QAnona is a far-right conspiracy theory. It alleges that a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles is running a global child sex-trafficking ring and plotting against President Donald Trump, who is battling against the cabal. The theory also commonly asserts that Trump is planning a day of reckoning known as “The Storm”, when thousands of members of the cabal will be arrested. No part of the theory is based on fact.
Although preceded by similar viral conspiracy theories such as Pizzagate, the theory proper began with an October 2017 post on the anonymous imageboard 4chan by “Q”, who was presumably a single American individual. It is now likely ‘Q’ has become a group of people. Q claimed to have access to classified information involving the Trump administration and its opponents in the United States. NBC News found that three people took the original Q post and expanded it across multiple media platforms to build internet followings for profit. QAnon was preceded by several similar anonymous 4chan posters, such as FBIAnon, HLIAnon (High-Level Insider), CIAAnon, and WH Insider Anon.
Q has accused many liberal Hollywood actors, Democratic politicians, and high-ranking officials of being members of the cabal. Q also claimed that Trump feigned conspiracy with Russians to enlist Robert Mueller to join him in exposing the sex-trafficking ring and preventing a coup d’état by Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and George Soros. “Q” is a reference to the Q clearance used by the U.S. Department of Energy.
QAnon adherents began appearing at Trump reelection campaign rallies in August 2018. Bill Mitchell, a broadcaster who promotes 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 before Trump spoke used the QAnon motto, later denying that it was a QAnon reference. This occurred hours after the publication of a report that the FBI had determined QAnon to be a potential source of domestic terrorism, the first time the agency had so rated a fringe conspiracy theory. According to analysis conducted by Media Matters for America, as of August 2020, Trump had amplified QAnon messaging at least 216 times by retweeting or mentioning 129 QAnon-affiliated Twitter accounts, sometimes multiple times a day. QAnon followers came to refer to Trump as “Q+.”
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 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, where they organized to wage information warfare to influence the 2020 United States presidential election.