New York Magazine

Watch Emily in Paris

- Live vi­car­i­ously. Sex and the City Younger, Emily in Paris, oui, j.c.

Net­flix, Oc­to­ber 2.

If the Paris-based with episodes pro­cre­ated then had a baby, it would be the new Dar­ren Star se­ries that fea­tures Lily Collins as Emily, a mar­keter who moves from Chicago to … Paris!

prob­lem of child sex abuse and as­crib­ing it to a the­o­ret­i­cally infinite uni­verse of evil­do­ers. While Q’s fore­run­ner Piz­za­gate fo­cused its al­le­ga­tions pretty nar­rowly on the Clin­ton or­bit, one byzan­tine QAnon project claims to have iden­ti­fied more than 176,000 in­dict­ments. En­e­mies are ev­ery­where: Could be Huma Abe­din, could be Chrissy Teigen. Which, for the anons, ba­si­cally trans­lates into a breath­tak­ingly high-stakes game of Go: Gotta catch ’em all.

When Q pub­lishes a “drop,” it’s of­ten just a link to an ar­ti­cle or a long string of un­re­lated words. One Q watcher has com­pared them to CVS re­ceipts. (Q’s posts cur­rently ap­pear on an opaque mes­sage board called 8kun and are then made ac­ces­si­ble via a hand­ful of search­able fol­lower-cre­ated ag­gre­ga­tors.) This so-called So­cratic post­ing style en­cour­ages max­i­mal­ist in­ter­pre­ta­tion, which oc­curs on YouTube shows, in Twit­ter threads, on livestream­s, and in books. To choose one of 4,751-plus ex­am­ples: Q’s 100th drop, from Novem­ber 2017, be­gan, “Who is the Queen of Eng­land?,” and moved on to Princess Diana, then MI6, then An­gela Merkel, then mi­grants, then up­side-down crosses, then spirit cook­ing, be­fore end­ing with:

Snow White

God­fa­ther III



For three years, Q has pre­dicted the im­mi­nent ar­rests of gov­ern­ment male­fac­tors. When, in­evitably, the ar­rests do not oc­cur, anons posit that Q is in­ten­tion­ally sow­ing dis­in­for­ma­tion, or that Trump is wait­ing to in­stall bet­ter judges. Like some never-end­ing, ul­tra­dark im­prov-com­edy ex­er­cise, the only re­sponse to a Q drop is “Yes, and …” This open-end­ed­ness gives QAnon a fly­pa­per qual­ity, at­tract­ing all man­ner of sus­pi­cious thinkers.

As Vice’s Anna Mer­lan has pointed out, Q be­came part of a larger “con­spir­acy sin­gu­lar­ity” this sum­mer. “UFO con­spir­acy the­o­rists and QAnon fans are ad­vo­cat­ing for drink­ing a bleach so­lu­tion pro­moted by anti-vaxxers. QAnon groups and Re­open Amer­ica groups alike pro­moted [the truther video] Plan­demic,” she wrote. “We’re all try­ing to make sense of the same mas­sive global event, which seems to drive an urge to­wards a grand uni­fied the­ory of sus­pi­cion.” In mid-Septem­ber, with for­est fires en­gulf­ing the North­west, Q be­gan post­ing so­cial-me­dia pro­files of al­leged an­tifa ar­son­ists, fold­ing an­other layer into the larger plot.

Q also cribs from a num­ber of clas­sic con­spir­acy clichés iden­ti­fy­ing Ge­orge Soros, the Roth­schild bank­ing fam­ily, and the King­dom of Sau­dia Arabia as an un­holy tri­umvi­rate pulling the strings of the pedo ca­bal. Ba­si­cally, The Pro­to­cols of the Elders of Zion, if it had been mar­i­nat­ing in spec­u­la­tion about the Clin­ton Body Count, plus any num­ber of outré para­noid fan­tasies that have grown up on the far­right fringe in the decades since—from Barack Obama’s be­ing a Mus­lim to Michelle Obama’s be­ing a man.

All that said, the thread that links the Q can­di­dates I spoke with comes from real life: the Jef­frey Ep­stein case. “The rea­son I’m leery of peo­ple say­ing Q is a con­spir­acy the­ory is I’d heard for years about Ep­stein and the Lolita Ex­press, and he has this is­land,” said Raborn, the Chicago can­di­date. “I al­ways thought it was a con­spir­acy the­ory. And then he got ar­rested. And we found out about the plane. I’m go­ing, Okay, whoa. How many things do I think are con­spir­a­cies that re­ally aren’t?” Tracy Lovvorn, a phys­i­cal ther­a­pist run­ning for a seat in cen­tral Massachuse­tts, had prac­ti­cally the same con­ver­sion ex­pe­ri­ence, mar­veling at “every­thing the FBI knew back in 2005, 2006,” and then, she said, “for him to die the way he did?” Ditto Cargile, whose in­ter­est in Q stemmed from Ep­stein’s sui­cide (his al­leged sui­cide): “Who caused this to hap­pen? Who doesn’t want him to talk? Who is at most risk by Jef­frey Ep­stein be­ing on the stand and nam­ing names?”

