There has been much speculation about Q's motives and identity. A range of theories credit Q's posts to either a military intelligence officer, a Trump administration insider, an alternate reality game created by the puzzle organization Cicada 3301, or Trump himself. The Italian leftist Wu Ming foundation has speculated that QAnon is inspired by the Luther Blissett persona, which leftists and anarchists used to organize pranks, media stunts, and hoaxes in the 1990s. "Blissett" published a novel titled Q in 1999.
Disillusionment can also come from the failure of the theories' predictions. Q predicted Republican success in the 2018 US midterm elections and claimed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was involved in secret work for Trump, with apparent tensions between them a cover. When Democrats made significant gains and Trump fired Sessions, there was disillusionment among many in the Q community. Further disillusionment came when a predicted December 5 mass arrest and imprisonment in Guantanamo Bay detention camp of Trump's enemies did not occur, nor did the dismissal of charges against Trump's former national security advisor Michael Flynn. For some, these failures began the process of separation from the QAnon cult, while others urged direct action in the form of an insurrection against the government. Such a response to a failed prophecy is not unusual: apocalyptic cults such as Heaven's Gate, the People's Temple, the Manson Family, and Aum Shinrikyo resorted to mass suicide or mass murder when their expectations for revelations or the fulfillment of their prophecies did not materialize. Psychologist Robert Lifton calls it "forcing the end". This phenomenon is being seen among some QAnon believers. View echoes the concern that disillusioned QAnon believers might take matters into their own hands as Pizzagate believer Edgar Maddison Welch did in 2016, Matthew Phillip Wright did at Hoover Dam in 2018, and Anthony Comello did in 2019, when he murdered Mafia boss Frank Cali, believing himself to be under Trump's protection.
The story was later posted on fake news websites, starting with Your News Wire, which cited a 4chan post from earlier that year. The Your News Wire article was subsequently spread by pro-Trump websites, including SubjectPolitics.com, which added the claim that the NYPD had raided Hillary Clinton's property. The Conservative Daily Post ran a headline claiming the Federal Bureau of Investigation had confirmed the conspiracy theory. In its most basic sense, an "anon" is an anonymous or pseudonymous Internet poster. The concept of anons "doing research" and claiming to disclose otherwise classified information, while a key component of the QAnon conspiracy theory, is by no means exclusive to it. Before Q, a number of so-called anons also claimed to have special government access. On July 2, 2016, the anonymous poster "FBIAnon", a self-described "high-level analyst and strategist" who claimed to have "intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the Clinton case", began posting lies about the 2016 investigation into the Clinton Foundation and claimed that Hillary Clinton would be imprisoned if Trump became president. Around that time, "HLIAnon", standing for "High Level Insider Anon", hosted long question-and-answer sessions, dispensing various conspiracy theories, including that Princess Diana was murdered after trying to stop the September 11 attacks. Soon after the 2016 United States elections, two anonymous posters called "CIAAnon" and "CIAIntern" falsely claimed to be high-ranking CIA officers, and in late August 2017, "WHInsiderAnon" offered a supposed preview that something that was "going to go down" regarding leaks that would affect the Democratic Party.
October 30, 2016
On October 30, 2016, a Twitter account posting white supremacist material which said it was run by a New York lawyer falsely claimed that the New York City Police Department (NYPD) had discovered a pedophilia ring linked to members of the Democratic Party while searching through Anthony Weiner's emails. Throughout October and November 2016, WikiLeaks had published John Podesta's emails. Proponents of the conspiracy theory read the emails and alleged they contained code words for pedophilia and human trafficking. Proponents also claimed that Comet Ping Pong, a pizzeria in Washington, D.C., was a meeting ground for Satanic ritual abuse.
Although preceded by similar viral conspiracy theories such as Pizzagate, which has since become part of QAnon, the conspiracy theory began with an October 2017 post on the anonymous imageboard 4chan by "Q", who was presumably an American individual; it is now more likely that "Q" has become a group of people acting under the same name. Q claimed to be a high-level government official with Q clearance, who has access to classified information involving the Trump administration and its opponents in the United States. NBC News reported that three people took the original Q post and spread it across multiple media platforms to build an Internet following for profit. QAnon was preceded by several similar anonymous 4chan posters, such as FBIAnon, HLIAnon (High-Level Insider), CIAAnon, and WH Insider Anon. Although American in origin, there is now a considerable QAnon movement outside of the United States, particularly in Europe.
