The QAnon conspiracy theory has elbowed its way into real life, making appearances at rallies for President Donald Trump and spurring questions at a White House press briefing — to say nothing of the guy who took his AR-15 and his armored car to Hoover Dam to demand the government come clean about ... well, what, exactly?
It’s not easy to understand unless you spend most of your day browsing the swampiest corners of the internet; the conspiracy theory is far-reaching and constantly evolving, which makes it difficult to stay on top of. Here’s an explainer that’s relatively easy to understand.
What is QAnon?
The “Q” in QAnon represents an anonymous poster on 4chan and 8chan ― message boards on the web ―named “Q.” First surfacing last fall, Q claims to have high-level government clearance and access to insider information. “Anon” represents Q’s equally anonymous army on the message boards, who spend their time investigating various “breadcrumbs” that Q periodically drops online.
Those breadcrumbs are vague and often full of Trump-era political buzzwords (Fake news! MSM! Libs!), allowing QAnon followers to run wild with their imaginations in deciphering Q’s hidden meanings. Here’s what a standard Q “drop” looks like:
These messages, which Q started posting last November, have led followers to glom onto and propagate an array of conspiracy theories, though many threads lead back to the big one: that Trump is actually working with special counsel Robert Mueller to uncover a deep-state cabal of elite liberal and Hollywood pedophiles. There’s a “storm” coming, you’ll hear QAnon followers say, and it’ll end with a bunch of top Democrats imprisoned at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. military facility in Cuba.
Why am I seeing QAnon references at Trump rallies?
Part of what makes QAnon so attractive to seemingly regular people is that it’s a buffet ― pick your conspiracy theory dish, pick your spice level and chow down.
You might just think Hillary Clinton is up to something, or you believe that there’s something more to the Justice Department’s inspector general report on the FBI’s handling of her email investigation. QAnon has a dish for you.
You might think Pizzagate is still a thing, that elite liberals and actors are making use of underground child sex dungeons. QAnon is happy to take you in.
Or, if those aren’t bonkers enough for you, you can taste the newest conspiracy theory, uncovered Wednesday by The Daily Beast’s Will Sommer: that Q is actually John F. Kennedy Jr., who faked his own death 20 years ago and is now dog-whistling Trump supporters on 4chan.
If your eyes have glazed over, I get it. That sounds crazy! But QAnon has attracted a following with enough energy and devotion to bring their delusions into real life ― and as we know with conspiracy theories like Pizzagate, that doesn’t end well.
Those followers, wearing shirts and signs that read “We are Q” or their motto of “where we go one, we go all,” are showing up at Trump events like one at the Florida State Fairgrounds Expo Hall on Tuesday. Coverage of that latest “MAGA” rally didn’t immediately pick them out, but they were there on live news feeds, waving signs in the crowd alongside “fuck the media” T-shirts.
The QAnon phenomenon is big enough now that the White House has had to address it. At Wednesday’s briefing for reporters, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked whether the president supports followers of wacko movements like QAnon. Sanders responded: “The president condemns and denounces any group that would incite violence against another individual and certainly doesn’t support groups that would support that type of behavior.”
The moderators of the QAnon subreddit, /r/GreatAwakening, released a statement of their own, saying that they aren’t what Sanders says they are:
“We here at /r/GreatAwakening condemn and denounce any group that would incite violence against another individual, and certainly don’t support groups that would promote that type of behavior.”
On June 15, a man named Matthew Wright packed an AR-15 and drove an armored vehicle onto the bridge near Hoover Dam at the Nevada-Arizona border, demanding the release of the Justice Department inspector general report on Hillary’s email investigation (the report had been made public earlier that week).
In another incident in Tucson, Arizona, a group called Veterans on Patrol utilized QAnon’s investigatory skills to hunt for pedophiles and child sex-trafficking dungeons in the desert. The founder of Veterans on Patrol, a known extremist named Michael Lewis Arthur Meyer, was arrested on suspicion of trespassing.
Meanwhile, QAnon is going viral among the internet’s loudest dingbats. Roseanne Barr, former baseball pitcher Curt Schilling, Infowars’ Alex Jones and Minecraft creator (and Pizzagate supporter) Markus “Notch” Persson have all signed on. It feels like only a matter of time before someone in Congress joins the fray on Twitter.
Where this will go next is anyone’s guess. QAnon has captured the sense of grievance and persecution that permeates parts of the American right, and the person or people in charge of “Q” seem to have the ability to point the conversation in any direction.
Political disaffection and paranoia have been gamified. Enjoy the show.