QAnon[a] (//) is a far-right conspiracy theory detailing a supposed secret plot by an alleged "deep state" against U.S. President Donald Trump and his supporters. The theory began with an October 2017 post on the anonymous imageboard 4chan by someone using the tripcode Q, a presumably American individual that may have later grown to include multiple people, claiming to have access to classified information involving the Trump administration and its opponents in the United States. The user has falsely accused numerous liberal Hollywood actors, politicians, and high-ranking officials of engaging in an international child sex trafficking ring, and has claimed that Donald Trump feigned collusion with Russians in order to enlist Robert Mueller to join him in exposing the ring, and preventing a coup d'état by Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and George Soros. "Q" is a reference to the top-secret Q clearance.
The conspiracy theory, mainly disseminated by supporters of President Trump under the names The Storm and The Great Awakening, has been 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".
QAnon adherents began appearing at Trump rallies during the summer of 2018. TV and radio personality Michael "Lionel" Lebron, a promoter of the theory, was granted a photo opportunity with President Trump in the Oval Office on August 24, 2018.
- 1 Background
- 2 History
- 3 Identity
- 4 Incidents
- 5 Appeal and disillusionment
- 6 Reception
- 7 See also
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Pizzagate conspiracy theory
David Goldberg via 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
On October 30, 2016, a Twitter account that posted white supremacist material that presented itself as belonging to a lawyer based in New York, claimed that the New York City Police Department (NYPD) discovered a pedophilia ring linked to members of the Democratic Party while searching through Anthony Weiner's emails. WikiLeaks leaked John Podesta's emails throughout October and November of 2016. Proponents of the theory reading over the emails alleged that some words in Podesta's emails were code words for pedophilia and human trafficking. Proponents also claimed that the ring was a meeting ground for Satanic ritual abuse.
The story was subsequently posted on fake news websites, beginning 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.
A person identifying as "Q Clearance Patriot" first appeared on the /pol/ board of 4chan on October 28, 2017, posting messages in a thread entitled "Calm Before the Storm", which was a reference to Trump's cryptic description during a gathering of himself and United States military leaders as "the calm before the storm". Q later moved to 8chan, citing concerns that the 4chan board had been compromised by "bad actors".
The poster's handle implied that the anonymous poster holds Q clearance, a United States Department of Energy security clearance required for access to Top Secret information about nuclear weapons and materials. This claim cannot be substantiated due to a lack of reliable evidence.
False claims and beliefs
QAnon's posting campaign has a history of false, baseless, and unsubstantiated claims. Beginning with the first posts incorrectly predicting Hillary Clinton's imminent arrest and followed by more false allegations, such as claiming that North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un is a puppet ruler installed by the Central Intelligence Agency, QAnon's posts have become more cryptic and vague allowing followers to map their own beliefs onto them. By generating a keyboard heatmap of QAnon'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 the characters are close to each other on the keyboard.
Some of QAnon's other allegations include his February 16, 2018 false claim that U.S. Representative and former Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz hired El Salvadorian gang MS-13 to murder DNC staffer Seth Rich, and his March 1, 2018 apparent suggestion that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is the granddaughter of Adolf Hitler. A July 7, 2018 article published in The Daily Beast also noted that QAnon falsely claimed that "each mass shooting is a false-flag attack organized by the cabal". Other beliefs held by QAnon adherents include that Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, George Soros, and others are planning a coup while simultaneously involved as members of an international child sex trafficking ring. According to this idea, the Mueller investigation is actually a countercoup led by Donald Trump, who pretended to collude with Russia in order to hire Robert Mueller to secretly investigate the Democrats. Another recurring theme is that certain Hollywood stars are pedophiles, and that the Rothschild family are the leaders of a satanic cult. By interpreting the information fed to them by Q, QAnon adherents come to these conclusions.
On multiple occasions, QAnon has dismissed his false claims and incorrect predictions as wilful misinformation, 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 Qanon as an innovator among conspiracy theorists in his approach of enthralling his readers with 'clues' rather than directly presenting his claims: "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."
There has been much speculation regarding the motive and the identity of the poster, with theories ranging from the poster being a military intelligence officer, to Donald Trump himself, to the posting campaign being an alternate reality game by Cicada 3301. Because 4chan is anonymous and does not allow registration by users, any number of individuals may post using the same handle. The poster uses a frequently changing tripcode to authenticate himself on 8chan.
The Italian leftist Wu Ming foundation has speculated that QAnon has been inspired by the Luther Blissett persona, which was used by leftists and anarchists to organize pranks, media stunts, and hoaxes in the 1990s. "Blissett" also published the novel Q in 1999.
In September 2018, Jack Posobiec, a conspiracy theorist and correspondent for One America News Network, claimed that QAnon was started by two pro-Trump Twitter trolls, and that the letter Q was chosen due to the Blissett novel. According to Posobiec, the original authors ended their involvement and a new group continued it and moved to an 8chan board moderated by them, apparently in an effort to make money from QAnon followers.[non-primary source needed]
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". Following this, 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.