A user named "Q Clearance Patriot" first appeared on the /pol/ board of 4chan on October 28, 2017, posting in a thread titled "Calm Before the Storm", a reference to Trump's cryptic description of a gathering of United States military leaders he attended as "the calm before the storm". The "Storm" became QAnon parlance for an imminent event in which thousands of alleged suspects will be arrested, imprisoned, and executed for being child-eating pedophiles. The poster's username implied that they hold Q clearance, a United States Department of Energy security clearance required to access Top Secret information on nuclear weapons and materials. An Internet community soon developed around interpreting and analyzing posts attributed to Q, and among these conspiracy theorists, several individuals became minor celebrities within the community.
—QAnon's first post on the /pol/ message board of 4chan, on October 28, 2017
In November 2017, Paul Furber, Coleman Rogers, and Tracy Diaz, two 4chan moderators and a small-time YouTube creator respectively, worked together to propagate QAnon to a wider audience. Some QAnon followers have accused the trio of profiting off of the movement. The three then created a Reddit community that was influential in spreading the conspiracy theory until they were banned and the subreddit was closed in March 2018, which Reddit explained was due to incitement of violence and posting private information. QAnon spread to other social media, including Twitter and YouTube. Rogers and his wife, Christina Urso, launched Patriots' Soapbox, a YouTube livestream dedicated to QAnon, which they used to solicit donations. Its guests have included Congress member-elect Lauren Boebert and a Trump campaign publicist. Posts by Q later moved to 8chan, with Q citing concerns that the 4chan board had been "infiltrated". After 8chan was shut down in August 2019 after it was connected with the 2019 El Paso shooting and other violent incidents, adherents of QAnon moved to Endchan and 8kun.
On November 26, 2017, Trump retweeted a post by Twitter account @MAGAPILL, a self-styled "official President Donald Trump accomplishment list" and major QAnon proponent, less than a month after QAnon first started posting. On December 28, the Russian television network RT aired a segment discussing "QAnon revelations", referring to the anonymous poster as a "secret intelligence operative inside the Trump administration known by QAnon". Although Russia was not involved in QAnon's origins, Russian government-funded Russian state media such as RT and Sputnik have been amplifying the conspiracy theory since 2019, citing QAnon as evidence that the United States is riven by internal strife and division.
QAnon first received attention from mainstream press in December 2017, and in the early months of 2018, the conspiracy theory received traction from the mainstream right. Television host Sean Hannity and entertainer Roseanne Barr spread news about QAnon to their social media followers. InfoWars host and far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones claimed to be in personal contact with Q. The presence en masse of QAnon adherents at a July 2018 Trump rally for the midterm elections in Tampa, Florida, marked the conspiracy theory's entry into the mainstream.
On June 28, 2018, a Time magazine article listed Q among the 25 Most Influential People on the Internet in 2018. Counting more than 130,000 related discussion videos on YouTube, Time cited the wide range of the conspiracy theory and its more prominent followers and news coverage. On July 4, the Hillsborough County Republican Party shared on its official Facebook and Twitter accounts a YouTube video on QAnon, calling them a "mysterious anonymous inside leaker of deep state activities and counter activities by President Trump". The posts were soon deleted.
QAnon follower Liz Crokin, who in 2018 asserted that John F. Kennedy Jr. faked his death and is now Q, stated in February 2019 that she was losing patience in Trump to arrest the supposed members of the child sex ring, suggesting that the time was approaching for "vigilante justice." Other QAnon followers have adopted the Kennedy conspiracy theory, asserting that a Pittsburgh man named Vincent Fusca is Kennedy in disguise and would be Trump's 2020 running mate. Some attended 2019 Independence Day celebrations in Washington expecting Kennedy to appear.
On March 14, 2018, Reddit banned one of its communities discussing QAnon, /r/CBTS_Stream, for "encouraging or inciting violence and posting personal and confidential information". After that, some followers moved to Discord. Several other communities were formed for discussion of QAnon, leading to further bans on September 12, 2018, in response to these communities "inciting violence, harassment, and the dissemination of personal information", which led to thousands of adherents regrouping on Voat, a Switzerland-based Reddit clone that has been described as a hub for the alt-right.
An app called "QDrops" that promoted the conspiracy theory was published on the Apple App Store and Google Play. It became the most popular paid app in the "entertainment" section of Apple's online store in April 2018, and the tenth most popular paid app overall. On July 15, 2018, Apple pulled the app after an inquiry from NBC News.
