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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Explained: What is QAnon, sprawling conspiracy theory gripping America’s ultra-right

America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has called QAnon a potential domestic terrorism threat, and social media platforms have been grappling to pull down QAnon content.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: August 15, 2020 11:39:09 am
Q is a reference to the 'Q clearance' - a security clearance given at the US department of Energy for access to top secret information and Anon to anonymous. Americans taking the 'Q-Anon' pledge

A Republican politician who believes that US President Donald Trump is waging a secret war against a “global cabal of Satan-worshiping paedophiles” secured her election to the US Congress on Tuesday.

Marjorie Taylor Greene, who won the party’s primary race in Georgia state, is an ardent follower of QAnon – a sprawling conspiracy theory that is increasingly gaining traction among the country’s far-right voters months ahead of the presidential election on November 3.

Even as many party leaders have disavowed Greene’s extreme views, the president has called her a “future Republican Star” in a congratulatory tweet.

America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has called QAnon a potential domestic terrorism threat, and social media platforms have been grappling to pull down QAnon content.

QAnon – beliefs and reach

QAnon, Q is a reference to the ‘Q clearance’ – a security clearance given at the US department of Energy for access to top secret information and Anon to anonymous. The movement, first surfaced on the imageboard website 4chan in 2017, has at its core the unfounded belief that Donald Trump is waging a secret war against a Satan-worshipping cabal of American elites consisting Democratic party figures, Hollywood stars, business leaders and journalists engaged in child sex trafficking and paedophilia.

QAnon followers believe that a mysterious US government official called “Q” is revealing online how Trump is going about his “plan”– which ends with a day of reckoning called “The Storm” when the supposed members of this “deep state” would be executed.

Surrounding this basic plot are other equally bizarre and often contradictory conspiracy themes. In recent months, QAnon followers have picked up the outlandish “Pizzagate” theory from the 2016 presidential election, in which far-right activists had advanced the belief that the Democratic party nominee Hillary Clinton was running a child trafficking racket from the basement of a pizza parlour in Washington, DC.

A current belief is that the novel coronavirus pandemic is a “hoax” and that vaccines are being controlled by Jewish people.

While the QAnon movement itself is hardly popular, political analysts say that the conspiracy themes its followers propound are widely shared by social media users who most likely remain in the dark about how the theories originated.

QAnon adherents have had run-ins with the law; some have committed violent crimes. In March 2019, QAnon follower Anthony Comello shot and killed a Mafia crime figure in New York who he believed was a part of the “deep state”. Displaying QAnon symbols during his court hearing, Comello claimed to his lawyer that he was trying to help President Trump by carrying out a citizen’s arrest.

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How Republicans are reacting

The fringe movement has presented a major challenge for the Republican party, which has itself moved significantly to the right since the election of President Trump in 2016.

While Trump himself has so far stopped short of publicly expressing support for QAnon, he has retweeted posts by its followers on several occasions; more frequently in recent months. In June, his son Eric posted a QAnon message on Instagram.

In early July, Trump’s convicted former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn tweeted a video of himself reciting a QAnon loyalty pledge with the hashtag #TakeTheOath. In recent weeks, several of the movement’s followers have taken the same pledge on social media– referred to as the “digital soldier oath” in QAnon parlance.

Republican strategists are walking a tightrope– they are unwilling to discredit QAnon because it keeps their right-wing base energised, while at the same time trying to ensure that mainstream party voters do not feel alienated.

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