What is QAnon? Behind the Conspiracy Theory
Updated: Dec 21, 2021
Conspiracy theories have always existed throughout history and will continue to do so. From UFOs to 5G and flat earth, these conspiracies range greatly in their believability.
Currently, QAnon is one of the largest, and quite frankly insane, conspiracy theories out there. This guide will outline the background and beliefs of QAnon, how it links to far-right movements in the US, and how it has recently found its way into the US political system.
Background of the conspiracy
Some of the beliefs held by QAnon have their origins in the 2016 elections. More precisely, it has been linked to a prior conspiracy theory called ‘Pizzagate’ which alleged that the Democratic Party was running a paedophile child trafficking network in the basement of a pizzeria in Washington DC.
The fact that this pizzeria doesn’t even have a basement didn’t curb the spread of Pizzagate online, with fervent believers among right-wing groups and media. The theory has nevertheless been debunked by multiple organisations.
A year later, QAnon started on the internet forum 4chan. An anonymous poster named ‘Q’ started posting cryptic messages claiming to have Q-level security clearance within the US intelligence system. This supposedly meant he knew top secret information which he wanted to relay to his believers.
QAnon is a wide-ranging conspiracy that alleges that the US is run by a secret ultra-powerful government — commonly called the ‘deep state’ — filled with cannibals, paedophiles, and child traffickers. Supposedly, the Trump presidency is working to free America of this evil. Therefore, QAnon followers dismiss Trump’s impeachments and negative media coverage as the deep state attempting to thwart him.
The central event of the conspiracy theory is known as ‘the storm’. This is understood to be a nationwide event in which thousands of politicians and celebrities will be imprisoned or executed. QAnon believers have also made numerous outlandish claims and predictions of future events. These predictions have ranged from unspecified ‘shock events’ in North Korea, China or in US government departments, to terrorist attacks in London and the arrests of major tech CEOS.
Needless to say, these predictions — many of which feature antisemitic overtones — have consistently been wildly incorrect. The strict following of these beliefs has led some commentators to label QAnon as a cult.
Social media and QAnon
You may think that these beliefs are on the fringe of the political spectrum, especially since the FBI has labelled QAnon as a potential source of domestic terrorism. However, they have recently taken centre stage in American political debate.
Over half of American voters say that have heard of QAnon, while posts related to the conspiracy theory have spread like wildfire across social media. Some followers hide their extreme views behind seemingly innocent hashtags and slogans such as #WWG1WGA (Where We Go One, We Go All) or #SaveTheChildren. These hashtags, combined with the wide outreach that social media offers, mean that QAnon can easily grow from a fringe conspiracy to a major talking point.
Whether through coordinated groups on Facebook or personal accounts on Twitter, any conspiracy such as QAnon can find an audience and spread through its believers simply by posting its beliefs online. This is how QAnon has now found its way into other countries such as Japan, Finland, and the UK.
Links to Trumpism
Several right-wing political groups and media outlets have taken interest in the QAnon conspiracy. Theories and claims linked to QAnon have been spread by the infamous conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on his Infowars show as well as by more established media figures, such as Fox News host Sean Hannity.
QAnon clothing, signs and Twitter posts have made appearances close to the Trump campaign itself. As many of his supporters also believe in QAnon, the Trump campaign has benefited from QAnon accounts spreading messaging online.
Trump himself, according to Media Matters, has interacted with QAnon messaging at least 216 times, and mentioned 129 QAnon-affiliated Twitter accounts. He has also been hesitant to condemn the conspiracy theory, saying in August 2019 that “I don’t know much about the movement, other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate”.
QAnon's impact on the political system
Social media has been the main reason behind QAnon’s rapid spread, with QAnon activity almost tripling on Facebook and doubling on Instagram and Twitter. Although social media companies have now acted to stop the spread of conspiracy theories, especially after the storming of the US Capitol , although this is equal to calling the fire brigade after your house has already burned down.
QAnon’s claims have already created visible mistrust in, and even contempt for, the US political system. The recent violent insurrection at the US Capitol, where many QAnon supporters were present, being the most striking example.
The conspiracy theory has particularly embedded itself in right-wing American politics, serving to demonise their political opponents. Recent polls show that 30% of Republicans view QAnon favourably, while 50% of Trump supporters believe Democratic Party members are actually involved in paedophile sex rings.
QAnon has also infiltrated the heart of the US political system with the recent election of a member of the US House of Representatives. Marjorie Taylor Greene, although having stated that she no longer believes in QAnon, has continued to express QAnon views as recently as December 2020. She has also advocated for violence against her Democratic political opponents as well as casting doubt over whether school shootings and the 9/11 terror attacks actually happened.
Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 election was unthinkable for QAnon followers. Nevertheless, it appears that the QAnon conspiracy theory is set to stay in the post-Trump era. The day of the ‘Storm’ continues to be pushed back further and further, with members still claiming election fraud and believing that Trump will still be the saviour of the United States.
Most worryingly, what should be identified and dismissed as a baseless, dangerous, and unhinged conspiracy theory is now finding ways to infiltrate the legitimate system. QAnon serves as a dangerous new feature of an already deeply divided country.
For more articles and analysis, head to our dedicated US Politics section.