As a case study in elite fail­ure, you could do worse than to won­der why, when he was first charged with hav­ing sex with mi­nors in 2007, Ep­stein re­ceived a sweet­heart non-pros­e­cu­tion deal from Florida’s then–U.S. At­tor­ney, Alexan­der Acosta— later Trump’s La­bor sec­re­tary. (Or why Har­vey We­in­stein or Michi­gan State gym­nas­tics trainer Larry Nas­sar or the hi­er­ar­chy of the Catholic Church evaded pros­e­cu­tion for so long.) Seen from this per­spec­tive, the real con­spir­acy the­ory isn’t an in­vented pat­tern of sex­ual mis­con­duct but a tacit agree­ment among elites to pro­tect one an­other at the ex­pense of the in­no­cent. In this vein, pe­dophilia works as a par­tic­u­larly vis­ceral sym­bol of pre­da­tion—a synec­doche for an Es­tab­lish­ment that screws over or­di­nary peo­ple.

(Of course, you can see ev­i­dence of con­spir­a­to­rial machi­na­tions well out­side the mes­sage-board fever swamps these days, from the Panama Pa­pers’ por­trait of global tax avoid­ance and big-bank money laun­der­ing, to the pres­i­dent’s at­tempt to black­mail the Ukrainian gov­ern­ment into giv­ing him dirt on Joe Bi­den, to Pur­due Pharma’s lu­cra­tive busi­ness model of ad­dict­ing as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble to its opi­oid prod­uct OxyCon­tin.)

Q dis­ci­ples take such plots as rea­sons to mis­trust ba­si­cally every­thing they hear. “When Bill Clin­ton was be­ing ac­cused of all these ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fairs, the rape cases, Hil­lary Clin­ton was one of the first ones to use the term ‘vast right-wing con­spir­acy,’ ” Lovvorn said. Now, “that is the go-to term to hide stuff.” And once you’ve reached that con­clu­sion, any­thing goes. “This is go­ing to sound crazy,” she said, “but Ep­stein met with Fidel Cas­tro a few times and also, I think, with the pres­i­dent of Venezuela, but I’m not sure. That rings in my ear a lit­tle bit be­cause my op­po­nent, Jim Mc­Gov­ern, he’s gone to Cuba 17 times—pic­tured a hand­ful of times with Fidel Cas­tro.” (I held my tongue, but part of me was tempted to re­mind her what the 17th let­ter of the al­pha­bet is.)

For these can­di­dates, in­vok­ing shad­owy rul­ing-class schemes would seem to be the log­i­cal pop­ulist ges­ture. Yet what they mostly fix­ate on are Q’s grotesque al­le­ga­tions of oc­cult sex­ual be­hav­ior. Dustin Ne­mos, a QAnon YouTu­ber, char­ac­ter­izes Q as a big tent that in­cludes “the health­free­dom move­ment,” “nor­mal Chris­tians tired of be­ing cen­sored,” “el­e­ments of Drain the Swamp,” and other fac­tions. But “hu­man traf­fick­ing is the emo­tional an­chor point.” Lovvorn thinks this is a smart PR strat­egy on Q’s part. “If it wasn’t for all that crazi­ness, you wouldn’t pick up the phone and call me,” she said. “I ap­pre­ci­ate that crazy be­cause at least it’s giv­ing these kids a plat­form.” She cited a (mis­lead­ing) news item, which went vi­ral in the Qni­verse, claim­ing 39 miss­ing chil­dren had been found in a trailer in Ge­or­gia. (There was no trailer, and they weren’t all in Ge­or­gia.)

And this il­licit sub­ject mat­ter, of course, en­gages the anons them­selves. Fas­ci­na­tion with rit­u­al­is­tic per­ver­sion is a hall­mark of con­spir­a­to­rial think­ing. An­tiCatholic and anti-Mor­mon writers of the 19th cen­tury ob­ses­sively con­jured images of “li­cen­tious or­gies and fear­ful pun­ish­ments,” wrote the his­to­rian David Brion Davis, which wound up “en­dow­ing even the worst of­fenses of their en­e­mies with a cer­tain fas­ci­nat­ing ap­peal.” While QAnon’s out­ward em­pha­sis on in­no­cent chil­dren may ex­plain its ap­par­ent pop­uactual

lar­ity among un­sus­pect­ing sub­ur­ban moms, it’s naïve to think the fas­ci­na­tion with de­monic sex­ual be­hav­ior isn’t also tinged with pruri­ence. Pre­cisely by claim­ing the man­tle of moral­ism, QAnon grants it­self li­cense to broach some of the weird­est, most ver­boten shit on the po­lit­i­cal in­ter­net.