Hoover Dam incident
On June 15, 2018, Matthew Phillip Wright of Henderson, Nevada, was arrested on terrorism and other charges for driving an armored vehicle, 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 OIG report had been released the day prior, the man had been motivated by a Q "drop" which claimed the released version of the OIG report had been heavily modified.
An app called "QDrops" which 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.
Targeting of Michael Avenatti
Michael Avenatti via Twitter @MichaelAvenatti
We are trying to identify the man in this picture, which was taken outside my office yesterday (Sun) afternoon. Please contact @NewportBeachPD if you have any details or observed him. We will NOT be intimidated into stopping or changing our course. #Basta https://pic.twitter.com/YIKS6D0Grq
Jul 30, 2018
On July 29, 2018, Q posted a link to Stormy Daniels' 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 an as-of-yet 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.
Harassment of Jim Acosta
On August 1, 2018, responding to a question by David Martosko of The Daily Mail asking if the White House encouraged the support of "QAnon fringe groups"—in light of their hostile behavior toward CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta at a Trump rally in Tampa, Florida—White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders denounced "any group that would incite violence against another individual", without specifically responding to the QAnon mention. She added that President Trump "certainly doesn't support groups that would support that type of behavior".
Accusations of antisemitism
The conspiracy theory's targeting of George Soros and the Rothschild family has led Jewish-American magazine The Forward as well as The Washington Post to accuse it of containing "striking anti-Semitic elements" and "garden-variety nonsense with racist and anti-Semitic undertones". However, this was contested by the Anti-Defamation League, which reported that "the vast majority of QAnon-inspired conspiracy theories have nothing to do with anti-Semitism".
A Jewish Telegraphic Agency article published in Haaretz on August 3, 2018 stated that "although not specifically, some of QAnon's archetypical elements—including secret elites and kidnapped children, among others—are reflective of historical and ongoing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories".
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.
Appeal and disillusionment
Within 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 are familiar enough with QAnon to have an opinion about it, among whom gave a poor average rating of only 24 (range 0 to 100) of the conspiracy theory. Positive feelings toward QAnon were found to be strongly correlated with one's proneness to conspiracy thinking.
Experts have classified the appeal of QAnon as similar to that of religious cults. According to expert in online conspiracy Renee DiResta, the QAnon pattern is similar to enticement into cults in the pre-Internet era, where as the targeted person was led deeper and deeper into the group's secrets, they become more and more isolated from friends and family outside of the cult. 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, says that "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 in the groupthink of the cult.
Nevertheless, eventually, some QAnon believers have 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 slowly begin the process of divesting themselves of their cultish beliefs, while for others, the isolation reinforces the benefits they get from belonging to the cult. Travis View, a researcher studying QAnon, says that,
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 content of the theories is not self-consistent, or they 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 had 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 the predicted December 5 mass arrest and imprisonment in Guantanamo Bay detention camp of enemies of Donald Trump 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 other 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 come about. Psychologist Robert Lifton calls it "forcing the end". This phenomenon is being seen among some QAnon believers.
Prominent 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."
On November 26, 2017, President Donald Trump retweeted a tweet from Twitter account @MAGAPILL, a self-styled "official President Donald Trump accomplishment list" and a major proponent of the conspiracy theory, less than a month after QAnon first started posting.
On December 28, 2017, the Russian government-funded 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".
On March 13, 2018, Operation Rescue vice president and pro-life activist Cheryl Sullenger referred to QAnon as a "small group of insiders close to President Donald J. Trump" and called his internet postings the "highest level of intelligence to ever be dropped publicly in our known history".
While the conspiracy theory was initially promoted by Alex Jones and Jerome Corsi, it was reported by Right Wing Watch that they had both ceased to support QAnon by May 2018, declaring the source to now be "completely compromised". However, in August 2018, Corsi reversed course and stated that 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 26, 2018, WikiLeaks publicly accused QAnon of "leading anti-establishment Trump voters to embrace regime change and neo-conservatism".[tweet 1] Two days later, the whistleblower organization shared an analysis by Internet Party president Suzie Dawson, claiming that QAnon's posting campaign is an "intelligence agency-backed psyop" aiming to "round up people that are otherwise dangerous to the Deep State (because they are genuinely opposed to it) usurp time & attention, & trick them into serving its aims".[tweet 2]
On June 28, 2018, a Time magazine article listed the anonymous "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 this conspiracy theory and its more prominent followers and spreading news coverage.
On July 4, 2018, the Hillsborough County Republican Party shared on its official Facebook and Twitter accounts a YouTube video on QAnon, calling QAnon a "mysterious anonymous inside leaker of deep state activities and counter activities by President Trump". The posts were then deleted.
On August 1, 2018, following the en masse presence of QAnon supporters at the July 31 Trump rally in Tampa, Florida, 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 dedicated to the conspiracy theory the following day.
On August 2, 2018, Washington Post editorial writer Molly Roberts stated: "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, 2018, former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked to comment on the conspiracy theory in his "ask me anything" session on the /r/The_Donald subreddit. In response to the question "is Q legit?", Spicer answered "no".
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- Media related to QAnon at Wikimedia Commons