WARNING: This blog post contains screenshots of posts from message boards that are anti-Semitic, racist, and contain themes of suicidal ideation and child trafficking.
Ah, QANON—leave it to you to force a trigger warning with this post.
I’ll be honest with y’all—I didn’t know much about QANON until recently. I’d heard about them in passing, while scrolling through Facebook or in an article I was reading about Trump. I knew about them, but I didn’t know about them, ya know? They sort of existed in my peripheral vision. They were there, lurking. Always fucking lurking.
Then this summer, the #savethechildren hashtag exploded all over the Internet. Local Facebook pages were full of plans for #savethechildren marches. There were stories about raids on large child sex trafficking rings (most of which were untrue), and there were live feeds of pedophiles arriving to truck stops to be met with citizen justice.
The whole thing felt very…strange. Not because I’m not in favor of saving the children, but because it also seemed like #savethechildren was part of something broader, larger—an ulterior motive, another movement lurking beneath the surface.
And wouldn’t you know it? #savethechildren wasn’t the only hashtag being used in some of the pictures I was seeing come out of these save the children marches. There was also, sometimes, the #weg1wga hashtag, which is a common saying among QANON believers. It stands for “Where we go one, we go all.”
(This saying, although commonly attributed by QANONs to belong to JFK, it’s actually a quote from the movie, White Squall.)
Now, according to many sources, including the QANON Anonymous podcast, the #savethechildren (also sometimes tagged as #saveourchildren) movement didn’t really get underway until social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook and YouTube started cracking down on QANON pages, profiles, and videos, effectively shutting off the outlet for what QANONs call “pilling people” (think the Matrix), which is the term they use for disseminating their conspiracy theories to the masses. In short, using the save the children hashtag was an easy way to continue spreading their theories without getting caught. Afterall, saving children from psychotic pedophilic overlords is part of their agenda. It should also be noted that Save The Children is a real organization, and QANON co-opted the hashtag, just like they co-opted “Where we go one, we go all.”
But before we wade too far into the deep end of QANON, let’s first start with their origin story.
Picture it. 4chan. October 2017.
Anonymous users are just trolling around 4chan, being homophobic and sexist and racist as one does on message boards like these, when BAM! The first Qdrop appears (“Qdrops” are what QANON’s use to refer to posts made by their lord and savior, the ever anonymous “Q”). The message is cryptic and titled “The Calm Before the Storm.” The poster claims to be a “Q Clearance Patriot.”
Q clearance is an actual thing within the government. It refers to anyone who has special access to classified information through the Department of Energy (USGS.gov). So, whoever posted the first thread knew enough to know that interest would be sparked by suggesting they had Q clearance.
The first post read:
HRC [Hillary Rodham Clinton] extradition already in motion effective yesterday with several countries in case of cross border run. Passport approved to be flagged effective 10/30 @ 12:01am. Expect massive riots organized in defiance and others fleeing the US to occur. US M’s will conduct the operation while NG [National Guard] activated. Proof check: Locate a NG member and ask if activated for duty 10/30 across most major cities.
This was directly followed by another post from “Q”:
Hillary Clinton will be arrested between 7:45 AM – 8:30 AM EST on Monday – the morning on Oct 30, 2017.
These posts came about 8 months after the Pizzagate conspiracy theory I discussed in my previous post about The Deep State. The Pizzagate thread was removed from places like Reddit and 4chan, and whoever posted as Q for the first time draws from that theory without actually saying it.
These first posts aren’t necessarily special, though. Since the beginning of Internet message boards, anonymous posters have been using them to post random and sometimes dangerous information. I remember being a frequent visitor of several message boards as a teenager (before parents started monitoring their kids’ online activity), and the things people posted anonymously spanned from favorite Spice Girl to how to make a pipe bomb. On message boards like Reddit (although mild compared to others) and 4chan, anonymous postings claiming to be FBIAnon and other types of anonymous government officials with classified information is nothing new. Most of the time, these messages don’t make it out of the message board community.
Q was plucked out of relative obscurity when a couple of 4chan moderators decided to give the posts a wider audience by contacting a few members of the YouTube community who had been commenting on the Qdrops (Zadrozny & Collins, 2018).
