On Thursday, YouTube announced that it would take additional measures to block content that promotes QAnon, a pro-Donald Trump conspiracy theory or movement. QAnon has been under the spotlight in recent times. In July, Twitter and TikTok blocked some hashtags and removed some accounts related to it. In August, Facebook announced a ban on QAnon groups.
Last year, the FBI said fringe political conspiracy theories including QAnon are a domestic threat and likely to “motivate some domestic extremists, wholly or in part, to engage in criminal or violent activity”.
It took shape around 2017 when an anonymous user called “Q” or “Q Clearance Patriot” started posting conspiracy theories. “Q” refers to a security clearance given by the US Department of Energy for access to top-secret information. Q, who claims to be a high-ranking intelligence officer with access to sensitive information of the Trump administration, started posting on the platform 4chan in 2017, and now posts on 8kun, a website run by the founders of 8chan (which was shut down after the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas in 2019 — the killers had posted hate content on 8chan). It is not clear if Q is a single user.
QAnon followers believe that the world is being run by a cabal of paedophiles who worship Satan and that one of Trump’s aims as US President is to unmask the cabal and punish them. According to the conspiracy theorists, Trump is secretly preparing for a day of reckoning, “The Storm”, when members of the “deep state” will be executed. This theory has been gaining traction among some far-right voters ahead of the November 3 presidential election.
The conspiracy theorists believe that Democrats such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and Hollywood actors Tom Hanks and Oprah Winfrey, are part of a global child sex-trafficking ring. This takes off from the “Pizzagate” theory, long debunked, which circulated during the 2016 presidential election. Far-right activists had claimed that Clinton, who contested against Trump, was running a child trafficking racket from the basement of a pizza parlour in Washington, DC.
“I just don’t know about QAnon,” Trump said at the NBC News Town Hall in Miami on Thursday. Trump has, however, been known to retweet posts from accounts that have posted QAnon-related content. Critics have also noted Trump’s failure to denounce the movement and that he has said it is “very strongly against paedophilia”.
Some QAnon supporters hold anti-Semitic views. They include people who believe that Covid-19 is a hoax and that vaccines are controlled by Jewish people; deny the safety of vaccines; question the truth about the 9/11 attacks; and believe in alien landings.
Some QAnon supporters have been implicated in crimes that they claimed were inspired by their beliefs in the movement. These include: a man arrested in 2018 for plotting to plant a bomb in the Illinois Capitol Rotunda to make Americans aware of “Pizzagate”; a man arrested the same year for using an armoured car to block traffic on a bridge in Nevada; a woman arrested in Colorado for plotting an armed raid to kidnap her child whose custody she had lost; and a man charged with murdering a mafia figure in New York in 2019. The man arrested in the New York case, who believed the murder victim was part of the “deep state”, displayed QAnon symbols during his court hearing.
In a survey by the Pew Research Center in February-March this year, 76% of US adult respondents reported not knowing anything about the conspiracy, 20% reported knowing a little, and 3% reported knowing a lot (the rest had no answer). Recent media reports have said the movement is gaining new followers globally, particularly in Germany, possibly due to anti-Semitic beliefs among far-right Germans.
A report in The New York Times said QAnon has “already evolved from a fringe internet subculture into a mass movement” in the US and some of its theories are now “metastasizing” in Europe, including the Netherlands, the Balkans and Britain.