QAnon: from an online forum to the White House, the rise of the conspiracy movement

In her campaign clip, Marjorie Taylor Greene grabs an impressive rifle topped with a rifle scope. Perched in the back of a pick-up, this candidate for the US Congress pulverizes targets representing everything she intends to fight: arms control, of course, but also the “open border” which facilitates immigration, climate policy and the supposed “socialism” of the Democratic clan. She will now be able to defend this program in the House of Representatives. In the running for the Republicans in Georgia, Marjorie Taylor Greene is one of the parliamentarians elected on November 3.

The 46-year-old, who attends churches and weight rooms and runs a construction company, is an uninhibited ultra-conservative. She defines herself as “pro-life, pro-arms, pro-God”. But if she is so much talked about, it is because her election marks the entry into Congress of conspiratorial theses in full swing in the United States: those of the “QAnon”. In a video posted on Facebook in 2017, this mother of three says that her country is the prey of a “global cabal of satanist pedophiles” that must be “eliminated”. “I think we have the right president for that,” she adds, referring to Donald Trump.

Elected on November 3, in Georgia, to the House of Representatives, Marjorie Taylor Greene relayed QAnon theories between 2017 and 2019. YouTube capture

The American site Politico has unearthed several videos posted between 2017 and 2019 on social networks, in which this smiling blonde enthusiastically evokes the QAnons and makes a number of disturbing remarks. She calls billionaire George Soros a “Nazi”. She denounces “an Islamic invasion” of the government after the election in 2018 of two Muslim women to the House of Representatives. She also pities white men, “the most abused group in America today” …

During the last weeks of her campaign, which she led without a mask, Marjorie Taylor Greene assured that she was not a QAnon candidate, but did not renounce her positions. Like her, at least two dozen contenders for Congress, according to US media, espouse QAnon theories, without ever claiming to be. In fact, throughout this election year, this movement has continued to gain visibility. During Donald Trump’s meetings, supporters brandished cardboard “Qs” or wore T-shirts bearing one of the movement’s creeds: “Where we go one, we go all” (“Where one of us goes, we all go”). In early September, a poll showed that nearly half of Americans had heard of QAnon, up from a quarter in March.

Meeting of QAnon supporters in Florida, July 2018. Joe Raedle / Getty
Meeting of QAnon supporters in Florida, July 2018. Joe Raedle / Getty

Surprised guest in the countryside, this movement has only three years of existence. Its beginnings take place on 4chan, an English-speaking Internet forum, known for its freedom of speech and its frequent slippages. On October 28, 2017, the anonymous Q Clearance Patriot account posted what sounded like a joke: Hillary Clinton will be arrested within 48 hours. The letter “Q” refers to the Q clearance, the highest secret-defense clearance in the United States.

Obviously, nothing like this happens, but the machine is on. The conspiratorial messages – “drops” – multiply and are repeated even on social networks, in particular Facebook. Supporters create specialized sites, like, to aggregate messages and facilitate their propagation.

Gradually removed from social networks, activists set up the site to continue to spread their messages.  Screenshot
Gradually removed from social networks, activists set up the site to continue to spread their messages. Screenshot

In his drops, now nearly 5,000, Q ensures that there is a state within a state, the “deep state” (deep state), which would bring together the great Democratic representatives, part of show business (actor Tom Hanks, host Oprah Winfrey…), financiers (George Soros, the Rothschild family…) and planetary figures (the Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama…) All are allegedly involved in a vast trafficking in children and are plotting to appropriate power. Fortunately, Donald Trump would be mandated by the military to save the United States. The followers of QAnon await “The Great Awakening”, “Le Grand Réveil”, which will reveal this plot and send the criminals to Guantanamo. Q would be a high-ranking patriot responsible for alerting the population.

“One of the first forms of participatory conspiracy”

Bad joke ? Series Z scenario? Alas no. The theories QAnon, contraction of Q and Anon, for anonymous (“Anonymous”), are attracting a growing number of people around the world. “We will believe in Q because his message corresponds to prejudices, analyzes Tristan Mendès France, associate lecturer at the University of Paris and collaborator of the Observatory of conspiracy. If we have a negative a priori on any word of expertise and authority, it is affect that directs reason. This world elite conspiracy idea is absorbable by anyone who believes that the media and politicians are lying. “

Far from being crystal clear, the messages form an improbable imbroglio of photos, photomontages, links to videos and press articles, long statements and short chopped texts, written like spy notes. Everything is encrypted, full of nebulous allusions and unanswered questions. Q urges his supporters to “do their own research” based on the leads he leaves.

