Among the radical rightwing groups that converged on Washington on January 6th and stormed the Capitol, the one commanding the largest following was QAnon. In those last weeks of his presidency, as mainstream Republicans gradually broke with Donald Trump to acknowledge the outcome of the election, QAnon figured large in the diminished ranks of his diehard supporters. Other groups, even more outré, were also in evidence on January 6th, including neo-Nazis—highlighted by one man whose shirt was emblazoned with the chilling insignia, “Camp Auschwitz.” There was no evidence that he spoke for the larger body of protestors but nor was there any sign that the others disowned him.
Are the sentiments this man advertised so provocatively shared less vulgarly by the much larger constituency represented by QAnon? Does this strange group pose a threat to America and in particular to its Jews? Answering this requires first addressing some prior questions. What, exactly, is QAnon? Where did it come from, and how large is it? What does it stand for, and where is it headed?
QAnon has the characteristics of a cult, except there is no formal organization, no membership, no process of initiation, no dues, no requirement to offer fealty or sacrifice in order to take part. The Atlantic’s Adrienne LaFrance, author of one of the most informative articles about it, believes it is a new religion aborning. Perhaps, but whatever its spiritual characteristics or function, its foremost interests and ideas, however odd, revolve around politics. Since it is not an organization, we might call it a movement. In contrast to, say, Black Lives Matter, a political movement that makes itself felt largely by street demonstrations, the locus of QAnon is preponderantly in cyberspace, on social media.
Because there is no membership it is impossible to say how many adherents it has. A survey by the Pew organization in early 2020 found that 47 percent of Americans had heard of QAnon, and one-fifth of these had a positive image of it. However, the bulk of these chose only the tepid option offered by the pollsters, calling QAnon a “mostly good thing.” Only 4 percent of those aware of the movement—in other words just under 2 percent of all respondents—rated QAnon a “very good” thing. Even those who make up this 2 percent are probably not all devotees. Some adherents have made themselves prominent at pro-Trump events with large Q signs, and it is likely that some other supporters of the former president think fondly of the Q movement for that reason, without participating in it themselves. QAnon followers are also voluble on the danger of child-trafficking, which may also give outsiders a favorable view of the group. If we can take 2 percent as the upper bounds of QAnon adherence, the actual number is presumably lower, perhaps no higher than one percent.
But it is not negligible, as is suggested by QAnon’s intense presence on social media. According to NBC News, an internal Facebook report this summer identified thousands of QAnon groups comprising upwards of three million members. (Since it is likely that some users belonged to more than one group, there is no way to deduce from this the number of individuals involved.) Shortly thereafter, Facebook announced that it removed 790 QAnon groups and placed restrictions on an additional 1,950 as well as on 440 Facebook pages and some 10,000 accounts on Instagram, which Facebook owns. Twitter and YouTube also each banned thousands, and several other social-media platforms followed suit. Despite this, until a further crackdown following January 6, leading QAnon apostles—CodemonkeyZ, Prayingmedic, Majorpatriot—each boasted hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter, while many others could count tens of thousands.
And while this is far from being a bookish movement, Amazon nonetheless listed roughly 50 titles devoted to QAnon. One book, QAnon: An Invitation to the Great Awakening, made it to second place on Amazon’s list of “hot new releases.” It registered over 2,700 reviews with an average rating of 4.5 out of 5. Right behind it is Calm Before the Storm, Book 1 of the Q Chronicles by Dave Hayes, aka “Prayingmedic,” with over 1,600 reviews and an average rating of 4.8 out of five stars. In the second volume of his series, Hayes boasts that his YouTube videos “have garnered more than 40 million views,” and there is little reason to doubt this, although such content has now largely been removed from YouTube, as have most of the books from Amazon.
Another measure of QAnon’s reach can be seen in the tragic accounts from the families of its adherents. There is a group titled “QAnonCasualties” on Reddit, a mainstream platform where QAnon, until it was banned, once had a major presence. QAnonCasualties is a support group for spouses, children, siblings, and others who feel they have lost a loved one to QAnon. Their stories are heart-wrenching, akin to what one might encounter in the forums of Alcoholics Anonymous. QAnonCasualties numbers nearly 120,000 members at this writing and is growing by thousands a day. Some who have joined after recent publicity on NPR and MSNBC may be merely observing, but the authentic members of the community surely constitute only a fraction of distraught family members of Q addicts.
In sum, the number of adherents of QAnon must be counted in six figures and may well reach a few million.
It all began on 4chan.org, a website comprising several dozen message boards where users post pictures or comments. The website was created by a fifteen-year-old with the goal of creating space for posting without the inhibitions that exist on other platforms like Facebook or Twitter. In contrast to those sites, 4chan is very lightly moderated, and has few rules beyond a proscription on violating U.S. law. Unlike the more mainstream platforms, posters are not required to join or register, and thus their identity is almost entirely shielded. Anyone can simply go to the site, select a message board, and post words or pictures. If this weren’t enough to encourage uninhibited behavior, all posts disappear after a certain span of time, so there is no enduring record.
Some of what appears is mundane: pictures of animals, instructions on origami, and, as one might expect from a website created by a teenager, a variety of channels about video games. But 4chan’s premium on non-inhibition also invites mischief. Some of this is relatively benign, like impersonations or the spreading of false rumors, but some is less so, like instructions for charging iPhones by placing them in microwave ovens or encouraging fans of Justin Bieber to demonstrate devotion by cutting themselves and posting pictures of it. When a hacker accessed the private nude photos of several celebrities and decided to make a splash by posting them for public viewing, he did so on 4chan. One of its message boards features a free-for-all of such things as “rape porn, self-harm pics, and creepy drawings of scantily clad children,” according to an investigation by the Washington Post years before the Q phenomenon began. In addition, there is a board slyly titled “politically incorrect.” Posters here revel in slinging the “n word” and also the cognate “k word.”
