QAnon has now probably become the most followed conspiracy theories out there. Its followers strongly believe that Democrats, government officials, and celebrities are part of a cannibalistic, child-sex-trafficking cult, and that Donald Trump is the hero destined to stop them. Just like many other ‘successful’ conspiracy theories, QAnon is actually based on, and therefore linked to, other theories such as Pizzagate, Frazzledrip and the historic mystery that surrounds the Adrenochrome drug.
As a result of its worrying influence and following, QAnon has allegedly resulted in kidnappings, car chases, attempted shootings and a murder. Some of you might remember when, in December 2016, religious father Edgar Maddison Welch travelled from his home in the small town of Salisbury, North Carolina, to a pizza restaurant in Northwest Washington, D.C., armed with three loaded guns—a 9-mm AR-15 rifle, a six-shot .38‑caliber Colt revolver, and a shotgun.
Welch walked through the front door of the pizzeria called Comet Ping Pong expecting to discover children there in need of rescue. I know what you’re thinking right now; this sounds completely crazy. Where did he get this nonsense from? Welch had followed the conspiracy theory now famously known as Pizzagate, which claimed that Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring out of Comet Ping Pong.
The idea originated in October 2016, when WikiLeaks made public a trove of emails stolen from the account of John Podesta, a former White House chief of staff and then the chair of Clinton’s presidential campaign; Comet was mentioned repeatedly in exchanges Podesta had with the restaurant’s owner, James Alefantis, and others. The emails were mainly about fundraising events, but high-profile pro-Trump figures such as Mike Cernovich and Alex Jones began advancing the claim—which originated in fake news corners of the internet such as 4chan and 8chan and then spread to more accessible platforms like Twitter and YouTube—that the emails were proof of ritualistic child abuse.
Some conspiracy theorists asserted that it was taking place in Comet Ping Pong’s basement, which actually never had any basement. References in the emails to ‘pizza’ and ‘pasta’ were interpreted as code words for ‘girls’ and ‘little boys’. Just like many other internet users in the US as well as in the rest of the world, Welch had been binge-watching conspiracy theory videos on YouTube, which quickly brainwashed him and any bit of common sense he had left.
“The intel on this wasn’t 100 percent,” Welch told The New York Times after his arrest. He simply sincerely believed that children were being held against their will at the pizzeria, and so he took actions. This specific story by itself should give you an idea of the impressive and worrying QAnon (and other linked conspiracy theories) has on people. But what has 28-year-old Patrick Cage got to do with it?
According to The Atlantic, in 2018, Cage, a Californian who works in international environmental policy, discovered a gambling platform called PredictIt. It is an unusual betting site since its users don’t wager on card games or horse racing. Instead, they make predictions about politics. “People put money on questions like ‘Will Kanye run in 2020?’ and ‘How many times will Trump tweet this week?’,” writes The Atlantic. Its tag line: “Let’s Play Politics.”
Because Cage had been following politics closely since the 2016 US election, he thought PredictIt would be a good way to test his newfound political knowledge. So he bet that Kanye West would run for president. “That’s probably my proudest moment,” Cage told The Atlantic. “I dumped 20 cents in November 2018 and netted a dollar off that investment.”
After this win, Cage quickly realised that most of the time, his predilections weren’t much better than if he had chosen at random. But he kept on betting, and shortly after that, he noticed bets that had odds that strangely seemed completely off. According to him, in the spring of 2019, for example, the PredictIt market gave former FBI Director James Comey a 1-in-4 chance of being indicted in the next six months. Cage had never heard anything about a Comey indictment on the news.
He checked trustworthy sources as well as fake news websites such as Breitbart but still, he couldn’t find where this bet was coming from. So he made a bet that Comey would not be indicted, and won. Cage kept on seeing these strange bets afterwards: would a federal charge against Hillary Clinton come by a certain date? What about one against Barack Obama? Unable to find the sources of these predictions, Cage ended up in PredictIt’s comments section.
There, he read thousands of comments that made no sense to him, but explained why such random bets had impressive odds. That’s how, years before most people had heard of QAnon, Cage learned that Q is an anonymous figure who claims to have a high-level security clearance and access to inside information about a devil-worshipping deep state.
The bets finally made sense and Cage decided to delve into the world of QAnon followers in order to pick the right bets and make some serious money, easily. Believers were so convicted in these beliefs that they were willing to “put hundreds or thousands on the line,” he said. “So I started shovelling more and more money in.”
He began scanning the betting platform for any bet that looked far-fetched and had abnormal odds, and bet against them every time he couldn’t find any information about them on news sources. Cage even started keeping track of YouTube QAnon channels and other forums in order to predict where to bet against next.
According to The Atlantic, “Cage has made money every time QAnon has been wrong—which they have been on every bet he’s made so far. He’s put about $800 in and made around $400 in profits.”
Although Cage started betting against QAnon followers back in 2018, today and even in the near future, this little hobby of his could well stay sustainable and profitable. After all, QAnon believers, as well as other conspiracy theorists, swap absurd ideas back and forth constantly. From anti-vaxxers and nazis to people who believe the moon-landing was fake, just like Michael Jackson’s death too, conspiracy theories have now reached a point of no return.
No wonder Trump’s embrace of bizarre conspiracy theories about voter fraud has had similar effects—people are now almost formatted to believe fake news and conspiracy theories. QAnon followers were convinced that Trump would win the election and start making mass arrests of Democrats. Cage probably bet against this idea too, and I’m sure he made more money. Meanwhile, other people lost real money for believing fake stories. You win some, you lose some.