By Isobel Cockerell
This piece originally appeared in the Disinformation section of Coda Story.
In October, Rachel Bate and her three roommates drove the five-hour drive from London to Cornwall County in the southwest of England. Britain’s coronavirus restrictions were on a brief hiatus and friends needed a break. They wanted a “spooky and quirky” trip and thought they had found the perfect destination.
Camelot Castle sits atop black cliffs on the edge of the ancient village of Tintagel: a stone monster with battlements, Gothic-style turrets, and stunning sea views. Built in 1899 for vacationers from the l he Victorian era overlooks the ruins of an ancient castle, where, according to legend, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table once lived.
The sun was setting when Bate, 35, and his friends reached the hotel aisle. “It was a very windy, quite atmospheric evening,” she says. They entered the hall and an unexpected figure appeared in the twilight. Above the reception was a huge photo of US President Donald Trump standing with his wife, Melania, and hotel owner John Mappin.
“I was like, ‘I’m so happy to wear a mask, because it shows how horrified I am,’” Bate told me.
She and her friends went to their rooms and started browsing the internet for information. They discovered that the hotel is a spiritual home for the British QAnon movement. A vast global conspiracy theory, based on anonymous messages on chat rooms or “drops” by a dark figure known only as Q, it claims the world is ruled by a secret cabal of satanist pedophiles. The theory originated at the start of Trump’s presidency and has since gained millions of followers around the world.
“The more we dug, the more disturbing everything became,” Bate said. She and her companions spent the night at the hotel, but left the next morning. “We have since entered a real wormhole. Watching all of Mappin’s YouTube. It’s just endless madness.
Mappin, 50 years old, is one of the best known proponents of QAnon theories in the UK. When I heard of his castle, I decided I had to see it for myself and took the train to Cornwall. The day we met, he was wearing a blue jacket with a purple pocket square. He speaks with a British residential school accent. The conversation with Mappin is dizzying. He quickly shifts from his belief in magic to the notion that a mathematical algorithm can predict the future, and to the feeling that spiritual forces are vying for power over the world’s population.
“I’m not at all eccentric. I’m interested in the truth, ”said Mappin, who first discovered QAnon when he moved from the 4chan messageboard to Twitter in late 2017.“ I’m always interested in trends, political trends. And, you know, if you start to notice that something is being discussed, then it’s kind of interesting, so it got my attention.
During a walk along the cliffs near Camelot Castle, he added that “blackmail is used to control politicians. Pedophilia, satanic rituals and things like that are part of the arsenal of those who wish to blackmail.
The number of British QAnon believers has exploded over the past year. According to a recent poll by the anti-racist group Hope not Hate, one in four people believe in theories related to Q.
On the last New Year’s Eve, Mappin hoisted a flag with a capital Q on the hotel ramparts. “I knew some things were going to happen in the next 12 months,” he says. “Q was going to enter the mainstream narrative.”
The coup has been widely ridiculed in the media and online, but Mappin believes that a growing proportion of his guests are now QAnon followers. “Farmers from the village of Tintagel come here for afternoon cups of tea. They research Q more than I do, ”he says.
Like most QAnoners, Mappin is convinced that the world is locked in spiritual conflict and that satanic forces influence political decisions. “There is a dark side to life that is very, very, very, very dark,” he said. “How dark? Much darker than I even want to contemplate. But I’m not naive enough to think that it doesn’t exist.
QAnon offers its followers a framework to understand the world and a sense of belonging to something important. “What a conspiracy theory does is it brings order out of chaos,” said Mike Rothschild, who writes a book on QAnon. “It’s a community. It gives you these puzzles to solve and these puzzles to decode, and makes you feel like a soldier fighting on the front lines of a war between good and evil.
Mappin met Trump at a fundraiser in Washington in 2017. He believes he was the third British person to be granted an audience with him, preceded only by then-Prime Minister Theresa May and the leader of Brexiteer Nigel Farage.
“He’s got this amazingly positive spiritual energy,” Mappin said. “You absolutely know that you are in the presence of spiritual greatness.”
Mappin describes himself as one of Trump’s online allies. “I’m not just a digital soldier. I would say I was a freedom fighter, ”he said. “And I would use any method to fight for freedom – any form of communication that helps move the world towards peace, towards understanding, towards freedom – from telepathy down.
QAnon is not Mappin’s first foray into fringe beliefs. The 25-year-old moved to Los Angeles, where he studied Scientology for six years. He then returned to London, where he met his wife, Irina.