get into this stuff? Mar­jorie Tay­lor Greene’s bi­og­ra­phy be­gins in­no­cently enough. She grew up out­side At­lanta, where her fa­ther ran a suc­cess­ful con­struc­tion busi­ness whose ads would have been fa­mil­iar to any talk-ra­dio lis­tener in the re­gion. She at­tended the Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia, where she ma­jored in busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion and met her hus­band, Perry Greene. Some­time af­ter they grad­u­ated, they bought Tay­lor Com­mer­cial from her par­ents and even­tu­ally ran the com­pany to­gether. The Greenes raised two daugh­ters and a son, set­tling in a com­fort­able sub­ur­ban home in Al­pharetta, north of the city. She at­tended an Evan­gel­i­cal megachurch called North Point, where in 2011 she re­ceived a pub­lic bap­tism in a large tank of wa­ter sus­pended off the ground.

On the cam­paign trail, Greene por­trays her­self as the boss, with her hus­band, of Tay­lor Com­mer­cial. But it’s not clear how in­volved she has been in the busi­ness; in 2012, her name stopped ap­pear­ing on the reg­is­tra­tion forms the com­pany filed with the Ge­or­gia sec­re­tary of State. (Greene and her cam­paign didn’t re­spond to my in­ter­view re­quests.) Around that time, she was work­ing as a part-time coach at a CrossFit gym in Al­pharetta. “She was go­ing around the five dif­fer­ent gyms at that point, work­ing out ob­ses­sively, hang­ing out in pa­leo restau­rants, like, drink­ing frozen drinks in green span­dex,” said the gym’s then-owner, Jim Cham­bers. “As far as any­one could tell, she was a rich lady that [was] bored.” Pol­i­tics did not seem to be on her radar. Cham­bers is a mem­ber of the bil­lion­aire Cox broad­cast­ing fam­ily, which has been a player in Ge­or­gia Demo­cratic pol­i­tics for decades. He knew her from the gym and had been to her house for a din­ner party, and the sub­ject never came up. (Cham­bers as­sured me that he bears no par­ti­san an­i­mus to­ward her, as he de­plores all “petit bour­geois” pol­i­tics.)

Greene even­tu­ally left Cham­bers’s gym to start her own, which be­came a hub for com­pet­i­tive CrossFit­ters. I found an old Word­Press blog Greene started in 2013 track­ing her work­outs and diet pro­gram in ex­haust­ing de­tail. It is a mono­ma­ni­a­cal doc­u­ment that could be of in­ter­est only to a CrossFit nerd. It can also feel very hu­man. She wrote of a bout with skin cancer, of need­ing to wear braces for a spell.

H“I’m re­ally bad at lis­ten­ing to that neg­a­tive voice when it gets hard,” Greene wrote in 2014. “I want to si­lence the chat­ter. Con­fi­dence is also an area that I strug­gle in.” Work­ing out gave her a sense of pur­pose. “It’s not about be­long­ing, or re­ally any­one else. It’s all mine and I love it.”

The blog ended in 2015, af­ter which she dis­cov­ered a new out­let for self-ex­pres­sion. Around 2017, she be­came a prodi­gious right-wing livestream­er, com­ple­ment­ing her Face­book pres­ence with blog­ging gigs and YouTube ap­pear­ances. Her in­ter­est in QAnon was piqued by the sem­i­nal Q chron­i­cler Liz Crokin, a for­mer gos­sip re­porter. But she was clearly pre­dis­posed to­ward the para­noiac wing of Trump world, which am­pli­fies an en­tire port­fo­lio of new and vin­tage con­spir­acy the­o­ries— Seth Rich was as­sas­si­nated at Obama’s be­hest by the MS-13 gang, Char­lottesvill­e’s Unite the Right rally was staged, 9/11 was an in­side job, the Las Ve­gas mas­sacre was hatched by gun-con­trol ac­tivists, the pack­age bombs sent to prom­i­nent lib­er­als in 2018 were a false flag. Writ­ing about this last scheme on her Face­book wall, she adopted the orac­u­lar, acro­nym-heavy ver­nac­u­lar of Q: “Look deeper into the ‘vic­tims’ of this. Who are they? Un­der­stand what de­flec­tion means. Then again look at the vic­tims and ask what are they hid­ing?? Obama. HRC. CNN. DWS.”

