By now you’ve probably heard vaguely about the QAnon conspiracy theory. Whether you’ve read a Facebook chain from a crazy uncle, seen an ominous “Q” sign bobbling from a sea of Trump supporters, or read about adherents getting arrested in one place and elected in another, it’s clear that QAnon has entered the mainstream. And we have to deal with it.
Read about QAnon’s beliefs, background, and danger to society below.
What Do QAnon Supporters Believe?
QAnon supporters believe that Democrats, celebrities, and billionaires are part of a secret group that controls the world while participating in pedophilia and human trafficking to harvest the blood of children to get a chemical that will make them live longer.
Further, there is an illuminati-like “deep state” group made up of people like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, The Pope, and Oprah Winfrey. According to Q, these people and all of their friends are fighting a war against Donald Trump, who was handpicked by the military to save humanity from these progressive cannibals and regularly sends coded messages to his supporters about his efforts.
This central theory has a number of offshoots, such as the theory that JFK Jr. didn’t die in 1999 and that 9/11 was not a terrorist attack. QAnon boils down to a combination of baseless conspiracies inspired by “Q’s” signals (keep reading) layered atop the 2016 theory that Hillary Clinton’s former campaign manager was using a pizza restaurant as a code for a child trafficking ring in his stolen emails (Pizzagate) as part of a much larger, more sinister plot to take over the world.
QAnon also pushes an explicitly antisemitic conspiracy theory that the Rothschild family controls all of the banks in the United States. The concept that a secret group of powerful people is ruling the world comes from a book called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion that was initially published in 1903 in Russia. The book contains a fake plan that Jewish leaders purportedly had for “world domination.” Its claims were frequently used to justify antisemitism, especially during World War II.
To achieve their aims, QAnon disseminates inflammatory and false information a range of issues, including social justice protests and the coronavirus, to undermine their perceived opposition.
This year, QAnon successfully pushed the theory that Wayfair was trafficking children as part of a larger criminal conspiracy into the mainstream. It disseminated a video featuring false and inflammatory claims about the pandemic that was viewed 8 million times.
QAnon has also infiltrated and promoted vague “Save The Children” efforts across the country, attaching their baseless claims to the real issue of child trafficking.
Tell Me More About This “Save The Children” Thing
Maybe recently you’ve seen an influencer or girl from your high school share vague child sex trafficking statistics with the hashtag #SaveTheChildren. These awareness-raising efforts were started in earnest long ago to fundraise for Save The Children — an international nonprofit working on a range of child issues, from hunger to education. But QAnon saw rising concern on social media for child sex trafficking — born largely of the Jeffrey Epstein case — as an opportunity to push their theory that a “deep state” is responsible.
QAnon’s strategy? Flood the internet with inflammatory misinformation connected to the #SaveTheChildren hashtag, invite concerned social media users to pro-QAnon groups, and then attempt to convince them of their broader, baseless conspiracy that people like Tom Hanks are eating children.
Where Did QAnon Come From?
Like most insane theories, QAnon originated on 4chan, an internet message board, with an anonymous user. User “Q” claims to be a high-ranking military advisor, and his posts started in late 2017 and have continued since then. Q’s posts are pretty much either different questions that lead his followers to the “truth,” or are full of predictions that rarely end up being accurate.
Now, QAnon is spread through Youtube videos, some social media platforms, and fringe message boards like 8Kun.
Why Is This Dangerous?
Because people actually believe this stuff. Possibly quite a lot of people: an internal investigation by Facebook estimates that millions of users have joined pro-QAnon groups. Earlier this year, the FBI labeled QAnon adherents and other “conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists” as possible domestic terrorism threats, likely to justify violence if they sincerely believe the world is run by murderous pedophiles.
These aren’t just warnings: At the height of the “Pizzagate” conspiracy, an armed man fired into a Washington D.C. restaurant he believed was the center of a sex trafficking ring run by Democrats, endangering staff and patrons. A QAnon supporter was arrested in April for threatening to kill Joe Biden.
QAnon continues to gather legs as right-wing domestic terrorism is a growing threat. Yet most Americans don’t believe or even know what QAnon is. According to a poll done in March of this year by Pew Research, 76% of Americans have never heard of the conspiracy theory.
Facebook and Twitter have taken action against the QAnon, either banning accounts and groups that supported the theory, limiting the features that these users can access, and removing content from recommended groups and pages.
What Do Politicians Say?
Though you might think that political leaders from both parties have vocally opposed this dangerous conspiracy, certain far-right politicians have embraced or expressed support for its adherents. After all, it is 2020 and rationality is about as nonexistent as my social life.
There are still several candidates running for Congress this year who have supported and even advocated for the theory. The most well-known is Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Republican candidate for the House of Representatives who will surely win her seat. House candidate Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Senate candidate Jo Rae Perkins of Oregon have also been supportive QAnon.
Donald Trump has refused to denounce QAnon, instead suggesting he is grateful for its support.
“I don’t know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate,” he said on August 19.
The president also regularly retweets QAnon-invented misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic.
Share With Caution
In the case of the Wayfair selling children story and the vague “Save the Children” “campaign,” you might not know when something you’re retweeting or sending to your friends is part of a QAnon theory. That’s what makes this group so toxic and why it is so important to be aware of what you’re sharing on the Internet. Next time you click “add to story” on a mommy blogger’s plea to help victims of child sex trafficking, make sure you verify the details and vet the source.
A previous version of this article stated that the pizza shop targeted in Pizzagate was in North Carolina. Comet Ping Pong pizzaria is in Washington, D.C. A man from North Carolina attacked the shop.