QAnon’s Madness Is Turning Canadians Into Potential Assassins
The sprawling conspiracy theory has mutated across borders.
The Instagram page of GrindHouse Fine Foods, a sausage-maker in rural Manitoba, looks exactly as would be expected—at first: lots of pictures of meat, some photos of rural Canada, and a collection of cringey memes. One image, though, offers some clues about the man behind the account. It’s a photo of a white bunny sitting at the wheel of a car, with big white text above that reads: “Just get in the car, Alice. I’ll explain on the way.”
“Has anyone else been following ‘Q’ and the ‘White Rabbit’ down the rabbit hole?” the caption reads. A mess of hashtags inscrutable to outsiders are below, from #QAnon to #FrazzleDrip, #PodestaEmails, #SethRich, #WWG1WGA, #AdrenochromeHarvesting, and more.
Weeks later, the account posted another meme: “We’re organising a festival after lockdown ends,” it reads, the text superimposed onto the scene of some kind of outdoor party. “For more info Google ‘Event 201.’” Anyone who followed those instructions would find that Event 201 was a tabletop exercise, held in 2019, designed to help policymakers think about the prospect of tackling a pandemic. In the example, which I wrote about in March, the players were faced with a fast-moving novel coronavirus originating from China.
The GrindHouse page reuploaded the Event 201 meme at 6:04 a.m. on Thursday, July 2. Less than a half-hour later, a four-door pickup truck crashed through the wrought-iron gates of 1 Sussex Drive in Ottawa. The driver picked up a rifle and a revolver and proceeded on foot through the long path from the gate to Rideau Hall, where Canada’s governor general resides. As staff radioed the Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers who patrol the grounds, the man hid in some rose bushes. Slinking around the building, he is alleged to have broken into an ornate greenhouse that connects to the residence of Queen Elizabeth II’s representative in Canada. A few hundred yards away from the greenhouse is Rideau Cottage, the temporary residence of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Neither Trudeau nor Gov. Gen. Julie Payette was home at the time.
Police cornered him in the greenhouse and talked him into surrender. The man was identified as Corey Hurren, the owner and operator of GrindHouse Fine Foods. He’s now facing nearly two dozen charges, mostly weapons offenses. He faces one count of making a threat to “cause death or bodily harm” to the prime minister. According to Global News, Hurren prepared a letter warning of Trudeau’s attempt to turn Canada into a communist dictatorship.
It may well be the most high-profile action inspired by QAnon, the sprawling octopus of a conspiratorial cult that has eaten up tens of thousands of Americans, anywhere in the world. And it speaks to the reach of one of the strangest, and most dangerous, movements to come out of the Donald Trump era.
QAnon is the movement organized around the anonymous Q, a poster on the far-right trolling site 4chan who purported to be a high-level Trump administration official detailing a secret war against the deep state. While the QAnon movement started as a boisterous defense of Trump, it has taken on a life of its own. It has stretched its tendrils into a sprawling, fantastical, and dangerous conspiracy movement that alleges the rich and powerful of the world, from Beyoncé to George Soros, operate an elaborate child-trafficking organization. The only one standing in their way is the president of the United States.
In recent months, the movement has been boosted by some high-level adherents. On July 4, QAnon followers began posting videos of themselves taking the oath of allegiance—a show of fealty to the cause. They were joined by former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Former Trump associate Roger Stone has further went on a QAnon podcast to say he hoped Q was, in fact, out there.
We still don’t know exactly why Hurren acted as he did. Those who have known him for years called him the epitome of a nice, regular, hard-working guy. He was a reservist in the Canadian Forces, an active volunteer, and a father of two.
