QAnon[a] (/ˌkjəˈnɒn/), or simply Q, is a discredited American far-right conspiracy theory alleging that a cabal of Satan-worshipping,[1] cannibalistic pedophiles run a global child sex-trafficking ring and plotted against former U.S. president Donald Trump while he was in office.[2][3][4][5] QAnon is commonly called a cult.[6][7][8]

QAnon flag at a Second Amendment rally in Richmond, Virginia, in 2020

QAnon commonly asserts that Trump has been planning a day of reckoning known as the "Storm", when thousands of members of the cabal will be arrested.[9][10] QAnon supporters have accused many liberal Hollywood actors, Democratic politicians, and high-ranking government officials of being members of the cabal.[11] They have also claimed that Trump feigned conspiracy with Russians to enlist Robert Mueller to join him in exposing the sex trafficking ring and preventing a coup d'état by Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and George Soros.[12][13] The QAnon conspiracy theories have been amplified by Russian state-backed troll accounts on social media,[20] as well as Russian state-backed traditional media[14][21] and networks associated with Falun Gong.[22]

Although preceded by similar viral conspiracy theories such as Pizzagate,[23][24] which has since become part of QAnon, the conspiracy theory began with an October 2017 post on the anonymous imageboard website 4chan, by "Q" (or "QAnon"), who was presumably an American individual;[25] it is now more likely that "Q" has become a group of people acting under the same name.[26][27] A stylometric analysis of Q posts claims to have uncovered that at least two people wrote as "Q" in different periods.[28][29] Q claimed to be a high-level government official with Q clearance, who has access to classified information involving the Trump administration and its opponents in the United States.[30] NBC News reported that three people took the original Q post and shortly thereafter spread it across multiple media platforms to build an Internet following for profit. QAnon was preceded by several similar anonymous 4chan posters, such as FBIAnon, HLIAnon (High-Level Insider), CIAAnon, and WH Insider Anon.[31] Although American in origin, there is now a considerable QAnon movement outside of the United States, including in the United Kingdom and France since 2020,[32] with a "particularly strong and growing" movement in Germany and Japan.[33] Japanese QAnon adherents are also known as "JAnon" (Japanese: Jアノン).[34]

QAnon adherents began appearing at Trump reelection campaign rallies in August 2018.[35] Bill Mitchell, a broadcaster who has promoted QAnon, attended a White House "social media summit" in July 2019.[36][37] QAnon believers commonly tag their social media posts with the hashtag #WWG1WGA, signifying the motto "Where We Go One, We Go All".[38] At an August 2019 Trump rally, a man warming up the crowd used the QAnon motto, later denying that it was a QAnon reference. This occurred hours after the FBI published a report calling QAnon a potential source of domestic terrorism, the first time the agency had so rated a fringe conspiracy theory.[39][40] According to analysis by Media Matters for America, as of October 2020, Trump had amplified QAnon messaging at least 265 times by retweeting or mentioning 152 Twitter accounts affiliated with QAnon, sometimes multiple times a day.[41][42] QAnon followers came to refer to Trump as "Q+".[43]

The number of QAnon adherents is unclear,[44] but the group maintains a large online following. The imageboard website 8chan, rebranded to 8kun in 2019, is QAnon's online home, as it is the only place Q posts messages.[5][45][46][47] In June 2020, Q exhorted followers in a post on 8chan to take a "digital soldiers oath"; many did, using the Twitter hashtag #TakeTheOath.[48] In July 2020, Twitter banned thousands of QAnon-affiliated accounts and changed its algorithms to reduce the conspiracy theory's spread.[49] A Facebook internal analysis reported in August 2020 found millions of followers across thousands of groups and pages; Facebook acted later that month to remove and restrict QAnon activity,[50][51] and in October it said it would ban the conspiracy theory from its platform altogether.[52] Followers had also migrated to dedicated message boards including EndChan, where they organized to wage information warfare in an attempt to influence the 2020 United States presidential election.[53]

After Trump lost the election to Joe Biden, updates from Q declined dramatically. QAnon beliefs became a part of attempts to overturn the election results, culminating in the storming of the United States Capitol, leading to a further crackdown on QAnon-related content on social media.[54][55][56][57] On the day of Biden's inauguration, Ron Watkins, a former site administrator for 8chan and a de facto leader among QAnon adherents, suggested it was time to "go back to our lives as best we are able".[58][59] Other QAnon adherents believed that Biden's inauguration was "part of the plan".[59]

Background

Pizzagate

David Goldberg Twitter
@DavidGoldbergNY

Rumors stirring in the NYPD that Huma's emails point to a pedophila ring and @HillaryClinton is at the center. #GoHillary #PodestaEmails23

October 30, 2016[60]

On October 30, 2016, a Twitter account posting antisemitic and white supremacist material[61] which said it was run by a Jewish New York lawyer falsely claimed that the New York City Police Department (NYPD) had discovered a pedophilia ring linked to members of the Democratic Party while searching through Anthony Weiner's emails.[62][63] Throughout October and November 2016, WikiLeaks had published John Podesta's emails. Proponents of the conspiracy theory read the emails and alleged they contained code words for pedophilia and human trafficking.[64][65] Proponents also claimed that Comet Ping Pong, a pizzeria in Washington, D.C., was a meeting ground for Satanic ritual abuse.[66]

The story was later posted on fake news websites, starting with Your News Wire, which cited a 4chan post from earlier that year. The Your News Wire article was subsequently spread by pro-Trump websites, including SubjectPolitics.com, which added the claim that the NYPD had raided Hillary Clinton's property.[62] The Conservative Daily Post ran a headline claiming the Federal Bureau of Investigation had confirmed the conspiracy theory.[67]

Anons

In its most basic sense, an "anon" is an anonymous or pseudonymous Internet poster.[68] The concept of anons "doing research" and claiming to disclose otherwise classified information, while a key component of the QAnon conspiracy theory, is by no means exclusive to it. Before Q, a number of so-called anons also claimed to have special government access. On July 2, 2016, the anonymous poster "FBIAnon", a self-described "high-level analyst and strategist" who claimed to have "intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the Clinton case", began posting false information about the 2016 investigation into the Clinton Foundation and claimed that Hillary Clinton would be imprisoned if Trump became president. Around that time, "HLIAnon", standing for "High Level Insider Anon", hosted long question-and-answer sessions, dispensing various conspiracy theories, including that Princess Diana was murdered after trying to stop the September 11 attacks. Soon after the 2016 United States elections, two anonymous posters, "CIAAnon" and "CIAIntern", falsely claimed to be high-ranking Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officers, and in late August 2017, "WHInsiderAnon" offered a supposed preview that something that was "going to go down" regarding leaks that would affect the Democratic Party.[31]

Influence of 4chan culture

/htg/ or "Human Trafficking General" threads on the /pol/ board of 4chan have been called "the missing link" between Pizzagate and QAnon. Instead of focusing on a limited supply of email material to comb through, the /htg/ culture allowed users to actively participate in the imagined storylines. A key /htg/ poster was Anonymous 5 (also known as "Frank"), who claimed to be a child prostitution investigator. But the lack of a coherent narrative was a constraint on the /htg/ trend, and it never achieved Pizzagate's popularity.[69]

The main tenets of the QAnon ideology were already present at 4chan before Q's appearance, including claims that Hillary Clinton was directly involved in a pedophile ring, that Robert Mueller was secretly working with Trump, and that large-scale military tribunals were imminent. His posts specifically targeted individuals who were highly hated in the community beforehand, namely Clinton, Barack Obama and George Soros. The idea of the "Storm", central to the QAnon canon, was claimed to have been copied from another poster named Victory of the Light, who predicted the "Event", in which mass, televised arrests of the "Cabal" were forthcoming.[69]

Origin and spread

A user named "Q Clearance Patriot" first appeared on the /pol/ board of 4chan on October 28, 2017, posting in a thread titled "Calm Before the Storm",[25] a reference to Trump's cryptic description of a gathering of United States military leaders he attended as "the calm before the storm".[25][70] The "Storm" became QAnon parlance for an imminent event in which thousands of alleged suspects will be arrested, imprisoned, and executed for being child-eating pedophiles.[9] The poster's username implied that they hold Q clearance,[71][72] a United States Department of Energy security clearance required to access Top Secret information on nuclear weapons and materials.[73] An Internet community soon developed around interpreting and analyzing posts attributed to Q, and among these conspiracy theorists, several individuals became minor celebrities within the community.[74][75]