Themes of in­va­sion and sub­ver­sion are con­stants in her videos. I found one fas­ci­nat­ing livestream she recorded at a pub­lic li­brary as she walked around with her leg in a pro­tec­tive boot. She was there to doc­u­ment a “Drag Queen Story Hour,” which she had cam­paigned to can­cel. For most of it, she is hang­ing around out­side the li­brary wait­ing to catch the drag queen on-cam­era. Wear­ing a nice romper and a big rock on her ring fin­ger, she makes like a Phyl­lis Sch­lafly. It’s hard for her to go five min­utes with­out say­ing some­thing of­fen­sive. At one point, she pans the cam­era to a woman in a hi­jab. “Our li­brary is full of that,” she whis­pers, be­fore cit­ing the Women’s March coor­ga­nized by pro-Pales­tine ac­tivist Linda Sar­sour and con­clud­ing offhand­edly that “they all go to­gether.”

What I find telling about the video isn’t just the bo­geypeo­ple Greene sees all around her but her sense of eu­pho­ria and pur­pose in com­bat­ing their sup­posed agen­das. Through­out the livestream, she urges her au­di­ence to find and share the real name of the drag queen, be­fore then track­ing down the branch man­ager (whom she pegs as hav­ing or­ga­nized the event), plot­ting to spam him with phone calls, and cre­at­ing a hash­tag to get him fired. A tran­si­tion to gonzo po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism, if that’s the right term, seems nat­u­ral. In 2019, she be­gan ap­pear­ing reg­u­larly in Washington, D.C. She chased the Park­land shoot­ing sur­vivor and gun-con­trol ac­tivist David Hogg around the halls of Congress. She tried to force Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Il­han Omar and Rashida Tlaib to re­take their oaths of of­fice on the Bi­ble (rather than the Ko­ran).

While on va­ca­tion in late 2018, she es­caped her fam­ily to do an un­in­ter­rupted 90-minute stream from her ho­tel room. “Many women I know, they’re too busy play­ing their ten­nis, their ALTA [At­lanta Lawn Ten­nis As­so­ci­a­tion] ten­nis, they’re into their hob­bies or their book club, or they’re too busy with their ‘ca­reer’ to have time to par­tic­i­pate and stand up and pay at­ten­tion to what’s go­ing on with Amer­ica,” she said. “Most of my friends on so­cial me­dia find my posts in­con­ve­nient and an­noy­ing be­cause they would rather see ba­bies and pup­pies and some­thing funny on so­cial me­dia. And I think that’s sad.” Greene’s en­try into the po­lit­i­cal space is, in this way, in­sep­a­ra­ble from her dis­cov­ery of an au­di­ence. Un­like the alien­ated, base­ment-dwelling stereo­type of a con­spir­acist, Greene was in fact a kind of mi­croin­flu­encer, surf­ing the wave of en­gage­ment. Which, as with the par­tic­i­pants in QAnon’s col­lab­o­ra­tive ad­ven­ture, made her at once a believer and an evan­ge­list.

In spring 2019, Greene be­gan run­ning for Congress in her mod­er­ate home district, which is rep­re­sented by a Demo­crat. When it be­came clear she was go­ing to lose the Repub­li­can pri­mary, mem­bers of the House Free­dom Cau­cus, she said, en­cour­aged her to move her cam­paign to a more con­ser­va­tive part of the state, where the tea-party Repub­li­can Tom Graves had an­nounced he would not seek re­elec­tion. “I’d never heard of her,” said Luke Martin, an at­tor­ney and the GOP chair of a county in the district. The first thing Martin saw when he Googled Greene was a South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter ar­ti­cle chron­i­cling some of her great­est hits. “No­body thought she had a chance,” he said. In a de­bate, her op­po­nent, John Cowan, told her, “I was pray­ing for your soul, ac­tu­ally,” when he heard her re­cent vow not to re­move a statue of Hitler or “Satan him­self” so she could teach her chil­dren about them.

Martin told me Greene’s bub­bly re­tail pol­i­tics shares none of the vit­riol of her on­line per­sona. Money doesn’t hurt either. When the pan­demic was ham­per­ing her op­po­nent’s early ef­forts, Greene al­ready had a cam­paign ap­pa­ra­tus up and run­ning. She loaned her­self $900,000 and, ac­cord­ing to fed­eral records, was backed by more than $200,000 from the House Free­dom Fund. A cou­ple of months af­ter Tay­lor Com­mer­cial re­ceived a six-fig­ure PPP loan, she do­nated an­other $450,000 to her cam­paign. (Her name was added

back to the com­pany’s reg­is­tra­tion forms in 2019.) In June, Face­book re­moved a cam­paign ad in which she cocked an AR-15 and warned an­tifa to “stay the hell out of north­west Ge­or­gia.” An­tifa prob­a­bly isn’t much of a threat to north­west Ge­or­gia, but the in­ci­dent wound up fu­el­ing her cam­paign’s ex­ist­ing sense of griev­ance, in which an­ar­chists and Sil­i­con Val­ley gate­keep­ers are just two sides of the same coin. And when para­noid anti-deep-statism col­lides with ma­cho pos­tur­ing, what it pro­duces, ba­si­cally, is Trump­ism. Greene be­came a Fox News mar­tyr and never looked back. Em­bold­ened, she re­cently posted a Pho­to­shopped image of her­self stand­ing next to the “Squad”—her fu­ture col­leagues—hold­ing an au­to­matic ri­fle. Face­book re­moved it.