He was conservative, one friend told me, but not radical. (“Everybody here said, ‘Oh if I saw Justin [Trudeau], I’d sure tell him something,’” Hurren’s friend and local radio host Bill Gade told me. “Sure, we’ve all said that, but this is a totally different deal.”) In an essay Hurren published to his Facebook page in 2015, he makes a pitch for recognizing Canada as both a society of immigrants and Indigenous peoples. Earlier this year, he joined a manhunt to track down two teenagers, one of whom had a collection of Nazi memorabilia, who embarked on a killing spree through the remote Canadian north. Nobody has pointed to any signs of radicalization, although he seemed to have a longstanding interest in conspiracy theories — a personal website he created in 2003 recommended readers check out Alex Jones’ InfoWars and David Icke’s personal webpage. He embedded GIFs of Bill Gates sprouting horns and transforming into the devil. That, however, was nearly two decades ago. “I’ve never heard that type of stuff from Corey, more than you’d hear from any normal person just unhappy with the government and all those people in the east,” Gade told me. Even a fellow QAnon adherent who knew Hurren and his family said he never pegged the sausage-maker as a fellow traveller.
He posted the white rabbit meme on his Instagram on March 27, just weeks after having to shut his business due to the lockdown restrictions. “Lots of coincidences in all these ‘Q’ posts,” he wrote, wondering “how this all relates to the Corona virus/COVID-19 situation.” On Instagram, he began following a number of survivalist and right-wing meme pages from both the United States and Canada. A common thread through many are memes of Hilary Clinton, promising to kill her critics and make it look like an accident or suicide. Hurren’s post references two such conspiracies.
Hurren isn’t the only victim of QAnon poisoning in Canada’s lockdown era.
Just a day before Hurren’s alleged attack, hundreds of protesters gathered on Parliament Hill, just a few miles away, for a Canada Day rally. One demonstrator carried a sign showing Trudeau standing in a gallows. Another called for the return of the death penalty, just for the prime minister. Chants of “Lock him up!” echoed through the capital as the demonstration marched toward the U.S. Embassy, also on Sussex Drive. There, the retired firefighter Norman Traversy wielded a binder containing a letter formally requesting that Trump and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador launch an investigation into Trudeau’s supposed corruption.
The letter, which asks the Mexican and American presidents to launch the investigation using a clause in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, alleges that “the disregard for our criminal laws; by our government and private agencies, permits child abduction; a gateway to child sex slavery. We must intervene on behalf of our children to stop the multi-billion dollar intercontinental child trafficking enterprise.”
Traversy and the hundreds gathered, including far-right People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier, were not expressly QAnon truthers. Yet their rallying cry about a supposed cross-border child-trafficking ring echoes the conspiracies of the movement. At the rally, the tell-tale Q and acronym WWG1WGA—Where We Go One, We Go All—were scrawled on dozens of signs.
Traversy’s letter is just the most recent salvo in an attempt to, in the minds of Traversy and his followers, bring Trudeau to justice. Traversy had already tried to file a private prosecution of Trudeau, using an obscure legal mechanism to do so, but it was thrown out of the courts.
Some aren’t keen to continue using the official channels. A source within the Canadian government said serious threats, including spray-painted messages scrawled on one minister’s home, have taken on a particularly unhinged and conspiratorial flavor in recent months. Hurren’s alleged crimes do seem to fit into that trend.
The Canadian flavor of the conspiracy shows this isn’t so much about a particular government or party but rather about a pernicious and dogged distrust in systems of power worldwide. It has taken a powerful grip in Canada thanks to a deep distrust, even hatred, for Trudeau in particular. When Gade’s radio station posted the news that Hurren had been arrested, scores of Facebook commentators on the local radio station cheered Hurren on, suggesting he be nominated for various awards. Some only wished Trudeau had been home at the time of the attack.
The American culture war plays out in Canada, as well. But up north, a self-styled progressive is in power, making him a prime target.
Attacks directly inspired by the QAnon ideology are still relatively rare. Edgar Welch was arrested inside a Washington, D.C., pizza shop in 2016, after firing his AR-15 inside the restaurant while insisting the basement housed a dungeon for children. Anthony Comello is alleged to have killed the mob boss Francesco Cali, believing the mob and CIA were working together as part of the deep state, and scrawled “Q” onto his hands for the benefit of the courtroom photographers. Officers in California arrested a man in late 2018 as he assembled bomb-making materials—he had been planning to attack the Illinois state legislature to “make Americans aware of Pizzagate.”