One of those moderators was Paul Ferber, who some believe to actually be Q. Well, at least one of the first Q posters. Furber is a South African who espouses conspiracy theories allll over the place, especially on Twitter as @Paul_Furber. We won’t jump into whether or not Paul Furber was, at one time, Q, but if you want to know more about the person or people who might be behind Q, I encourage you to listen to the podcast QClearance: Unmasking QANON.
After QANON began to gain some traction, thanks in part to YouTube and Paul Furber, Q’s following exploded on 4chan. While there is some debate about whether or not QANON was eventually booted from 4chan or left of their own volition is up for debate, but eventually, QANON was kicked from both 4chan and even Reddit, where they’d had a home under the /r/greatawakening subreddit. And I just want to insert here—do you know how bad you have to be, as a group, to get kicked off (or even allegedly kicked off) fucking 4chan? Pretty bad, my friends, pretty bad. That’s when QANON found another place to nest—8chan. 8chan was (it no longer exists, and I’ll tell you why later) a message board site created by a man named Frederick Brennan, who admits he was high on mushrooms when the idea for 8chan came to him (QClearance, 2020).
By 2018, 8chan was where Q came to post, and followers came to listen. By this time, of course, QANON followers existed virtually everywhere on the Internet, and it was no longer just a dirty message board hat trick. Still, 8chan was their hub—and 8chan was even worse than 4chan. That’s partly because Brennan eventually sold 8chan to Jim Watkins, a guy who set up his first porn site in the 1990’s (and recently registered a PAC called “Disarm the Deepstate” in 2020). Watkins is an extreme proponent of free speech, and this extended to 8chan. The message board site was absolutely littered with discussions about child pornography as well as all the other disgusting things these kinds of message boards host. Not only that, but 8chan is where at least 3 mass shooters went to post their manifestos, including the El Paso Walmart Massacre that killed 22 people in 2019 (Zhang, 2019). Eventually, it got so bad, that the server provider for 8chan took the site offline. This was after Watkins abjectly refused to take it offline.
So, again, I want to interject here to say that QANON, a movement that purports to want to #savethechildren, had absolutely ZERO problem with being a huge part of a site like 8chan, where talk of pedophilia ran rampant, where mass shooters came to post their manifestos, and was owned by a dude who likes porn so much, he got his internet start creating websites for it.
IN FACT, after 8chan was taken down, Watkins opened up 8kun, which still remains the largest hub for QANON followers to this day. Many also suspect that Watkins has taken over Qdrops (listen to the earlier recommended podcast for more on that).
Fortunately for you, I’ve gone to 8kun so that you don’t ever have to go there yourselves. Because let me tell you, it is so gross. It is also completely and totally public. Anybody can go there and see what’s being posted, even though the people who post there remain anonymous. I’m going to post screenshots below, so you can see for yourselves, but these screenshots come with a warning—they are not nice. They are not friendly. They are racist, they’re anti-Semitic, they’re rife with disinformation, and most of the time, they’re completely nonsensical. I’m posting them only because I think it’s important for you to see where QANON followers go to find information, where they post, and what they are willing to wade through and participate in, so that they can continue to thrive.
Oh, and they really, really hate George Soros.
If your eyes aren’t bleeding by the time you finish looking at those screenshots, stay with me. Because while what’s being posted on 8kun is gross and false, the one story I found to be the most interesting is in the 2nd screenshot. It’s the one about George Soros being arrested. While this story wasn’t posted by Q, it is incredibly typical of the kind of thing QANON followers not only believe, but also share with anyone who will listen.
George Soros wasn’t arrested. We all know that. However, research about why this info would be posted to 8kun led me to a news archive for a website called YourNewsWire (dot com) and an article that was originally posted on November 23, 2020. The article states, in part:
George Soros has been arrested and is currently being held in federal custody in Philadelphia. According to a recently unsealed indictment filed in the Western District of Pennsylvania, Soros has been charged with a number of serious crimes relating to the US election.
