QAnon[a] (//) is a far-right conspiracy theory.[b] It alleges that a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles is running a global child sex-trafficking ring and plotting against US President Donald Trump, who is battling against the cabal. The theory also commonly asserts that Trump is planning a day of reckoning known as "The Storm", when thousands of members of the cabal will be arrested. No part of the theory is based on fact. QAnon has accused many liberal Hollywood actors, Democratic politicians, and high-ranking officials of being members of the cabal. It 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.
Although preceded by similar viral conspiracy theories such as Pizzagate, the theory proper began with an October 2017 post on the anonymous imageboard 4chan by "Q", who was presumably a single American individual. It is now likely Q has become a group of people. 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. NBC News reported that three people took the original Q post and spread it across multiple media platforms to build an internet following. QAnon was preceded by several similar anonymous 4chan posters, such as FBIAnon, HLIAnon (High-Level Insider), CIAAnon, and WH Insider Anon.
QAnon adherents began appearing at Trump reelection campaign rallies in August 2018. Bill Mitchell, a broadcaster who has promoted QAnon, attended a White House "social media summit" in July 2019. QAnon believers commonly tag their social media posts with the hashtag #WWG1WGA, signifying the motto "Where We Go One, We Go All". At an August 2019 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. According to analysis conducted by Media Matters for America, as of October 2020, Trump had amplified QAnon messaging at least 258 times by retweeting or mentioning 150 QAnon-affiliated Twitter accounts, sometimes multiple times a day. QAnon followers came to refer to Trump as "Q+".
The number of QAnon adherents is unclear as of October 2020, but the group maintains a large online following. In June 2020, Q exhorted followers to take a "digital soldiers oath", and many did, using the Twitter hashtag #TakeTheOath. In July 2020, Twitter banned thousands of QAnon-affiliated accounts and changed its algorithms to reduce the theory's spread. A Facebook internal analysis reported in August found millions of followers across thousands of groups and pages; Facebook acted later that month to remove and restrict QAnon activity, and in October it said it would ban the conspiracy theory from its platform altogether. Followers had also migrated to dedicated message boards such as EndChan and 8chan, where they organized to wage information warfare to influence the 2020 United States presidential election.
The conspiracy theory has been widely characterized as "baseless", "unhinged", and "evidence-free". Its proponents have been called "a deranged conspiracy cult" and "some of the Internet's most outré Trump fans". The theory is disseminated mainly by supporters of Trump, 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, leading it to be sometimes construed as an emerging religious movement. QAnon's adherents, while seeing Trump as a flawed Christian, also view him as a messiah sent by God.
According to Travis View, who has studied QAnon and written about it extensively for The Washington Post, the essence of the 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.
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. The result will be salvation and utopia on earth.
On October 30, 2016, a Twitter account posting white supremacist material which said it was run by a 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. Throughout October and November 2016, WikiLeaks had published John Podesta's emails. Proponents of the theory read the emails and alleged they contained code words for pedophilia and human trafficking. Proponents also claimed that Comet Ping Pong pizzeria was a meeting ground for Satanic ritual abuse.
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. The Conservative Daily Post ran a headline claiming the Federal Bureau of Investigation had confirmed the theory.
In its most basic sense, an "anon" is an anonymous or pseudonymous internet poster. 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 lies 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 called "CIAAnon" and "CIAIntern" falsely claimed to be high-ranking 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.
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", a reference to Trump's cryptic description of a gathering of United States military leaders he attended as "the calm before the storm". "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. The poster's username implied that they hold Q clearance, a United States Department of Energy security clearance required to access Top Secret information on nuclear weapons and materials. 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.
In November 2017, Paul Furber, Coleman Rogers, and Tracy Diaz, two 4chan moderators and a small-time YouTube creator, respectively, worked together to propagate QAnon to a wider audience. Some QAnon followers have accused the trio of profiting off of the movement. The three then created a Reddit community that was influential in spreading the 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. QAnon spread to other social media, including Twitter and YouTube. Rogers and his wife, Christina Urso, launched Patriots' Soapbox, a YouTube livestream dedicated to the theory, which they used to solicit donations. Its guests have included Congressional candidate Lauren Boebert and a Trump campaign publicist. Posts by Q later moved to 8chan, with Q citing concerns that the 4chan board had been "infiltrated". After 8chan was shut down in August 2019 after it was connected with the 2019 El Paso shooting and other violent incidents, adherents of QAnon moved to Endchan and 8kun.
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.
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". 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.
Between March and June 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, QAnon activity nearly tripled on Facebook and nearly doubled on Instagram and Twitter. By that time, QAnon had spread to Europe, especially 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.
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:
As well as the failed predictions, Q has posted numerous false, baseless, and unsubstantiated claims, such as:
Q's posts have become more cryptic and vague, allowing followers to map their own beliefs onto them. Some posts include strings of characters that are allegedly coded messages; by generating a keyboard heatmap of Q's supposedly coded messages, information security researcher Mark Burnett concluded that they "are not actual codes, just random typing by someone who might play an instrument and uses a QWERTY keyboard", adding that "almost all the characters" in the codes alternate between the left and right hands, or are close to each other on the keyboard.
