The best conspiracy theories start with a simple premise and work outwards. “Bush did 9/11,” whatever its truth value, is a nice, pithy statement that grabs attention. “Oswald didn’t work alone” is another genre hit. “Sandy Hook was fake.” These are the elevator pitches of cuckoodom, immediately understandable claims that hook you in and drag you along.
QAnon has no elevator pitch. It is a meandering, confusing mess, nearly impenetrable to anyone who isn’t already a devotee. The closest you could get to a succinct summary would be, “Hollywood and global elites are engaged in a secret pedophile ring,” but that leaves out Trump, The Storm, adrenochrome, the tunnels, and even Q himself. If you want to read the actual words of “Q” in his “drops,” good luck – he now posts to 8Kun, formerly 8chan, which is blocked from search engines and has a user interface that is equally ugly and unusable. QAnon is not a “fun” conspiracy theory, and really it feels a lot like work.
That’s why I was excited for Out of Shadows. Released last month on various streaming sites and hyped as the first professionally made QAnon documentary, I wondered how it would handle the difficult task of easing a viewer into the bonkers nature of QAnon without scaring them off or simply boring them. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t. This is not actually a QAnon doc at all. At best, it’s a Pizzagate doc, which is the foundation upon which QAnon is built. This is not too terribly surprising, as spilling the whole Q lore would take hours and Out of Shadows clocks in at a tight 77 minutes. But it’s certainly disappointing, at least for conspiracy theory looky-loos like me seeking maximum gawkage.
Let me pause and try to spill the tea on what the QAnon conspiracy theory actually is. Deep breath: As mentioned, Hollywood and global elites run a few big rackets. For one, they control the media, both news and entertainment (an old conspiracy chestnut). More disturbingly, they are largely pedophiles and Satanists involved in an international child-smuggling ring. They molest the kids, but they also use them to harvest a substance known as adrenochrome, which they use to give themselves quasi-eternal youth. Here in America, the military, being aware that the Deep State was in on and perpetuating this plot, urged Donald Trump to run for President and expose them. Since his election, there have been a slew of secret celebrity arrests (Oprah!), and thousands of children have been liberated from underground tunnels where they were kept. At some future point, there will be a wave of simultaneous arrests of Deep State figures including Obama and Hillary Clinton (this is “The Storm” in Q parlance).
The only reason we know all this is because a government operative with “Q” level security clearance – who calls himself, appropriately, Q – has let us in on the secret, via vaguely worded posts called “drops” on the internet’s worst websites. These are only the high points of the high points. QAnon lore is wildest in the details – for example, how Robert Mueller was secretly working with Trump to expose the Deep State, or how JFK Jr. is still alive and living as an Italian guy in Jersey.
Out of Shadows covers the international pedo ring and stops there. Nothing about adrenochrome, or even Trump or Q, is mentioned. Imagine the Old Testament stopping at Genesis – that’s about the relation of this doc to QAnon scripture. The goal of any good Anon is to redpill, the Matrix-derived term referring to awakening someone to the true nature of reality. The filmmakers, who are of greater sophistication than most Anons, clearly thought redpilling required a gradual introduction to advanced Q theory. The global child trade and celebrity pedos are but the mozzarella sticks to QAnon’s Sizzling Baja Fajita.
To that end, Out of Shadows displays, for the Anon community, a shocking amount of sophistication, both stylistically and rhetorically. It looks great. This could easily be a mid-budget doc from a known filmmaker, a Kirby Dick or Nick Broomfield. Most Anons are boomers who can barely make it through a Facebook post without a broken link, and here we have ironic film clips played over crisp interviews, fun smash cuts, and a nice brisk pacing. Out of Shadows keeps the viewer constantly engaged, even if that engagement is sitting slackjawed and saying, “What the fuck am I WATCHING.”
There’s also a recognition by the filmmakers that the palate may rebel against assertions of a Tom Hanks-supported global trade in tunnel children. So, smartly, the first 40 or so minutes of Out of Shadows are concerned with actual government misdeeds, including CIA attempts to spread propaganda through US news outlets and MKUltra, that manna from heaven for conspiracy theorists, a real-life CIA plot so outlandish in its cruelty and subterfuge that its very existence makes everything else seem at least worth a listen.
Where Out of Shadows falters is in the Grand Canyon-clearing leap it takes to get to the meat of its claims. Suddenly, with no lubrication, we jump from “Yeah, the CIA is shady,” to, “Katy Perry is a Deep State tool.” The celebrity references come from out of nowhere and land without context – Jared Leto owns a former Air Force base, what? A series of clips of celebs being weird – as celebs almost always are – doesn’t have any of the power the filmmakers seem to think it will to the non-redpilled community.
But the real record scratch hits around minute 50, when one of talking heads who stalk Out of Shadows drops the phrase “elite pedophile ring”. There is, and I cannot stress this enough, zero buildup to this. It is an ultimate huh-WHU moment, and it takes the viewer completely out of whatever mild thrall the movie had them in. From that point on, it’s a wild ride through John Podesta’s emails, a pizza place in D.C. that doubles as a pedophile social club, and Satanic cultists who run the music and art worlds. The incredibly flawed assumption of the filmmakers is that all the MK Ultra stuff redpilled you – you are ready for the truth.
Could Out of Shadows have handled this better? I think so, although at base they have no actual evidence to support their absurd-sounding claims, so it would probably have been for naught. That said, using QAnon “journalist” Liz Crokin as the main interview subject to support the pedo claims was a terrible choice. Crokin is so deep in this stuff she can’t imagine that most people aren’t. She shouts at the camera. She makes wild assertions that are contrary to people’s lived realities in such a blithe manner that she may as well be telling you puppies are cute. Her eyes look insane. My favorite quote of hers, in discussing a claimed child slavemaster who posts thirst traps online: “Just his Instagram page alone should have been enough for authorities to look into him.” If Crokin is the Woodward and Bernstein of Pizzagate, those children living in tunnels have a lot more misery ahead of them.
I did learn some new things from watching Out of Shadows. Before this doc, I hadn’t realized the extent that Satanic Panic-style moral fearmongering played a role in the Q mythos, which helps explain its appeal among evangelical and fundamentalist Christians. I learned that Anons are weirdly fixated on Katy Perry. Finally, I learned that there really is no way to sell this stuff to normies – it’s too out there. QAnon is impenetrable, yes, but for the grifters and lonely boomers finding money or meaning in this, that might be the point. QAnon is an exclusive club designed to give desperate people something to do besides riot or die, and it succeeds so well in that, it may just be a Deep State plot itself.