They describe Soros’ crimes and even go so far as to provide a copy of the “inditement” that was allegedly filed on October 15th in the Western District of Pennsylvania and claims that the judge has ordered a “publication ban” on Soros’ arrest, which I guess is supposed to explain why nobody else is reporting the story. They also cite another far-right news site called Rebel News as well as link a video with the Rebel News logo in the top. Rebel News does exist, and they’re actually a Canadian news company (weird, but I guess they have extremists even in Canada), but when I clicked on the video, I was taken to YouTube Russia, where all of the videos were in Russian, and I couldn’t click on anything. I’ve pasted a screenshot below.
I won’t speculate on what that means, but I suuuuuure did think it was interesting, especially since YourNewsWire (dot com) is supposedly run by a couple of guys in Los Angeles (Funke, 2018).
Additionally, just in case you’re even the least bit skeptical, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on November 24th that George Soros had absolutely not been indicted or arrested. They also reported that U.S. judges do not have the authority to stop the media from reporting a story. They can only order individuals involved not to speak about the case. If you need further proof that the people at YourNewsWire (dot com) are complete morons, The Philadelphia Inquirer also posted this:
The fake indictment lists charges for conspiracy, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, damage to computers, aggravated identity theft and aiding and abetting.
A reverse-image search revealed that it was digitally manipulated using a real indictment from Oct. 15 that involved six Russian nationals who were allegedly behind a number of high-profile cyber-attacks and accused of being hackers with Russian military intelligence.
HAHAHAHAHAHA. How do you say “what the fuck” in Russian?
While George Soros being arrested is certainly QANON fodder, it’s not necessarily at the heart of what followers believe. At its core, QANON followers believe, much like their Deep State counterparts, that the “world is run by a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who are plotting against Mr. Trump while operating a global child sex-trafficking ring,” (Roose, 2020). Naturally, Hillary Clinton and George Soros are involved, but the belief extends out to even the wholesome likes of Tom Hanks and many other celebrities and famous people. These people actually believe that Donald Trump is on some kind of Christian crusade (with the help of the military) to rid the United States of this criminal cell. I’m not sure if they’ve forgotten that until very recently Donald Trump was part of the famous elite, but it doesn’t seem to matter. He is nevertheless chosen.
He is the Anointed One.
There are other beliefs that swirl around the QANON universe, but they are varied offshoots of the core belief, like the fact that JFK Jr. faked his own death, is living in Pennsylvania, and is somehow leading the Trump Army against the cabal?????? (I just…have so many questions.) An earlier version of this theory claimed that JFK Jr. was going to make his grand appearance at a Trump rally in Texas where the President would announce that he was…wait for it…replacing Mike Pence with JFK Jr. as his running mate (Leishman, 2020). The rally wasn’t a thing, and JFK Jr. is still, I’m sad to report, dead.
This, like so many other Q theories, never came to fruition. In fact, Q’s very first post about Hillary Clinton being arrested never happened. Nevertheless, Q believers spend their days waiting for Qdrops (which can now be found on qalerts.app) and waiting for Trump to reveal secret messages in his speeches, both of which are called “breadcrumbs.” Believers then use these breadcrumbs to “make bread” and often refer to themselves as “bakers,” which is really just bad metaphor for fitting the pieces together to make the whole picture.
They’re willing and waiting soldiers in a war they call “The Storm.” This phrase is apparently in reference to a remark Trump made in 2017, during a photo op with military generals (Roose, 2020).
There have been thousands of Qdrops. In October of this year, the New York Times reported that there had been over 5,000 of them. Here is an example of a few of the more recent Qdrops from the qalerts page:
Q has been pretty quiet since the election. I’ve heard that this is not necessarily off-brand for Q, as he may go silent for weeks or months at a time. However, I think the silence here is pretty significant. This is not, of course, what Q predicted. This is not what QANON followers expected. The results of the election have sent QANONs into a tailspin, desperately grabbing at any breadcrumb they can find to make sense of what I’m sure they feel like is an alternate reality.
