Amazon continues to sell a trove of items related to a conspiracy theory that incites violence.
Most online platforms have of late begun to recognize the danger of hosting content related to QAnon. The conspiracy theory was deemed a violent threat by the FBI in 2019, an assessment now borne out by multiple incidents of real world harm, including a recently foiled plot outside a ballot counting location in Pennsylvania. Twitter started to target Q accounts for removal in the summer, and Facebook announced a substantial removal of Q content in October, though there is plenty of evidence it continues to spread on the site. The products marketplace Etsy removed a trove of Q branded items in October, following attention from journalists. Patreon, a site that allows content creators to monetize and distribute material, kicked more than a dozen QAnon personalities off its platform in October, as well.
These platforms seem to recognize that profiting from the propagation of a conspiracy theory which posits that a cabal of child-trafficking pedophiles made up of celebrities, philanthropists, and Democratic politicians covertly rules the world- and that Donald Trump is the savior working to expose it all- is bad business. But QAnon adherents looking to share these lunatic ideas this holiday season need look no further than the world’s largest online retailer to do their holiday shopping: Amazon.
Amazon, the $1.5 trillion dollar company, sells hundreds of QAnon items in a variety of categories, from apparel to books to merchandise. You can find Q-branded hats, Tshirts, bandanas, flags, car decals, face masks, wallets, stockings, jewelry, tote bags, even baby clothing and memorabilia.
Often, the suppliers are shady or anonymous merchants. But that doesn’t stop them from rising to prominence in Jeff Bezos’s amoral marketplace. In 2019, journalist Ben Collins noted a QAnon title, QAnon: An Invitation to the Great Awakening, rose to at least number 56 in the best selling books on the platform, and even “was featured in the algorithmically generated ‘Hot new releases’ section on Amazon’s books landing page.” Not too shabby for a book that asserts “without evidence a variety of outlandish claims including that prominent Democrats murder and eat children and that the U.S. government created both AIDS and the movie Monsters Inc.” One of its co-authors, the presumably pseudonymous Captain Roy D, has published another book, White Hats, Swamp Creatures and QAnon: A Who’s Who of SpyGate, which is dedicated to former Trump national security advisor, Lt. General Michael Flynn.
Several of the titles available feature thousands of ratings, and hundreds and hundreds of largely glowing reviews. One book, Calm Before the Storm (Q Chronicles), by the Q proponent Dave Hayes- known as the Praying Medic- has hundreds of reviews. Reviewers heap praise on the book for its analysis, for instance, of “Game Theory and how the masterminds of the Q operation play the Deep State and various enemies of the American people (including enemies within)” and how it makes the reader “aware of an alleged alliance between the president and military intelligence whose aim is to clean out the corruption and immoral activities that are and have been going on for generations.” But many of the reviews of this and other books in the Q category go beyond endorsement to provide additional content to advance the conspiracy.
In some of the content available there is a notable effort to connect QAnon ideas to evangelical Christianity. For instance, a trio of books, QAnon and 1000 Years of Peace: Destroying the New World Order and Taking the Kingdom of Christ by Force!, The Book of REVELATION REVEALED: Ready for the TRUTH?, and #TheGreatAwakening and QAnon and the Battle of Armageddon: Destroying the New World Order and Taking the Millennial Kingdom by the pseudonymous author “Melissa Redpill TheWorld” seek to provide a “fresh, new understanding of this complex part of God’s Word,” as the author’s profile puts it. The books are filled with a mishmash of QAnon tropes- charts about the Rothshchilds and George Soros, various bits of biblical scripture pasted in hastily- and do not appear to be professionally designed and are almost certainly unedited. One reviewer felt the author missed the mark- because the book was simply not extreme enough.
Some QAnon authors have taken the trouble to convert books into audiobooks available from Audible. QAnon: The Total Beginners Guide, authored by “Mr. Babylon,” is one such title. It is narrated for Audible by Jim Rising (narrator of other audible titles such as Manipulation Techniques: The Ultimate Guide to Influence People with Persuasion, NLP, Dark Psychology, Emotional Intelligence, Mind Control and How to Manage Your Emotions and Dissolve Negativity and Install Self Love. Rising also narrated another recent QAnon title- QAnon the Corona Lockdown, which sample content suggests advances a version of the discredited “plandemic” conspiracy theory in a hasty one hour and forty-nine minutes of audio.
It is difficult to know what effect these materials have on the propagation of the Q conspiracy theory. But Amazon “influences what millions of people buy, watch, read, and listen to each day,” as disinformation researcher Renée DiResta noted in Wired last year, in a piece on how the platform is gamed by the anti-vaccine proponents to spread and profit off disinformation. “I mean, people are talking about YouTube in glowing terms next to Amazon when it comes to fighting misinformation now. YouTube! Don’t be YouTube,” jested journalist Tim Carmody, who covers Amazon in a newsletter, The Amazon Chronicles, well before YouTube announced its own ban on QAnon content.
At this point, it is safe to argue Amazon is indeed at the bottom of the pack- the last of the tech platforms unwilling to do much of anything to address disinformation on its site. Yet it is still extraordinary that Jeff Bezos, who presumably cares enough about the health of the public discourse to maintain his interest in The Washington Post, also willingly profits from the sale of extremist content and the propagation of dangerous conspiracy theories- which puts him high on the billionaire naughty list this holiday season. To be fair, he’s done the right thing before: Amazon joined other retailers that banned the sale of Confederate flags after the 2015 massacre of nine people by a white supremacist in the historic black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Will it take a more spectacular act of terror by a QAnon adherent to get his attention this time?
Perhaps we’ll find out in the New Year.
Justin Hendrix is CEO and Editor of Tech Policy Press, a new nonprofit media venture concerned with the intersection of technology and democracy. Previously, he was Executive Director of NYC Media Lab. He spent over a decade at The Economist in roles including Vice President, Business Development & Innovation. He is an associate research scientist and adjunct professor at NYU Tandon School of Engineering. Opinions expressed here are his own.