It was on this board that on October 28, 2017 “Q” made his (or her or their) debut. Responding to a post stating that, “Hillary Clinton will be arrested between 7:45 am and 8:30 am EST . . . on October 30, 2017,” a second poster who later became known as Q added this gloss:
HRC extradition already in motion effective yesterday with several countries in case of cross border run. Passport approved to be flagged effective 10/[email protected]:01am. Expect massive riots organized in defiance and others fleeing the US. . . . M’s [military personnel] will conduct the operation while NG [National Guard] activated. Proof check: locate a NG member and ask if activated for duty 10/30 across major cities.
A couple of hours later, the same person posted again at greater length. (All posts on 4chan are headed with a computer-generated string of apparently random characters called a tripcode; an identical string on multiple posts would normally show that they come from a single individual or at least from the same computer.) This post implied close access to the president and employed leading questions to convey ideas, a mock-Socratic method that became Q’s trademark. Here is a snippet:
Where is Huma [Abedin, a Hillary Clinton aide and the wife of the disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner]? Follow Huma.
This has nothing to do w/Russia (yet).
Why does Potus surround himself w/generals?
What is military intelligence?
Why go around the three-letter agencies?
POTUS knew that removing criminal rogue elements as a first step was essential to free and pass legislation.
Who has access to everything classified?
Do you believe HRC, Soros, Obama, etc. have more power than Trump? Fantasy. Whoever controls the office of the presidency controls this great land.
Whether it was the thrill of posting or the interest initially elicited, someone who was presumably the same poster unleashed a torrent the next day: eleven posts in all. Two days after that there were twenty more. Then, on November 1, came the first use of the label “Q” in what is taken by the QAnon movement to have been the 34th offering from the same individual. No certainty exists about the identity of the poster(s)—man, woman, or team—but for convenience, I will henceforth refer to Q with the masculine singular pronoun. The consistency and security of tripcodes is an esoteric subject, but what rescues the record of Q’s messages from hopeless murkiness is that the followers of Q have lovingly curated the posts, and there is a canon of Q posts—4,953 at this writing—that is identical across the multiple sites that aggregate them.
The poster did not yet use “Q” as a signature as was later to become his habit. Rather, the post bore the heading, “Q Clearance Patriot.” The style of this post differed from most others; it read like a presidential address, beginning “My Fellow Americans,” proceeding in complete declarative sentences rather than questions and snippets, and ending with, “God bless my fellow Americans. 4,10,20.” Four hours later amidst a flurry of further posts came one explaining, for any reader too dim to have figured it out, that the numbers referred to letters of the alphabet (4,10,20 yields DJT, the president’s initials). But the 4,10,20 post also contained several references to “POTUS” in the third person—as if the poster wasn’t sure if he himself was Donald Trump or an aide. And a half hour after that, a new post read simply, “We serve at the pleasure of the president. DJT.”
“Q” can designate a high security clearance in the Department of Energy, but the poster was almost immediately aghast that readers with the relevant knowledge inferred that he was merely an official within the Department of Energy. The next day, the poster strove to make clear he was more than that: “Does stating ‘Q’ refer [sic] that person works in DOE?” he asked, and then uncharacteristically answered his own question: “No.” He went on to say, “someone dropping such information has the highest level of security within all departments.”
One day and 30 posts after the one headed “Q Clearance Patriot,” posts began to be signed “Q” at the bottom. All of this unfolded within a week of that very first post, but the poster had begun to attract a following on 4chan even though the site had a history of prank posts pretending to come from government insiders. There had already been one poster claiming to be in the FBI, another the CIA, while a third claimed to be a White House insider and a fourth an unspecified “high-level insider.” Nonetheless, something in either the style or the sheer persistence of what became the “Q” posts held greater attraction.
This prompted Tracy Diaz, a minor figure in alt-right radio and YouTube broadcasting, to begin putting up videos embracing and publicizing “Q.” She approached two of the like-minded moderators of 4chan with the idea of launching a discussion forum on Reddit to bring “Q” to a wider audience. This they did, and eventually the Q discourse also moved to Facebook. Interestingly, Q never posted on any of these mainstream sites—perhaps to avoid being identified—but his acolytes reprinted his messages and discussed them there.
The burgeoning following for Q seems to have been little slowed by the hard-to-miss failure of his highly specific foretellings to prove true. Hillary Clinton was not arrested or extradited. Her presidential campaign manager, John Podesta, was not indicted, despite Q’s flat assertion on November 1 that this would occur two days later. Neither was Huma Abedin, whose indictment Q had said would be handed down three days after Podesta’s. Nor did the National Guard mobilize, which Q had emphasized would be the distinct “proof check” of his insider knowledge. No “raw vid” of Ms. Clinton “impossible to defend” ever appeared, although Q, in subsequent messages, said that it would, claiming it was in his possession (“we have it all”). Neither did the photos he later promised of Barack Obama “Holding [an] AK-47 in tribal attire.” And so on.
The false predictions were so egregious that Q felt constrained to explain them. They amounted, he said, to deliberate “disinformation” that he had put about in order to outsmart enemies who were watching his posts on 4chan.
The disinformation served a brilliant purpose. Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman, was part of an alliance of virtue with Donald Trump, explained Q. The arrest of hundreds of prominent Saudis on charges of corruption—understood by most analysts as the prince’s attempt to consolidate power—was, in Q’s explanation, a jointly planned master stroke against the international forces of evil. Q said that he knowingly published false announcements of Clinton’s and Podesta’s imminent arrests in order to induce the bad guys to defend the wrong point of attack. What they had done to shelter Clinton and Podesta was not specified, but while they were busy doing whatever it was, Saudi Arabia had been swept clean, Q claimed.