According to a Reuters report, Russian-backed Twitter accounts played a role in propagating QAnon claims as early as November 2017.[15][17]

In November 2017, Paul Furber, Coleman Rogers, and Tracy Diaz, two 4chan moderators and a YouTuber respectively, worked together to propagate QAnon to a wider audience.[76][77] Some QAnon followers have accused the trio of profiting off of the movement.[31] The three then created a Reddit community that was influential in spreading the conspiracy theory until they were banned and the subreddit was closed in March 2018, which Reddit explained was due to incitement of violence and posting private information.[31] QAnon spread to other social media, including Twitter and YouTube.[74] Rogers and his wife, Christina Urso, launched Patriots' Soapbox, a YouTube livestream dedicated to QAnon, which they used to solicit donations. Its guests have included Congress member Lauren Boebert and a Trump campaign publicist.[76] Posts by Q later moved to 8chan, with Q citing concerns that the 4chan board had been "infiltrated".[31] 8chan was shut down in August 2019 after it was connected with the 2019 El Paso shooting and other violent incidents, leading adherents of QAnon to move to Endchan and later a revived 8chan, now known as 8kun.[43][53]

QAnon first received attention from mainstream press in December 2017, and in the early months of 2018 the conspiracy theory received traction from the mainstream right. Television host Sean Hannity and entertainer Roseanne Barr spread news about QAnon to their social media followers. InfoWars host and far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones claimed to be in personal contact with Q. The presence en masse of QAnon adherents at a July 2018 Trump rally for the midterm elections in Tampa, Florida, marked the conspiracy theory's entry into the mainstream.[23][74]

Sites dedicated to aggregating these Q posts, also called Qdrops, became essential for their dissemination and spread. QMap was the most popular and famous aggregator, run by a pseudonymous developer and overall key QAnon figure known as "QAPPANON".[78][79] But QMap shut down shortly after a September 2020 report was published by the fact-checking website Logically, which theorized that QAPPANON was a New Jersey-based security analyst named Jason Gelinas.[79][80]

Between March and June 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, QAnon activity nearly tripled on Facebook and nearly doubled on Instagram and Twitter.[81] By that time, QAnon had spread to Europe, from the Netherlands to the Balkan Peninsula. It maintains an especially strong following in Germany. Far-right activists and influencers have created a German audience for QAnon on YouTube, Facebook, and Telegram estimated at 200,000. One German Reichsbürger group adopted QAnon to promote its belief that modern Germany is not a sovereign republic, but rather a corporation created by Allied nations after World War II, and expressed its hope that Trump would lead an army to restore the Reich.[82] Many Canadians have also propagated QAnon,[83][84][85] and one in four Britons are said to believe in QAnon-related theories, though only six percent support QAnon.[86] Charlie Ward and Martin Geddes are listed by Hope not Hate as influential British promoters of QAnon, with Geddes "[running] one of the most popular QAnon Twitter accounts in the world".[87]

The movement has also spread to Spain and Latin America,[88] with countries like Costa Rica, Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, Paraguay and Brazil having an online presence.[89] According to an investigation by Costa Rica's largest newspaper, La Nación, its Facebook page spreads misinformation and fake news, calls to depose President Carlos Alvarado and extols right-wing figures like far right presidential candidate Juan Diego Castro Fernández and controversial deputies Dragos Dolanescu Valenciano and Erick Rodríguez Steller.[90] In Spain, the far-right Vox party was accused of endorsing anti-Biden conspiracy theories linked to QAnon in its Twitter account by claiming that Biden was the candidate "preferred by pedophiles".[91] An RTVE news report found that most Spanish QAnon supporters identified Vox as their preferred political party.[92]

University of Southern California professor and data scientist Emilio Ferrara found that about 25% of accounts that use QAnon hashtags and retweet InfoWars and One America News Network are bots.[93]

In February 2021 a poll by the American Enterprise Institute found that 29% of Republicans believe the central claim of QAnon, that "Donald Trump has been secretly fighting a group of child sex traffickers that include prominent Democrats and Hollywood elites."[94]

Pastel QAnon is a collection of techniques aimed predominantly at indoctrinating women into the conspiracy theory, mainly on social media sites like Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram and TikTok.[95][96] It uses feminine-coded aesthetics (including a pastel color palette, from which it gets its name), language, activities and communities, and uses gateway messaging to frame the conspiracies as reasonable concerns.[97][95] Concordia University, Canada, researcher Marc-André Argentino identified the trend.[98]

Conspiracy claims

The conspiracy theory has been widely characterized as "baseless"[35][99] and "evidence-free".[100] Its proponents have been called "a deranged conspiracy cult"[13] and "some of the Internet's most outré [unconventional] Trump fans".[101] It is disseminated mainly by Trump supporters, who refer to the Storm and the Great Awakening. QAnon's precepts and vocabulary are closely related to the religious concepts of millenarianism and apocalypticism,[9] leading it to be sometimes construed as an emerging religious movement.[43][102][103] QAnon's adherents, while seeing Trump as a flawed Christian, also view him as a messiah sent by God.[42][21][104]

According to Travis View, who has studied QAnon and written about it extensively for The Washington Post, the essence of the conspiracy theory is that:

... there is a worldwide cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who rule the world, essentially, and they control everything. They control politicians, and they control the media. They control Hollywood, and they cover up their existence, essentially. And they would have continued ruling the world, were it not for the election of President Donald Trump. Now, Donald Trump in this conspiracy theory knows all about this evil cabal's wrongdoing. But one of the reasons that Donald Trump was elected was to put an end to them, basically. And now we would be ignorant of this behind-the-scenes battle of Donald Trump and the U.S. military – that everyone backs him and the evil cabal – were it not for "Q". And what "Q" is is basically a poster on 4chan, who later moved to 8chan, who reveals details about this secret behind-the-scenes battle, and also secrets about what the cabal is doing and also the mass sort of upcoming arrest events through these posts.[9]

Followers of QAnon also believe that there is an imminent event known as the "Storm", when thousands of members of the cabal will be arrested and possibly sent to Guantanamo Bay prison or to face military tribunals, and the U.S. military will brutally take over the country.[9] The result will be salvation and utopia on earth.[105]

Failed predictions

HRC extradition already in motion effective yesterday with several countries in case of cross border run. Passport approved to be flagged effective 10/30 @ 12:01 am. Expect massive riots organized in defiance and others fleeing the US to occur. US M's will conduct the operation while NG activated. Proof check: Locate a NG member and ask if activated for duty 10/30 across most major cities.

—QAnon's first post on the /pol/ message board of 4chan, on October 28, 2017[106]

QAnon's first prediction was that Hillary Clinton was about to be arrested and would attempt to flee the country. This prediction failed. Other failed predictions include:[107]

  1. The "Storm" would take place on November 3, 2017. There were no notable events in US politics on that day.
  2. The "Storm" would take place on January 20, 2021, the day of Biden's inauguration. No coup took place and Biden was peacefully inaugurated.[108]
  3. A major event involving the Department of Defense would take place on February 1, 2018.
  4. People targeted by the president would commit suicide en masse on February 10, 2018. No prominent people committed suicide that day.
  5. There would be a car bombing in London around February 16, 2018. There was no bombing.
  6. The Trump military parade would "never be forgotten". The parade was canceled.
  7. The Five Eyes "won't be around much longer".
  8. Something major would happen in Chongqing on April 10, 2018. Nothing notable happened in Chongqing that day.
  9. There would be a "bombshell" revelation about North Korea in May 2018. There were no notable developments.
  10. A "smoking gun" video of Hillary Clinton would emerge in March 2018. No video appeared.
  11. Multiple failed predictions that John McCain would resign from the US Senate. McCain remained in the Senate until his death in August 2018.
  12. Multiple failed predictions that Mark Zuckerberg would leave Facebook and flee the United States. Zuckerberg remains CEO of Facebook as of March 2021.
  13. Multiple failed predictions that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey would be forced to resign. Dorsey remains CEO of Twitter as of May 2021.
  14. Multiple failed predictions that Pope Francis would be arrested on felony charges.
  15. Multiple failed predictions that "something big" would happen or the truth would emerge "next week".
  16. Multiple failed predictions that Donald Trump would be re-inaugurated on January 20, 2021 despite losing the election. Joe Biden was inaugurated as planned on January 20.[109]
  17. Donald Trump would be inaugurated on March 4, 2021, as the 19th president. This claim stems from a conspiracy theory stating that the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1871 made the United States into a corporation (a theory developed by the sovereign citizen movement).[110] Therefore, Trump would have been inaugurated as the 19th president (after Ulysses S. Grant) and the country would cease to be a corporation and once again become the country started by the Founding Fathers.[111][112] March 4 is the inauguration date because the 20th Amendment changed the date to January 20, and no amendments to the U.S. Constitution since 1869 are recognized.[113] Joe Biden remains the incumbent and 46th president of the United States.
  18. Donald Trump would be inaugurated again on March 20, 2021. After the failed prediction that Trump would be inaugurated on March 4, 2021, QAnon "delayed" the inauguration date to March 20, 2021.[114] Joe Biden remains the President of the United States.

