Explaining QAnon, The Far-Right Conspiracy That's Growing in Popularity

David Fox

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The world of the QAnon far-right conspiracy theory is sprawling, often confusing and contradictory. You might have heard of it, but might not know all of the details. That’s fine — there are a lot of details.

It can be hard to summarise the theory, given that its internal mythology is ever-growing, folding in other pre-existing conspiracy theories and some new ones, and even adherents of the theory can’t always agree on which parts of it they believe and which they do not. But, in short, QAnons generally believe this:

There is a shadowy worldwide cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who control politics, the media, and the entertainment industry and often hide in plain sight. President Donald Trump is fighting a secret, behind-the-scenes war against the evil cabal and will soon bring the individuals to justice.

If that sounds crazy, there are even crazier details lurking behind that summary, including underground tunnels of missing “mole children” and the faked death of JFK Jr., among others. But that broad summary covers the basics.

How Did QAnon Start?

Though QAnon is a popular theory on many social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and especially Twitter, the theory started on the imageboard 4chan. An anonymous poster claiming to have “Q-level clearance” (meaning they would have access to top-secret documents) posted in a thread entitled “Calm Before the Storm” on October 28th, 2017.

The title was a reference to a Trump quote earlier that same month when surrounded by military generals. In Q’s world, Trump was announcing that “the storm” was coming — instead of just verbalising the first thought that came into his head, as was probably the case.

And Q kept posting. He left cryptic messages for his followers to puzzle out. Several dates for “the storm” — a military-backed armageddon style scenario that would see “patriots” re-take their country from the evil pedo-Satanist-globalists and the arrests of high-profile people in politics, the media, and entertainment — came and went, but Q’s followers kept the faith.

Q moved online home since the first posts, from 4chan to 8chan (claiming the former had been “infiltrated”) which has since rebranded itself to 8kun.

(Quite why an apparent government insider in a secret war against pedophiles would make his home on a website infamous for containing discussions of and links to child pornography is not a subject I’ve ever seen his followers address.)

Q is still out there and still posting, but these days he doesn’t really need to post. Those who follow Q will make up new additions to the conspiracy theory all by themselves, be it that Tom Hanks was killed in Guantanimo Bay and replaced by a clone, or they Beyonce is actually a white Italian woman whose music is part of a plot to recruit people into the Illuminati. By this point, it’s self-sustaining.

And no, the Storm still hasn’t arrived.

Who is Q?

No one knows for sure, and it could be that there’s more than one person posting as Q at this point. There is some debate in the community as to who Q is, with theories ranging from Donald Trump himself to a secretly-still-alive JFK Jr.

The most logical theory points to the now-owner of the 8chan/8kun website, Jim Watkins, and his son Ron being the people behind Q — particularly as the theory is the site’s biggest draw in terms of traffic.

Last month, the owner of a (now deleted) Twitter account named for JFK Jr posted a confession of sorts in which they claimed to have been the “original” Q and that the whole thing had started on 4chan as a joke — and said the Watkins’ had since taken over posting as Q and were doing it simply to drive people to their website and sell Q-branded merchandise.

Will we ever know the truth? Probably not. Part of the conspiracy theory involes the assertion in one Q post that “disinformation is necessary”. That is, Q claimed that he deliberately posts wrong intel in order to throw off his enemies. But what it actually is is a ready-made excuse for when his predictions fail — it also means that if anyone does claim to be Q, his followers can dismiss it as “disinformation” if it’s not the outcome they want.

Of course, as the theory grows ever more convoluted and, frankly, unlikely, the chance of getting the outcome they want decreases. With Trump presidency coming to an end and the much-promised storm still yet to arrive, the response of QAnon theory proponents will be very interesting to watch.

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David is an author and freelance writer. He has published two books of short stories and his first novel is due to be released in January 2021. He writes about parenting, relationships and life with a disability, as well as about pop culture, writing, productivity, politics and soccer. His work has appared in The Mighty, Apparently, Movie Pilot, WhatCulture, Vocal Media, What Millenials Want, State of the Game, FootballEye, Football Critic, The False 9 and Just Football.

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