A red triangle with an exclamation mark flashes frantically; the post within a channel of the messenger service Telegram is clamouring for attention. "The liberation starts!", it says, and continues: "The truth is coming out!" Another user texts on Telegram that the event will "greatly help the change to a different, better time". Both refer to the outage of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp in early October 2021.
The multi-hour collapse of the social networks as well as the messenger service was seen by some as the beginning of a new world. More precisely: as the beginning of a "new world order". There is a conspiracy theory behind this.
The world behind the world
Doomsday fantasies have always played a role in the community of conspiracy believers. This is because they see "a world behind the world", says Christian Schiffer. He is a web expert for Bayerischer Rundfunk (Bavarian Broadcasting) and has written a book on conspiracy theories. For conspiracy ideologists, there is not only "the world we see", but another, hidden world in which the "ultimate evil" rules, he says. Conspiracy narrators suspect a network of politicians, business leaders and influential people around the world who "pull the strings" and hold power in their hands; a "secret elite" pursuing its own grand plan.
It is mainly the supporters of QAnon and the "Great Reset" conspiracy theory who believe in this narrative. The two movements are not congruent in their views and goals, but they do have overlaps.
For those who believe in the conspiracy of a "world elite", there is ultimately only one way to escape it, says Christian Schiffer: "The end of the world, which tears everything down." Only those who had always represented "the true and the good" would remain, i.e. those who believed this narrative. The end of the world as a fantasy of salvation and cleansing has a compelling logic in conspiracy belief, since "the conspirators", the "secret government", the "Deep State", are invincible in the here and now. The "end of the world" will liberate the world from the alleged "world elite", so the conviction.
Ten days of darkness
The Telegram post with the frantically flashing triangle also says this: "Total failure of Deep State networks. Blackout for at least 10 days afterwards." Darkness, for ten days. Or as another user texts: "It could be the start of the 10 Days of Darkness."
The "ten days of darkness": according to the conspiracy ideologues, they mark the beginning of the "end of the world". However, the followers of the narrative do not mean an apocalypse. The end of the world is seen - as Christian Schiffer describes it - as a "phase of catastrophes, but also of cleansing".
Darkness equals civil war - some believe
Josef Holnburger is an expert on conspiracy theories and co-director of the Center for Monitoring, Analysis and Strategy (CeMAS). He says in an interview with #Faktenfuchs: "It's not the end of the world they're predicting, it's close to the end of the world."
These "10 days of darkness" are - according to the conspiracy believers - a time when there will be civil war, war-like conditions, armies in the streets. It is a "time of revenge", as Holnburger formulates the conspiracy narrative; revenge on specific individuals whom the conspiracy believers associate with the "secret world government". For example, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or Bill Gates, the Rockefellers or Rothschilds.
According to the will of the QAnon movement, these people should be "held accountable" in the civil war. It is no coincidence that among them are people of Jewish descent, says Holnburger. The conspiracy myths are specifically oriented towards this. Holnburger therefore considers the QAnon narrative dangerous: "Because it is structurally antisemitic."
The aims: Antisemitic, anti-democratic, racist
After the "10 Days of Darkness", so the belief of the conspiracy supporters, the world will be "cleansed", "The Great Awakening" will begin.
According to Holnburger, this goes hand in hand with anti-democratic or racist ideas about how the world should be constructed. "There are ideas floating around that every people would then exist in their own country", Holnburger says, "as if there is a blood and soil ideology."
The "Great Awakening" being talked about at QAnon sees former US President Donald Trump as a saviour figure. Trump would assume a leadership position not only in the USA, but also in Germany. And the macabre aspect of this ideology, he said, is that "it goes along with the fact that evil would have been destroyed in the form of human beings." This misanthropic aspect is what is dangerous about this ideology, says Holnburger: "It's really about the fact that people would be killed in this time."
Schiffer even speaks of a "civil war longing" that goes hand in hand with the narrative of the end of the world. Some supporters even prepare for this time in concrete terms, by buying weapons, stockpiling supplies, and the like.
In their waiting for the "end of the world" and the "ten days of darkness", "all kinds of signs are interpreted that could indicate that this age is now imminent", says Christian Schiffer. For instance, the flood disaster in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate was also seen as such a sign. "And this also includes the outage of Facebook, which was very serious and also affected parts of the internet in some cases but was probably not the end of the world for most people."
The frustration grows - and with it the danger
But what happens when all these supposed signs turn out to be false? The Facebook outage lasted a few hours, but it obviously did not herald the "Ten Days of Darkness". These are "moments of frustration", says Josef Holnburger from CeMAS - and they are very common in the scene now.
The danger here is that the followers could become radicalised. "Because they might take things into their own hands to bring about these 10 Days of Darkness", says Holnburger. Five people died in the storming of the Capitol in the US capital Washington, D.C. in January 2021. Similarly, in the attempted storming of the Reichstag in Berlin in the summer of 2020, not much was missing, and people might have entered the building.
With every event that the scene recognises as a possible starting point, there will be a new outcry, says Holnburger. There is always mobilisation for the next "10 Days of Darkness". This could be described as "stochastic terrorism": "At some point, someone will take it into their own hands." - Christian Schiffer defines "stochastic terrorism" as follows: When not individuals are radicalised, but a whole group - with the aim that one person from this group crosses the red line, takes up a weapon and becomes a murderer.
Second largest "community" in Germany
Keeping an eye on the scene might not be easy - because it is big. In the USA, a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 15% of respondents agreed with QAnon's views. One in five Americans (20%) agreed with the statement that "there will soon be a storm that will sweep away the powerful elites and bring legitimate leaders", according to the representative study.
The largest QAnon channel on Telegram in the English-speaking world has 330,000 subscribers, according to Holnburger, and the largest in the German-speaking world has 150,000 subscribers. The number of German-speaking followers is large, and that, Holnburger adds, is "scary". He says: One must observe very closely what is happening there - and think about how to de-radicalise these people.
The outage of social networks has been interpreted by some conspiracy theorists as a "sign" that the "Ten Days of Darkness" are about to begin. This phase is the beginning of the "end of the world", after which the time of the "great awakening" will follow, a "more beautiful and better world".
Supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory see the "Ten Days of Darkness" as a civil war in which the elites who, according to their conviction, were pursuing their own goals in a "secret world government" would be killed. In fact, the outage of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp lasted several hours and did not lead to violent riots. According to experts, such "moments of frustration" from the point of view of the conspiracy believers increase the danger of supporters becoming radicalised and taking up arms themselves.
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