Ge­or­gia Repub­li­cans were dis­mayed by her vic­tory. “She’s not from there, she didn’t know a soul, she didn’t need a sin­gle lo­cal en­dorse­ment,” said one top staffer in Ge­or­gia’s U.S. House del­e­ga­tion. Her op­po­nent, Cowan, a prom­i­nent lo­cal neu­ro­sur­geon, had an­nounced over 100 en­dorse­ments in a sin­gle week. He also re­ceived do­na­tions from a num­ber of sit­ting U.S. rep­re­sen­ta­tives and solid rightwing groups, in­clud­ing Mike Huck­abee’s Huck­pac. “It didn’t mat­ter,” the Ge­or­gia staffer said. “Peo­ple didn’t care. It was all about, ‘Are you with Trump, and are you go­ing to fight this at­mos­phere that you feel we’re in?’ ” Cowan’s slo­gan was “Pro Trump. Pro Life. Pro Gun,” and he got out­flanked from the right. (Greene’s slo­gan: “Save Amer­ica. Stop So­cial­ism.”) It’s im­pos­si­ble to say how many, if any, of Greene’s vot­ers grav­i­tated to her be­cause of QAnon. But if there’s a take­away from the race, maybe it’s this: In cer­tain corners, it plays bet­ter to rave about du­bi­ous scourges than to speak to the lived ex­pe­ri­ence of your con­stituents. Not all pol­i­tics is lo­cal any­more, and in­creas­ingly it’s not na­tional or par­ti­san, either, but Manichaean.

n au­gust, a cou­ple of days af­ter Greene’s vic­tory, I tuned in to Soap­box, a 24-hour QAnon livestream. None of the hosts or com­menters men­tioned her, as though her as­cen­sion to the halls of power made her too tan­gi­ble an en­tity to war­rant dis­cus­sion. In­stead, I watched a guy named Cole­man Rogers, who goes by the han­dle Pam­phlet Anon and who some be­lieve is Q him­self, cal­cu­late the an­gles in a Star of David and dis­cuss a scene from the 2009 Terry Gil­liam movie, The Imag­i­nar­ium of Dr. Par­nas­sus: “The young girl, she’s just slept with Colin Far­rell, I think it was, and then she starts singing the pizza and the pasta song and the Anu­bis head looks over them?”

IThis in­dif­fer­ence to pol­i­tics isn’t un­usual among hard-core Q peo­ple. There is one known QAnon su­per-pac, called Dis­arm the Deep State. In­trigu­ingly, it was cre­ated by Jim Watkins, the cre­ator of 8kun, whom some also cred­i­bly be­lieve to be Q. But the group has only about $4,000 to its name and hasn’t do­nated to any of the can­di­dates. When I asked Ne­mos, the YouTu­ber, if he had in­ter­viewed any of them, he said he had talked to one but couldn’t re­mem­ber her name. (It was Jo Rae Perkins.) He was ex­cited about their rise, he said, but too busy run­ning a QAnon e-com­merce shop and de­bunk­ing the main­stream me­dia’s “4 a.m. talk­ing points” to pay much at­ten­tion to them. The best ev­i­dence I could find of co­or­di­nated po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity was a string of $17 do­na­tions to Perkins’s cam­paign.

Mean­while, Greene will be go­ing to Congress, where her new col­leagues are prepar­ing them­selves for an infinite mi­graine. She hasn’t talked about Q since she started run­ning for of­fice, but that hasn’t made her any less prob­lem­atic. In early Septem­ber, Greene took to Twit­ter to dis­cour­age boys from wear­ing masks, which she found “emas­cu­lat­ing.” A cou­ple of weeks later, she tweeted that when she ar­rived in Washington, she would be in­ves­ti­gat­ing “how much of Ge­orge Soros’ money is trick­ling down to these ri­ot­ers. He truly is the

The head of the Free­dom Cau­cus, Jim Jor­dan, hasn’t aban­doned her. But he’s be­com­ing a rar­ity, as “Do you con­demn Mar­jorie Greene’s com­ments?” be­comes a new Washington lit­mus test. For this story, I spoke with two GOP chiefs of staff who ended up un­load­ing their feel­ings about her for over an hour. “Look at her through the lens of AOC,” one of them said. “She’s go­ing to be very pow­er­ful. She’s in­de­struc­tible. She’s from a district where she can­not lose. She’s there as long as she wants to be. She’s will­ing to say or do newsy stuff. She blows up ev­ery par­a­digm.” He con­tem­plated the state of his party. “It you sit back and think about it, it will crush your soul. It hurts, man. It fuck­ing hurts.” (On Twit­ter, Greene re­cently called Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez dumb. Oca­sio-Cortez re­sponded that Greene had mis­spelled a word in her tweet.)

