This is a sort of toll on your conscience.”

He then sheds light on the obstacles he’s faced throughout his career at The Sun. “I think the biggest obstacle, to begin with, was how demanding the job was. And I still think a big obstacle is how demanding it is. Your phone is never off. You’re never off work and that does after a while exhaust you.”

Regardless, his sacrifices have been worth it, “It was tough but it’s different now. I’m more established and I don’t have to prove myself anymore.”

“I’m happy. No regrets.”

Entertainment Work Experience

It’s Time to Stop Policing Women in Pop

The #MeToo Movement was revolutionary for women across the world but female artists within the pop music industry are still put under more pressure than their male counterparts. Could this be due to patriarchy and capitalism? It’s time the problem was acknowledged, and something was done about it.

Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson and Madonna are some of the women who have influenced society with their art. Yet, just like half of the women in the United States, surveyed by OnePoll, they face discrimination almost every day.

When women are called, “Inauthentic”, “Ugly”, “Calculated”, “B*tch” and “Wh*re”,  for simply living their life when do we say enough?

These women are often too scared to speak out and even when they do, they’re still dismissed. From Lady Gaga’s revelation of sexual assault to Kesha’s court battle, the music industry is just as toxic as the film industry when it comes to acknowledging and fighting sexism.

But the problem doesn’t just lie in front of the camera, it also runs behind the scenes. “The voices of women are missing from popular music,” said Stacy L.  Smith, a professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. “This is another example of what we see across the ecosystem of entertainment: Women are pushed to the margins or excluded from the creative process.”

Although, several artists including Ariana Grande and Dua Lipa have shared their personal stories of dealing with sexism. Ariana told Billboard, “I feel like there are certain standards that pop women are held to that men aren’t.” She also revealed that women are pressured to fit into certain stereotypes. “They’re unable to accept the fact that women are a million things, and not just two,” she told Billboard.

Sadly, it’s not just keyboard warriors and music executives who these brave women have to deal with. In November of 2018, Piers Morgan had an exchange with Joan Grande, Ariana’s mother, about Little Mix. He tweeted, “as for Little Mix, I’d just prefer they use their talent to sell records rather than their nudity.” To which Ariana replied, “women can be sexual AND talented. naked and dignified. it’s OUR choice.”

We should focus on creating equality

Through all the misogyny, misogynoir and discrimination there has been a group of people who have consistently supported women in pop and it’s Twitter stans – an obsessed fan who idolises a famous person.

After her confrontation with Piers Morgan, one Ariana stan said, “Female artists are beyond capable so put some respect on their names. Period.”

Marisa, who was 17 at the time tweeted, “this ain’t it. where’s the equality. where’s the RESPECT? we can be sexual if we want. we can wear tight dresses, mini skirt and no bra if we want to. it’s 2018, when will things change. also thank u for making me understand that i can be whoever i want ariana! love u.”

It’s not just Ariana Grande’s fans who believe women in pop deserve more recognition for their hard work and creativity. Lewis Jones, 21, told me, “As a Harry Styles stan, I believe male artists should promote female artists and give them the recognition they deserve. It’s women who are carrying the industry and without them the men would be nothing.

He added, “The view that women in pop are the leaders of new music is echoed through all of stan Twitter, which makes me wonder why these women aren’t treated equally to men?”

Rolling Stone magazine released an article on March 6, titled, ‘Finally, Research proves Female Artists Are More Creative Than Men.’ In this, a study conducted by Sharon Koppman et al. found, “Female artists actually create more novel songs…than male artists.”

Unsurprisingly, the study notes that women’s higher rate of novel music production appears to be a result of unfairness. Researchers observed, “For the same levels of performance, women tend to receive more negative evaluations than men, and they have to outperform men to receive comparable evaluations. To overcome this ‘double standard,’ female minorities work harder.”

Some male artists also face discrimination but research shows that women face the brunt of almost all the sexism.

“Patriarchy and capitalism are to blame”

Earlier this year, USC Annenberg released their annual music report which concluded that women are less likely to reach the top of their profession, are paid less, are nominated for and win fewer awards compared to male counterparts.

Professor Stacy L. Smith said, “The perception of women is highly stereotypical, sexualized and without skill. Until those core beliefs are altered, women will continue to face a roadblock as they navigate their careers.”

The report also highlighted several possible solutions for change within the industry. These included creating environments where women are welcome and ensuring that role models and mentorships are available to women. 

PRS Foundations Women Make Music scheme has been a great champion of supporting female musicians. 

 But what can we do to fight sexism within the music industry and society as a whole?

“For starters we could examine magazines and look at how they force a certain type of ‘image’ on women,” said, Louise (25) – a self-proclaimed feminist. “Magazines like Glamour are owned by publications [which are] run by men. The editor of the magazine might be a woman, but the actual owner is a man. Glamour is owned by Conde Nast, whose parent organisation is owned by Robert Sauerberg – a man.  How can women be treated equally when money hungry men are in power?

Patriarchy and capitalism are to blame for the over-sexualisation and underappreciation of women. Men run everything behind the scenes.”

It’s time for us to stop buying magazines rooted in sexism and racism. Especially, when Black women and other AME (Asian and minority ethnic) women face the majority of the discrimination. 

To help put an end to sexism we need to start by teaching boys it’s not okay to call a girl a slut. We should also encourage girls and women to be comfortable in their own skin and sexuality. This can be done by engaging in conversation in households, classrooms and on billboards. The problem won’t vanish overnight but being more careful with our words and respecting women by giving them credit and not unfairly comparing them to others is a start.