False claims

As well as the failed predictions, Q has posted numerous false, baseless, and unsubstantiated claims, such as:

  1. That the CIA installed North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as a puppet ruler.[115]
  2. A February 16, 2018, false claim that U.S. representative and former Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz hired Salvadoran gang MS-13 to murder DNC staffer Seth Rich.[70][116]
  3. A March 1, 2018, apparent suggestion that German chancellor Angela Merkel is Adolf Hitler's granddaughter.[117]
  4. A July 7, 2018, Daily Beast article noted that Q falsely claimed that "each mass shooting is a false-flag attack organized by the cabal."[11]
  5. That Obama, Hillary Clinton, George Soros, and others are planning a coup against Trump and are involved in an international child sex-trafficking ring.[118][119]
  6. That the Mueller investigation is actually a counter-coup led by Trump, who pretended to conspire with Russia in order to hire Mueller to secretly investigate the Democrats.[13]
  7. That the Rothschild family leads a satanic cult.[12] Similar political allegations and rumors have circulated since the 1970s. Typically the allegations revolved around investigators using existing Satanic cults to lure and blackmail left-wing activists, or in the case of the Franklin child prostitution ring allegations, Satanic sexual abuse perpetrated by elite Republicans. A significant difference between the older narratives and the QAnon of today is that now elite Democrats are considered the villains instead of Republicans.[120]

Evolution of Q's claims

Q's posts have become more cryptic and vague, allowing followers to map their own beliefs onto them.[121] Some posts include strings of characters that are allegedly coded messages.

On multiple occasions, Q has dismissed their false claims and incorrect predictions as deliberate, claiming that "disinformation is necessary".[122] This has led Australian psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky to emphasize the "self-sealing" quality of the conspiracy theory, highlighting its anonymous purveyor's use of plausible deniability and noting that evidence against it "can become evidence of [its] validity in the minds of believers".[106] Author Walter Kirn has described Q as an innovator among conspiracy theorists by enthralling readers with "clues" rather than presenting claims directly: "The audience for internet narratives doesn't want to read, it wants to write. It doesn't want answers provided, it wants to search for them."[123]

Link to Miracle Mineral Solution

QAnon theorists have touted drinking an industrial bleach (known as MMS, or Miracle Mineral Solution) as a "miracle cure" for COVID-19.[124][125][126]

Usage of #SaveTheChildren and Freedom for the Children

 
"#SAVEOURCHILDREN" graffiti on a bridge in Lufkin, Texas

As in Pizzagate, QAnon followers believe that children are being abducted in large numbers to supply a child trafficking ring. By 2020, some followers began using the Twitter hashtag #SaveTheChildren (#SaveOurChildren was also used),[127] coopting a trademarked name for the child welfare organization Save the Children, leading to an August 7 statement by Save the Children on the unauthorized use of its name in campaigns.[128] Data from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children indicates that the overwhelming majority of missing children are runaways; the second-largest cause is abduction by family members. Less than 1% are abductions by non-family members.[129][130] In September, Facebook and Instagram tried to prevent #SaveTheChildren being associated with QAnon by redirecting users who searched for the hashtag towards the child welfare group;[131] in October, Facebook announced that it would try to limit the hashtag's reach.[132] In the same timeframe, QAnon followers also created a conspiracy theory claiming that furniture company Wayfair had secret arrangements to sell and ship victims of child trafficking.[133][134]

Similarly, "Freedom for the Children" groups both in the US and in the UK helped organize street protests that they say are raising awareness of child sexual abuse and human trafficking.[135][136] These protests tend to attract a more diverse and younger crowd than typical QAnon groups, including many people who do not fully believe all aspects of the QAnon conspiracy theory,[137] and have often been able to avoid social media restrictions.[138]

Identity of Q

 
A common logo used by QAnon followers.[citation needed]
 
A QAnon flag based on the flag of the United States.[139]

Some researchers believe the pseudonymous identity known as Q has been controlled by multiple people in cooperation.[76] A stylometric analysis has suggested that two people likely wrote Q's posts during different periods.[28][29]

By design, anonymous imageboards such as 4chan and 8chan obscure their posters' identities.[76][140] Those who wish to prove a consistent identity between posts while remaining anonymous can use a tripcode, which associates a post with a unique digital signature for any poster who knows the password.[43][5] There have been thousands of posts associated with a Q tripcode, known as "Q drops".[43] The tripcode associated with Q has changed several times, creating uncertainty about the poster's continuous identity.[43] Passwords on 8chan are also easy to crack, and the Q tripcode has been repeatedly compromised and used by people pretending to be Q.[141] When 8chan returned as 8kun in November 2019 after several months of downtime, the Q posting on 8kun posted photos of a pen and notebook that had been pictured in earlier 8chan posts to show the continuation of the Q identity, and continued to use Q's 8chan tripcode.[43]

There has been much speculation about Q's motives and identity. A range of theories, held by both QAnon believers and critics, credit Q's posts to sources including a military intelligence officer, a Trump administration insider, an alternate reality game created by the puzzle organization Cicada 3301, or Trump himself.[26][75]

Since the Q tripcode was uniquely verified by 8chan's server and not reproducible on other imageboards, and Q did not have another means of communication, Q was not able to post when the website went down after the 2019 El Paso shooting.[142] This apparent conflict of interest, combined with statements by 8chan's founder Fredrick Brennan, the use of a "Q" collar pin by 8chan owner Jim Watkins, and Watkins's financial interest in a QAnon super PAC that advertises on 8chan, have led numerous journalists and conspiracy theory researchers to believe that Watkins[143] or his son, 8chan's former administrator Ron Watkins, work with Q, know Q's identity, or are Q.[43][47][80][144][145] Both Watkinses deny knowing Q's identity.[43][146] Documentary filmmaker Cullen Hoback spent three years with the Watkinses and Brennan, investigating the origins of QAnon and its connection to 8chan. In the last episode of Q: Into the Storm, the 2021 HBO docuseries he produced from this research, Hoback showed his final conversation with Ron Watkins, who stated on camera, "I've spent the past ... almost ten years, every day, doing this kind of research anonymously. Now I'm doing it publicly, that's the only difference. ... It was basically ... three years of intelligence training teaching normies how to do intelligence work. It was basically what I was doing anonymously but before, never as Q". Watkins then corrected himself, saying, "Never as Q. I promise. Because I am not Q, and I never was."[147][148][149] Hoback viewed this as an inadvertent admission from Watkins, and concluded from this interview and his other research that Ron Watkins is Q.[149] Ron Watkins again denied being Q shortly before the series premiered.[150]

Analysis

 
Outside the US. Capitol during the January 6, 2021 riot, a Trump supporter carries a placard depicting Jesus in a MAGA hat with the QAnon hashtag "#WWG1WGA" visible in the lower right.