Within a month of the first post, Q added 232 more, apparently attracting a following loyal enough to pursue him when he decided to change venues. The reason, he explained, was that 4chan had been “infiltrated.” The meaning of this was impenetrable since anyone could visit the site, and Q’s very first post about Clinton’s imminent arrest was, he said, intended as “disinformation” to throw off enemies—meaning he had assumed in advance that 4chan was being monitored by hostile forces, and it was critical that these forces be misdirected.
Whatever it meant, Q moved to 8chan, a site similar to 4chan but distinguishing itself by being even less moderated, replete with child pornography, hate speech, and violence and describing itself as “the darkest reaches of the Internet.” In 2019, three mass shooters—one who attacked a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, another who attacked a Chabad synagogue in San Diego, and a third who attacked shoppers in El Paso—each posted a manifesto on 8chan before going off to commit mayhem. The administrators of 8chan rejected blame, saying they had removed the manifestos within minutes of learning of each deadly outrage. Yet, according to the Washington Post, the site “allows posters afterward to promote the shooting, spew hateful comments, and cheer on further violence to beat the last attack’s body count, or ‘high score.’” Jim Watkins, who owned the site, was hauled before a Congressional investigating committee (where he sported a shiny Q lapel pin), and the site was shut down, only to be succeeded a few months later by an identical site also owned by Watkins, called 8kun.
As soon as 8kun was up and running Q resumed his mission there. And what exactly was that mission? Nothing less than to mobilize a movement of Godfearing patriots to help save America and the world. As Q told it, an evil cabal pulled the strings of power across the globe. At its apex was a triangle of three families: the house of Saud, worth six trillion dollars; the Rothschilds, worth four trillion; and the Soros family, worth one trillion. (There had been a fourth family, but it “was removed post Trump’s victory,” said Q, without ever revealing its identity or explaining his reason for not doing so.) The role of the Saudis was to control politicians by means of financial inducements and the exploitation of pedophilia. Soros, rather mundanely, controlled liberal advocacy groups. The most luridly powerful, even if not the wealthiest, of the three cabal families was the Rothschilds. They control the national banks of 166 countries, painstakingly listed by Q, including the U.S. Federal Reserve and the IRS, both of which, contrary to popular misimpression, are in fact private businesses, so Q explained. To boot, as a function of their financial power, the Rothschilds also control the Vatican.
The prominent role assigned to the Rothschilds is a hoary staple of anti-Semitic lore, although that family’s power has not often been described so extravagantly. Soros, too, is of Jewish origin although of strikingly spare Jewish identity, a fact presumably little known to those who have made him a detested symbol of liberal internationalism—which is no innovation of Q. Nor is this all in this vein. An academic group, the Network Contagion Research Institute, issued a careful study pointing to the “structural similarity” of the Q’s theories to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as well as the movement’s “origin in online spaces [i.e., 4chan and 8chan] replete with anti-Jewish propaganda,” saying these “should raise serious concerns about the latent anti-Semitism present in QAnon.” Likewise, an examination by the Anti-Defamation League concluded, “several aspects of QAnon lore mirror longstanding anti-Semitic tropes.” Other Jewish groups have also issued reports making similar points.
The anti-Semitic themes in QAnon are sufficiently muted most of the time for there to be an active QAnon following in Israel. But by the same token, QAnon groups that have arisen in England, Germany, and other European countries flaunt their anti-Semitism more openly.
The channels where Q “drops” his revelations, and his followers exchange thoughts, are dotted with crude anti-Jewish effusions. As far as I can see, these are never rebuked. But neither are they often embraced or taken up for discussion. They seem to be treated as side points because QAnon is not primarily about the Jews. The cabal is joined and assisted by a variety of other important elements. Among them are the pope, the Dalai Lama, the Freemasons, the Illuminati, the CIA, the deep state, the mainstream media (which is controlled by the CIA), Antifa, John McCain, and the U.S.-Salvadoran gang MS-13.
Q’s wide-ranging animadversions seem manic to the point of bewildering. In post number 1,008, for example, he reminded readers that M is the thirteenth letter of the alphabet and that therefore MS-13 is another way of writing MSM, mystifyingly implying that the gang and the mainstream media are somehow identical. In another bewildering equation, spelled out at some length, Q explained that Facebook and DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) are not just both among the evil forces, but are one and the same.
The members of the cabal and its associates and helpers, whatever their nominal religions, are mostly Satan worshippers. As an example, Q posted separate photos of Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, each wearing a necklace bearing a pendant with a cross that appeared upside down, which, he explained, is a symbol of Satan worship that they felt compelled to flaunt. Together with this perverse religious devotion, these forces of darkness are also pedophiles.
Routinely, they ritually sacrifice children after using them carnally, to exploit their bodily fluids. The analogy to the libel that Jews slaughter Gentile children to bake matzah with their blood is obvious, but the Q version is more rococo. It is not blood the deep-state Satanists are after but rather adrenaline from which to produce adrenochrome. Medical texts will tell you that adrenochrome is a compound produced by the oxidation of adrenal fluid that encourages blood clotting and has been used experimentally in connection with surgeries for cataracts and hemorrhoids. However, Q and his cohort will tell you that the Satanists use it as an intoxicant, an aphrodisiac, and a life-prolonging elixir. (Although it has not been licensed for any use by the FDA, neither is it a controlled substance, and it can be bought online without slaughtering any human.)
