In a comment thread on my public Facebook page, a man tells me that if I don’t believe the “deep state” is real, he has some oceanfront property in Kansas he’d like to sell me. In another thread, someone claims coronavirus was created in a lab in China. The comment has many likes and concurring responses. On Twitter, multiple threads appear accusing billionaire philanthropist George Soros of paying people to protest in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Respected news outlets run a story defending Oprah Winfrey, who has somehow been accused of participating in a child sex trafficking ring.
This is a mere taste of the crazy that keeps pressing its way to the front of the crowd on social media and in the news. And amidst all of these conspiracy theories, the same word—or name—keeps popping up over and over again: QAnon.
What THE HECK is QAnon?
QAnon is a person—or perhaps a group of persons—who foments conspiracy theories. QAnon first appeared in 2017 on the website 4chan, an image-based message board site known for its sick, disturbing content and propensity for generating conspiracy theories.
The “Q” designation is because this mystery individual supposedly has “Q” level clearance within the United States government, granting him access to top-secret information. The “Anon” is because Q is anonymous—which is the point of websites like 4chan. Q shared his first post on 4chan on October 28 of 2017:
HRC extradition already in motion effective yesterday with several countries in case of cross border run. Passport approved to be flagged effective 10/30 @ 12:01am. 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.
Hillary Clinton was not arrested, and none of the rest of this odd, cryptic message came to fruition. Still, Q continued to post, and, for some reason, unlike hundreds of other conspiracy theories posted to 4chan and other similar sites, Q’s messages were the ones that gained traction. It seems that early on, a few high profile Twitter accounts and Reddit users amplified Q’s words and began long threads in which users debated what his increasingly hard-to-decipher messages meant.
What do QAnon and his supporters believe?
Interestingly, QAnon conspiracy theories extend well beyond the words of Q himself. Q posts cryptic messages, often signing off with a question imploring his followers to do further research or “proof checks” as in the message quoted above. From there, his followers, who refer to themselves as “decoders,” gather and attempt to pick apart his clues—called “bread crumbs” or “drops”—at which point conspiracy theories are developed beyond even the initial level of WTAF initially proposed by Q.
The general thrust of QAnon conspiracy theory is that the United States, and probably the whole world, is controlled by an elite few, known as the “deep state,” and that members of this elite few also run a child sex-trafficking and torture ring. “Pizzagate” was pre-Q, but the man who drove six hours to Washington, D.C. pizza joint Comet Ping Pong with an AR-15 rifle intending to rescue children from the sex trafficking den in the basement (Comet Ping Pong does not have a basement) believed the same conspiracy theory that QAnon followers continue to push to this day.
Other QAnon theories say that the government (not including the Trump administration), mainstream media, Hollywood (including Oprah Winfrey and Tom Hanks), and certain wealthy, high-powered individuals (George Soros) and politicians (the Clintons) are colluding together to bring down President Donald Trump. Even if that means… engineering a disease outbreak. Yes. People think this. Yes. They are dead fucking serious.
The Deep State will try to regain power by any means necessary.
(engineered disease outbreaks)
— Jordan Sather (@Jordan_Sather_) April 8, 2020
How pervasive is QAnon, really?
It may be tempting to dismiss QAnon conspiracy theories as the incoherent ramblings of a radical fringe group of disturbed basement dwellers. In fact, a survey done in March of this year by Pew Research Center found that three quarters of 10,000 respondents had never even heard of QAnon. Interestingly, that same Pew survey indicated that liberal democrats are significantly more likely to have heard of QAnon than conservative republicans (39% versus 20%).
This made me wonder if perhaps QAnon is less of a concern than a deep-dive into the dark side of Twitter makes it seem, and that I, as a liberal democrat, am more likely to panic over it merely by virtue of being a liberal democrat who is, perhaps, prone to panic. They don’t call us “bleeding hearts” for nothing, right? Reading about QAnon was scaring the shit out me, but was I overreacting?
I would love to conclude that QAnon followers are fringe fanatics, not affiliated with Trump or his followers and certainly nobody we need concern ourselves with, but that’s becoming a harder and harder claim to make. Trump himself regularly amplifies QAnon messaging via retweets.