As Greene’s pro­file rises, the se­cond chief of staff said, the down­stream im­pli­ca­tions for the party will get bleak. With her most in­cen­di­ary com­ments play­ing on con­stant loop, he fret­ted, “how are we go­ing to take back a Cal­i­for­nia seat or a New York seat?” Illi­nois Repub­li­can Adam Kinzinger has gone so far as to re­lease a YouTube video about the dan­gers of QAnon, while a bi­par­ti­san House res­o­lu­tion was in­tro­duced to con­demn it.

Seth Weath­ers, the Ge­or­gia con­sul­tant, said he had talked to Free­dom Cau­cus mem­bers who want noth­ing to do with her. “Any­thing she spon­sors will be DOA. Would you work with her on leg­is­la­tion? You don’t know what the hell she’s go­ing to say. You can’t risk it.” An­other Ge­or­gia GOP strate­gist wor­ried about her non-Q be­liefs, which she has in no way muz­zled: “She’s made plenty of state­ments that have noth­ing to do with sa­tanic rings of pe­dophiles that are part of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment but that are still prob­lem­atic.”

For now, the the­ory’s own baro­que­ness may in­oc­u­late it from real scru­tiny in the po­lit­i­cal sphere. Greene’s ag­ing col­leagues (she once called them “lit­er­ally like dead peo­ple”) aren’t go­ing to be scour­ing 8kun to read Q’s drops. For his part, Chief of Staff No. 1 told me his boss has zero un­der­stand­ing of QAnon and had waved off talk of Greene’s lu­nacy. “When I tell him there’s this ca­bal of peo­ple who be­lieve Nancy Pelosi is eat­ing chil­dren out of the base­ment of a pizza par­lor, he’s like, ‘What? That doesn’t make sense. She seems nice. She does CrossFit.’ ”

Where will QAnon be af­ter Novem­ber? If the pres­i­dent is re­elected, an­tic­i­pa­tion of Trump’s heroic purge can build for an­other four years, though fol­low­ers may also be­gin to won­der what’s tak­ing him so long. If he loses, QAnon might in­ter­pret the elec­tion as stolen, thereby im­put­ing to the deep state even more power. In the mean­time, ab­sent a strong case for re­elec­tion—given the re­ces­sion and the White House’s in­ept han­dling of the pan­demic—it makes a kind of sense to throw out the old play­book and start ac­cus­ing your op­po­nents of be­ing evil mon­sters to see how much turnout Q might yield.

A few weeks ago, House Repub­li­cans be­gan do­ing just that. In Mis­souri, Repub­li­can con­gress­woman Ann Wag­ner ran an ad that starts with footage of a happy mom and dad laugh­ing with their el­e­men­taryschool-age chil­dren. “Ev­ery­body wants to keep our com­mu­ni­ties safe,” the spot be­gins. Ex­cept for Wag­ner’s Demo­cratic op­po­nent, Jill Schupp, whom it ac­cuses of vot­ing to let sex of­fend­ers “roam freely on our kids’ play­grounds.” In Florida, the Na­tional Repub­li­can Cam­paign Com­mit­tee ac­cused a Demo­cratic can­di­date of en­dors­ing child sex dolls. In New Jersey, the NRCC tar­geted Demo­cratic U.S. rep­re­sen­ta­tive Tom Mali­nowski, the for­mer Washington di­rec­tor of Hu­man Rights Watch: “Mali­nowski tried to make it eas­ier for preda­tors to hide in the shad­ows.” The con­gress­man, a panel of over­laid text reads, “chose sex of­fend­ers over your fam­ily.” In late Septem­ber, a Civiqs poll found that 14 per­cent of Repub­li­cans iden­ti­fied as sup­port­ers of Q.

the com­pany from scal­ing. All those soft­ware en­gi­neers sleep­ing un­der their desks may have been great in 2005, when the com­pany was flush with ven­ture cap­i­tal, but em­ploy­ing an army of hu­mans to end­lessly tweak the soft­ware doesn’t ex­actly presage huge prof­its. “I used to have a met­ric when I was in the gov­ern­ment,” said the for­mer se­nior in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial who vis­ited Palan­tir’s en­gi­neers back in their sleep­ing-bag days. “Peo­ple would come in and say, ‘We’ve got this fan­tas­tic au­to­mated trans­la­tion sys­tem,’ or au­to­mated any­thing. I would say, ‘Does this use

And they would say, ‘I don’t know what that is.’ ”

The acro­nym stood for Rooms Full of Peo­ple, mean­ing the army of an­a­lysts re­quired to clean up the data and crunch the num­bers. How good any given datamin­ing sys­tem is de­pends in large part on what’s lurk­ing be­hind the cur­tain. Is it ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence pars­ing large data sets of com­plex fi­nan­cial trans­ac­tions to find the next ter­ror­ist? Or is it a room full of ea­ger soft­ware en­gi­neers sleep­ing on the floor? Palan­tir por­trays its soft­ware as like its name­sake—a crys­tal ball you gaze into for an­swers. The com­pany em­pha­sizes that it has re­duced the time needed to get its soft­ware up and run­ning, and for­mer of­fi­cials told me Palan­tir has made big im­prove­ments to its back end over the years. But the truth is that it still ap­pears to take a lot of man­ual la­bor to make it work, and there’s noth­ing mag­i­cal about that.