According to Q, most of the unfortunate things that have happened in the world at least since the early 20th century have been the result of the machinations of these evil forces. This includes specifically World War I, the sinking of the Titanic, World War II, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan, the AIDS epidemic, the 9/11 attacks, the COVID-19 pandemic, human trafficking, and mass shootings. Q noted that mass shooters all have therapists, which means they have been programmed or are acting under mind control. As the abovementioned Prayingmedic, the most prolific and articulate of Q’s advocates and interpreters, puts it, Q’s mission is to inform us of “the true way in which certain historical events have happened.”
Why would the cabal engineer all these wars and disasters or what Q calls “mass ext[ermination] events”? The answer, says Q, is in order to reduce global population because the fewer people there are in the world, the easier they are to control. To the cabal, he explains, “people are simply in the way.” Ergo, it also engineers “WARS . . . PHARMA (CLAS-D), WATER [POLLUTION], AIR [POLLUTION], CHEMICALS PUSHED FOR HOME USE CLEANING (CANCER) (BABY ON FLOOR—HANDS IN MOUTH—THE START), VACCINES (NOT ALL), TOBACCO, OPIOIDS.” [sic]
This campaign of extermination was not only carried on in the past but will continue. The cabal is the true force behind the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs; North Korea, explains Q, is run entirely by the CIA. Recall the scandal over sales of uranium to Russia under the Obama administration? That uranium was actually shipped to Iran and North Korea and even Syria to help them make bombs. Why? Because the cabal is engineering a nuclear war as the next measure in its population-reduction schemes. How the cabal’s members plan to stay safe during this Armageddon is not explained.
Clearly, more is at stake than in ordinary politics. Although QAnon is part of the “alt right,” and numerous Q posts speak harshly of “liberals” and of Democrats, Q insists that it is not a matter of Democrats and Republicans. In all his 5,000 posts, Q has almost never addressed a substantive policy issue like taxes, spending, government programs, or even foreign affairs in the normal sense. There is a relentless white-hot message of us-versus-them, but it is not about anything that Q is able to articulate. He uses “liberal” as a hollow epithet without explaining which liberal policies are wrong or why. He derides Democrats for impeaching Trump and has posted exhaustive lists of officials, almost all of them Democrats, arrested for sexual offenses. He speaks repeatedly about “corruption” without offering any detail.
The issue of pedophilia, so central to the Q story, was taken over whole from the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, even though that ended in disgrace, when a devoted believer shot up a DC pizza parlor. Kidnapped children were reportedly held captive in the basement, but the trigger-happy would-be liberator discovered to his consternation that there was no basement. “The intel on this wasn’t 100 percent,” he conceded as he surrendered to police. Nonetheless Q took the same “intel”—words about pizza appearing in the purloined DNC emails of John Podesta that are construed to have been in code—as his proof, too. The tale of pedophilia serves to justify the claim that the struggle in which Q and the “anons,” as the followers call themselves, are immersed is against “evil.” And the charge that most Democratic politicians, or at least the prominent ones, are practitioners of pedophilia or child-trafficking furnishes a reason to hate Democrats, when otherwise Q and his movement seem unable to spell out in less apocalyptic terms what they find wrong with the Democrats and why Q writes “this is not a R v D battle.”
Indeed, Q’s worldview is not strictly partisan. Before Trump, says Q, two other presidents were not controlled by the cabal, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. This is why the cabal organized their assassinations, somehow failing in the case of Reagan. Prayingmedic paraphrases Q’s view: “the idea that liberal and conservative politicians are different in any meaningful way is an illusion.” Rather, as the bestseller, QAnon: An Invitation to the Great Awakening puts it: “The world is currently experiencing a dramatic covert war of biblical proportions, literally the fight for earth, between the forces of good and evil.” As Q himself has said repeatedly, the enemy is “pure EVIL.”
The forces of evil had a “sixteen-year plan to destroy America”—eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency followed by eight of Hillary Clinton’s. The plan was to weaken and starve the military, help Iran and North Korea build nuclear weapons, open the borders to allow Islamic State and MS-13 to swarm in, destroy the economy, revise the Constitution, ban the sale of firearms, and eliminate the Electoral College. Then, a hamstrung America could be abolished in favor of a single global state, “installing a new one-world ruling party. The start of this concept began with organizations such as World Health Org[anization], World Trade Org[anization] United Nations, ICC, NATO, etc., . . . all meant to weaken the United States.”
Within America, every major institution was already in the control of the cabal, except the military. It had long been holding out alone, strong enough to resist but not to defeat the forces of evil. It had sought a political leader of sterling character with whom it could partner in a war to the finish against the evil. The generals identified Donald Trump as that man and prevailed upon him to take on the office.
President Trump’s self-sacrifice was almost Christlike. Q’s post 4,812 pictured him with some twenty guns pointed at his head from every angle. They were labeled New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, Globalist Elites, Entertainment Industry, Wall Street, United Nations, Clinton Machine, and even White House, among others. The caption read: “He gave up everything. He knew his life, and the lives of his family, would forever change. He knew (knows) the consequences. A man who had everything. Why do it?”
The forces of light, as Q called them, needed one further element on their side, a movement of patriots that would support them. “Once a critical mass of citizens has been awakened, the real work of exposing and removing corruption can begin,” explained Prayingmedic. And where better to find such patriots than on 4chan? And how better to mobilize them than with 5,000 posts of cryptic riddles spread out over three years?
Thus, although Q’s message brought into stark relief the dire peril facing mankind, it was also suffused with hope. Q was able to report in one of his first posts that “a deep cleaning is occurring and the prevention and defense of [sic] pure evil is occurring on a daily basis.” The mass arrests in Saudi Arabia constituted an enormous triumph. Prayingmedic was able to report, “the arrest of corrupt Saudi princes effectively removed one side of the power triangle that controls world governments. As of today, only the Rothschilds and George Soros remain.” Since even Q and his followers had trouble making Soros out to be more than a bit player in the big drama, this came close to suggesting that the Rothschilds rule the world.