QAnon may best be understood as an example of what historian Richard Hofstadter called "The Paranoid Style in American Politics", the title of his 1964 essay on religious millenarianism and apocalypticism.[9] QAnon's vocabulary echoes Christian tropes, such as the "Storm" (the Genesis flood narrative or Judgement Day) and the "Great Awakening" (evoking the reputed historical religious Great Awakenings of the early 18th century to the late 20th century). According to one QAnon video, the battle between Trump and "the cabal" is of "biblical proportions", a "fight for earth, of good versus evil". Some QAnon supporters say the forthcoming reckoning will be a "reverse rapture": not only the end of the world as we know it, but a new beginning, with salvation and utopia on earth for the survivors.[105]

Some Christian pastors have introduced their congregations to QAnon ideas, with at least one ministry combining QAnon and Christianity in its services.[151]

In less than a year of existence, QAnon became significantly recognized by the general population. According to an August 2018 Qualtrics poll for The Washington Post, 58% of Floridians were familiar enough with QAnon to have an opinion about it. Of those who had an opinion, most were unfavorable. The average score on the feeling thermometer was just above 20, a very negative rating, and about half of what other political figures enjoy.[101][152] Positive feelings toward QAnon were found to be strongly correlated with being susceptible to conspiracy thinking.[152]

According to a March 2020 Pew survey, 76% of Americans said they had never heard of QAnon, 20% had heard "a little about it", and 3% said they had heard "a lot".[153][154] A September 2020 Pew survey of the 47% of respondents who said they had heard of QAnon found that 41% of Republicans and those who lean Republican believed QAnon is good for the country, while 7% of Democrats and those who lean Democratic believed that.[155]

An October 2020 Yahoo-YouGov poll found that even if they had not heard of QAnon, a majority of Republicans and Trump supporters believed top Democrats were engaged in sex-trafficking rings and more than half of Trump supporters believed he was working to dismantle the rings.[156]

Role of antisemitism

The Washington Post and The Forward magazine have called QAnon's targeting of notorious Jewish figures like George Soros and the Rothschilds "striking anti-Semitic elements" and "garden-variety nonsense with racist and anti-Semitic undertones".[13][157] A Jewish Telegraphic Agency article in August 2018 asserted: "Some of QAnon's archetypical elements – including secret elites and kidnapped children, among others – are reflective of historical and ongoing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories."[158]

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported that while "the vast majority of QAnon-inspired conspiracy theories have nothing to do with anti-Semitism", "an impressionistic review" of QAnon tweets about Israel, Jews, Zionists, the Rothschilds, and Soros "revealed some troubling examples" of antisemitism.[159]

An antisemitic canard published in 1903 called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion has intersected with QAnon conspiracy theories, with Republican QAnon fan Mary Ann Mendoza retweeting a Twitter thread about the Rothschild family, Satanic High Priestesses, and American presidents saying, "The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion is not a fabrication. And, it certainly is not anti-Semitic to point out this fact."[160][161] Mendoza sits on the advisory board of Women for Trump and was scheduled to speak at the 2020 Republican convention until news of her Twitter activity came out;[162] she later denied knowing the content of the thread, although anti-Semitic references appeared in the first few tweets.[163] Similarly, Trump has denied knowledge of QAnon except that QAnon fans like him and "love our country".[164]

By 2020, QAnon followers were advancing the notion that Hollywood elites were engaging in "adrenochrome harvesting", in which adrenalin is extracted from children's blood to produce the psychoactive drug adrenochrome. Adrenochrome harvesting is rooted in antisemitic myths of blood libel.[165][166][167] QAnon believers have also promoted a centuries-old antisemitic trope about an international banking conspiracy orchestrated by the Rothschild family.[168]

Genocide scholar Gregory Stanton described QAnon as a "Nazi group rebranded", and its theories as a rebranded version of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.[8][169]

Appeal

Experts have classified QAnon's appeal as comparable to those of religious cults. According to an expert in online conspiracy, Renee DiResta, QAnon's pattern of enticement is similar to that of cults in the pre-Internet era where, as the targeted person was led deeper and deeper into the group's secrets, they become increasingly isolated from friends and family outside the cult.[170] Online support groups developed for those whose loved ones were drawn into QAnon, notably the subreddit r/QAnonCasualties, which grew from 3,500 participants in June 2020 to 28,000 by October.[171] In the Internet age, QAnon virtual communities have little "real world" connection with each other, but online they can number in the tens of thousands.[170] Rachel Bernstein, an expert on cults who specializes in recovery therapy, said, "What a movement such as QAnon has going for it, and why it will catch on like wildfire, is that it makes people feel connected to something important that other people don't yet know about. ... All cults will provide this feeling of being special." There is no self-correction process within the group, since the self-reinforcing true believers are immune to correction, fact-checking, or counter-speech, which is drowned out by the cult's groupthink.[170] QAnon's cultish quality has led to its characterization as a possible emerging religious movement.[43][102][103] Part of its appeal is its gamelike quality, in which followers attempt to solve riddles presented in Qdrops by connecting them to Trump speeches and tweets and other sources.[31] Some followers use a "Q clock" consisting of a wheel of concentric dials to decode clues based on the timing of Qdrops and Trump's tweets.[43]

 
Jake Angeli, a prominent proponent of QAnon, carrying a "Q Sent Me" placard

Travis View, a researcher who studies QAnon, says that it is as addictive as a video game, and offers the "player" the appealing possibility of being involved in something of world-historical importance. According to View, "You can sit at your computer and search for information and then post about what you find, and Q basically promises that through this process, you are going to radically change the country, institute this incredible, almost bloodless revolution, and then be part of this historical movement that will be written about for generations." View compares this to mundane political involvement in which one's efforts might help to get a state legislator elected. QAnon, says View, competes not in the marketplace of ideas, but in the marketplace of realities.[172]

Conspiracy theories have tended to make headway in times of societal uncertainty, and help people to feel more in control in the face of disturbing information.[173] Survey data showed in late 2020 that a quarter of those who knew about QAnon think there's some truth to it.[173] In a conspiracy theory environment, primary institutions of society that once served as trusted impartial authorities are easily rejected if they contradict the conspiracy's beliefs, making it very difficult to counter a believer's thinking.[173]

Disillusionment

Some QAnon believers realize that they have been isolated from loved ones, and suffer loneliness. This leads some to abandon the beliefs, but for others reinforces the benefits of belonging to the cult. View says:

People in the QAnon community often talk about alienation from family and friends. ... Though they typically talk about how Q frayed their relationships on private Facebook groups. But they think these issues are temporary and primarily the fault of others. They often comfort themselves by imagining that there will be a moment of vindication sometime in the near future which will prove their beliefs right. They imagine that after this happens, not only will their relationships be restored, but people will turn to them as leaders who understand what's going on better than the rest of us.[174]

Some followers break away when they recognize the theories are inconsistent, or see that some elements are aimed at driving donations from sources such as evangelical or conservative Christians. Some watch Q-debunking videos; one former believer said that the videos "saved" her.[174]

Disillusionment can also come from the failure of the theories' predictions. Q predicted Republican success in the 2018 US midterm elections and claimed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was involved in secret work for Trump, with apparent tensions between them a cover. When Democrats made significant gains and Trump fired Sessions, there was disillusionment among many in the Q community.[175][176] Further disillusionment came when a predicted December 5 mass arrest and imprisonment in Guantanamo Bay detention camp of Trump's enemies did not occur, nor did the dismissal of charges against Trump's former national security advisor Michael Flynn. For some, these failures began the process of separation from the QAnon cult, while others urged direct action in the form of an insurrection against the government. Such a response to a failed prophecy is not unusual: apocalyptic cults such as Heaven's Gate, the People's Temple, the Manson Family, and Aum Shinrikyo resorted to mass suicide or mass murder when their expectations for revelations or the fulfillment of their prophecies did not materialize. Psychologist Robert Lifton calls it "forcing the end". This phenomenon is being seen among some QAnon believers.[174] View echoes the concern that disillusioned QAnon believers might take matters into their own hands[105] as Pizzagate believer Edgar Maddison Welch did in 2016, Matthew Phillip Wright did at Hoover Dam in 2018, and Anthony Comello did in 2019, when he murdered Mafia boss Frank Cali, believing himself to be under Trump's protection.

QAnon follower Liz Crokin, who in 2018 asserted that John F. Kennedy Jr. faked his death and is now Q,[177] said in February 2019 that she was losing patience in Trump to arrest the supposed members of the child sex ring, suggesting that the time was approaching for "vigilante justice".[178] Other followers have adopted the Kennedy conspiracy theory, asserting that a Pittsburgh man named Vincent Fusca is Kennedy in disguise and would be Trump's 2020 running mate. Some attended 2019 Independence Day celebrations in Washington expecting Kennedy to appear.[179][180]

Terrorism threat

FBI domestic terrorism assessment

A May 30, 2019, FBI "Intelligence Bulletin" memo from the Phoenix Field Office identified QAnon-driven extremists as a domestic terrorism threat. The document cited a number of arrests related to QAnon, some of which had not been publicized before.[181] According to the memo, "This is the first FBI product examining the threat from conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists and provides a baseline for future intelligence products. ... The FBI assesses these conspiracy theories very likely will emerge, spread, and evolve in the modern information marketplace, occasionally driving both groups and individual extremists to carry out criminal or violent acts."[181][182]

According to FBI's counterterrorism director Michael G. McGarrity's testimony before Congress in May, the FBI divides domestic terrorism threats into four primary categories, "racially motivated violent extremism, anti-government/anti-authority extremism, animal rights/environmental extremism, and abortion extremism", which includes both pro-choice and anti-abortion extremists. The fringe conspiracy theory threat is closely related to the anti-government/anti-authority subject area.[181][182]