According to a threat assessment obtained by Yahoo News, the FBI considers anti-government conspiracy theories, like QAnon, “very likely” to lead to criminal or violent extremism.
The tenets of the conspiracy theory might seem, on their face, too absurd to take seriously. Hurren references “adrenochrome harvesting” in his late March Instagram post. From the advent of the conspiracy theory, QAnon followers have believed that powerful people in Washington and Hollywood have abducted and trafficked children, in part, to harvest their adrenochrome, often in a Satanic ritual.
In recent months, QAnon has pointed to the COVID-19 lockdown as either an effort by the deep state to ruin Trump’s economic gains or a smokescreen put up by Trump himself to effect the arrest of deep state actors and the release of hostage children. Hollywood actors like Tom Hanks have been spared the worst of the virus thanks to their adrenochrome reserves.
That may seem absurd, but, as Michael Barkun wrote in Foreign Policy in 2018, “[i]n a culture already saturated with beliefs about plots and cabals—as contemporary America is—these claims were enormously enticing, despite the total absence of external evidence to support them.” Barkun, a professor emeritus of political science at Syracuse University, wrote that Trump’s end-of-the-world political rhetoric dovetails perfectly with QAnon’s narrative of good versus evil. “If there is any lesson to be taken from this bizarre episode, it is that, in the age of Trump, no claim seems too preposterous to find an audience and that, in the age of the internet and social media, these beliefs and those willing to accept them are only too easy to bring together.”
Maybe inspired by Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (“The adrenaline glands from a living human body … it’s no good if you get it out of a corpse”), the theory doesn’t account for the fact that adrenochrome isn’t produced by the human body.
That doesn’t stop its advocates. Take Agent Margaritaville, a Canadian QAnon YouTube channel and Facebook page, boasting more than a million video views and more than 20,000 subscribers. In an April video, he stands in front of a shipping container in his native Newfoundland and Labrador and says: “Inside those containers: children.” He goes on to claim that Hillary Clinton organizes the shipments alongside ex-Prime Minister Paul Martin, who owns a shipping company. “Justin Trudeau knew about it,” he alleges.
On Hurren’s white rabbit post, someone links to Q Alerts, a dedicated QAnon message board. On Q Alerts, every follower signs off their conspiratorial conjecture with the Q tagline. Every follower of QAnon is now Q, as each takes responsibility for breaking the supposed conspiracy and, in their view, saving children from abduction, torture, and murder.
Most violent extremist movements see attacks or terrorism as a means to a political end. The Islamic State and al Qaeda hoped to, at various times, draw the West into military quagmires in the Middle East or to break Western countries’ resolve in order to end current engagements. Neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups want to inflict damage on Jewish, LGBTQ, and minority groups, perhaps to spark a Helter Skelter-style race war. Incels often seek revenge against women for refusing them sex and to wake up fellow disgruntled men to their cause.
While there is significant overlap between QAnon and other far-right, anti-Semitic, anti-LGBTQ, and white supremacist movements, what sets the whole QAnon movement apart is that it does not expressly seek to remake society. Instead, its followers see themselves as well-informed, law-abiding citizens who are the only ones to recognize the crime and corruption of the deep state. QAnon believers are firmly convinced that they must save the children being trafficked by Clinton, Trudeau, Martin, Hanks, and so on. To that end, bringing an AR-15 into a pizza shop where children are being kept or making an attempt on the life of one of the world leaders at the center of the conspiracy may seem like a justified and even noble act.
Of course some proponents of the conspiracy aren’t quite so altruistic and see QAnon simply as a means to an end. Yet for many adherents, who have spent months in isolation and lockdown, seeking reason in the existential threat of a pandemic, QAnon has been a comforting explanation, one that offers a neat and coherent reason for why everything has happened. It may look absurd from the outside, but from the inside, it makes more sense than a reality where a simple virus was able to infect millions of people, shut down the global economy, and force people into their homes indefinitely.
And as the consequences of the virus spiral, it’s abundantly clear that we haven’t heard the last of Q.
Justin Ling is a journalist based in Toronto.