Thread: Trump so far this afternoon has amplified at least 14 times accounts that have pushed QAnon and amplified QAnon content (it's possible this number will go up as the day goes on). Below are images showing this. pic.twitter.com/gYywyBftgO
— Alex Kaplan (@AlKapDC) July 4, 2020
Donald Trump’s son, Eric Trump, in June posted and then deleted an image of a “Q” on Instagram along with #WWG1WGA, a popular hashtag for QAnon followers, an abbreviation of, “Where we go one, we go all.” Attendees at Trump rallies hold up signs saying, “We are Q.” On July 17, New York police union boss Ed Mullins appeared on Fox News with a QAnon mug over his shoulder.
Go down the rabbit hole of just about any political post on Facebook or Twitter and you are guaranteed to see a mention of “child sex trafficking rings” or the “deep state.” Some of QAnon’s greatest proponents have hundreds of thousands of followers across multiple social media platforms. A Buzzfeed video on YouTube debunking QAnon was flooded with comments announcing they believed QAnon over Buzzfeed, and the video had nearly five times as many “thumbs down” as “thumbs up.” This morning on my public Facebook page, a woman whose name I recognize as a long-time follower alluded to the QAnon sex-trafficking ring theory as being true. She could not provide me with any evidence—she simply believes it.
The FBI has specifically named QAnon as a domestic terrorism threat, among other conspiracy theories. A series of shootings at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas; at a synagogue in Poway, California; and a mosque in New Zealand, were all linked to QAnon’s posting site of choice at the time, 8chan.
When asked if Trump “encouraged the support” of rally attendees wearing “Q” shirts, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders responded, “The president condemns and denounces any group that would incite violence against another individual and certainly doesn’t support groups that would promote that type of behavior.” But these people draw attention to themselves and link themselves to Trump. QAnon followers believe Trump knows exactly who they are and that he supports them. Some believe Trump himself is Q. So why doesn’t Trump publicly denounce this group?
Meanwhile, according to research site Media Matters, more than 60 congressional candidates (past and present) have been linked to QAnon via retweets or sharing of certain common QAnon conspiracy theories. The LA Times noted that most of these candidates have little chance of winning, and of those who do have a chance of winning, like Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Lauren Boebert of Colorado, candidates have publicly distanced themselves from QAnon conspiracy theories.
And yet, for people who have been beaten over the head over and over again about how untrustworthy the mainstream media is, Q’s voice can be a tempting earworm. He links articles to mainstream news sites in addition to less credible sources, always following up with cryptic, incendiary questions meant to foment doubt and distrust.
On the site 8kun, Q’s current platform of choice, he recently linked a Fox News article insinuating that a COVID-19 reporting mistake by some labs in Florida had been made deliberately (even though the mistake—neglecting to report negatives—would not be missed by liberals either. A 100% positive rate is not possible; everyone knows this). But Fox News implied the mistake was intentional, only mentioning at the very bottom of the article that the mistake was quickly corrected. Q snaps it up, posts about it, and twists the truth even further, planting the seed of distrust.
How important is FL re: 2020 election?
1 lab = possible human-error
‘Countless’ labs = deliberate [coordinated]
Largest coordinated mis[dis]information campaign ever to be pushed by controlled entities? Who benefits the most?
“Countless” is the lie. It isn’t possible for “countless” labs to exist. Q’s posts are rife with this type of language.
I find it ironic and sad that a person elevated to near god-like status, who supposedly has all the answers, is capable of offering only “drops” of information rather than the whole “truth.” If children are being abused, why the dramatic pause instead of naming names and places, since he supposedly knows all? If his followers are concerned about these children who are supposedly being trafficked and abused, where is their fury at Q for doing nothing to immediately free them?
I have to admit, QAnon and his apparent legions of gullible, conspiracy theory-humping followers scare me. It’s mildly reassuring, I suppose, that only a quarter of the population have heard of it, but harm has already been done, and far larger movements have begun with much smaller footholds.
In other words: Don’t fall for Q’s bullshit. And make sure your friends and family don’t either.