The QAnon movement, and the conspiracy theory motivating it, has been gaining considerably more media attention in the last year and in recent weeks — specifically in the wake of the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol building.
Here’s what you need to know about the fringe movement.
Where did it start?
QAnon started on the 4chan message board — an anarchic image board that features discussions, images, memes and theories on everything from politics to anime.
There, a person claiming to be a highly placed government official — who went by the name Q Clearance Patriot — began posting in 2017. He soon gained followers with his claims — called “Q Drops” — about how child traffickers and Satan worshippers were seeking to undermine President Trump with the help of global elites in the U.S. and abroad.
The drops are cryptic and laced with symbolism and hints. In turn, “bakers” interpret those drops, posting explanations online and in YouTube videos about how they apply to the real world.
QAnon followers see Trump as a figure fighting back against those forces, ordained by God to fight back against the global cabal culminating in a process called “The Storm.”
Followers generally view politics through that lens, seeing the coronavirus as a bioweapon being wielded by this shadowy cabal that can be spread via 5G networks. Many looked for hints in Trump tweets and speeches, believing he is communicating or confirming the Q drops.
However, many in the movement have been reportedly dismayed by Trump’s election defeat and concession — which goes against that narrative — although others have come up with ways to work around this.
“We gave it our all. Now we need to keep our chins up and go back to our lives as best we are able,” one major Q administrator said after President Biden was inaugurated.
The identity of Q remains a mystery, although many have speculated as to his/her/their identity. Some believe it is more than one person, while others believe it started as a joke that got out of control. An NBC News investigation found that the Q theory could be traced back to three users who sparked discussion about the baseless conspiracy theory — although it didn’t identify who Q was.
While it began online through 4chan, and spread through online forums like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, QAnon theories have been dripping into real life and becoming part of a domestic terror threat that has caught the attention of DHS and other security agencies.
Surge in popularity
While the number of QAnon supporters is hard to judge, it appears the fringe group has seen a surge in popularity in 2020. A December NPR poll found that 17% of Americans agreed with the statement, “A group of Satan-worshipping elites who run a child sex ring are trying to control our politics and media.”
A Pew Research poll in September found that Americans who had heard of QAnon’s conspiracy theory had jumped to 47% from just 23% in March.
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