THE ATLANTIC: If you were an adherent, no one would be able to tell. You would look like any other American. You could be a mother, picking leftovers off your toddler’s plate. You could be the young man in headphones across the street. You could be a bookkeeper, a dentist, a grandmother icing cupcakes in her kitchen. You may well have an affiliation with an evangelical church. But you are hard to identify just from the way you look—which is good, because someday soon dark forces may try to track you down. You understand this sounds crazy, but you don’t care. You know that a small group of manipulators, operating in the shadows, pull the planet’s strings. You know that they are powerful enough to abuse children without fear of retribution. You know that the mainstream media are their handmaidens, in partnership with Hillary Clinton and the secretive denizens of the deep state. You know that only Donald Trump stands between you and a damned and ravaged world. You see plague and pestilence sweeping the planet, and understand that they are part of the plan. You know that a clash between good and evil cannot be avoided, and you yearn for the Great Awakening that is coming. And so you must be on guard at all times. You must shield your ears from the scorn of the ignorant. You must find those who are like you. And you must be prepared to fight.
You know all this because you believe in Q. MORE
WIRED: The Qanon conspiracy theory is based on the belief that Trump and a mysterious individual known as “Q” are battling against a powerful cabal of elite pedophiles in the media and Democratic Party. Q supposedly communicated with their followers through encoded posts known as ”Q drops” on the quasi-anonymous forum 8chan. After 8chan was taken down, Q, or someone using the Q persona, resumed posting on 8kun.
Qanon followers have cultivated connections over social media with key Trump allies. President Trump himself has retweeted Qanon-linked accounts at least 72 times, including 20 times in one day in December 2019. Other influential Trump allies also promoted Qanon-linked accounts. For example, on December 23, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani retweeted @QAnonWomen4Rudy (the bio of which reads “Patriotic Ladies supporting the sexiest man alive”).
Beginning early last year, Qanon followers more explicitly embraced concepts of “information warfare,” efforts to shape narratives and people’s beliefs to influence events. The Russian interference in the US elections in 2016 has been described as information warfare. In a February 2019 thread titled “Welcome to Information Warfare” on Endchan’s Qanon research forum, a poster exhorted fellow users to “[g]et ready for a new phase in the battle anons: the fight to take back the narrative from the [mainstream media].” Now, Qanon users are trying to wield the same tactics to shape the political narrative for 2020.
“We need memes that are funny and mocking of the democrat candidates, but also that are informative and revealing about their policies that are WRONG for the United States of America and the American people,” wrote a poster in a thread titled “Meme War 2020″ on 8kun in November 2019. “We also need memes that are PRO-TRUMP, that explain how his policies are RIGHT for the United States of America and the American people, and that can debunk the smears and attacks that are no doubt going to come at POTUS.. again, and again.” MORE
THE ATLANTIC: In its broadest contours, the QAnon belief system looks something like this: Q is an intelligence or military insider with proof that corrupt world leaders are secretly torturing children all over the world; the malefactors are embedded in the deep state; Donald Trump is working tirelessly to thwart them. (“These people need to ALL be ELIMINATED,” Q wrote in one post.) The eventual destruction of the global cabal is imminent, Q prophesies, but can be accomplished only with the support of patriots who search for meaning in Q’s clues. To believe Q requires rejecting mainstream institutions, ignoring government officials, battling apostates, and despising the press. One of Q’s favorite rallying cries is “You are the news now.” Another is “Enjoy the show,” a phrase that his disciples regard as a reference to a coming apocalypse: When the world as we know it comes to an end, everyone’s a spectator.
Adherents are ever looking out for signs from on high, plumbing for portents when guidance from Q himself is absent. The coronavirus, for instance—what does it signify? In several of the big Facebook groups, people erupted in a frenzy of speculation, circulating a theory that Trump’s decision to wear a yellow tie to a White House briefing about the virus was a sign that the outbreak wasn’t real: “He is telling us there is no virus threat because it is the exact same color as the maritime flag that represents the vessel has no infected people on board,” someone wrote in a post that was widely shared and remixed across social media. Three days before the World Health Organization officially declared the coronavirus a pandemic, Trump was retweeting a QAnon-themed meme. “Who knows what this means, but it sounds good to me!” the president wrote on March 8, sharing a Photoshopped image of himself playing a violin overlaid with the words “Nothing can stop what is coming.”
On March 9, Q himself issued a triptych of ominous posts that seemed definitive: The coronavirus is real, but welcome, and followers should not be afraid. The first post shared Trump’s tweet from the night before and repeated, “Nothing Can Stop What Is Coming.” The second said: “The Great Awakening is Worldwide.” The third was simple: “GOD WINS.” A month later, on April 8, Q went on a posting spree, dropping nine posts over the span of six hours and touching on several of his favorite topics—God, Pizzagate, and the wickedness of the elites. “They will stop at nothing to regain power,” he wrote in one scathing post that alleged a coordinated propaganda effort by Democrats, Hollywood, and the media. Another accused Democrats of promoting “mass hysteria” about the coronavirus for political gain: “What is the primary benefit to keep public in mass-hysteria re: COVID?19? Think voting. Are you awake yet? Q.” And he shared these verses from Ephesians: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.”
Anthony Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has become an object of scorn among QAnon supporters who don’t like the bad news he delivers or the way he has contradicted Trump publicly. In one March press conference, Trump referred to the State Department as the “Deep State Department,” and Fauci could be seen over the president’s shoulder, suppressing a laugh and covering his face. By then, QAnon had already declared Fauci irredeemably compromised, because WikiLeaks had unearthed a pair of emails he sent praising Hillary Clinton in 2012 and 2013. Sentiment about Fauci among QAnon supporters on social-media platforms ranges from “Fauci is a Deep State puppet” to “FAUCI is a BLACKHAT!!!”—the term QAnon uses for people who support the evil cabal that Q warns about. One person, using the hashtags #DeepStateCabal and #Qanon, tweeted this: “Watch Fauci’s hand signals and body language at the press conferences. What is he communicating?” Another shared an image of Fauci standing in a lab with Barack Obama, with the caption “Obama and ‘Dr.’ Fauci in the lab creating coronovirus [sic]. #DeepstateDoctor.” The Justice Department recently approved heightened security measures for Fauci because of the mounting volume of threats against him. MORE
MEDIA MATTERS: The QAnon conspiracy theory has been tied to multiple violent incidents and threats of violence, including a man accused of murdering his brother with a sword, a man accused of murdering an alleged crime boss, a man who reportedly threatened to kill YouTube employees, an armed man who blocked the Hoover Dam with an armored vehicle, and even a man who threatened to assassinate Trump. Additionally, its supporters even targeted a charter school and forced it to cancel an annual fundraiser, and another QAnon follower was arrested for reportedly plotting with other supporters to plan a kidnapping “raid.” The conspiracy theory has also become increasingly popular among border militias and anti-government groups. [The Daily Beast, 8/11/18, 9/27/18, 1/9/19, 1/4/20; BuzzFeed, 6/17/18; The New York Times, 7/21/19; The Daily Dot, 5/10/19; Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/23/19]
As of May 11, 2020, President Donald Trump has amplified tweets from supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory at least 131 times via at least 80 individual accounts, some of them more than once. (Since the novel coronavirus pandemic began in the United States, he has amplified QAnon Twitter accounts at least 36 times via 15 individual accounts.) Additionally, members of Trump’s family, his personal attorney, current and former campaign staffers, and even some current and former Trump administration officials have also repeatedly amplified QAnon supporters and their content. MORE