In May 2018, Michael Lewis Arthur Meyer livestreamed a Facebook video from the site of a Tucson cement plant, asserting, "This is a child sex trafficking camp that no one wants to talk about, that no one wants to do nothing about." The video was viewed 650,000 times over the ensuing week. Tucson police inspected the plant without finding evidence of criminal activity. Meyer then occupied a tower on the property for nine days, until reaching agreement with police to leave. He later returned to the tower in July, whereupon he was arrested for trespassing. Meyer referenced QAnon and the #WWG1WGA hashtag on his Facebook page.
While QAnon was initially promoted by Alex Jones and Jerome Corsi, Right Wing Watch reported that they had both ceased to support QAnon by May 2018, declaring the source "completely compromised". But in August 2018, Corsi reversed course and said he "will comment on and follow QAnon when QAnon is bringing forth news", adding that "in the last few days, QAnon has been particularly good".
On June 15, 2018, Matthew Phillip Wright of Henderson, Nevada, was arrested on terrorism and other charges for driving an armored truck, containing an AR-15 and handgun, to the Hoover Dam and blocking traffic for 90 minutes. He said he was on a mission involving QAnon: to demand that the Justice Department "release the OIG report" on the conduct of FBI agents during the investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server. Since a copy of the Office of the Inspector General report had been released the day before, the man had been motivated by a Q "drop" which claimed the released version of the report had been heavily modified and that Trump possessed a more damning version but had declined to release it. In video recorded inside his armored truck, Wright expressed disappointment that Trump had not honored a "duty" to "lock certain people up," asking him to "uphold your oath."
On July 29, 2018, Q posted a link to Stormy Daniels's attorney Michael Avenatti's website and photos of his Newport Beach, California, office building, along with the message, "Buckle up!". The anonymous poster then shared the picture of a still unidentified man, appearing to be holding a cellphone in one hand and a long, thin object in the other, standing in the street near Avenatti's office, adding that a message "had been sent". This sparked an investigation by the Newport Beach Police Department. On July 30, Avenatti asked his Twitter followers to contact the Newport Beach Police Department if they "have any details or observed" the man in the picture.
At a Trump rally in Tampa, Florida, on July 31, 2018, Trump supporters exhibited hostile behavior toward CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta. Exponents of QAnon-related theories were at the rally.
On August 1, 2018, following the previous day's large presence of QAnon supporters at President Trump's Tampa, Florida rally for the mid-term elections, MSNBC news anchors Hallie Jackson, Brian Williams, and Chris Hayes dedicated a portion of their respective television programs to the conspiracy theory. PBS NewsHour also ran a segment on QAnon the next day. On August 2, Washington Post editorial writer Molly Roberts wrote, "'The storm' QAnon truthers predict will never strike because the conspiracy that obsesses them doesn't exist. But while they wait for it, they'll try to whip up the winds, and the rest of us will struggle to find shelter." On August 4, former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked to comment on QAnon in his "ask me anything" session on the /r/The Donald subreddit. In response to the question "is Q legit?", Spicer answered "no".
In less than a year of existence, QAnon became significantly recognized by the general population. According to an August 2018 Qualtrics poll for The Washington Post, 58% of Floridians were familiar enough with QAnon to have an opinion about it. Of those who had an opinion, most were unfavorable. The average score on the feeling thermometer was just above 20, a very negative rating, and about half of what other political figures enjoy. Positive feelings toward QAnon were found to be strongly correlated with being susceptible to conspiracy thinking.
QAnon adherents began appearing at Trump reelection campaign rallies in August 2018. Bill Mitchell, a broadcaster who has promoted QAnon, attended a White House "social media summit" in July 2019. QAnon believers commonly tag their social media posts with the hashtag #WWG1WGA, signifying the motto "Where We Go One, We Go All". At an August 2019 rally, a man warming up the crowd used the QAnon motto, later denying that it was a QAnon reference. This occurred hours after the FBI published a report calling QAnon a potential source of domestic terrorism—the first time the agency had so rated a fringe conspiracy theory. According to analysis by Media Matters for America, as of October 2020, Trump had amplified QAnon messaging at least 258 times by retweeting or mentioning 150 Twitter accounts affiliated with QAnon, sometimes multiple times a day. QAnon followers came to refer to Trump as "Q+".
