QAnon – which may be a person or a group – emerged October 28, 2017, on 4chan, a nefarious website known for racism, porn and homophobia. “Indeed.” Emma Grey Ellis wrote in Wired, “nearly every evil of the internet begins, or picks up steam, on the site.”
An anonymous poster, “Q Clearance Patriot,” claimed to be a high-ranking intelligence officer with access to classified information about President Trump’s war against a global cabal referred to as “The Deep State.” The posts by “Q” – as in a “Q access authorization,” a term used for a top-secret clearance level – are so “cryptic and vague” the ADL says it could be anyone.
The first post said, “HRC [Hilary Rodham Clinton] extradition already in motion effective yesterday with several countries in case of cross border run.” Using social media, Q and others spread a variety of other conspiracy theories, some old and others new, rooted in the idea that a shadowy group of Satan-worshiping pedophiles control world governments, the banking system, the Catholic Church, the agricultural and pharmaceutical industries, the media and the entertainment industry to keep people poor, ignorant and enslaved. This “Deep State” is plotting against President Trump while operating a global child sex-trafficking ring.
According to Kevin Roose, believers contend that Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, George Soros, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Hanks, Ellen DeGeneres, Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama are part of this plot. “Many of them also believe that, in addition to molesting children, members of this group kill and eat their victims in order to extract a life-extending chemical from their blood,” Roose says.
During a 2017 photo op with a group of generals, Trump said, “You guys know what this represents? Maybe it’s the calm before the storm.” Roose explains that Q took this as a coded message indicating “The Storm” was coming when Trump would reveal the members of the cabal, punish them, and restore America to greatness. In the meantime, some good people, “white hats,” are working within the government to thwart “The Deep State.”
The conspiracy theories spread from the relatively obscure 4chan to all the mainstream sites – Facebook, YouTube and Twitter – where they have hundreds of QAnon groups with tens of thousands of followers. Roose says “QAnon supporters have also been trying to attach themselves to other activist causes, such as the anti-vaccine and anti-child-trafficking movements, in an effort to expand their ranks” and the ADL noted “the Q logo became a commonplace sight at Trump rallies where adherents parsed every word and gesture from the President, looking for hints about the Plan or Q.”
“Several aspects of QAnon lore mirror longstanding anti-Semitic tropes,” according to the ADL. “The belief that a global ‘cabal’ is involved in rituals of child sacrifice has its roots in the anti-Semitic trope of blood libel, the theory that Jews murder Christian children for ritualistic purposes. In addition, QAnon has a deep-seated hatred for George Soros, a name that has become synonymous with perceived Jewish meddling in global affairs. And QAnon’s ongoing obsession with a global elite of bankers also has deeply anti-Semitic undertones.”
Roose argues that even though many of these conspiracy theories are not new, QAnon “operates in a different way, and at a different scale, than anything we’ve seen before.” For example, “followers congregate in chat rooms and Facebook groups to decode the latest Q posts, discuss their theories about the news of the day, and bond with their fellow believers.” He adds that their beliefs are dangerous. “It’s one thing to have a polarized political discourse with heated disagreements; it’s another to have a faction of Americans who think, with complete sincerity, that the leaders of the opposition party are kidnapping and cannibalizing innocent children.”
Some of the QAnon adherents have gone beyond rhetoric to action and been linked to murder, vandalism, arson, kidnapping, terrorism, and assault with a deadly weapon.
Nevertheless, a handful of politicians have become followers. At least 11 Republican House candidates in 2020 expressed support for QAnon, one of whom, Marjorie Taylor Greene, was likely to be elected. President Trump endorsed Greene and seemed to embrace the movement as well when he said, “I’ve heard these are people that love our country.” He admitted, “I don't know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate.”
Facebook and Twitter have now banned QAnon-related material and removed thousands of accounts that spread conspiracy theories linked to QAnon.
Sources: “QAnon,” ADL;
Emma Grey Ellis, “4Chan Is Turning 15—And Remains the Internet's Teenager,” Wired, (June 1, 2018);
Michael Janofsky, “Just how anti-Semitic is QAnon?” Forward, (July 28, 2020);
“QAnon Conspiracies on Facebook Could Prompt Real-World Violence,” ADL, (August 13, 2020);
Kevin Liptak, “Trump embraces QAnon conspiracy because ‘they like me,’” CNN, (August 19, 2020);
Kevin Roose, “What Is QAnon, the Viral Pro-Trump Conspiracy Theory?” New York Times, (August 20, 2020);
Mike Wendling, “QAnon: What is it and where did it come from?” BBC News, (August 20, 2020).