The Saudi arrests were doubly beneficial. In December 2017, Q quoted a message posted by one of his followers tinged with urgency. Beneath a reproduction of a poster bearing a large photo array of missing children, the “anon” asked, “Q, where are the children? Seriously. Where are the children?” Q, after all, commanded unparalleled knowledge and he had reported, “the pedo networks are being dismantled.” Now he replied, “3,000+ saved by the raids in SA alone.” Although this did not explain where the children might be, Q added that additional information was “classified” and assured the questioner that the issue was “high priority.”
A distinguishing feature of the Q narrative was its sublime optimism. Its angry and apocalyptic style would lead a reader to expect a message that catastrophe was at hand. But Q’s trademark was surpassing faith in Donald Trump, who would bring about a consummation of truth and justice, “the storm” in which the cabal and deep state would all be imprisoned or executed. Although some Q messages suggested that “patriots” had an important role to play, others implied that Trump (and those around him, including Q) had everything so well in hand that victory was guaranteed. “For anyone to think that POTUS is not in control is kidding themselves,” said Q, who often chortled, “enjoy the show” and “get popcorn.”
This confidence on the part of Q’s adherents seemed not to flag even with the election returns and even though Q posted nothing of substance from election day on. On November 27, three weeks after virtually all election returns were in, Prayingmedic announced on his blog that he would no longer post a daily video message because “the crisis is over.” He explained:
I believe Donald Trump will be re-elected. His legal team has developed a brilliant strategy and Republican legislators are on board with the plan. There is little that can be done to stop Trump from being re-elected. While many people will choose to fret over the outcome of the election, I choose to see it as the inevitable outcome of a superior strategy. It’s time to move on.
Prayingmedic’s intrepid confidence endured as Trump moved from one strategy to the next. On January 7, after Congress had voted to accept the report of the Electoral College, he posted a video explaining that with all the “civilian remedies for fraud” having been exhausted, Trump would now turn to “the military option” to retain power because “he knows better than any of us what is at stake: . . . the future of the republic.”
This lionization of Donald Trump is at the heart of QAnon. It has two aspects. First, QAnon believes that Trump is the only good, incorruptible, selfless patriot in American politics—or if not the only one, then the exemplary one. And second, the adherents see him as brilliant and omnipotent, “playing 5-D chess” while everyone else is playing checkers. “POTUS is our savior,” said Q in one of his early messages.
Part of the allure of QAnon is the feeling of having a special relationship with this semi-divine being. The “anons” are Trump’s premier acolytes, his closest, most devoted and cherished followers. They believe he knows it and values it. The anons are confident that Q is extremely close to Trump and sending communications at his behest. From time to time, Q’s posts have included the line “P_pers,” which he explained stands for “POTUS Personal” meaning a personal message to the board from the president. These tended to be perfunctory, but Trump showed his esteem in other ways, as well. In an early message, Q said that the machinations of the circle around Hillary Clinton were so horrifying that “the complete picture would put 99 percent of Americans in the hospital.” Later, he said he was sharing 20 percent of his information with the board while 80 percent had to remain classified, but when some anons protested that they wanted more, he allowed himself to be persuaded to double that and share 40 percent. Prayingmedic explained that this decision had been made by Trump himself. To an outside observer, this seemed to be an extraordinary procedure for the revelation of classified information.
The sense of having a direct link to the president was central to the allure of QAnon. Moreover, Q’s ingenious method of speaking in cryptic code constituted a kind of entertainment. As the authors of the best-seller QAnon: An Invitation to the Great Awakening put it, “Following Q is like working a 50,000-piece puzzle. It’s slow, but intriguing and fun—as we wait for clues and put the pieces together.” It was so exciting that anons downloaded apps that alerted them when a new Q “drop” appeared on 8chan or 8kun. The whole thing was akin to online role-playing games that mesmerize teenagers and adults.
In addition, there are the benefits that cult participation often bring. There is the heady sensation of knowing important things that others do not know. There is pride in hearing, as Q told them, “You were chosen for a reason. You are being provided the highest level of intel ever to be dropped publicly in the history of the world.” There is also the warm feeling of belonging. Prior to the recent backlash, Amazon offered, in addition to QAnon books and videos, a cornucopia of paraphernalia with which devotees can signal their identity: T-shirts, sweats, tank tops, bandanas, balaclavas, facemasks, caps, flags, mugs, stickers, jewelry, medallions, commemorative coins, luggage tags, notebooks, and more. “Q sent me,” is a favorite slogan displayed at rallies or online, say, in the comments section beneath a YouTube video that Q has linked. The group to which anons belong is not just any group but rather one designated to play an important part in the “Plan to Save the World,” as QAnon: An Invitation to the Great Awakening, put it.
Devotees of Q often spend all their available time in chat rooms with fellow anons and grow distant from non-believing friends and family members. On the Internet support group for family members, one can read countless sad stories like these:
- “I miss who my mom used to be before Trump and before Q. “
- “I lost my daughter to QAnon.”
- “My wife is a total stranger now; . . . she keeps saying . . . that Q is real; . . . . the person I was married [to] for eleven years is totally gone.”
- “I don’t want to lose my marriage. My husband is caring, loving, and kind . . . until he starts talking about Q.”
Often, the behavior of the Q believers described by their families sounds like that of a person in the manic throes of bipolar disorder or of some other clinical condition. Even clinicians ought not to diagnose people they have not met, and I’m no clinician. Still, I would venture that clinical diagnoses aside, another psychological factor is in play, namely, the impact of the pandemic. The perils and constraints visited upon everyone amount to psychic stress that likely makes many people more susceptible to odd and paranoic thoughts.