The Washington Post and The Forward magazine have called QAnon's targeting of Jewish figures like George Soros and the Rothschilds "striking anti-Semitic elements" and "garden-variety nonsense with racist and anti-Semitic undertones". A Jewish Telegraphic Agency article in August 2018 asserted: "some of QAnon's archetypical elements—including secret elites and kidnapped children, among others—are reflective of historical and ongoing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories".
According to analysis by Media Matters, as of August 20, 2020, Trump had amplified QAnon messaging at least 216 times by retweeting or mentioning 129 QAnon-affiliated Twitter accounts, sometimes multiple times a day. On September 9, 2019, Trump retweeted a video from the QAnon-promoting Twitter account "The Dirty Truth". The video featured future director of national intelligence John Ratcliffe criticizing former FBI director James Comey. On August 24, 2018, Trump hosted William "Lionel" Lebron, a leading QAnon promoter, in the Oval Office for a photo op. Shortly after Christmas 2019, Trump retweeted over a dozen QAnon followers.
An under-reported QAnon-related incident was mentioned in the memo: the December 19, 2018, arrest of a California man whose car contained bomb-making materials he intended to use to "blow up a satanic temple monument" in the Springfield, Illinois, Capitol rotunda to "make Americans aware of Pizzagate and the New World Order, who were dismantling society." According to the same source, the FBI said another factor driving the intensity of this threat is "the uncovering of real conspiracies or cover-ups involving illegal, harmful, or unconstitutional activities by government officials or leading political figures."
Two people who declared themselves as Republican congressional candidates in 2019 expressed interest in QAnon theories. Matthew Lusk, a Florida candidate, told The Daily Beast he was not a "brainwashed cult member," saying QAnon theories are a "legitimate something" and constitute a "very articulate screening of past events, a very articulate screening of present conditions, and a somewhat prophetic divination of where the political and geopolitical ball will be bouncing next." Danielle Stella, running as a Republican to unseat Ilhan Omar in Minnesota, wore a "Q" necklace in a photo she tweeted and twice used the hashtag #WWG1WGA, a reference to the QAnon motto "where we go one, we go all." Her Twitter account "liked" responses from QAnon believers who acknowledged the necklace, and the account follows some prominent QAnon believers. A former campaign aide asserted that Stella was merely posing as a QAnon believer to attract voter support.
Anthony Comello of Staten Island, New York, was charged with the March 2019 murder of Gambino crime family underboss Frank Cali. According to his defense attorney, Comello had become obsessed with QAnon theories, believing Cali was a member of a "deep state," and was convinced he "was enjoying the protection of President Trump himself" to place Cali under citizen's arrest. Confronting Cali outside his Staten Island home, Comello allegedly shot Cali ten times. At his first court appearance, Comello displayed QAnon symbols and phrases and "MAGA forever" scrawled on his hand in pen. Comello had also posted material on Instagram praising Fox News personalities such as Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Jeanine Pirro.
The Blue Marble Jubilee fundraising event at Grass Valley Charter School in Grass Valley, California scheduled for May 11, 2019, was canceled as a precaution after a tweet by former FBI head James Comey on April 27 using the hashtag #FiveJobsIveHad, in which the first letters of the jobs were GVCSF, was interpreted by QAnon followers as a veiled reference to the Grass Valley Charter School Foundation, suggesting that Comey planned to stage a "false flag" terror attack at the event; the hashtag was also interpreted by QAnon adherents as an anagram of "five jihads", and the time stamp on the post was related to the 9/11 attacks. The police and the FBI received warnings, in addition to the school, which decided not to take the risk of Internet vigilantes attending "to guard the place", as a police sergeant put it.
A May 30, 2019, FBI "Intelligence Bulletin" memo from the Phoenix Field Office identified QAnon-driven extremists as a domestic terrorism threat. The document cited a number of arrests related to QAnon, some of which had not been publicized before. According to the memo, "This is the first FBI product examining the threat from conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists and provides a baseline for future intelligence products. ... The FBI assesses these conspiracy theories very likely will emerge, spread, and evolve in the modern information marketplace, occasionally driving both groups and individual extremists to carry out criminal or violent acts."
