Known best by his alias “the QAnon Shaman,” the shirtless man depicted in photos with a horned fur hat and an American flag painted on his face became one of the most iconic images from the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S.Capitol. His real name is Jake Angeli, and he believed in the conspiracy theory known as QAnon — that the U.S. government was controlled by a global child-trafficking Satanist cabal and that Donald Trump was fighting a secret war to defeat them.
Gabriel Gatehouse, an award-winning foreign correspondent with the BBC, recognized the man in the photos. He had met him just months before, while covering the 2020 election. Dismissing the man as nothing more than a fringe weirdo, he had passed up the chance to interview him. That same man was now the face of the Capitol riot.
“It bothered me, because I realized that I had not given his story,” Gatehouse tells New Lines magazine’s Faisal Al Yafai. “That was the question I hadn’t asked myself: There must be a reason why he believes this. It’s not true. But it means something. What is it telling us about the world that we live in?”
“We reach for conspiracy theories when the world doesn’t make sense to us.”
That was the question Gatehouse set out to find answers to on “The Coming Storm,” a podcast series he made with the BBC.
“We reach for conspiracy theories when the world doesn’t make sense to us,” he says. Distrust in traditional media and government institutions — not entirely unwarranted — has led many to reject what they say entirely, Gatehouse explains. “And they feel like the internet has put this powerful tool in their hands, to connect with people and uncover the hidden truth. And I think they genuinely believe it.”
QAnon itself may burn out or at least change into something new. But Gatehouse suspects it may not matter all that much. Something else will just take its place.
“QAnon was like the match that lit the fire,” he says. “And the fire is now raging, and it is going to keep on burning, I think, until something quite fundamental changes.”
Produced by Joshua Martin