During the presidential campaign, we could find, at some activists' meetings, badges bearing the effigy of Donald Trump next to those of QAnon.  Bryan Anselm / REA
During the presidential campaign, we could find, at some activists’ meetings, badges bearing the effigy of Donald Trump next to those of QAnon. Bryan Anselm / REA

“It is one of the first forms of participatory conspiracy, points out Tristan Mendès France. Q prompts hordes of individuals to find weak signals in the news or in the actions of politicians, including Trump, on television. Everyone becomes an investigator and can discuss their intuitions and discoveries on forums.

Pharmaceutical labs, child trafficking and 5G

Its followers are constantly constructing new theories, or picking up rumors that have sometimes been circulating for a long time: 9/11 would never have taken place, politicians would plot with pharmaceutical companies, Barack Obama would be a Muslim and Kim Jong-un in cahoots. with the CIA, London would hide child trafficking in its basement …

In this maelstrom, the defense of the miners serves as a catalyst to propagate the QAnon theories. On social networks, messages stamped #Savethechildren (#Sauverlesenfants) ensure that thousands of children are kidnapped each year in the United States to be delivered to influential sexual predators. And the news feeds the fantasy machine. As in 2019, the suicide of Jeffrey Epstein, American billionaire convicted of sexual delinquency. Or the development of 5G whose repercussions on health are not well understood. Or this summer, the fires that set California ablaze. They are said to be the work of anti-fascist movements, those leftist groups denounced by Trump. “I’m not saying that pedo-Satanism exists,” says Daniel. This Quebecer founded the site where he translates and comments on the drops. But is it really inconceivable that such networks use pedophilia to blackmail people in power? What is the Epstein affair if not an ultra-organized compromise operation? He advances.

The American election sparked a peak of mobilization. A number of videos are circulating, which would prove hypothetical Democratic fraud. But it is above all the Covid-19 crisis that has accelerated the spread of these theories in the United States and around the world. The contradictions of governments on the way forward in the face of the pandemic fueled mistrust of political power and played into the game of conspiracy: the virus would be a human creation out of a laboratory, an element in a vast conspiracy world or a pretext to allow Bill Gates to implant chips in human guinea pigs. According to Marc-André Argentino, a doctoral student at Concordia University in Montreal, QAnon has seen a 71% increase in its content on Twitter and 651% on Facebook since March, and has spread to Europe, particularly Germany. .

Donald Trump supporters hold up the iconic Q sign in September 2019 outside the White House as they hold a rally.  Tom Brenner / Rea
Donald Trump supporters hold up the iconic Q sign in September 2019 outside the White House as they hold a rally. Tom Brenner / Rea

Denouncing is not enough. Tired of waiting for “Le Grand Réveil”, some QAnons tried to take matters into their own hands. Some have been involved in kidnappings of children, which they believed to be saving. In March 2019, a young man shot dead a suspected Mafia godfather he suspected of being in the deep state. Last April, a woman was arrested while driving armed with knives to New York to “get rid of Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden” …

In a May 2019 report, the FBI called the movement a “potential domestic terrorist threat,” and on October 2, the House of Representatives approved a resolution calling the QAnon theories a “collective delusion,” despite opposition from several Republicans.

Donald Trump relays messages from QAnon

Accused of having favored the dissemination of fake news in 2016, the Internet giants reacted. Several times this year, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have announced that they have deleted thousands of accounts and content. But Q’s supporters are constantly recreating them, under new names, coded, or migrating to other means of communication, such as Telegram messaging. Fast. Elusive. “Q asks questions. How is this conspiracy? protests Daniel, from Still, influential people decided he was a threat. On the Internet, there are tens of thousands of articles against him. If it’s a small, unimportant conspiracy, why pay so much attention to it? “

And the first interested party, Donald Trump, what does he think of these theories? “I don’t know anything about QAnon,” he dodged during a pre-election debate. I just know that they are very opposed to pedophilia and that they fight it vigorously. I agree with that, but I don’t know anything else. However, on Twitter, the president regularly relays QAnon messages, such as this post assuring that only 6% of deaths attributed to Covid-19 in the United States are really due to this disease. Or that other claiming that Obama had a bin Laden double shot in 2011 and that the latter would still be alive. In total, Trump retweeted more than 250 QAnon content to his 87 million subscribers. This makes him the first propagator of these theories.

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