In August 2019, a "Digital Soldiers Conference" was announced for the following month in Atlanta. The stated purpose was to prepare "patriotic social media warriors" for a coming "digital civil war." The announcement for the event prominently displayed a Q spelled in stars on the blue field of an American flag. Scheduled speakers for the event included former Trump aides Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos, as well as Gina Loudon, a Trump friend and member of his campaign media advisory board, singer Joy Villa, and Bill Mitchell, a radio host and ardent Trump supporter. The host of the event, Rich Granville, is CEO of Yippy, Inc., a firm that markets the Yippy search engine, which it claims is free of censorship of conservative views, characterizing it as an "intelligence enterprise" with high-level White House connections. He told a reporter, "you don't know who you're fucking with" and denied the Q flag was a reference to QAnon, though he had had numerous references to QAnon on his Twitter account.
In August 2019, a video posted online by "Women for Trump" late in July was reported to include "Q"s on two campaign signs. The first sign, which said "Make America Great Again", had a "Q" taped to it in the corner. The other side, "Women for Trump" had the "O"s in "Women" and "for" pasted over with "Q"s. The images which included the altered signs were clearly taken at a Trump campaign rally, which have increasingly attracted adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory, so it is unknown if those particular signs were selected for inclusion deliberately or not. The video has since been taken down.
QAnon supporters claim that they were asked to cover up their "Q" identifiers and other QAnon-related symbols at a Trump campaign rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, on August 15, 2019. Although one person who was asked to turn his "Q" shirt inside out when he entered the rally identified the person who asked him to do so as a Secret Service agent, the agency denied this, saying in an email to The Washington Post, "The U.S. Secret Service did not request, or require, attendees to change their clothing at an event in New Hampshire." QAnon supporters also claim that their visibility at Trump rallies has been suppressed for months.
On three occasions during 2019 and 2020, Trump's deputy chief of staff and social media director Dan Scavino tweeted ticking-clock memes QAnon believers use to signify the countdown until the "Storm". Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has also occasionally retweeted posts with the #QAnon hashtag and of the limited number of accounts he follows (224 as of October 2019) many are QAnon advocates.
By design, anonymous imageboards such as 4chan and 8chan obscure their posters' identities, but those who wish to prove a consistent identity between posts while remaining anonymous can choose to use a tripcode, which associates a post with a unique digital signature for any poster who knows the password. There have been thousands of posts associated with a Q tripcode, known as "Q drops". The tripcode associated with Q has changed several times, creating uncertainty about the poster's continuous identity. Passwords on 8chan are also notoriously easy to crack, and the Q tripcode has been repeatedly compromised and used by people pretending to be Q. When 8chan returned online as 8kun in November 2019 after several months of downtime, the Q posting on 8kun posted photos of a pen and notebook that had been pictured in earlier 8chan posts to show the continuation of the Q identity, and continued to use Q's 8chan tripcode.
In December 2019, Cynthia Abcug was arrested and charged in Colorado with conspiracy to commit second-degree kidnapping of one of her children who had been removed from her custody. Her other daughter reported to police that Abcug had been collaborating with an armed male who was "definitely part of this group QAnon," that her mother had gone to QAnon meetings and believed that the child had been taken by "evil Satan worshippers" and "pedophiles."
In January 2020, John Mappin (also affiliated with Turning Point UK) began to fly a Q flag at the Camelot Castle hotel near to Tintagel Castle in England. Advocacy group Hope not Hate said, "Mappin is an eccentric figure, considered outlandish even by his fringe rightwing peers. This childish ploy is a weak attempt at getting attention for himself and his marginal Turning Point UK organisation, and is better off being ignored."
According to a March 2020 Pew survey, 76% of Americans said they had never heard of QAnon, 20% had heard "a little about it", and 3% said they had heard "a lot". A September 2020 Pew survey of the 47% of respondents who said they had heard of QAnon found that 41% of Republicans and those who lean Republican believed QAnon is good for the country, while 7% of Democrats and those who lean Democratic believed that.
On March 20, 2020, Neely Blanchard was arrested and charged with kidnapping and custodial interference after taking her two daughters who had been in the sole legal custody of their grandmother. Blanchard had made multiple social media posts promoting QAnon including memes and pictures of her wearing QAnon shirts at Trump rallies. She also has taken actions connected with the sovereign citizen movement.
In April 2020, Jessica Prim was arrested carrying several knives after live-streaming her attempt to "take out" presidential nominee Joe Biden. Prim was arrested in New York City on a pier where she appeared to have been trying to get to the U.S. Navy Hospital Ship Comfort. QAnon claimed the ship was used by a cabal of pedophiles. During her arrest, Prim was reportedly shown crying and asking police, "Have you guys heard about the kids?"