That dis­tinc­tion did not mat­ter to the sol­diers in Afghanista­n who were try­ing to pin­point IEDs, but it makes a huge dif­fer­ence to po­ten­tial in­vestors, be­cause Rooms Full of Peo­ple are not nearly as prof­itable as sim­ply in­stalling soft­ware and walk­ing away. “Here’s the dirty se­cret of all of these data­an­a­lyt­ics so­lu­tions,” a for­mer Pen­tagon re­search man­ager told me. “They all claim to take these dis­parate data sources and put them to­gether and then dis­cover these amaz­ing cor­re­la­tions be­tween vari­ables. But the prob­lem is that all of these data sets are ter­ri­ble. They’re dirty.” Many types of in­for­ma­tion, af­ter all, are gath­ered and pro­cessed by hu­mans. It may be en­tered in­con­sis­tently or pro­vided in wildly dif­fer­ent for­mats or rid­dled with in­ac­cu­ra­cies. It’s messy, like the real world it re­flects and records, and it doesn’t al­ways fit into soft­ware with any sort of math­e­mat­i­cal pre­ci­sion.

When I saw a re­cent demon­stra­tion of Palan­tir soft­ware, it be­came clear that this dirty se­cret isn’t very se­cret. The in­ter­face struck me as user friendly, some­thing any­one with ba­sic com­puter lit­er­acy could fig­ure out. Want to know how many air­craft are avail­able for a spe­cific mis­sion and how long it will take them to get to their des­ti­na­tion? With a sim­ple query, Palan­tir can tell you. Then I was shown a data set on mil­i­tary per­son­nel, which had to be “cleaned up” to make it us­able on Palan­tir. It wasn’t only a magic code do­ing the cleanup; it was hu­man be­ings—and even lo­cat­ing some­one who could ex­plain what needed to be done had proven time con­sum­ing. “It took many calls to find a sub­ject-mat­ter ex­pert,” one per­son in­volved told me.

It sounded a lot like Rooms Full of Peo­ple.

Alex Karp ap­peared on an in­vestor we­b­cast dressed in bright sports gear and hik­ing up a trail on roller skis. Of­ten de­scribed as “ec­cen­tric” or a “de­viant philoso­pher,” he stopped and faced the cam­era, his un­ruly curls point­ing in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions, and be­gan to talk about Palan­tir’s tremen­dous growth. Some 17 years af­ter Karp and Thiel met with John Poin­dex­ter, full of con­fi­dence and short on en­gi­neer­ing, the com­pany was fi­nally set to go pub­lic.

Karp blames the dar­lings of Sil­i­con Val­ley, not Palan­tir, for vi­o­lat­ing peo­ple’s pri­vacy. It’s com­pa­nies like Face­book and Google, he ar­gues, that are sell­ing their users’ data, while Palan­tir tar­gets ter­ror­ists and crim­i­nals. “The en­gi­neer­ing elite of Sil­i­con Val­ley may know more than most about build­ing soft­ware,” he ob­served in the com­pany’s fil­ing to go pub­lic. “But they do not know more about how so­ci­ety should be or­ga­nized or what jus­tice re­quires.” (His ar­gu­ment ig­nores the fact that Palan­tir has been used to an­a­lyze data from so­cial me­dia, in­clud­ing Face­book posts.)

Poin­dex­ter wrote to me shortly af­ter we spoke about his meet­ing with Karp and Thiel back in 2003. He had seen a re­cent ar­ti­cle about Palan­tir, he said, and he was shocked at Karp’s trans­for­ma­tion. “Karp was clean shaven and had a con­ser­va­tive, tra­di­tional-length hair­cut,” Poin­dex­ter told me. “I have no idea why he changed his image. I would not have rec­og­nized him from cur­rent pho­tos.”

With Karp, as with Palan­tir, it’s of­ten hard to know what is real and what is myth­mak­ing. It’s of­ten re­peated in ar­ti­cles, for ex­am­ple,

Othat Karp stud­ied in Ger­many un­der Jür­gen Haber­mas, per­haps the most in­flu­en­tial liv­ing philoso­pher. “The most im­por­tant thing I learned from him is I couldn’t be him, and I didn’t want to be him,” Karp con­fided on a re­cent podcast with a sort of know­ing in­ti­macy. In fact, as Moira Weigel, a his­to­rian of me­dia tech­nolo­gies, has pointed out, Karp not only didn’t do his dis­ser­ta­tion un­der Haber­mas, he didn’t even study in the same depart­ment.

