Volume 6 Number 280
QAnon isn’t exactly a household name yet, but it’s one that should strike fear in all reasonably minded Americans. These people are the kings of conspiracy believers, thinking there is a deep-seated conspiracy around every corner. Their start was a crazy posting on 4chan back in October 2017. This is an online message board that frequently features extremist and bigoted content—what else would you expect?
The person sending the message, whose followers would later call “Q”, claimed that Hillary Clinton was going to be arrested. This, it turned out, was the infamous Pizzagate Hoax that said Hillary was running a child porno sex ring out of a Washington DC pizza joint. Of course, there was no arrest. The whole thing got worse when a short time later a nut with an AR-15 semi-automatic and some other hardware showed up at the pizza parlor seeking to break up the ring, and fortunately was quickly arrested. He currently is doing four years for his trouble. So, from its very outset, the potential damage from irresponsible QAnon messages was there for all to see.
The Pizzagate fiasco didn’t stop QAnon. Instead, it was a launchpad. After that, equally ludicrous posts kept appearing on 4chan announcing weird claims of arrest and “deep state” actions. They were anonymous and it was unclear as to who was doing the posting. Believers feel that “Q” is so knowledgeable because he or she has security clearance within the government. Skeptics say that it is a bunch of extremists with vivid imaginations.
This notion of an anonymous high-level government person posting on QAnon is central to its positioning. This is not uncommon. In recent years other “anons” have come forth from time to time to claim that they were revealing secrets from inside the FBI or CIA. QAnon is the first to have achieved such a broad audience and real political influence. Activists worked to develop a mythology and culture around QAnon and cultivated an audience for it on mainstream social media platforms.
QAnon is based on the premise of a vast worldwide conspiracy that believes a “deep state” of elites, with some imbedded in our government, are responsible for all the evil in the world. They see the conspiracy as being people focused on bringing down president Trump, whom the QAnon worshippers see as their hope to defeat the threat. Scratch most of their outlandish claims and you’ll also find some reference to the “deep state” involved in a sex ring featuring pedophiles and children’s sex, as was seen in the original Pizzagate shenanigans.
From that dubious start, the QAnon (Q stands for the individual providing the leaks and Anon stands for anonymous) group went mainstream by creating communities on Reddit. Reddit is a social news aggregation, with content rating and a discussion website. Registered members submit content to the site, which are then voted up or down by other members. This enabled the group to find footing on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. After this, QAnon became unwelcome on Reddit because of their extremist political leanings, but the damage was done.
So, QAnon graduated to bigger players. Facebook is wrapped up to its eyeballs with QAnon. It’s built into their system; once you click on to one extremist site, they just ache to put you in touch with other likeminded venues. On Facebook alone, there are more than 100 pages, profiles, groups, and Instagram accounts with at least 1,000 followers or members, each dedicated to QAnon. Facebook’s own internal research in 2016 found that “64 percent of all extremist groups are due to our recommendation tools.” Brian Friedberg, a Harvard senior researcher, said, “I really do not think that QAnon as we know it today would have been able to happen without the affordances of Facebook.”
The largest QAnon site on Facebook has 150,000 followers or members. As of June 2020, there were about 90,000 members on “QAnon follow the White Rabbit.” White Rabbit is a metaphor frequently used by QAnon to denote something that transports someone into a wonderfully (or troublingly) surreal state or situation.
Comments appear on QAnon sites such as: “a house owned by Oprah Winfrey in Boca Raton Florida was seized by police in a child sex trafficking sting.” Another, that made Twitter, falsely claimed that “Tom Hanks was arrested in Australia for pedophilia.” The post claimed that other A-list celebrities would also be arrested shortly on the same charge. The financier George Soros is a favorite target, with claims that he is controlling the political system.
Sometimes Q himself is attributed to the message. Other times they supposedly come from one of the inner QAnon group. They latch on to topical subjects like the coronavirus. For example:
- In January there was the theory that Asians were more vulnerable to Covid-19 and whites were immune.
- In February and March QAnon followed the lead of president Trump, claiming that the virus was a hoax.
- Evangelists within the QAnon movement viewed the pandemic as the coming of the Kingdom of God on Earth.
- Q pushed the theory in March of a racial conspiracy, with Covid-19 being a Chinese bio-weapon and a joint venture with the Democrats to stop the Trump re-election and to destroy the economy.
- Following the president’s lead, QAnon is downplaying the risks of the coronavirus. In one instance they were spreading an “empty hospital” conspiracy, downplaying the death tolls.
- QAnon community sympathizers have promoted Miracle Mineral Supplement as a way of preventing Covid-19. The FDA has issued a warning about the danger of taking this supplement.
QAnon has gone on to be associated with the Republican Party. In late November 2018, Vice President Pence posted, for a short time, a photo on Twitter with a law enforcement officer wearing a QAnon patch on his arm. In July 2019, the White House invited a QAnon supporter to a social media summit with conservative influencers.
Now there are three Congressional candidates who have been sympathetic or supportive of QAnon: Jo Rae Perkins, a candidate for the Senate in Oregon; Marjorie Taylor Greene, running for a Representative seat in Georgia; and Lauren Boebert, a candidate for a Colorado seat in the House of Representatives. Boebert said: “Everything I heard of Q—I hope that this is real because it only means that America is getting stronger and better, and people are turning to conservative values, and that’s what I am for.”
Sure enough, on July 15, 2020 QAnon made the front page of The New York Times with a headline of “Out of Internet’s Dark Recesses, and Onto the Republican ballot.” It was all about the Republican QAnon enthusiast candidates for Congress. It also had the observation that most of them lost in the primaries or were slated to lose in the November election.
Mainstream Republicans remain mum on talking about the movement, for fear of alienating some of the hardcore. But as The Times said, “No matter how many of the candidates win, their mere presence on the political scene is helping to further spread a conspiracy that, at its core, sees the government as a dangerous enemy.”
Now QAnon’s crazy conspiracy theories have gone mainstream. Not surprisingly it has truly found a home with, who else, the president of the United States. Since the pandemic began Trump has retweeted at least 90 posts from 49 pro-QAnon accounts, often multiple times in the same day. Some of his followers have followed suit, notably son Eric. Then there is Rep. Devin Nunes of California. On July 4, he retweeted 14 tweets from accounts supporting the QAnon conspiracy theory, that the mysterious Q is leaving clues about Trump’s secret plan to dismantle a cadre of Washington elites engaged in everything from pedophilia to child sex trafficking. It was thought that QAnon’s wild conspiracy theories would reach such a boiling point that it would demand a response from high ranking Republicans. It now has one from the president himself.
“If Trump feels like these people support him 100 percent, he’s gonna protect them and that‘s it.”
–Rick Wilson, Republican strategist