In 1999, during a visit to Tintagel, he spotted the castle from the beach and made an offer to the owner to buy it. Today, his lobby is filled with photographs of celebrities he has met – many of them Scientologists – including actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Upon arrival, each guest finds the poetry written by Mappin left on their pillow, and brochures filled with his ideas displayed in each room.
“People come here and they can’t sleep,” Mappin said, citing the building’s “natural energy” abundance.
Outside of the hotel, Mappin has placed QAnon at the center of other areas of his public life. With his wife, he hosts a daily show on YouTube, Camelot TV Network. The channel has 20,000 subscribers and hosts a range of speakers, including Kate Sherimani, the British anti-5G conspiracy theorist and Shiva Ayyadurai, a Native American scientist who claims Dr Anthony Fauci is a deep state factory.
Mappin says he predicted Trump’s victory in 2016 using a special algorithm to analyze footage of the future president descending the Trump Tower escalator. He believes that there is a mathematical order in the world. “I don’t see any coincidence,” he said. “There comes a time when there are too many coincidences.”
New Age Q
A hundred kilometers away is Glastonbury, an ancient town in the county of Somerset, famous for its annual music festival. There, spiritualism and QAnon are side by side. Like Tintagel, its history is rich in Arthurian legends.
The town sits in the shadow of Glastonbury Tor, a steep hill that has acted as a spiritual magnet for centuries. Some say it was once the mystical island of Avalon, where King Arthur is buried. Many pagans and New Age thinkers believe it is the point of convergence of several ley lines – alignments between ancient sites, steeped in metaphysical energy. There, QAnon also found fertile ground.
Q followers often believe that codes, patterns, and signals – whether in Q’s anonymous posts or Trump’s tweets – point to the imminent arrival of a transformative event where the deep state is leading to. gallows. They call it “The Storm”. This interpretation of supposedly hidden signs is appealing to those interested in New Age spirituality and its accompanying symbolism. As a result, the mysticism of Glastonbury became interwoven with QAnon.
The town’s main street is lined with shops selling crystals, books on mysticism and witchcraft, and a 15th-century inn. Outside St. John the Baptist Church, a group of New Age street preachers engage passers-by with conspiracy theories.
“A real journalist should know that September 11 is a scam. It was the same scam that was orchestrated by the same people who are now doing the coronavirus scam, ”one told me.
In March, city council released a report calling for a government investigation into the effects of 5G. The study was reportedly hijacked by anti-5G conspiracy theorists and spiritual healers.
In a cafe, I met Shannon, a 62 year old woman, who asked me not to use her full name. After traveling and living in Australia, Indonesia and China, she settled in Glastonbury in the mid-2000s.
She explained that she could only discuss QAnon with other people in town and that her friends and family who live outside of Glastonbury balk at her ideas. “If I said something totally offbeat, someone here would say, ‘Oh, that’s an interesting thought.’ You are not hooked, drawn, and pulled apart to have an opinion that is not part of the mainstream. I can’t talk about these things with my daughter, she won’t listen, ”she said.
Using images and screenshots on her iPad, Shannon then presented me with a series of her ideas. She told me that one night recently she saw the moon rise above the Tor and move in the wrong direction. That Prince Charles and Boris Johnson could have been personified by body doubles. That the sun has recently changed color. Like many others, QAnon is just one of many fringe ideas vying for its attention.
“It’s a curiosity. You know – “Oh, look at that, there’s been a drop in Q,” she said. “You have to be initiated to understand how they work.”
Hope not Hate researcher David Lawrence explained that QAnon has become popular with followers of the New Age and Spiritualist lifestyles. “The Orthodox version of QAnon is influenced by Christianity, but as it has broadened the New Age influence has become more pronounced,” he told me.
Since Trump’s electoral loss in 2020, the QAnon movement has found itself at a crossroads. Some supporters lost faith, but as Joe Biden’s presidency approached, others doubled down on their allegations of electoral fraud and deep state takeovers.
“This movement is now far too powerful and too big to go away,” Rothschild said.
Mappin, meanwhile, remains firm in his belief and claims to have recently gained a large number of new followers on Twitter. “There are a bunch of people who are awake, ”he said. “Once people wake up and see through the veil of bullshit, they’re not going to ignore what they saw.
With the UK once again under strict coronavirus restrictions, the Camelot Castle Hotel has closed. The hotel’s 47 rooms are empty and overlook the January Sea of Steel. According to Mappin and his fellow Q-followers, The Storm is just on the horizon.
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