That sort of ex­ag­ger­a­tion could be chalked up to Sil­i­con Val­ley bravado. Yet it bears an eerie sim­i­lar­ity to the bin Laden story, a ru­mor Palan­tir has al­lowed, or even en­cour­aged, to be re­peated as fact. As the com­pany goes pub­lic, how­ever, it will be re­quired to open its books, and the facts will be­come in­escapable. As re­cently as 2018, Palan­tir was be­ing cited as hav­ing a val­u­a­tion of $20 bil­lion, rank­ing it among Sil­i­con Val­ley’s top-five uni­corns, along­side Uber, Airbnb, SpaceX, and WeWork. Since then, WeWork has im­ploded, Uber is trad­ing below its pub­lic-of­fer­ing price, and Airbnb has been hit by a pan­demic­driven col­lapse in book­ings. While Palan­tir’s fil­ings in­di­cate it hopes to sur­pass $20 bil­lion, some in­dus­try an­a­lysts sus­pect that goal is far be­yond what its busi­ness model can jus­tify.

How much Palan­tir is worth de­pends in large part on what kind of com­pany you think it is. Palan­tir mar­kets it­self as “soft­ware as a ser­vice”—a busi­ness cat­e­gory that in­cludes prod­ucts like Mi­crosoft Of­fice 365. But Mi­crosoft is not em­bed­ding soft­ware en­gi­neers in Afghanista­n to help sol­diers with Ex­cel. If, on the other hand, Palan­tir is more like a tra­di­tional gov­ern­ment IT con­trac­tor, which pro­vides peo­ple as a ser­vice, it would be val­ued at about one times rev­enue—a num­ber that would place its cur­rent worth at less than $1 bil­lion. “You have to make sure that you can get to a dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent model at Palan­tir … to get a val­u­a­tion up to the kinds of num­bers that we’re hear­ing out there,” Dou­glas Harned, a Bern­stein an­a­lyst, ex­plained in a re­cent we­bi­nar.

So why are peo­ple still so ex­cited about Palan­tir? One for­mer na­tional-se­cu­rity of­fi­cial told me the com­pany is now fa­mous for be­ing fa­mous, sort of like the Kar­dashi­ans. But he’s doubt­ful Palan­tir’s tech­nol­ogy can match the sky-high val­u­a­tions that came with all the hype. “As soon as there’s an IPO, I will short the stock,” he said. “If I’m right—if, in fact, Palan­tir is loved in the way the Kar­dashi­ans are loved—well, the Kar­dashi­ans are not go­ing to be fa­mous for­ever. So short the stock while they’re fa­mous—and just wait for their 15 min­utes of fame to end.”

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Part of a flower

Sunny cam­pus

Jury mem­bers

Let­ter that rep­re­sents stock volatil­ity

Ac­cu­mu­la­tions at work

Share a view

Crème ___

Lack of trou­ble


Col­league of So­nia and Sa­muel Hug­gable bear

Like some net­works

Hal­ley’s and others

On­go­ing process

Ale al­ter­na­tive


“Noth­ing more for me, thanks” Easy to trick

Pa­trick Sch­warzeneg­ger’s pop Wish

Has as one’s goal

Change, in a way

2017 movie with the line “There’s no smok­ing on the ice” Ac­tor Kilmer

“Come by any­time”

Night full of an­tic­i­pa­tion

Voice role for Id­ina

___ of Maine (tooth­paste brand) Meal wheel

French cock­tail

Ac­tor Mi­neo

Hav­ing a will

Gen­eral aware­ness

Fish that clings to sharks

Most com­mon sur­name in Viet­nam

Van­ished, like a 97-down

The year 650


Ir­ri­tat­ing flier

“Dis­tur­bia” singer, to fans Giv­ing praise to

Peru­vian pal

“Nar­cos” ac­tor ___ Pas­cal “You’ve got your­self ___!”

Taste from a cup

Some dorm oc­cu­pants

Be­came sub­ject to, as a spell 1973 drama re­made in 2017 Of the high­est qual­ity

Ar­rived, as a storm

When re­peated, “Hun­gry Like the Wolf ” band

Ally in the court­room

“With­out fur­ther ___ … “It grows down­ward

Pearls are made of it

Acrylic fiber dis­con­tin­ued in 1990

An­i­mal in the An­des

Of a cer­tain bone

One mean­ing of “Shalom”

Citi Field player, for short Lo­ca­tion

___ on the vine (fails to take off ) Flash your pearly whites

Fleshy soother

Work with a blow­torch

First word of MGM’s motto Sol­diers, for short

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