Last night at Trump’s rally in Tampa, Florida there were several people carrying signs with a giant ‘Q’ on them. These supporters are devotees of a conspiracy theorist who’s accumulated a large following on the internet. Now, the fringe theory is rapidly becoming mainstream, with believers like Roseanne, James Woods, and Curt Schilling tweeting about it to their fans. Here’s everything you need to know about ‘Q,’ the QAnon conspiracy theory, and how Trump supporters are using it to flip the many failures of their hero into successes.
Who is ‘Q’ or ‘QAnon’?
No one knows the real identity of Q, he (or she) is an anonymous internet troll who claims to have a high-level, top secret “Q clearance” and claims a close relationship to Trump. Some Q proponents claim it is Trump. “Q clearance” isn’t a designation used by any military or intelligence organization, it’s only used in the Department of Energy. Supporters of the conspiracy theorist claim Q has “proved” his bona fides, pointing to vague pictures Q has posted and saying they could only be taken by someone close to Trump.
For example, during Trump’s trip to Asia Q posted a blurry photo of islands from a plane or helicopter window, which supporters claim “prove” Q was aboard Air Force One.
Another extremely dubious nugget of “proof” came when Trump repeated a phrase a Q fan had asked him to include in the State of the Union address… months later in a speech at the White House Easter egg Roll.
Where did the QAnon theory come from?
The QAnon theory was spawned on the anonymous messaging board 8chan, an offshoot of 4chan and the primordial fever swamp conspiracy theories crawl out of before migrating to more mainstream outlets. From 8chan, QAnon devotees moved to reddit, YouTube, and other social media outlets where their numbers continue to grow.
The Q posts started in the fall of 2017, a few weeks after Donald Trump made one of his many awkward off-the-cuff remarks during a photo shoot with members of the military. “Maybe it’s the calm before the storm. Could be, the calm. The calm before the storm,” Trump said. When asked to clarify, Trump responded (as he often does) “You’ll find out.” That’s why QAnon supporters also call the theory “The Storm.”
So what is the ‘QAnon’ theory?
The QAnon theory is a sprawling, catch-all conspiracy theory containing many nonsensical (even contradictory) plots. It contains elements of several debunked right-wing conspiracy theories including Pizzagate, the Seth Rich murder, the Uranium One “scandal,” and nefarious “deep state” plots to bring down Trump. Even old hits like the Kennedy assassination and 9/11 truther garbage gets folded into the QAnon theory.
The overall story is that Donald Trump is secretly working behind the scenes to bring down a massive child trafficking ring involving many global “elites,” Hollywood, the media, the “deep state,” #NeverTrump Republicans, and prominent Democrats, most notably Barack Obama and the Clintons. Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian collusion, QAnon claims, is a cover for this sting operation. In this version of reality, Trump’s attacks on Mueller are a calculated effort to trick Democrats into supporting the investigation so they will have no choice but to support its findings.
Any day now, Q promises, Mueller will unseal thousands of indictments against Democrats and other “elites,” bringing down the trafficking ring in a culmination known as “The Storm.”
How the hell did they come up with this?
It’s a good question. Q posts cryptic “breadcrumbs” (almost 2,000 so far) that are just vague enough for conspiracy theorists to project their own version of reality on to them. It’s like an augmented reality game or LARPing for people who are completely divorced from reality.
Here’s a representative Q post from June:
Think SC vote to confirm (coming).
No Name action.
Every dog has its day.
Enjoy the show.
“No Name” is how Q refers to ailing GOP Senator John McCain and “SC” refers to the Supreme Court. The rest is open to interpretation. After he posts, QAnon’s rabid fanbase fills in the details, which always reinforce the overall storyline. This is how conspiracy theories work. Anything that contradicts the theory—which for this one is most of objective reality—is deemed part of the plot to suppress “the truth.”
QAnon conspiracy theorists use any kind of news to advance the theory. Harvey Weinstein’s arrest? The first of many bringing down perverted “Hollywood elites” and the powerful shadowy cabal that gives them cover. Remember when Chrissy Teigen and John Legend had their flight to Tokyo turn back? It’s because they’re secret pedophiles trying to flee from prosecution. Anthony Bourdain’s suicide? Actually a hit job from the Clintons after he threatened to go rogue. Facebook’s massive stock decline? All a part of the plan. (Or so the theory goes.)
Who are the heroes and villains of the QAnon conspiracy theory?
Trump is the biggest hero, cast as an outsider and underdog against a powerful global power structure that keeps people in the dark about what’s really going on. Putin is also a hero, working with Trump to dismantle the corrupt cabal. Even North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is part of the plan. Other luminaries include the usual right-wing trolls like Candace Owens, Jack Posobiec, Bill Mitchell, Mike Cernovich, etc. Right-wing celebrities like Roseanne, James Woods, and Curt Schilling are also QAnon fans.
Anyone who criticizes Trump is instantly cast as the villain. The mainstream media is also a common villain, with Q suggesting they’re actually part of the power structure covering up the crimes of Democrats and the Hollywood elite.
Why are they doing this?
It’s a way for people to put the nonstop bad news about Trump’s presidency through a rosy lens so they don’t have to deal with the harsh reality that he’s a truly awful president. In Q world, Trump’s victories are all either secret or coming soon and his many failures are just distortions by the evil media trying to stop him from achieving his noble goals. A common thread in Q posts is that a “Great Awakening” is coming and Q-aligned “patriots” are soldiers in the fight, helping to bring it about. Many Q threads contain positive messages to devotees, urging them to continue the fight and keep growing their ranks. “Where we go one, we go all” (usually abbreviated “WWG1WGA”) is a common QAnon rallying cry.
It probably feels good for disenfranchised young men (it’s mostly men) to feel like they’re a part of something larger than themselves that doesn’t absolutely suck.
Could the QAnon conspiracy theory lead to violence?
An armed QAnon supporter blocked traffic on the Hoover Dam with an armored truck and held a sign demanding that the government “release the OIG report.” QAnon conspiracy theorists had been insisting an Inspector General’s report was about to bring down several nefarious “deep state” actors. When it failed to do so the man demanded his version of reality be substantiated. In a video he shot, the man claimed Trump was elected to “lock certain people up” and demanded that he follow through on his promise.
“We the people demand full disclosure,” the man said to Trump. “We elected you to do a duty. You said you were going to lock certain people up if you were elected. You have yet to do that. Uphold your oath.”
More recently, Stormy Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti was targeted by Q. A recent Q post included a link to Avenatti’s website and pictures of his office building. Less than an hour later Q posted a picture of an unidentified man holding a cell phone and a long thin object that could be a shank or a baton and followed up with another post saying “a message” had been sent. Avenatti told the Daily Beast that threats to his office quadrupled after he was mentioned in the Q post. The Newport police are currently investigating the incident.
It’s disturbing that this kind of thing can find purchase in the fever swamps of the internet, but it’s even more disturbing that it’s on the verge of going mainstream.