Whatever else its impact, the pandemic has led people to spend more time on the Internet, as other activities have been foreclosed. A study by the UK-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue found that the volume of QAnon-related posts on social media remained fairly constant from the group’s inception in the fall of 2017 thorough early 2020, and then mushroomed in March 2020. It found that the number of unique users discussing QAnon on Facebook increased by 161 percent from the first week of March to the last. On Twitter, the increase was 139 percent; on Instagram, 77 percent. QAnon discourse often held the pandemic to be fake, a scare concocted in order to justify public-health measures, the true purpose of which was to control people. Alternatively, COVID-19 was acknowledged as real and deadly, having been deliberated engineered by the forces of darkness in their ceaseless efforts to reduce population. Ironically, real or fake, the pandemic lent a powerful fillip to their own movement.
The skepticism that QAnon followers often encounter from family or friends or the wider world generates a strong wish to prove the reality of Q: that he (or they or she) truly is someone very close to the president with inexhaustible knowledge of everything that goes on in the world. Ergo, they follow the lead of Q himself in posting “proofs” of this, all of which have the quality of the revelations of carnival psychics. In one post, for example, Q pointed out that in an earlier post he had said “Merry Christmas” only ten minutes before Trump tweeted “Happy Hanukkah.” On another occasion, it was pointed out, a Q post and a Trump tweet both used the word “small” on the same day. Likewise, both used the word “pockets” within ten days of each other! A typo in a Trump tweet substituted the word “consensual” for the intended “consequential” until staff posted a correction. Note that among the letters at first omitted was “q.” Surely this was an intended signal, unless, as Q mockingly put it, “you believe in coincidences.”
The confidence of the anons in possessing “the truth” was expressed by the authors of QAnon: An Invitation to the Great Awakening, who chortled: “not one pundit will actually ask President Trump the one question we all want them to ask, ‘President Trump, do you know anything about this person or entity that is QAnon?’” Q himself and other important acolytes made a similar point. The press was avoiding asking this question because the answer was bound to confirm that Q was indeed who he said he was, and this would turn the world upside down. None of them explained why, if this was a truth that Trump was prepared to reveal, he needed to wait to be asked.
In August 2020, a reporter did ask Trump about QAnon, which was gaining notoriety. If anons were disappointed that he did not take the opportunity to confirm Q’s authenticity or any of Q’s claims, they nonetheless must have felt gratified that he showered them with words of approbation.
“I don’t know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate,” he replied, adding, “I have heard that it is gaining in popularity.” Then, seeming more prepared on the subject than he admitted, he elaborated: “These are people that don’t like seeing what’s going on in places like Portland [during a summer of violent protests]. . . . I’ve heard these are people that love our country, and they just don’t like seeing [that].” When a reporter then asked what Trump thought of the QAnon theory that he was “secretly saving the world from this satanic cult of pedophiles and cannibals,” the president responded: “Well, I haven’t heard that, but is that supposed to be a bad thing or a good thing? If I can help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do it. I am willing to put myself out there.”
After Election Day in 2020, with Trump refusing to accept his defeat, QAnon did in fact grow closer to the president. He did not of course verify that there was any reality to “Q,” but as Trump’s circle of support shrank, QAnon adherents constituted an increasingly important part of it. People willing to believe that America’s elites consisted largely of pedophile Satanists had no hesitation lending credence to assertions about election fraud that grew too fanciful for many Trump backers. QAnon figures with huge followings spearheaded agitation on Twitter for Trump to somehow remain in power.
Among those in evidence at the White House was the retired general Michael Flynn—Trump’s first national security adviser—who had earlier posted a video of himself reciting the QAnon pledge and who now advocated a declaration of martial law to cancel the election. Another was Flynn’s attorney, Sidney Powell, who glossed her Twitter imprint with a photo of herself and Flynn posed against a lightning storm, the “storm” being QAnon lingo for the final triumph—led by Trump and QAnon—of good over evil. Her wild accusations of voting-machine fraud inspired Trump to consider having her appointed as special prosecutor. In the suit she filed, she presented an affidavit from Ron Watkins as an expert technical witness. Watkins had no known experience with elections but was the administrator of 8chan and 8kun, owned by his father, Jim. Several QAnon-watchers had previously aired the suspicion that the pair were the ghost writers behind the fictitious Q. Then the president retweeted a video interview on the pro-Trump network OAN, in which Ron Watkins expounded his theory of the rigging.
Another lawyer, Lin Wood, also reached prominence in Trump’s election challenge, collaborating with Powell. When the Supreme Court turned back Trump’s appeals, Wood tweeted the accusations that Chief Justice John Roberts had had former justice Antonin Scalia murdered, that Roberts had raped and murdered children, and that the cabal was using videos of the latter acts to blackmail him. Ron Watkins responded with a tweet applauding Wood for “standing as a beacon of light.” That day, Wood also tweeted a screen capture of a weather map showing a storm with Trump’s visage superimposed on the clouds and the words “a storm is headed our way,” an unmistakable reference to QAnon’s proverbial “storm.”
In the infamous January 2 phone call in which Trump pressured Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger to “find” enough votes to reverse that state’s outcome, the president said that “the rumor is” ballots had been shredded and that accusations of ballot stuffing were “trending on the Internet.” He persisted with other invocations of online chatter, all of which had been initiated or amplified by QAnon.