An under-reported QAnon-related incident was mentioned in the memo: the December 19, 2018, arrest of a California man whose car contained bomb-making materials he intended to use to "blow up a satanic temple monument" in the Springfield, Illinois, Capitol rotunda to "make Americans aware of Pizzagate and the New World Order, who were dismantling society". According to the same source, the FBI said another factor driving the intensity of this threat is "the uncovering of real conspiracies or cover-ups involving illegal, harmful, or unconstitutional activities by government officials or leading political figures".[181]

QAnon followers' reactions included the suggestion the memo was fake, calling for the firing of FBI director Christopher A. Wray for working against Trump, and the idea that the memo was actually a "wink-and-a-nod" way of attracting attention to QAnon and tricking the media into asking Trump about it.[183] At a Trump reelection rally several hours after the memo's existence became known, WalkAway campaign founder Brandon Straka, a gay man who claims to have been a liberal Democrat but is now a Trump supporter, addressed the crowd using one of QAnon's primary rallying cries, "Where we go one, we go all." A videographer found numerous QAnon supporters in the crowd, identified by their QAnon shirts showing large "Q"'s or "WWG1WGA".[39]

Academic assessment

A 2021 study by psychologists suggested that, while QAnon's bizarre and radical opinions are widespread, "only 56 QAnon followers have actually committed any ideologically-motivated crime in the U.S." The authors believe that the threat of radical action by QAnon followers is minuscule and suggest that government response to the threat should not exaggerate it, as it risks eliciting a "predictable Right Wing reaction to a government trying to police public opinion".[184]

Role in U.S. elections and government

2019 congressional candidates

Two people who declared themselves as Republican congressional candidates in 2019 expressed interest in QAnon theories. Matthew Lusk, a Florida candidate, told The Daily Beast he was not a "brainwashed cult member", saying QAnon theories are a "legitimate something" and constitute a "very articulate screening of past events, a very articulate screening of present conditions, and a somewhat prophetic divination of where the political and geopolitical ball will be bouncing next".[185] Danielle Stella, running as a Republican to unseat Ilhan Omar in Minnesota, wore a "Q" necklace in a photo she tweeted[186] and twice used the hashtag #WWG1WGA, a reference to the QAnon motto "where we go one, we go all". Her Twitter account "liked" responses from QAnon believers who acknowledged the necklace, and the account follows some prominent QAnon believers. A former campaign aide asserted that Stella was merely posing as a QAnon believer to attract voter support.[187][188]

Incidents related to Trump's 2020 campaign

 
Man wearing "We Are Q" shirt at Trump rally in New Hampshire

QAnon supporters claim that they were asked to cover up their "Q" identifiers and other QAnon-related symbols at a Trump campaign rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, on August 15, 2019. Although one person who was asked to turn his "Q" shirt inside out when he entered the rally identified the person who asked him to do so as a Secret Service agent, the agency denied this, saying in an email to The Washington Post, "The U.S. Secret Service did not request, or require, attendees to change their clothing at an event in New Hampshire." QAnon supporters also claim that their visibility at Trump rallies has been suppressed for months.[189]

In August 2019, a video posted online by "Women for Trump" late in July was reported to include "Q"s on two campaign signs. The first sign, which said "Make America Great Again", had a "Q" taped to it in the corner. The other side, "Women for Trump" had the "O"s in "Women" and "for" pasted over with "Q"s. The images which included the altered signs were clearly taken at a Trump campaign rally, which have increasingly attracted adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory, so it is unknown if those particular signs were selected for inclusion deliberately or not.[190] The video has since been taken down.[191]

In July 2020, Business Insider reported that according to Media Matters for America, a left-leaning media monitoring group, Trump's reelection campaign relied on a network of QAnon-related accounts to spread disinformation and propaganda on social media, especially Twitter. An analysis of 380,000 tweets sent between early April and the end of May 2020, and another of the most popular words used by 1,000 accounts, showed that the QAnon network "is playing a key role in generating and spreading Trump's propaganda".[192]

The Washington Post reported at the beginning of August 2020 that adverts for Trump's campaign had shown images of supporters with prominent QAnon merchandise. Thousands of comments on YouTube saw these details as signs of victory.[104]

The New York Times wrote that QAnon adherents had been shaken by Trump's defeat in the 2020 presidential elections, following years of reassurance that Trump would win by a landslide. Some followers repeated baseless claims that there had been widespread voter fraud and that Trump had actually been reelected, while others began to accept Biden's victory.[143] On the day of Biden's inauguration, participants on 8kun differed in their views on the future of their cause. Ron Watkins, a former 8kun administrator and major figure in spreading QAnon,[193] suggested it was time to "go back to our lives as best we are able" and "as we enter into the next administration please remember all the friends and happy memories we made together over the past few years." A board moderator deleted the Q message history and was threatened with death after the content was restored by others. Some suggested that Biden was "part of the plan".[59] Many became disillusioned; the alt-right, white nationalists and neo-Nazis thereafter aimed to recruit such people.[108][194][195]

Other 2020 electoral candidates and members of Congress

Marjorie Taylor Greene, a businesswoman, won an August 2020 runoff to become the GOP nominee in the heavily Republican 14th Congressional District in Georgia. Months into the Trump presidency, she had stated in a video: "There's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take this global cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles out, and I think we have the president to do it."[196] She has made racist and antisemitic statements, which led Republican leaders such as Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise to condemn her remarks.[197][198] Trump endorsed her candidacy the day after her nomination, characterizing her as a "future Republican Star" and "a real WINNER!"[199][200]

After Greene won a primary runoff election in Georgia in August, Illinois Republican Representative Adam Kinzinger denounced QAnon, calling it a "fabrication".[201] Trump campaign staffer Matt Wolking responded aggressively to Kinzinger, saying, "he should condemn the Steele Dossier and conspiracy theories promoted by Democrats."[202] Kinzinger went on to create a political action committee, "Country First," launched just weeks after the January 2021 storming of the Capitol, dedicated to fighting the influence of conspiracy theories within the GOP.[203]

Jo Rae Perkins, the 2020 Republican Senate candidate in Oregon, tweeted a video on the night of her May primary victory showing her holding a WWG1WGA sticker and stating, "I stand with President Trump. I stand with Q and the team. Thank you Anons, and thank you patriots. And together, we can save our republic." She expressed regret at having later deleted the video on the advice of a political consultant.[204][205][206] The next month she tweeted a video of her taking the "digital soldiers oath" that Q had requested followers to do three days earlier.[207][48]

On June 30, 2020, incumbent Republican U.S. representative Scott Tipton lost a primary for Colorado's 3rd congressional district to Lauren Boebert in an upset. Boebert expressed tentative support for QAnon in an interview, but after winning the primary, attempted to distance herself from those statements, saying "I'm not a follower."[208][209] In July 2020, Business Insider reported, "At least 10 GOP Congressional candidates have signaled their support for the QAnon movement."[192] Boebert was elected to Congress the following November.[210]

In September 2020, political newcomer Lauren Witzke defeated a party-endorsed candidate to become the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Delaware. Witzke has promoted QAnon on Twitter and been photographed wearing a Q t-shirt, although during the campaign she distanced herself from the movement. She has also called herself a "flat-earther" and in September called her Democratic opponent Chris Coons a "Christian-hating baby-killer", adding "I'm coming for your seat, Satanist."[211][212] In the November general election, Coons defeated Witzke, 59–38%.[213]

Angela Stanton-King, a Trump-backed candidate running for the Georgia House seat of the late congressman John Lewis, posted on Twitter that Black Lives Matter is "a major cover up for PEDOPHILIA and HUMAN TRAFFICKING" and "THE STORM IS HERE". Stanton-King told a reporter that her posts did not relate to QAnon, asserting, "It was raining that day." Weather records did not show precipitation in her area on the day of the post.[214]

Texas Republican Party slogan

In August 2020, The New York Times suggested that the Texas Republican Party had chosen a new slogan taken directly from QAnon. Texas Republican Party officials denied this and claimed that the slogan ("We Are the Storm") was inspired by a biblical passage and has no connection to QAnon.[215][216]