In July 2020, Business Insider reported that according to Media Matters for America, a left-leaning media monitoring group, Trump's reelection campaign relied on a network of QAnon-related accounts to spread disinformation and propaganda on social media, especially Twitter. An analysis of 380,000 tweets sent between early April and the end of May 2020, and another of the most popular words used by 1,000 accounts, showed that the QAnon network "is playing a key role in generating and spreading Trump's propaganda."
On May 5, 2020, Facebook announced its removal of 5 pages, 20 accounts, and 6 groups linked to "individuals associated with the QAnon network" as part of an investigation into "suspected coordinated inauthentic behavior" ahead of the 2020 United States election. On August 19, Facebook expanded its Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy to address "growing movements that, while not directly organizing violence, have celebrated violent acts, shown that they have weapons and suggest they will use them, or have individual followers with patterns of violent behavior." As a result of this increased vigilance, Facebook reported having already "removed over 790 groups, 100 Pages and 1,500 ads tied to QAnon from Facebook, blocked over 300 hashtags across Facebook and Instagram, and additionally imposed restrictions on over 1,950 Groups and 440 Pages on Facebook and over 10,000 accounts on Instagram." In the first month after its August announcement, Facebook said it deleted 1,500 QAnon groups with such groups by then having 4 million followers. On October 6, 2020, Facebook said it would immediately begin removing "any Facebook Pages, Groups and Instagram accounts representing QAnon, even if they contain no violent content." The company said it would immediately ban any group representing QAnon.
Between March and June 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, QAnon activity nearly tripled on Facebook and nearly doubled on Instagram and Twitter. By that time, QAnon had spread to Europe, from the Netherlands to the Balkan Peninsula. It maintains an especially strong following in Germany. Far-right activists and influencers have created a German audience for QAnon on YouTube, Facebook, and Telegram estimated at 200,000. One German Reichsbürger group adopted QAnon to promote its belief that modern Germany is not a sovereign republic, but rather a corporation created by Allied nations after World War II, and expressed its hope that Trump would lead an army to restore the Reich. Many Canadians have also propagated QAnon, and one in four Britons are said to believe in QAnon-related theories. Charlie Ward and Martin Geddes are listed by Hope not Hate as influential British promoters of QAnon, with Geddes "[running] one of the most popular QAnon Twitter accounts in the world".
Experts have classified QAnon's appeal as comparable to that of religious cults. According to an expert in online conspiracy, Renee DiResta, QAnon's pattern of enticement is similar to that of cults in the pre-Internet era where, as the targeted person was led deeper and deeper into the group's secrets, they become increasingly isolated from friends and family outside the cult. Online support groups developed for those whose loved ones were drawn into QAnon, notably the subreddit r/qanoncasualties, which grew from 3,500 participants in June 2020 to 28,000 by October. In the Internet age, QAnon virtual communities have little "real world" connection with each other, but online they can number in the tens of thousands. Rachel Bernstein, an expert on cults who specializes in recovery therapy, has said, "What a movement such as QAnon has going for it, and why it will catch on like wildfire, is that it makes people feel connected to something important that other people don't yet know about. ... All cults will provide this feeling of being special." There is no self-correction process within the group, since the self-reinforcing true believers are immune to correction, fact-checking, or counter-speech, which is drowned out by the cult's groupthink. QAnon's cultish quality has led to its characterization as a possible emerging religious movement. Part of its appeal is its gamelike quality, in which followers attempt to solve riddles presented in Qdrops by connecting them to Trump speeches and tweets and other sources. Some followers use a "Q clock" consisting of a wheel of concentric dials to decode clues based on the timing of Qdrops and Trump's tweets.
The number of QAnon adherents is unclear as of October 2020, but the group maintains a large online following. In June 2020, Q exhorted followers to take a "digital soldiers oath", and many did, using the Twitter hashtag #TakeTheOath. In July 2020, Twitter banned thousands of QAnon-affiliated accounts and changed its algorithms to reduce the conspiracy theory's spread. A Facebook internal analysis reported in August found millions of followers across thousands of groups and pages; Facebook acted later that month to remove and restrict QAnon activity, and in October it said it would ban the conspiracy theory from its platform altogether. Followers had also migrated to dedicated message boards such as EndChan and 8chan (now rebranded as "8kun"), where they organized to wage information warfare in an attempt to influence the 2020 United States presidential election.