On multiple occasions, Q has dismissed their false claims and incorrect predictions as deliberate, claiming that "disinformation is necessary". 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 the theory "can become evidence of [its] validity in the minds of believers". 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."
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, 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. 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.
The pseudonymous identity known as Q is likely controlled by multiple people in cooperation.
By design, anonymous imageboards such as 4chan and 8chan obscure their posters' identities, but those who wish to prove a consistent identity between posts while remaining anonymous can choose to use a tripcode, which associates a post with a unique digital signature for any poster who knows the password. There have been thousands of posts associated with a Q tripcode, known as "Q drops". The tripcode associated with Q has changed several times, creating uncertainty about the poster's continuous identity. Passwords on 8chan are also notoriously easy to crack, and the Q tripcode has been repeatedly compromised and used by people pretending to be Q. When 8chan returned online 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.
There has been much speculation about Q's motives and identity. A range of theories credit Q's posts to either a military intelligence officer, a Trump administration insider, an alternate reality game created by the puzzle organization Cicada 3301 or Trump himself. The Italian leftist Wu Ming foundation has speculated that QAnon is inspired by the Luther Blissett persona, which leftists and anarchists used to organize pranks, media stunts, and hoaxes in the 1990s. "Blissett" published a novel titled Q in 1999.
Since the Q tripcode was uniquely verified by 8chan's server and not reproducible on other imageboards, Q was not able to post when the website went down following the 2019 El Paso shooting. 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 and/or his son, 8chan's administrator Ron Watkins, work with Q, know Q's identity, or are Q. Both Watkinses deny knowing Q's identity.
A livestream archive appeared to show Coleman Rogers logging in to the 8chan account of Q during a Patriot's Soapbox livestream, before the feed quickly cuts out. Another livestream archive shows Rogers analysing a supposed "Q" post, before his co-host notes that the post in question is not verified to be by "Q", Rogers excuses this by saying that Q must have forgot to sign in before posting.
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. QAnon's vocabulary echoes Christian tropes—"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.
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. Positive feelings toward QAnon were found to be strongly correlated with being susceptible to conspiracy thinking.
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". 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.
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.
The Washington Post and The Forward magazine have called QAnon's targeting of Jewish figures like George Soros and the Rothschilds "striking anti-Semitic elements" and "garden-variety nonsense with racist and anti-Semitic undertones". 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".
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. According to ADL, several aspects of QAnon lore mirror longstanding antisemitic tropes. For example, the belief that a global "cabal" is involved in rituals of child sacrifice has its roots in the medieval antisemitic trope of blood libel—the theory that Jews murder Christian children for ritualistic purposes—and QAnon's ongoing obsession with a global elite of bankers also has antisemitic undertones.
The Czarist hoax The Protocols of the Elders of Zion has intersected with the 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 that "The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion Is Not A Fabrication. And, It Certainly Is Not Anti-Semitic To Point Out This Fact." 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; she later denied knowing the content of the thread, although anti-Semitic references appeared in the first few tweets. Similarly, Trump has denied knowing anything about QAnon except that QAnon fans like him and "love our country."
By 2020, QAnon followers were advancing a theory that Hollywood elites were engaging in "adrenochrome harvesting," in which adrenaline is extracted from children's blood to produce the psychoactive drug adrenochrome. Adrenochrome harvesting is rooted in antisemitic myths of blood libel. QAnon believers have also promoted a centuries-old antisemitic trope about an international banking conspiracy orchestrated by the Rothschild family.
Experts have classified QAnon's appeal as comparable to that 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. 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. 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. Rachel Bernstein, an expert on cults who specializes in recovery therapy, has 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. QAnon's cultish quality has led to its characterization as a possible emerging religious movement. 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. 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.
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.
Nonetheless, some QAnon believers have eventually started to realize that they have been isolated from family and loved ones, and suffer loneliness because of it. For some, this is a pathway to beginning the process of divesting themselves of their cultish beliefs, while for others, the isolation reinforces the benefits they get from 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.
Some Q followers break away when they recognize the theories are not self-consistent or see that some of the content is directly aimed at getting donations from a specific audience, such as evangelical or conservative Christians. This then "breaks the spell" the conspiracies had over them. Others start watching Q-debunking videos; one former believer says that the videos "saved" her.
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. 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. View echoes the concern that disillusioned QAnon believers might take matters into their own hands 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, stated 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." Other QAnon followers have adopted the Kennedy 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.
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. 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."
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.
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.”
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. 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".
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." Danielle Stella, running as a Republican to unseat Ilhan Omar in Minnesota, wore a "Q" necklace in a photo she tweeted 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.
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.
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. The video has since been taken down.
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."
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.
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. The next month she tweeted a video of her taking the "digital soldiers oath" that Q had requested followers to do three days earlier.