Congressional resolution

On August 25, 2020, two members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrat Tom Malinowski and Republican Denver Riggleman, introduced a bipartisan simple resolution (H. Res. 1154) condemning QAnon and rejecting its conspiracy theories.[217][218] Malinowski said the resolution's aim was to formally repudiate "this dangerous, anti-Semitic, conspiracy-mongering cult that the FBI says is radicalizing Americans to violence".[217] The resolution also urged the FBI and other law enforcement and homeland security agencies "to continue to strengthen their focus on preventing violence, threats, harassment, and other criminal activity by extremists motivated by fringe political conspiracy theories" and encouraged the U.S. Intelligence Community "to uncover any foreign support, assistance, or online amplification QAnon receives, as well as any QAnon affiliations, coordination, and contacts with foreign extremist organizations or groups espousing violence".[218]

In September 2020, Malinowski received death threats from QAnon followers after he was falsely accused of wanting to protect sexual predators. The threats were prompted by a National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) campaign advertisement that falsely claimed that Malinowski worked against plans to increase registration for sex offenders in a 2006 crime bill while he was working as a lobbyist for Human Rights Watch.[219][220][221]

The resolution passed on October 2, 2020, in a 371–18 vote.[218][219] Seventeen Republicans (including Steve King, Paul A. Gosar, and Daniel Webster) and one independent (Justin Amash) voted no; Republican Andy Harris voted "present".[218][219][222] The resolution does not have the force of law.[222] Before the vote, Malinowski told Slate magazine, referencing the NRCC ad: "I don't want to see any Republicans voting against fire on the House floor this week and then continuing to play with fire next week by running these kinds of ads against Democratic candidates."[223]

Comments by Trump and connected individuals

Donald Trump

According to analysis by Media Matters, as of August 20, 2020, Trump had amplified QAnon messaging at least 216 times by retweeting or mentioning 129 QAnon-affiliated Twitter accounts, sometimes multiple times a day.[41][42] On November 26, 2017, Trump retweeted a post by Twitter account @MAGAPILL, a self-styled "official President Donald Trump accomplishment list" and major QAnon proponent, less than a month after QAnon first started posting.[101] On September 9, 2019, Trump retweeted a video from the QAnon-promoting Twitter account "The Dirty Truth". The video featured future director of national intelligence John Ratcliffe criticizing former FBI director James Comey.[224] On August 24, 2018, Trump hosted William "Lionel" Lebron, a leading QAnon promoter, in the Oval Office for a photo op.[225][226][227] Shortly after Christmas 2019, Trump retweeted over a dozen QAnon followers.[228]

On August 19, 2020, Trump was asked about QAnon during a press conference; he replied: "I don't know much about the movement, other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate. But I don't know much about the movement."[229] An FBI Field Office in Phoenix has called QAnon a potential domestic terror threat, but Trump called QAnon adherents "people who love our country".[230][229] When a reporter asked Trump if he could support a notion that suggests he "is secretly saving the world from this satanic cult of pedophiles and cannibals", he responded: "Well, I haven't heard that, but is that supposed to be a bad thing or a good thing?" Presidential candidate Joe Biden responded that Trump was aiming to "legitimize a conspiracy theory that the FBI has identified as a domestic terrorism threat".[231][2]

On October 15, 2020, when given the opportunity to denounce QAnon at a "town hall"-style campaign event, Trump refused to do so and instead pointed out that QAnon opposes pedophilia.[232] He said he knew nothing else about QAnon and told his questioner, Savannah Guthrie of NBC News, that no one can know whether the premise of QAnon's conspiracy theory is true. "They believe it is a satanic cult run by the deep state," Guthrie informed him. When Guthrie asserted that the conspiracy was not true, Trump responded, "No, I don't know that. And neither do you know that."[233]

Mike Pence

U.S. vice president Mike Pence with members of the SWAT team of Broward County, Florida, on November 30, 2018; the man on the left of the image is displaying a red and black "Q" patch used by believers of the QAnon conspiracy theory. The photo was tweeted, removed, and then replaced in Pence's feed.
Detail from the photo showing the QAnon patch. The black-and-white patch to the left has been reported to be that of the SWAT team. Regulations forbid wearing either patch, and the deputy was reprimanded and removed from the SWAT team as a result.[234]

On August 21, 2020, Vice President Mike Pence said that he "doesn't know anything about" QAnon except that it is a conspiracy theory that he dismisses "out of hand".[235] When asked whether he would acknowledge the administration's role in "giving oxygen" to the belief, Pence shook his head and said, "Give me a break."[235] In August 2020, Pence said that the problem with the press asking about QAnon and about anyone's apparent efforts to encourage it is that the press is asking the wrong questions ("chasing shiny objects").[236]

Michael Flynn

In August 2019, a "Digital Soldiers Conference" was announced for the following month in Atlanta. The stated purpose was to prepare "patriotic social media warriors" for a coming "digital civil war". The announcement for the event prominently displayed a Q spelled in stars on the blue field of an American flag. Scheduled speakers for the event included former Trump aides Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos, as well as Gina Loudon, a Trump friend and member of his campaign media advisory board, singer Joy Villa, and Bill Mitchell, a radio host and ardent Trump supporter.[139][237] The host of the event, Rich Granville, is CEO of Yippy, Inc., a firm that markets the Yippy search engine, which it claims is free of censorship of conservative views, characterizing it as an "intelligence enterprise" with high-level White House connections. He told a reporter, "you don't know who you're fucking with" and denied the Q flag was a reference to QAnon, though he had had numerous references to QAnon on his Twitter account.[238]

On July 4, 2020, Michael Flynn (the former lieutenant general, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and National Security Advisor to Trump) posted to his Twitter account a video of himself leading a small group in an oath with the QAnon motto, "Where we go one, we go all."[239] Analysts say the oath is part of QAnon's attempt to organize "digital soldiers" for the political and social apocalypse they see coming. Flynn's apparent declaration of allegiance to QAnon makes him the most prominent former government official to endorse the conspiracy theory, although Trump has retweeted or mentioned at least 152 QAnon-affiliated Twitter accounts at least 265 times, according to analysis conducted by Media Matters.[240][41]

Flynn's attorney Sidney Powell denied the oath related to QAnon, saying it was merely a statement engraved on a bell on John F. Kennedy's sailboat. But during preceding days numerous QAnon followers had taken the same so-called "digital soldier oath" on Twitter, using the same #TakeTheOath hashtag Flynn did.[241][242]

In March 2021, Flynn's brother, retired Lieutenant General Jack Flynn, and his wife filed a $75 million defamation suit against CNN, alleging the network had falsely accused them of being QAnon followers. They asserted that the video Flynn had posted in July 2020, and which CNN had broadcast, depicted their pledging an oath to the Constitution, rather than to QAnon. The suit claimed Flynn alone had recited the QAnon motto, "where we go one, we go all", though the video showed all the other participants had done so. The plaintiffs also said they "are not followers or supporters of any extremist or terrorist groups, including QAnon".[243][244][240]

Other Trump associates

On three occasions during 2019 and 2020, Trump's deputy chief of staff and social media director Dan Scavino tweeted ticking-clock memes QAnon believers use to signify the countdown until the "Storm".[215] Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has also occasionally retweeted posts with the #QAnon hashtag and of the limited number of accounts he follows (224 as of October 2019) many are QAnon advocates.[42][245] Eric Trump, in a summer 2020 tweet (later deleted), promoted his father's rally in Tulsa with an image of a large "Q" and the text "Where we go one, we go all."[104]

Reactions

On December 28, 2017, the Russian television network RT aired a segment discussing "QAnon revelations", calling the anonymous poster a "secret intelligence operative inside the Trump administration known by QAnon".[72] Although Russia was not involved in QAnon's origins, Russian-backed social media accounts propagated early QAnon claims as early as November or December 2017.[17] Russian government-funded Russian state media such as RT and Sputnik have been amplifying the conspiracy theory since 2019, citing QAnon as evidence that the United States is riven by internal strife and division.[14][21] In 2021, a report from the Soufan Center, a research group focused on national security, found that one-fifth of 166,820 QAnon posts in the US between January 2020 and February 2021 originated in foreign countries, primarily Russia and China.[246][247]

On March 13, 2018, Cheryl Sullenger, the vice president of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, called QAnon a "small group of insiders close to President Donald J. Trump" and called their posts the "highest level of intelligence to ever be dropped publicly in our known history".[248][249] On March 15, Kyiv-based Rabochaya Gazeta, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Ukraine, published an article calling QAnon a "military intelligence group".[250] On March 31, U.S. actress Roseanne Barr appeared to promote QAnon, which was subsequently covered by CNN, The Washington Post, and The New York Times.[251][252][253][254]