A similar dynamic of mutual reinforcement led up to the storming of the Capitol. On December 20, Prayingmedic tweeted, “The Senate should develop a plan to deal with election fraud unless they want millions of armed Americans showing up at the Capitol on January 6.” MajorPatriot tweeted, “I don’t want Trump to win as a result of a court ruling. . . . I want Trump to win when Biden & Harris not only concede but also confess their crimes on national television in order to avoid capital punishment.” Although a lawyer, Sidney Powell liked this image of a Stalinesque show trial so much, she retweeted it. Meanwhile, Trump was tweeting, “Big protest in DC (National Mall) on January 6. Be there, will be wild!” Trump’s words in turn were reprinted and pinned atop sites frequented by the anons.
There is no way of knowing how many Q adherents were among the demonstrators in Washington, but they were heavily represented among the group that broke into the Capitol. Ashli Babbitt, the woman who was shot breaking into the House chamber was known as one, and she tweeted out a string of Q slogans—“the storm,” “dark to light,” and others—in the hours before the gathering. Rosanne Boyland, the other woman among the fatalities, “had begun following the [QAnon] conspiracy theory over the past six months,” according to a Washington Post account of an interview with her sister. Her best friend posted a grieving video blaming QAnon: “she truly believed that little children were trapped in tunnels under our feet,” she sobbed.
The painted man posing on the Senate dais in furs and horns was well known in Arizona as the “QAnon shaman.” Another, a laborer from Des Moines captured on video leading one group of invaders menacing a single Capitol officer trying to hold them at bay, sported a giant Q on his torso. A third, a handyman from rural Virginia, one of the few arrested on the scene, was described by his daughter as concerned about pedophile rings and adrenochrome, two QAnon trademarks. A woman who live-streamed herself boasting “we did break down . . . Nancy Pelosi’s door,” concluded her patter with “enjoy the show” a frequent signature of Q’s. And there were more.
The public backlash against the invasion of the Capitol left QAnon reeling. All of its major figures and many minor ones have been banned from Twitter—some 70,000 accounts in all. Parler, the alternative site that most of these figures turned to, was forced to shut down by Amazon, which had provided the cloud servers on which Parler depended. Amazon further announced a decision to remove QAnon content from its own site. The movement will find other avenues of communication, but these are likely to be less effective.
Two weeks later came another blow: the inauguration of President Biden. One of the movement’s articles of faith was that Trump would be reelected, the prelude to the eagerly anticipated “storm.” Trump’s immense power, flowing from his office and his own extraordinary capabilities, and the feeling of being connected to it, is what made QAnon so exciting. After Election Day, leaders encouraged adherents to “trust the plan,” assuring them that somehow Trump still would be inaugurated for a second term. Up to the moment of Biden’s oath of office, Prayingmedic and others suggested that the National Guard mobilized in Washington, DC had a secret mission: to arrest Biden and Kamala Harris while reinstalling Trump.
The failure of this fantasy came on top of an even more devastating blow: Q himself vanished. In three years from his first appearance, Q had produced nearly 5,000 “drops”—an average of nearly five a day. The pace was uneven, but it had not slackened over time. In October 2020, there were 147. And then? Almost nothing. Eight have appeared since, only one of which, on November 12, resembled Q’s distinctive voice, with its characteristic codes and clues. The others have been simple links to mundanities. And not even one of these has appeared since December 8.
Moreover, Ron and Jim Watkins, respectively the administrator and owner of 8chan/8kun, each posted a comment following the inauguration, seeming to confirm what they had long denied: that they had been “Q” all along. And they made clear that this story was over. Ron had announced his sudden departure from 8kun on November 3, the date on which Q had fallen almost entirely silent, although had remained active on Twitter in his own name, agitating to overturn the election.
The day after the inauguration, however, he posted a statement, stunning in its insouciance. “We gave it our all,” he began,
Now we need to keep our chins up and go back to our lives as best we are able.
We have a new president sworn in and it is our responsibility as citizens to respect the Constitution regardless of whether or not we agree with the specifics or details regarding officials who are sworn in. As we enter into the next administration please remember all the friends and happy memories we made together over the past few years. I’ll have more to say in a few days regarding a new project I’m currently fleshing out.
The following day, in response to complaints on Gab—a site to which many anons and other alt-right types repaired as an alternative to Twitter—his father, Jim Watkins, defended the legacy of QAnon against angry challenges: “There is definitely a value with Q whether people believe it or not there is historical value and the culture of our country has changed because of it.” Neither father nor son made any effort to assert the reality of Q; both relegated Q’s story to the past.
On QAnon message boards, the most common sentiment now is recrimination. Many posters say Q was a “LARP,” meaning “live-action role play” (a version of playing pretend for grown-ups or those who count as such chronologically) or a “liar” or a “traitor” or that “we were stupid” to believe him. Others express resignation in what they see as a horrible fate, that the Communist party of China has taken over America. Still others try to rally the group to “stand fast” and to continue to “trust the plan,” accusing those “ready to jump off the ship” of being “cowards.” Some have woven new explanations of what has happened, saying the inauguration viewed on television was just a movie and that Biden has not in fact become president or that he presides over only the District of Columbia, not the rest of the U.S. Here and there are calls for violence and occasional messages of Jew-baiting, and some that combine both. “I spent all year arming myself to the teeth as did a bunch of other patriots. If it comes to that we are ready and (((they))) know it,” says one, the triple parentheses being a code in these venues for “Jew.”
What happens now? Despite the Watkins’s implicit confession and their effort to fold the Q tent, QAnon is not necessarily over. Someone posing as Q may post on a message board other than 8kun. There may even be multiple competitors for the role. It seems unlikely, however, that any could amass a following with anything like the numbers and fervor that QAnon has had until now. Still, if there have been a million followers of Q, which seems a modest estimate, they won’t all simply “go back to [their] lives,” as Ron Watkins suggests.
