Imagine someone told you that the world is being controlled by a secret political faction of 'Satan-worshipping cannibalistic paedophiles', who run a global child-sex trafficking ring and are plotting against Donald Trump, with Trump being the only one who can stop them.
As bewildering as it may sound, as much as 25% Americans believe in this baseless conspiracy theory, popularly known as the QAnon theory. Conceived in 2017, the QAnon theory has now seeped into mainstream American politics from the fringes of the internet, and has outright exploded in the internet during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
With the unprecedented surge in misinformation during the pandemic, social media websites - which have been the primary platforms for the spread of such conspiracy theories, have now started taking actions on QAnon pages. Just days ago, Facebook banned QAnon pages and groups on Facebook and popular Instagram accounts propagating the theory. Earlier this year, Twitter removed thousands of QAnon accounts and promised to keep the platform free from such conspiracy theories.
In August, when asked about the conspiracy theory and its followers, Trump put out a word of praise for them and said, "They like me very much." Just about a year before that, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) called QAnon followers a domestic terrorism threat.
The Theory And Its Origin
Travis View, who hosts the QAnon Anonymous podcast and has studied and written about the followers of the conspiracy theory, describes it as a behind-the-scene battle between Donald Trump and a cabal of paedophiles.
Speaking to news website Salon, View said, "QAnon is based upon the idea that there is a worldwide cabal of Satan-worshiping paedophiles who rule the world, essentially, and they control everything."
"They control politicians, and they control the media. They control Hollywood, and they cover up their existence, essentially. And they would have continued ruling the world, were it not for the election of President Donald Trump. Now, Donald Trump in this conspiracy theory knows all about this evil cabal's wrongdoing. But one of the reasons that Donald Trump was elected was to put an end to them, basically. And now we would be ignorant of this behind-the-scenes battle of Donald Trump and the U.S. military — that everyone backs him and the evil cabal — were it not for 'Q'."
- Travis View in conversation with Salon, August 18, 2019
Proponents of the QAnon theory also argue that Hollywood elites (Tom Hanks' name appear frequently) are secretly harvesting adrenochrome (a psychoactive compound extracted from adrenaline) from the blood of children - a claim which has its root in age-old anti-Semitism.
The QAnon theory started off on the anonymous English image board website 4chan by a user named 'Q Clearance Patriot', who started posting vague messages in a thread named "Calm Before The Storm". Soon, 'The Storm' became the go-to term for QAnon followers to describe a 'Judgement Day' scenario when Trump would arrest the alleged deep-state actors and child-traffickers actors and execute them.
Just weeks before this thread appeared on the website, Trump, during a photo-op with US Military leaders in the White House, said to a group of reporters, "Maybe it's the calm before the storm." This highly ambiguous phrase was never fully explained, just like many of the QAnon theories, and became synonymous with the QAnon movement.
Before the QAnon movement started spreading through the internet, another similar theory had gone viral during the 2016 United States Presidential election cycle which had gained a lot of traction, and forms an important part of the QAnon theories - the one called Pizzagate.
Now debunked, the Pizzagate conspiracy theory claimed that several high-ranking Democratic Party officials including Hillary Clinton were allegedly connected to a human trafficking and child sex ring, which was apparently run from the basement of a pizzeria in Washington D.C. called Comet Ping Pong. This theory was propagated on several alt-right websites, Facebook, Twitter, 4chan and now dissolved 8chan.
A man from North Carolina eventually showed up at the pizzeria with a rifle, firing a few rounds, only to find that the restaurant did not even have a basement. The individual was then arrested and sent to four years in prison.
The movement gained immense traction during the pandemic, with Google Trends showing a peak in interest on the topic in August 2020.
Any Of It True?
No, none of the claims arising from the QAnon conspiracy theory hold any validity and there has been no absolutely no evidence to back any of it. Typical QAnon posts or videos on the internet would put together a series of unrelated incidents and throw cryptic questions at the reader, leaving it to the latter to formulate his or her own beliefs on the matter.
Psychologists like Dr. John M. Grohol believe that such a process would be heavily influenced by a person's personality traits and a predisposition to believe in conspiracies, rather than the truth itself.
Fact checkers around the world have debunked many individual claims that form part of, or extend from the QAnon conspiracy theory. Despite this, the QAnon movement is slowly growing and gaining prominence at an alarming rate.
Do People Really Believe It?
According to a survey by Pew Research Center, nearly 20% of US adults believed that claims originating from the QAnon theory were partially true, while 5% believed it to be definitely true.
The survey also found that people with less education were more likely to believe in such claims - roughly 48% of US adults having only a high school degree or less believed QAnon claims to be true, while the number fell to 24% for college graduates.
Furthermore, Conservative Republicans were the most likely group ideologically to believe in the theory - with around 37% stating their believe in it. Liberal Democrats were the least likely to believe it, at 10%.
Ironically, another survey by Pew revealed that it was the Liberal Democrats who were most likely to have heard or read about the QAnon theory. While 39% of the Liberal Democrats stated that they had heard or read about the conspiracy theory, the number went down to 20% for Conservative Republicans.
However, QAnon followers are not just fringe alt-right supporters, as some are likely to enter the US Congress this year. Media watchdog website MediaMatters listed 82 former and current congressional candidates who have embraced the QAnon movement.
Pro-guns activist Lauren Boebert, who is now running for Congress from Colorado as a Republican nominee, posted a tweet last August about Hollywood actor Tom Hanks being a Greek citizen, which is direct reference to a popular QAnon claim about Hanks applying for asylum in Greece.
So while the movement has been keeping to the fringes in the past few years, it is slowly starting to merge with mainstream politics and media in the United States and around the world, gaining more followers and attracting interest by the day.
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