On June 30, 2020, incumbent Republican U.S. representative Scott Tipton lost a primary for Colorado's 3rd congressional district to Lauren Boebert in an upset. Boebert expressed tentative support for QAnon in an interview, but after winning the primary, attempted to distance herself from those statements, saying "I'm not a follower." In July 2020, Business Insider reported, "At least 10 GOP Congressional candidates have signaled their support for the QAnon movement." Boebert was elected to Congress the following November.
Michael Flynn—the former lieutenant general, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and National Security Advisor to Trump—posted a video on July 4, 2020, to his Twitter account of him leading a small group in an oath with the QAnon motto, "Where we go one, we go all." Analysts says that the oath is part of QAnon's attempt to organize "digital soldiers" for the political and social apocalypse they see coming. Flynn's apparent declaration of allegiance to QAnon makes him the most prominent former government official to endorse the conspiracy theory, although Trump has tweeted multiple QAnon-related phrases without actually mentioning the movement.
On July 21, 2020, Twitter announced it was banning over 7,000 accounts in connection with the QAnon conspiracy theory for coordinated amplification of fake news and conspiracy theories. In a press release, Twitter said, "We've been clear that we will take strong enforcement action on behavior that has the potential to lead to offline harm. In line with this approach, this week we are taking further action on so-called 'QAnon' activity across the service." It also said that the actions may apply to over 150,000 accounts.
In August 2020, The New York Times suggested that the Texas Republican Party had chosen a new slogan taken directly from QAnon. Texas Republican Party officials strongly denied this and claimed that the slogan ("We Are the Storm") was inspired by a biblical passage and has no connection to QAnon.
Marjorie Taylor Greene, a businesswoman, won an August 2020 runoff to become the GOP nominee in the heavily Republican 14th Congressional District in Georgia. Months into the Trump presidency, she had stated in a video: "There's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take this global cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles out, and I think we have the president to do it." She has made racist and antisemitic statements, which resulted in Republican leaders such as Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise to condemn her remarks. Trump endorsed her candidacy the day after her nomination, characterizing her as a "future Republican Star" and "a real WINNER!" After Greene won a primary runoff election in Georgia in August, Illinois Republican Representative Adam Kinzinger denounced QAnon, calling it a "fabrication." Trump campaign staffer Matt Wolking responded aggressively to Kinzinger, saying, "he should condemn the Steele Dossier and conspiracy theories promoted by Democrats."
On August 21, 2020, Vice President Mike Pence said that he "doesn't know anything about" QAnon except that it is a conspiracy theory that he dismisses "out of hand." But when asked whether he would acknowledge the administration's role in "giving oxygen" to the theory, Pence shook his head and said, "Give me a break." Also in August 2020, Pence said that the problem with the press asking about QAnon and about anyone's apparent efforts to encourage it is that the press is asking the wrong questions ("chasing shiny objects").
The Washington Post reported at the beginning of August 2020 that adverts for Trump's campaign had shown images of supporters with prominent QAnon merchandise. Thousands of comments on YouTube saw these details as signs of victory.
On August 12, 2020, Cecelia Celeste Fulbright was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in Waco, Texas. Fulbright chased and rammed into another car whose driver she claimed "was a pedophile and had kidnapped a girl for human trafficking." She had made many posts online relevant to QAnon theory and sent a friend a text message saying that Trump was "literally taking down the cabal and the pedophile ring."
On August 19, 2020, Trump was asked about QAnon during a press conference; he replied: "I don't know much about the movement, other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate. But I don't know much about the movement." An FBI Field Office in Phoenix has called QAnon a potential domestic terror threat, but Trump called QAnon adherents "people who love our country". When a reporter asked Trump if he could support a notion that suggests he "is secretly saving the world from this satanic cult of pedophiles and cannibals," he responded: "Well, I haven't heard that, but is that supposed to be a bad thing or a good thing?" Presidential candidate Joe Biden responded that Trump was aiming to "legitimize a conspiracy theory that the FBI has identified as a domestic terrorism threat".
On August 25, 2020, two members of the U.S. House of Representatives—Democrat Tom Malinowski and Republican Denver Riggleman—introduced a bipartisan simple resolution (H. Res. 1154) condemning QAnon and rejecting its conspiracy theories. Malinowski said the resolution's aim was to formally repudiate "this dangerous, anti-Semitic, conspiracy-mongering cult that the FBI says is radicalizing Americans to violence". The resolution also urged the FBI and other law enforcement and homeland security agencies "to continue to strengthen their focus on preventing violence, threats, harassment, and other criminal activity by extremists motivated by fringe political conspiracy theories" and encouraged the U.S. Intelligence Community "to uncover any foreign support, assistance, or online amplification QAnon receives, as well as any QAnon affiliations, coordination, and contacts with foreign extremist organizations or groups espousing violence."