Reactions from QANON followers have been mixed. I think the majority are, even now, holding out hope that the results of the election will be overturned. They’ve deactivated their Facebook accounts and switched to Parler. They’ve recorded songs and videos and continue Tweeting and posting to social media in an effort to keep the faith. They’re waiting on pins and needles for the next Qdrop, believing that Q will tell them what to do next, that Q will abate some of the anxiety they feel about the fact that, at least for now, their reality has come crashing down around them.
Some of us know what that feels like, at least a little. When I think back on election night 2016, I remember the sick feeling sitting at the pit of my stomach when I crawled into bed knowing that when I woke up the next morning, Donald Trump would be President-Elect.
For a few QANON die-hards, this could prove to be catastrophic. Some believers have cut ties with family members over their fanatical ideals. I personally know people who’ve been disowned by their parents for not buying into Q or for refusing to vote for Donald Trump. There are people out there who have spent all of their time and energy going so deep into QANON that their loved ones don’t even recognize them anymore.
Most of the time I spent at 8kun made me sick to my stomach. The disgusting rhetoric that lives there (both in and out of QANON circles) is everywhere. But as I was winding down my search, I ran across one post that was more desperate than it was hateful. As I’ve mentioned before, all posts on message boards like these are anonymous. They’re also all public. This person laments “all that he’s given up” for Q and his feelings of helplessness that nothing is going according to plan. He talks about wanting to kill himself. Don’t get me wrong—the hateful rhetoric is still there, especially in the “encouraging” replies to the original post. But this thread reveals the reality of many QANON followers out there—the money, time, and effort they’ve spent, because they’ve bought in. And that buy in has affected nearly every aspect of their lives.
I’m going to post the screenshot of part of the thread below. Be warned—there are elements of violence and suicide.
This thread is an introduction to what I want to discuss next: the kind of people movements like QANON attract.
In a broad sense, anxiety can be to blame. As a society, we’ve finally begun to understand just how detrimental anxiety can be, and we’re talking about it in a different way. People feel encouraged to be honest about anxiety, but that doesn’t mean this discussion lessens the effects it has on our bodies and minds. According to a 2019 article in the Scientific American:
New research suggests that events happening worldwide are nurturing underlying emotions that make people more willing to believe in conspiracies. Experiments have revealed that feelings of anxiety make people think more conspiratorially. Such feelings, along with a sense of disenfranchisement, currently grip many Americans, according to surveys. In such situations, a conspiracy theory can provide comfort by identifying a convenient scapegoat and thereby making the world seem more straightforward and controllable. “People can assume that if these bad guys weren’t there, then everything would be fine,” Lewandowsky says. “Whereas if you don’t believe in a conspiracy theory, then you just have to say terrible things happen randomly.”
The article goes on to discuss how Americans are becoming increasingly worried about the future of the country, while also believing (both Democrats and Republicans) that their “side” has been losing too often in recent years. This “existential crisis” as they put it, can lead to more conspiratorial thinking. They conclude by stating that conspiracy theories are a human reaction to confusing times.
And the times, y’all. They are confusing.
Controlling the narrative is one way to feel more secure in your world view and can bring comfort in spite of the ever-changing events around you. Furthermore, the more disenfranchised you feel in your own life, the more prone you are to believing conspiracy theories as a way to belong. The desire to belong is a psychological and physical need for human beings.
Of course, it isn’t just about world events. Certain personality traits also play into the tendency to believe conspiracy theories. Josh Hart, an associate professor of Psychology at Union University, says that these people tend to be more suspicious, untrusting, eccentric, need to feel special, and have a tendency to view the world as an inherently dangerous place (2018). Furthermore, when a conspiracy is proved real (think Russian interference in the 2016 election or Watergate), people are going to be more willing to believe that the outrageous could actually happen. I’ve even read a little bit about what some psychologists and addiction experts are calling “conspiracy theory addiction disorder.”
Depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses certainly play a part in the world of conspiracy theories, but I think it’s really important not to make a blanket assumption that anyone who believes a conspiracy theory is mentally ill. We have a history in this country of blaming mental illness for violence and other terrible things that happen, and I want to make it perfectly clear that this is an unfair assessment of mental illness. The vast majority of people who are mentally ill are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Most people with mental illness aren’t violent, and only 3-5% of violent acts can be attributed to people living with serious mental illness (mentalhealth.gov, 2017).