It’s constantly shown that women are beyond capable, not only in music but across all industries. They are leaders, pioneers and creators. Women are behind some of the most amazing creations and it’s time they were appreciated beyond stan Twitter.

“Boys will be boys, but girls will be women.” – Dua Lipa
Work Experience

Case dismissed: a Q and A

On Road
January 2019
Subject: Aasha Shahzadi


On a cloudy afternoon, Aasha Shahzadi shared her story as a 25-year-old commercial lawyer in one of London’s most established law firms with me. 

She starts off by explaining what sparked her passion for law.

What got you into law?

My initial interest sparked from witnessing my uncle’s residency application. Watching solicitors deal with the complex residency situation illustrated the great power law can have over people’s lives.

For those of us who don’t know much about law what is a residency application?

So, this is when a person from another country applies to stay in the UK. They can be very difficult to deal with.

Working at Linklaters must be tense. How do you find commercial law?

It is challenging and no day is the same. It really develops you as a person. I mostly play an independent role but if required I do a bit of group work. I got the job with a training contract and I’ve been working here for 7 months now. Working for such a highly respected firm is amazing because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. And the best thing is everybody around you is welcoming and more than happy to help you. It’s a faced paced environment. There’s a lot going on.

Do you feel it is sometimes too competitive and/or negative?

It is to an extent but during my short time there so far it has been overwhelmingly positive, and I have been able to adapt to the environment.

Do you think being a young female in an occupation known for being male-dominated has negatively affected you in any way?

I’m sure there are problems for people but for me, everything has been smooth. Every stage of the employment process, in my opinion, has been fair as was my time at the University of Nottingham. However, usually, people think young people like me don’t have much experience and expertise, but I believe that personal development matters more than age.

You’ve accomplished so much already. Are there any goals you want to achieve in the future?

Because I’ve given so much time to establishing my legal career, I know that I want to help people in other ways too and help them in difficult situations similar to the one my uncle was put through. 

Finally, Britain is leaving the EU later on today. In your personal opinion, do you think we should have left or stayed in the EU?

I believe people were misinformed about Brexit on both sides and unfortunately, we are leaving. People didn’t understand the repercussions of the decision and the effect this would have on trade deals etc. But the decision has been made and we need to keep an open mind.


Thousands of students march down Parliament Square in latest climate change strike

Thousands of school and university students took part in the global climate strike in London today.

Students took part in the Fridays for Future movement initiated by teen climate activist Greta Thunberg to call for urgent action in tackling climate change.

The event was organised by the UK Schools Climate Network (UKSCN) and started at 11 pm.

Many of the students said they were fed up of the Tories and wanted reform.

Anna, 19, said, “I want the government to wake up and to give a f***. This election should be a climate election.”

A similar mood was present amongst strikers as chants of “Where the f*** is the government?” swept through the crowd, alongside, “Revolution”, “F*** Boris” and “Tory scum.”

Stephanie, 17, travelled from Surrey with a homemade placard. She said, “We don’t empty promises from the government. We demand serious action.”

The protest in the capital was one of over a hundred in the UK according to UKSCN. 

The students later joined up with UCU strikers in solidarity.

Politics World Affairs

McStrike: McDonald’s workers take their strike to Downing Street

Staff from six McDonald’s in South London went on strike yesterday and marched to Downing Street in demand for higher wages and better working conditions.

McDonald’s workers from Balham, Catford, Crayford, Deptford, Downham and Wandsworth Town took part in what The UK Trades Union Congress said was the, “biggest McStrike to ever take place in Britain”. 

The fourth strike comes just days after the company’s former CEO, Steve Easterbrook, was forced to resign over a relationship with an employee. Easterbrook took a pay packet of £29 million whilst workers claim they are left struggling to pay bills.

The workers are calling for wages of £15 an hour, union recognition, an end to youth rates of pay and guaranteed working hours.

Jess Bower protesting with a placard in her hand.

Jess Bower, 21, who works at McDonald’s said, “I’m striking to raise awareness and help others because I’ve heard stories of verbal abuse and sexual abuse.

“I’m here today for union recognition, better working standards and a change in contract and working hours.

“I’ve been here four times now and [other workers] shouldn’t be afraid. At the end of the day, your words will get heard.”

Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer John McDonnell joined the protestors in solidarity.

John McDonnell told campaigners, “It isn’t much to ask, is it? That a company like McDonald’s that makes billions of pounds of profits just pays its worker’s decent wages treats them properly and recognises trade unions.

“We’re not asking for the earth. We’re just asking for these workers to be treated decently by a company whose wealth they create.”

A McDonald’s spokesperson said: “We are extremely disappointed that a very small number of our people in just a handful of our restaurants are considering industrial action.”


Climate protestors target public transport

Extinction Rebellion (XR) protesters caused dramatic scenes at several of London’s public transport stations last week.

The protestors caused severe delays and obstruction to the tubes and trains across London during the morning commute in the wake of a ban on all XR protests in the capital.

As of Thursday, more than 1,400 people have been arrested during eleven days of XR action, with the threat that anyone defying police orders would be detained.

Adam Smith, an XR protester in Central London claimed, “Chaos and disruption need to occur for the government to wake up and meet our demands.” However, he added, members putting themselves in severe danger, “is not a price worth paying.”

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, stressed that the actions were “extremely dangerous and disruptive.” 

The Met Chief, Cressida Dick, said in a statement, “This is placing horrendous strain on London and the Met.”