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." She has made racist and anti-Semitic statements, which resulted in Republican leaders such as Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise to condemn her remarks. Trump endorsed her candidacy the day after her nomination, characterizing her as a "future Republican Star" and "a real WINNER!" After Greene won a primary runoff election in Georgia in August, Illinois Republican Representative Adam Kinzinger denounced QAnon, calling it a "fabrication." Trump campaign staffer Matt Wolking responded aggressively to Kinzinger, saying, "he should condemn the Steele Dossier and conspiracy theories promoted by Democrats."
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." In July 2020, Business Insider reported, "At least 10 GOP Congressional candidates have signaled their support for the QAnon movement."
In September 2020, political newcomer Lauren Witzke defeated another candidate endorsed by the Republican party to become the GOP's 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."
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.
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 strongly denied this and claimed that the slogan ("We Are the Storm”) was inspired by a biblical passage and has no connection to QAnon.
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. 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". 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."
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.
The resolution passed on October 2, 2020, in a 371–18 vote. Seventeen Republicans (including Steve King, Paul A. Gosar, and Daniel Webster) and one independent (Justin Amash) voted no; Republican Andy Harris voted "present." The resolution does not have the force of law. 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."
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. 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. On August 24, 2018, Trump hosted William "Lionel" Lebron, a leading QAnon promoter, in the Oval Office for a photo op. Shortly after Christmas 2019, Trump retweeted over a dozen QAnon followers.
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." An FBI Field Office in Phoenix has called QAnon a potential domestic terror threat, but Trump called QAnon adherents "people who love our country". When a reporter asked Trump if he could support a theory that says 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".
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. 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. "No, I don’t know that. And neither do you know that," Trump responded.
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." But when asked whether he would acknowledge the administration's role in "giving oxygen" to the theory, Pence shook his head and said, "Give me a break." Also 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").
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. 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.
Michael Flynn—the former lieutenant general, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and National Security Advisor to Trump—posted a video on July 4, 2020, to his Twitter account of him leading a small group in an oath with the QAnon motto, "Where we go one, we go all." Analysts says that 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 tweeted multiple QAnon-related phrases without actually mentioning the movement.
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 Flynn did.
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". 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.
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. On December 28, the Russian television network RT aired a segment discussing "QAnon revelations", referring to the anonymous poster as a "secret intelligence operative inside the Trump administration known by QAnon". Although Russia was not involved in QAnon's origins, 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.
On March 13, vice president of anti-abortion group Operation Rescue Cheryl Sullenger 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". On March 15, Kiev-based Rabochaya Gazeta, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Ukraine, published an article calling QAnon a "military intelligence group". 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.
While QAnon was initially promoted by Alex Jones and Jerome Corsi, Right Wing Watch reported that they had both ceased to support QAnon by May 2018, declaring the source "completely compromised". But in August 2018, Corsi reversed course and said he "will comment on and follow QAnon when QAnon is bringing forth news", adding that "in the last few days, QAnon has been particularly good".
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. 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.
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, MSNBC news anchors Hallie Jackson, Brian Williams, and Chris Hayes dedicated a portion of their respective television programs to the conspiracy theory. PBS NewsHour also ran a segment on QAnon the next day. 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." 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".
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.
On June 15, 2018, Matthew Phillip Wright of Henderson, Nevada, was arrested on terrorism and other charges for driving an armored truck, containing an AR-15 and handgun, to the Hoover Dam and blocking traffic for 90 minutes. 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. 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."
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.
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.
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. Sanders added that Trump "certainly doesn't support groups that would support that type of behavior".
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.
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. Comello had also posted material on Instagram praising Fox News personalities such as Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Jeanine Pirro.
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."
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.
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. 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."
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?"
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!!!!!"
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.
On August 12, 2020, Cecelia Celeste Fulbright was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in Waco, Texas. Fulbright chased and rammed into another car whose driver she claimed "was a pedophile and had kidnapped a girl for human trafficking." She had made many posts online relevant to QAnon theory and sent a friend a text message saying that Trump was “literally taking down the cabal and the pedophile ring.”
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. 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. 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.
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". After that, some followers moved to Discord. 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, a Switzerland-based Reddit clone that has been described as a hub for the alt-right.
An app called "QDrops" that promoted the conspiracy theory was published on the Apple App Store and Google Play. It became the most popular paid app in the "entertainment" section of Apple's online store in April 2018, and the tenth most popular paid app overall. On July 15, 2018, Apple pulled the app after an inquiry from NBC News.
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 which also used the #WWG1WGA slogan.
On May 5, 2020, Facebook announced its removal of 5 pages, 20 accounts, and 6 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. 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." In the first month after its August announcement, Facebook said it deleted 1,500 QAnon groups with such groups by then having 4 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.
On July 21, 2020, Twitter announced it was banning over 7,000 accounts in connection with the QAnon conspiracy theory 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.
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 of which was 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.
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 stated that changes in the site's methodology for recommendations had reduced viewship of QAnon-related content by 80 percent. Three days later, YouTube announced in a blog post 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 or Pizzagate. It would still allow content discussing QAnon if it did not target individuals.
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