That last bit is really important, because now I want to talk about the violence that has been incited as a result of QANON.
In October of this year, journalists at The Guardian chronicled at least 12 instances of QANON linked violence. The first recorded incident dates back to June of 2018, when an Arizona man blocked a bridge near the Hoover Dam with an armored vehicle. The man, Matthew Wright, was apparently unhappy that Trump had not made the arrests that Q said would be made. Wright was armed with 2 “military style” rifles, 2 handguns, and 900 rounds of ammunition.
The list goes on (which you can read for yourself and is linked in my reference section at the bottom of this post) to list instances of bomb making, murder, kidnapping, smashing up churches, derailing a freight train, making threats against Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, and car chases. One of the offenders, Neely Blanchard, a Kentucky woman, was arrested in March of this year for kidnapping her twin daughters from her mother’s house (her mother had legal custody). She’d also been charged back in 2013, for kidnapping another one of her children who was in the custody of her mother-in-law. Blanchard, who had a history of run-ins with the law, was found with her twins at the home of anti-government extremists by using cell phone tracking. Blanchard used the “sovereign citizen” argument to claim she should have custody of her kids (it’s an interesting theory, but I won’t go into it here). The Guardian reported that QANON is popular is sovereign citizen groups, in part because these groups believe that the government and child protection agencies who take children away from their parents are actually responsible for abusing them.
I’m mentioning Neely Blanchard specifically, because on Monday, November the 15th, she murdered a man in Marion County, Florida. The man was 50-year-old Christopher Hallett, who’d actually been trying to help her regain custody of her children. According to the Tampa Bay Times (2020):
Hallett, 50, ran an entity called E-Clause LLC that featured a Facebook page filled with documents, graphics and articles about whether governments have authority in many instances over individuals. This viewpoint is frequently summarized as the “sovereign citizen” movement.
Blanchard, who was 33 at the time, was out on $10,000 bail, awaiting trial on the previous kidnapping charge from March of this year. Despite the fact that Hallett had been attempting to help her, she eventually began to believe that he was working with the government to keep her children away from her.
As late as November 12th, Blanchard was tagging Hallett on Facebook, and they seemed to have a good relationship. Blanchard’s Facebook (there are at least 2 accounts) is full of pro-Trump posts and photos of herself in Make America Great Again gear. On November the 3rd, she posted a live video of herself and one of her children at a Trump election rally. In a reshare of that video on November the 4th, she mentions something about a 2:22 p.m. time stamp and “2:22” being there all along, which honestly, I didn’t even have the energy to research by this point, but she does reference it in a post on the same day below the re-share of her live video:
It’s clear that Neely Blanchard was deep into the conspiracy theory life, and that this is a pattern of behavior for her. All of the signs were there. Ultimately, she took a life, destroyed her own life, and altered the lives of her three children and everyone close to her indefinitely.
If it hadn’t been QANON, Donald Trump, and the supposed Sovereign Citizen movement, it would have been something else. Still, this reality doesn’t make up for the fact that Blanchard felt emboldened to act. It doesn’t make up for the fact that when you have movements like QANON slithering into the mainstream and given permission to do so by the President of the United States, you’re going to have more believers taking matters into their own hands, because they truly believe that the truth is on their side.
And why wouldn’t they believe it?
In the months leading up to the election, Trump, his inner circle, conservative media, and QANON supporters geared up by throwing out unfounded claims about mail-in ballots, knowing full-well that those who mailed in their ballots this election cycle would be more likely to be Democrats, given the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic (which I plan to discuss in another post) had become more about national politics than national health, with conservatives on one side and liberals on the other. It came as no surprise that when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were poised to defeat Donald Trump and Mike Pence, that the wild accusations and disinformation about voter fraud began to circulate. I touched on some of that in my first post about Scytl and Dominion, but that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
Never before has conspiracy theory had a home in the mainstream like it does right now. It has permeated nearly every corner of popular culture and our government. On October 2nd, 2020, the U.S. House voted on H.Res 1154, a resolution condemning QANON and rejecting the conspiracy theories it promotes. The resolution as sponsored by Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) and had both Democratic and Republican co-sponsorship. The resolution passed by an overwhelming margin, with 371 “yes” votes and only 18 “no” votes. The 374 “yes” votes were a mixture of Democrat (225) and Republican (146), and there were 40 members of the House who did not vote. However, of the 18 “no” votes, 17 were Republican and 1 was Independent (Desert Sun, 2020). That means that at the time, at least 18 Congressional House members refused to denounce QANON.
