In the age of the internet, conspiracy theories come a dime a dozen. They can be shared with an unimaginably huge audience with extreme ease. Most conspiracy theories center around specific large-scale events, but sometimes they do end up centering around a person instead. This has been recently observed in a group of conspiracy theorists called ‘QAnon,’ who are essentially supporters of incumbent U.S President Donald Trump, and believe that he is on a mission to expose a global secret network of high-profile pedophiles (and also cannibals, depending on who you ask).
QAnon followers believe that Democratic party members such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are a part of this group, along with Hollywood celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres. It is even believed that religious leaders like Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama are also in this group.
What is QAnon?
QAnon is an umbrella term for a large set of theories and sub-theories. It is considered a ‘big tent conspiracy theory,’ which means that it is still evolving and adding more claims under its belt. The most pervasive and foundational claim is that of a global cabal of pedophiles, and that Trump’s sole purpose is to unmask them.
It all started in October 2017, an anonymous account calling themself “Q Clearance Patriot” posted the first message associated with QAnon, on a site called 4chan. Q claimed to be a high ranking intelligence officer who knew classified information about Trump’s “war” against the aforementioned global cabal. Q also claimed to predict something called “The Storm,” which refers to the time Trump finally exposes the cabal and brings its members to justice.
The event’s title, “The Storm,” was inspired by a remark made during a photo op around the same time the first post appeared on 4chan. While standing with military generals (who QAnon followers believe recruited Trump to run for President with the aim of destroying the cabal) Trump made a remark about “the calm before the storm.” QAnon followers consider this to be a message for them. There have been many predictions about when this storm will occur, as well as other predictions that later never happened, such as Republicans winning a large number of seats in the 2018 midterm elections. As is common among conspiracy theorists, they twisted the results to continue to fit their beliefs.
The person(s) behind ‘Q,’ as the original poster is known, remains unknown. After first appearing on 4chan Q’s posts bounced around on similar sites. These days the posts— known as “drops”— are posted on a site called 8kun. To date, Q’s posts total to around 5,000, and there are some apparently popular apps that collect all past and present posts in one place. They are usually cryptic and use initials or codes to refer to people, such as HRC for Hillary Rodham Clinton, and POTUS (President of the United States) for Trump. QAnon followers use many common social media platforms like Twitter and Discord to discuss the meaning of the Q Drops.
Other QAnon claims include: Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s collusion with the Trump campaign was actually a cover for investigating Clinton and Obama while Trump only pretended to be involved with Russia in order to force a third-party investigation; the cabal is involved in pedophilia and child murder either because they’re satanists or being blackmailed by the CIA (take your pick)
What was President Trump’s response?
Trump is idolised in QAnon theory, and what he says is monitored as closely as what Q says, and similar to Q’s drops, QAnon followers see messages and codes in things ranging from what number Trump says to what tie he wears, and decode the meaning of these perceived signals.
Anyone who knows anything about Trump knows he is incapable of denouncing anyone who supports him regardless of the absurdity of, or dangers posed by their actions. When asked about QAnon, Trump stated that while he didn’t know much about QAnon, he understood that they “like me very much.” The reporter explained Trump’s role in the conspiracy as a saviour from pedophiles and cannibals, to which Trump replied, “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” He added that he hadn’t heard about that, but was “willing” to help “save the world from problems” if he can. On top of that, whether he knows or not, he has retweeted content from QAnon supporters multiple times.
Public figures are also revealing themselves to be QAnon followers, such as Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican candidate in Georgia who promoted QAnon— and she’s not the only one, joining a small-town mayor who supported QAnon during a radio broadcast. She was backed by Trump, who reportedly called Greene a future star, and called QAnon followers lovers of their country. Greene supposedly has a good chance of being elected to Congress.
Why is this becoming mainstream now?
The QAnon member base is not a small one by any means. A singular QAnon on one social media platform like Facebook can reportedly have hundreds of thousands of members. It also seems that due to increased Internet usage during pandemic related lockdowns and work-from-home, more and more people are coming to know about QAnon, thereby increasing the number of people who believe and take part in it. There is, apparently, even a recently established church based on QAnon rhetoric that holds sessions via Zoom, and works to indoctrinate people into QAnon through tools such as videos and discussions.
In terms of group dynamics, QAnon has been compared to puzzle games due to the intricacy of the plot it weaves with the help of members’ contributions. Creating a shared reality, a common phenomena among conspiracy theorists, turns a political forum into a social environment, thereby deepening a person’s connection to a conspiracy via that people that they meet in these groups and other social media interactions with QAnon followers.
Perhaps due to the activity of coming together to decode Q’s drops, QAnon followers are intensely involved in the creation of the conspiracy itself, which makes this a unique kind of conspiracy theory, despite many elements of it being those often seen in various older conspiracy theories.
QAnon followers have been making waves offline as well, with a murder and a threat of a murder being attributed to QAnon followers. The FBI considers that QAnon poses a potential threat of domestic terrorism. Photos of Republican rallies in which signs of the letter Q and posters about QAnon are visible are becoming more and more common.
Additionally, QAnon followers seem to be making a joint effort to infiltrate anti-trafficking movements, both online as well as by attending rallies. Many members of QAnon believe that the global cabal is made up of child sex-traffickers or child-eating Satanists, thus making it easy for them to use campaigns such as #SaveTheChildren to lure or recruit people into their ideology. They have also been linked to spreading misinformation about COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.
QAnon is a conspiracy theory that combines old and new elements, and which is already causing real harm to people and social causes. What truly makes matters worse, though, is that fact that the person at the center of the QAnon conspiracy, Donald Trump, is just as unlikely to see reason as QAnon followers themselves.