As wildfires spread across large parts of the Western U.S. in September 2020, false rumors spread on social media that antifa activists were setting fires and preparing to loot property that was being evacuated. Some residents refused to evacuate based on the rumors, choosing to defend their homes from the supposed invasion. Authorities pleaded with residents to ignore the false rumors. A firefighters' union in Washington state described Facebook as "an absolute cesspool of misinformation" on the topic. QAnon followers participated in the misinformation, with one false claim that six antifa activists had been arrested for setting fires amplified by Q specifically. Days earlier, Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr had amplified false social media rumors that planes and buses full of antifa activists were preparing to invade communities, allegedly funded by George Soros.
In September 2020, Malinowski received death threats from QAnon followers after he was falsely accused of wanting to protect sexual predators. The threats were prompted by a National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) campaign advertisement that falsely claimed that Malinowski worked against plans to increase registration for sex offenders in a 2006 crime bill while he was working as a lobbyist for Human Rights Watch.
In September 2020, political newcomer Lauren Witzke defeated another candidate endorsed by the Republican party to become the GOP's nominee for U.S. Senate in Delaware. Witzke has promoted QAnon on Twitter and been photographed wearing a Q t-shirt, although during the campaign she distanced herself from the movement. She has also called herself a "flat-earther" and in September called her Democratic opponent Chris Coons a "Christian-hating baby-killer," adding, "I'm coming for your seat, Satanist."
Sites dedicated to aggregating these Q posts, also called Qdrops, became essential for their dissemination and spread. QMap was the most popular and famous aggregator, run by a pseudonymous developer and overall key QAnon figure known as "QAPPANON". But QMap shut down shortly after a September 2020 report was published by the fact-checking website Logically, which theorized that QAPPANON was a New Jersey-based security analyst named Jason Gelinas.
An October 2020 Yahoo-YouGov poll found that even if they had not heard of QAnon, a majority of Republicans and Trump supporters believed top Democrats were engaged in sex-trafficking rings and more than half of Trump supporters believed he was working to dismantle the rings.
The resolution passed on October 2, 2020, in a 371–18 vote. Seventeen Republicans (including Steve King, Paul A. Gosar, and Daniel Webster) and one independent (Justin Amash) voted no; Republican Andy Harris voted "present." The resolution does not have the force of law. Before the vote, Malinowski told Slate magazine, referencing the NRCC ad: "I don't want to see any Republicans voting against fire on the House floor this week and then continuing to play with fire next week by running these kinds of ads against Democratic candidates."
Facebook banned all QAnon groups and pages on October 6, 2020. That day, QAnon followers speculated that the action was part of a complex Trump administration strategy to begin arresting its enemies, or that Facebook was attempting to silence news of this occurring—neither of which was true. Some followers speculated that a Justice Department "national security" news conference scheduled for the next day would relate to charges against Democrats, including Hillary Clinton. The Justice Department actually announced the investigation and arrest of Islamic State members.
On October 7, 2020, it was announced that Etsy would remove all QAnon-related merchandise from its online marketplace.
In an October 12, 2020 interview with CNN, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said much QAnon material was "borderline content" that did not explicitly break its rules, but stated that changes in the site's methodology for recommendations had reduced viewship of QAnon-related content by 80 percent. Three days later, YouTube announced in a blog post that it had modified its hate and harassment policies to bar "content that targets an individual or group with conspiracy theories that have been used to justify real-world violence" such as QAnon or Pizzagate. It would still allow content discussing QAnon if it did not target individuals.
On October 15, 2020, when given the opportunity to denounce QAnon at a "town hall"-style campaign event, Trump refused to do so and instead pointed out that QAnon opposes pedophilia. He said he knew nothing else about QAnon and told his questioner, Savannah Guthrie of NBC News, that no one can know whether the premise of QAnon's conspiracy theory is true. "They believe it is a satanic cult run by the deep state," Guthrie informed him. "No, I don't know that. And neither do you know that," Trump responded.
In early 2019, Twitter removed accounts suspected of being connected to the Russian Internet Research Agency that had disseminated a high volume of tweets related to #QAnon which also used the #WWG1WGA slogan.