Just before the election, the QAnon Anonymous podcast reported that at least 92 Congressional candidates had endorsed or promoted QANON. Ultimately, two QANON candidates won their races and will be allowed to shape the political landscape of our country. Lauren Boebert won her House bid in Colorado, and Marjorie Taylor Greene won her unopposed House bid in Georgia. President Trump congratulated them both.
I know that all of this seems absolutely ridiculous. It’s hard to imagine that anybody could believe that Q is an actual intelligence agent or that the QANON movement has any validity. But people absolutely believe it. I think that’s partly because so much of the QANON base has absolutely no idea about the origin of Q or the message boards where the movement got its start. The problem is that many people were pulled into the fold through mainstream social media. They weren’t on 4chan or Reddit or 8chan or even 8kun. Sure, lots of them were, but the growing number of believers suggests to me that they’re probably getting most of their information secondhand. They started by watching a YouTube video or reading a tweet or Facebook post. They saw Paul Furber on InfoWars. They were listening to Alex Jones or some other random podcast. They were filling themselves up with disinformation from news sites like the ones I’ve discussed in previous posts. They unwittingly got involved with #savethechildren, because it’s easy to see how that hashtag and that cause could lure someone into the dark underbelly of the world of Q.
They’re also listening to people who are public figures like Rudy Giuliani or General Michael Flynn and his senseless lawyer, Sidney Powell.
They are listening to our president.
And it doesn’t really matter how people got there. It doesn’t matter if they’re in deep or a casual Q supporter. It doesn’t matter if government officials buy in to QANON or if they’re simply placating a growing number of disenfranchised voters. What matters is that we have a big problem, and now that we’ve opened this grotesque fucking version of Pandora’s Box, the likelihood of closing and tightening the lid (and throwing it into the ocean for good measure) is slim.
The last four years have seen a rise in disinformation and distrust in the media, and now it’s so commonplace that calling out this disinformation when we see it is met with an eyeroll. It’s met with being called a sheep for citing legitimate sources like Pew Research or the World Health Organization or even the Center for Disease Control. The usual ways of picking apart conspiracy theory (like I’ve done here) are truly not enough.
Because how do we combat a group of people who believe that the only truth that exists is the one they’ve created? How do we move forward?
I don’t know the complete answer, but I do know that it’s going to take diligence. It’s going to take years of bi-partisan effort in government. It’s going to take average citizens like you and me, using every chance we are given to resist the narrative.
Today, it’s QANON, but tomorrow, it’ll be something else. Just like QANON is Pizzagate adjacent and Pizzagate is Deep State adjacent, there is surely another Q out there, lurking in the darkest corners of the Internet, waiting for their turn to create chaos.
Let’s not make it easy for them.
Tiny Blue Dot
Beckett, L. (2020, October 16). QAnon: A timeline of violence linked to the conspiracy theory. Retrieved November 22, 2020, from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/oct/15/qanon-violence-crimes-timeline
Condemning QAnon and rejecting the conspiracy theories it promotes. (2020, October 2). Retrieved November 22, 2020, from https://data.desertsun.com/roll-call/condemning-qanon-and-rejecting-the-conspiracy-theories-it-promotes/2020-house-218/
Florida man with ‘sovereign citizen’ views shot to death by woman, police say. (2020, November 17). Retrieved November 24, 2020, from https://www.tampabay.com/news/crime/2020/11/17/florida-man-with-sovereign-citizen-views-shot-to-death-by-woman-police-say/
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