On June 28, 2018, a Time magazine article listed Q among the 25 Most Influential People on the Internet in 2018. Counting more than 130,000 related discussion videos on YouTube, Time cited the wide range of the conspiracy theory and its more prominent followers and news coverage.[255] On July 4, the Hillsborough County Republican Party shared on its official Facebook and Twitter accounts a YouTube video on QAnon, calling them a "mysterious anonymous inside leaker of deep state activities and counter activities by President Trump". The posts were soon deleted.[101][256]

On August 1, 2018, following the previous day's large presence of QAnon supporters at President Trump's Tampa, Florida rally for the mid-term elections,[13][257] MSNBC news anchors Hallie Jackson, Brian Williams, and Chris Hayes dedicated a portion of their respective television programs to the conspiracy theory.[258][259][260] PBS NewsHour also ran a segment on QAnon the next day.[261] On August 2, Washington Post editorial writer Molly Roberts wrote, "'The storm' QAnon truthers predict will never strike because the conspiracy that obsesses them doesn't exist. But while they wait for it, they'll try to whip up the winds, and the rest of us will struggle to find shelter."[262] On August 4, former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked to comment on QAnon in his "ask me anything" session on the /r/The Donald subreddit. In response to the question "Is Q legit?" Spicer answered "No."[263]

Reaction of online platforms

Publishing of personal information

On March 14, 2018, Reddit banned one of its communities discussing QAnon, /r/CBTS_Stream, for "encouraging or inciting violence and posting personal and confidential information".[264] After that, some followers moved to Discord.[265] Several other communities were formed for discussion of QAnon, leading to further bans on September 12, 2018, in response to these communities "inciting violence, harassment, and the dissemination of personal information", which led to thousands of adherents regrouping on Voat,[266] a Switzerland-based Reddit clone that has been described as a hub for the alt-right.[267][268]

QDrops app

QDrops, an app that promoted the conspiracy theory, was published on the Apple App Store and Google Play.[269] It became the most popular paid app in Apple's online store's the "entertainment" section in April 2018, and the tenth-most popular paid app overall. It was published by Tiger Team Inc., a North Carolina couple, Richard and Adalita Brown.[270][271][272] On July 15, 2018, Apple pulled the app after an inquiry from NBC News.[273]

In mid-May 2020, Google removed three other apps – QMAP, Q Alerts! and Q Alerts LITE – from the Android app store for violating terms.[274][275]

Removal of related content

In early 2019, Twitter removed accounts suspected of being connected to the Russian Internet Research Agency that had disseminated a high volume of tweets related to #QAnon that also used the #WWG1WGA slogan.[14][16]

On May 5, 2020, Facebook announced its removal of five pages, twenty accounts, and six groups linked to "individuals associated with the QAnon network" as part of an investigation into "suspected coordinated inauthentic behavior" ahead of the 2020 United States election.[276][277] On August 19, Facebook expanded its Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy to address "growing movements that, while not directly organizing violence, have celebrated violent acts, shown that they have weapons and suggest they will use them, or have individual followers with patterns of violent behavior". As a result of this increased vigilance, Facebook reported having already "removed over 790 groups, 100 Pages and 1,500 ads tied to QAnon from Facebook, blocked over 300 hashtags across Facebook and Instagram, and additionally imposed restrictions on over 1,950 Groups and 440 Pages on Facebook and over 10,000 accounts on Instagram".[14][278][279][280] In the first month after its August announcement, Facebook said it deleted 1,500 QAnon groups; such groups by then had four million followers. On October 6, 2020, Facebook said it would immediately begin removing "any Facebook Pages, Groups and Instagram accounts representing QAnon, even if they contain no violent content". The company said it would immediately ban any group representing QAnon.[281][282][283]

On July 21, 2020, Twitter announced it was banning more than seven thousand accounts in connection with QAnon for coordinated amplification of fake news and conspiracy theories. In a press release, Twitter said, "We've been clear that we will take strong enforcement action on behavior that has the potential to lead to offline harm. In line with this approach, this week we are taking further action on so-called 'QAnon' activity across the service." It also said that the actions may apply to over 150,000 accounts.[284][285]

Facebook banned all QAnon groups and pages on October 6, 2020. That day, QAnon followers speculated that the action was part of a complex Trump administration strategy to begin arresting its enemies, or that Facebook was attempting to silence news of this occurring; neither is true. Some followers speculated that a Justice Department "national security" news conference scheduled for the next day would relate to charges against Democrats, including Hillary Clinton. The Justice Department actually announced the investigation and arrest of Islamic State members.[286]

On October 7, 2020, it was announced that Etsy would remove all QAnon-related merchandise from its online marketplace.[287]

In an October 12, 2020 interview with CNN, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said much QAnon material was "borderline content" that did not explicitly break its rules, but that changes in the site's methodology for recommendations had reduced views of QAnon-related content by 80%.[288] Three days later, YouTube announced that it had modified its hate and harassment policies to bar "content that targets an individual or group with conspiracy theories that have been used to justify real-world violence", such as QAnon and Pizzagate.[289][290] It would still allow content discussing QAnon if it did not target individuals.[291]

The hashtags associated with QAnon have since been banned by numerous social networks including Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram.

Efforts to defuse QAnon

Suggestions for making progress responding to QAnon and reducing its impact on society have included actions for individuals on social media and the social media platform companies;[292] some social media forums, such as the subreddits r/QAnonCasualties and r/ReQovery, aim to assist either former believers and supporters of QAnon conspiracies or those whose family members engaged in the conspiracy.[173] An online game has been developed that helps players understand how misinformation spreads, in part due to research showing that people who understand those mechanisms are less likely to be hooked themselves, although Go Viral! was developed specifically for COVID-19 misinformation.[173][293]

Accusations of being a psyop

In January 2021, after the storming of the Capitol, many prominent conservatives, such as Steve Bannon and Bill Still, began to denounce QAnon, accusing it of being a "psyop" created by U.S. Intelligence or the FBI.[294][295]

Incidents

Tucson cement plant incident

In May 2018, Michael Lewis Arthur Meyer livestreamed a Facebook video from the site of a Tucson cement plant, asserting, "This is a child sex trafficking camp that no one wants to talk about, that no one wants to do nothing about." The video was viewed 650,000 times over the ensuing week. Tucson police inspected the plant without finding evidence of criminal activity. Meyer then occupied a tower on the property for nine days, until reaching agreement with police to leave. He later returned to the tower in July, whereupon he was arrested for trespassing. Meyer referenced QAnon and the #WWG1WGA hashtag on his Facebook page.[296][297][298]

Hoover Dam incident

 
Matthew Wright's armored vehicle used to block a bridge over the Hoover Dam on the Nevada-Arizona border

On June 15, 2018, Matthew Phillip Wright of Henderson, Nevada, was arrested on terrorism and other charges for driving an armored truck,[299] containing an AR-15 and handgun, to the Hoover Dam and blocking traffic for 90 minutes.[300] He said he was on a mission involving QAnon: to demand that the Justice Department "release the OIG report" on the conduct of FBI agents during the investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server.[27][35][301] Since a copy of the Office of the Inspector General report had been released the day before, the man had been motivated by a Q "drop" which claimed the released version of the report had been heavily modified and that Trump possessed a more damning version but had declined to release it. In video recorded inside his armored truck, Wright expressed disappointment that Trump had not honored a "duty" to "lock certain people up", asking him to "uphold your oath".[35][302]

Wright was found guilty and, on December 17, 2020, sentenced to seven years on a terrorism charge and nine months consecutively for unlawful flight.[303]

Targeting of Michael Avenatti

On July 29, 2018, Q posted a link to Stormy Daniels's attorney Michael Avenatti's website and photos of his Newport Beach, California, office building, along with the message, "Buckle up!" The anonymous poster then shared the picture of a still unidentified man, appearing to be holding a cellphone in one hand and a long, thin object in the other, standing in the street near Avenatti's office, adding that a message "had been sent". This sparked an investigation by the Newport Beach Police Department. On July 30, Avenatti asked his Twitter followers to contact the Newport Beach Police Department if they "have any details or observed" the man in the picture.[304][305][306]

Harassment of Jim Acosta

At a Trump rally in Tampa, Florida, on July 31, 2018, Trump supporters exhibited hostile behavior toward CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta. Exponents of QAnon-related theories were at the rally.[307]

The next day, David Martosko of the Daily Mail asked White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders whether the White House encouraged the support of "QAnon fringe groups". Sanders denounced "any group that would incite violence against another individual", without specifically responding to the QAnon mention.[308] Sanders added that Trump "certainly doesn't support groups that would support that type of behavior".[309][310]

Grass Valley Charter School fundraiser

The Blue Marble Jubilee fundraising event at Grass Valley Charter School in Grass Valley, California scheduled for May 11, 2019, was canceled as a precaution after a tweet by former FBI head James Comey on April 27 using the hashtag #FiveJobsIveHad, in which the first letters of the jobs were GVCSF, was interpreted by QAnon followers as a veiled reference to the Grass Valley Charter School Foundation, suggesting that Comey planned to stage a "false flag" terror attack at the event; the hashtag was also interpreted by QAnon adherents as an anagram of "five jihads", and the time stamp on the post was related to the 9/11 attacks. The police and the FBI received warnings, in addition to the school, which decided not to take the risk of Internet vigilantes attending "to guard the place", as a police sergeant put it.[311][312]

Murder of Frank Cali

Anthony Comello of Staten Island, New York, was charged with the March 2019 murder of Gambino crime family underboss Frank Cali. According to his defense attorney, Comello had become obsessed with QAnon theories, believing Cali was a member of a "deep state" and was convinced he "was enjoying the protection of President Trump himself" to place Cali under citizen's arrest. Confronting Cali outside his Staten Island home, Comello allegedly shot Cali ten times. At his first court appearance, Comello displayed QAnon symbols and phrases and "MAGA forever" scrawled on his hand in pen.[313][314] Comello had also posted material on Instagram praising Fox News personalities such as Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Jeanine Pirro.[315]

Kidnapping incidents

In December 2019, Cynthia Abcug was arrested and charged in Colorado with conspiracy to commit second-degree kidnapping of one of her children who had been removed from her custody. Her other daughter reported to police that Abcug had been collaborating with an armed male who was "definitely part of this group QAnon", that her mother had gone to QAnon meetings and believed that the child had been taken by "evil Satan worshippers" and "pedophiles".[316] Abcug pleaded not guilty to the charge in September 2020 and is to be tried in February 2021.[317]

On March 20, 2020, Neely Blanchard was arrested and charged with kidnapping and custodial interference after taking her two daughters who had been in the sole legal custody of their grandmother. Blanchard had made multiple social media posts promoting QAnon including memes and pictures of her wearing QAnon shirts at Trump rallies. She also has taken actions connected with the sovereign citizen movement.[318]

Tintagel flag

 
QAnon flag flown at the Camelot Castle hotel near to Tintagel Castle

In January 2020, John Mappin (also affiliated with Turning Point UK) began to fly a Q flag at the Camelot Castle hotel near to Tintagel Castle in England.[319] Advocacy group Hope not Hate said, "Mappin is an eccentric figure, considered outlandish even by his fringe rightwing peers. This childish ploy is a weak attempt at getting attention for himself and his marginal Turning Point UK organisation, and is better off being ignored."[320]

Jessica Prim arrest

In April 2020, Jessica Prim was arrested carrying several knives after live-streaming her attempt to "take out" presidential nominee Joe Biden. Prim was arrested in New York City on a pier where she appeared to have been trying to get to the U.S. Navy Hospital Ship Comfort. QAnon claimed the ship was used by a cabal of pedophiles. During her arrest, Prim was reportedly shown crying and asking police, "Have you guys heard about the kids?"[321]

Before her arrest, Prim posted on Facebook that Hillary Clinton and Biden "need to be taken out" and that "Hillary Clinton and her assistant, Joe Biden and Tony Podesta need to be taken out in the name of Babylon! ... I can't be set free without them gone. Wake me up!!!!!"[321]

Prim's Facebook page was filled with references to QAnon. She encouraged her Facebook followers to check out QAnon "clues". In a video posted just hours before her arrest, Prim ranted about a video that she believed depicted Hillary Clinton and an aide murdering a child.[321][322]

Misinformation on the 2020 Western United States wildfire season

As wildfires spread across large parts of the Western U.S. in September 2020, false rumors spread on social media that antifa activists were setting fires and preparing to loot property that was being evacuated. Some residents refused to evacuate based on the rumors, choosing to defend their homes from the supposed invasion. Authorities pleaded with residents to ignore the false rumors.[323] A firefighters' union in Washington state described Facebook as "an absolute cesspool of misinformation" on the topic. QAnon followers participated in the misinformation, with one false claim that six antifa activists had been arrested for setting fires amplified by Q specifically.[324][325] Days earlier, Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr had amplified false social media rumors that planes and buses full of antifa activists were preparing to invade communities, allegedly funded by George Soros.[326][327][328][329][330][331]

2020 presidential election

Near Philadelphia's Convention Center, where mail-in ballots were being counted, two men from Virginia were taken into custody based on a tip of a threat of an attack with AR-15s. Bumper stickers on their truck referenced QAnon.[332][333]

As baseless allegations of voting fraud spread following Trump's defeat in the election, QAnon followers advanced a hoax that voting machines made by Dominion Voting Systems had deleted millions of Trump votes. The hoax was repeated on the far-right cable news outlet One America News Network, and Trump tweeted about it.[334][335] The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency announced that the election was the most secure in American history, with "no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes or was in any way compromised".[336]

Based on a false interpretation of the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1871, according to which it transformed the federal government into a corporation and rendered illegitimate every president elected thereafter, some QAnon adherents believed that the 18th president (Ulysses S. Grant, who was in office 1869–1877) was the last legitimate president. They believed that Trump would be sworn in as the 19th president on March 4, 2021, the original inauguration date until the Twentieth Amendment changed it to January 20 in 1933, and that he would restore the federal government.[337] Based on intelligence that an identified but undisclosed militia group might attempt an attack on the Capitol on that date, the U.S. Capitol Police issued an alert on March 3. House leadership subsequently rescheduled a March 4 vote to the previous night to allow lawmakers to leave town.[338] However, Newsweek reported a recent skepticism towards the March 4 idea developing among QAnon adherents, who rescheduled the purported date of Trump's re-inauguration to March 20, the 167th anniversary of the founding of the Republican Party.[339]

Storming of the U.S. Capitol

 
A QAnon emblem (upper left) is raised during the 2021 storming of the United States Capitol.

Ashli Babbitt, a U.S. veteran who was shot by police while storming the United States Capitol building, was described as an adherent of QAnon and had retweeted conspiracy theory attorney L. Lin Wood in the final days of her life.[340][55] Other QAnon-affiliated protesters either wore clothing with Q-related emblems or were identified as QAnon followers from video footage.[341][342] Jake Angeli (QAnon Shaman), the man seen in photos wearing fur, is a QAnon supporter and was arrested on January 9, 2021.[343] On January 12, Facebook and Twitter announced that they were removing "Stop the Steal" content and suspending 70,000 QAnon-focused accounts, respectively.[344] On April 19, 2021, Soufan Center report said that Russia and China had amplified and "weaponized" QAnon stories around the time of the storming of the Capitol "to sow societal discord and even compromise legitimate political processes."[345][346]

Interruption of Ghislaine Maxwell court hearing

On January 19, 2021, a hearing on the unsealing of documents related to a settled Ghislaine Maxwell civil defamation suit with Virginia Roberts Giuffre was interrupted after it was discovered that someone present was unlawfully streaming the proceedings on YouTube. The unauthorized stream reached approximately 14,000 viewers, including a contingent of QAnon supporters, before it was shut off after the judge warned the room.[347][348][349]

See also

  • Apophenia – tendency to mistakenly perceive connections and meaning between unrelated things
  • Cult of personality
  • List of conspiracy theories
  • Moral panic – feeling of fear spread among many people that some evil threatens the well-being of society
  • Nostradamus – 16th-century French reputed seer who published cryptic poetic quatrains in Les Prophéties, allowing for subjective interpretations
  • Ong's Hat – Internet conspiracy alternate reality game
  • Operation Mockingbird – alleged CIA operation to manipulate the media which is occasionally referenced in the QAnon conspiracy theory
  • Satanic Panic – a moral panic in the United States involving allegations of a global Satanic cult that abused children
  • Secret decoder ring – promotional items by radio and television programs that tap into a common fascination with secret codes
  • John Titor – anonymous Internet personage active 2000–2001 who made several failed predictions
  • Trumpism

Explanatory notes

  1. ^ The term originally referred to the anonymous poster "Q", but some media outlets have started to use the compound "QAnon" as a collective term for either the conspiracy theory or the community driving and discussing it.

References

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