The blows the movement has absorbed make it unlikely that Adrienne LaFrance’s prediction will be borne out that QAnon will morph into an enduring religion. In defeat, Trump is a less convincing deity, and Trump-worship would have been central to that faith. However, he remains a political figure with a following, making more persuasive the observation of Justin Ling of Foreign Policy, that QAnon and Trumpism are becoming one and the same. This is true not in the sense of any coherent ideology but rather in unfailing devotion to Trump himself and a shared disregard for the canons of epistemology. A battle has begun between Trump’s followers and traditional Republicans over the future of that party, and the erstwhile anons may be the shock troops for the Trump faction.
Some anons may settle for the role of Trump-supporter in a more pedestrian political game, settling down to the ho-hum routine of registering voters, writing letters, raising funds, etc. But others will miss the thrill of being soldiers in the epochal battle of good versus evil. They will crave the heady brew they drank down from Q’s drops. They will seek more exciting outlets. QAnon will break apart, but this will not necessarily make it less dangerous—to America or to Jews.
Indeed, it may become more so now. It has thus far not been a particularly violent movement, One follower gunned down a reputed organized-crime boss in Staten Island. Another used his vehicle to block the road at the Hoover Dam. And a woman drove partly across the country armed with a knife in the hopes of killing Joe Biden and freeing the captive children. But before the Capitol riot, and the attempted bombings that accompanied it, these were isolated incidents.
Nonetheless, the potential for violence has all along inhered in the Manichean claim that the enemy are satanic rapists and killers of children, that QAnon is waging a battle of “light” against “dark,” good against “pure evil.” (Curiously, for all the blather about pedophiles, in the wake of the inauguration, I have spotted little if any concern for the fate of “the children.”) Such violence may yet be unleashed.
What seems to have kept QAnon from becoming more violent has been Q’s assurances that all was in hand and his jolly injunctions “enjoy the show” and “got popcorn?” But there was always another side to Q, who was rarely consistent about anything. As often as “enjoy the show,” he concluded drops with the injunction “fight, fight, fight.” Indeed, the board on 8chan where he posted was titled “Patriots Fight.” And his messages were littered with such comments as “these people should be hanging.”
Anons had been enjoined by Q to “trust the plan,” but now that the plan seems to have fallen through, many will despair. Some may overcome their Q addictions; a few reports of this have appeared on the family support group. But others may grow more desperate and unhinged. Threats of violence or calls to violence have echoed on 8kun ever since the election. Much of this may be mere bluster, but of many thousands involved it seems likely that some will act on such fantasies, more likely in ones or twos than in larger groups.
In short, while some anons will leave the fold, the remainder of the movement is apt to splinter—and some of the shards will be pointed at Jews. These are the kind of assaults we have experienced in the recent past at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the Chabad synagogue in San Diego, a Hanukkah party in Monsey, a kosher supermarket in Jersey City, and other venues. After all, the Jews are obvious targets for blame, and diehard believers will no doubt seek a scapegoat for the apparent failure of their movement.
Jew-baiting is a constant thread in the QAnon universe even though it was not a main theme of Q’s own posts or the writings of his principal interpreters. Qresear.ch, the website where the movement has compiled its voluminous discourse, comprises some twenty million messages or comments. Its search utility reveals that some 200,000, about one percent, contain the word “Jew,” surely not usually in an admiring way. Some 36,000, or about one in every five hundred includes the word “kike.” And anti-Semitism inheres in Q’s depiction of the Rothschilds and Soros as two out of the three elements of the cabal. Aside from the fact that the numbers Q gives for their wealth (trillions) are phantasmagorical, why them? Forbes lists Soros as tied for 162nd place among the world’s wealthiest individuals and includes no one named Rothschild among the top 200. Bloomberg, which lists the 25 wealthiest families, mentions neither, and as far as I can tell includes only one Jewish family—in twentieth place.
The implications of this are compounded by the venue where Q chose to deliver his message, 4chan/8chan/8kun, which are awash in neo-Nazism, Der Stürmer-type cartoons, and heated exchanges of the type, “shut up, Jew” and “I’m no Jew, you’re a Jew.” Moreover, the Q ideology, such as it is, incorporates other familiar components of anti-Semitism: a sinister cabal that pulls the world’s political and financial strings from behind the scenes, the murder of children and the consumption of their bodily fluids.
Perhaps one reason anti-Semitism has not been more pronounced is that the messiah the movement worships, Donald Trump, is densely entangled with Jews. Perhaps, too, there is some effect of QAnon’s being a movement made up in large part, it appears, of evangelical Christians, a community which, according to Pew surveys, is more philo-Semitic than any other in America. But perhaps the main explanation is that QAnon has always had bigger fish to fry. To Hitler, Jews were somehow the center of everything, notably in the form of Judeo-Bolshevism. But in reality, there are not that many Jews, and we are not that important.
Q seemed to grasp that; he was after grander targets. His revelation described a meta-conspiracy, encompassing every conspiracy theory of the past hundred years and a conflict “of biblical proportions.” This is not to say he was averse to anti-Semitism; to the contrary. For example, in one drop he linked to or reproduced a Nazi cartoon posted by an anon depicting the Holocaust as just revenge for the blood of European nations that the Jews had allegedly shed. Yet in reposting it, Q’s only gloss was to underscore his point that the Rothschilds control the Vatican. For Q, apparently, it is fine to abuse Jews, but they are not the main point.
As QAnon collapses, it seems to me unlikely that what is left of it will become, as such, a movement of anti-Semitism—except in the event that Trump turns in that direction. Few anons would scruple to follow him there, but he harbors some personal barriers that are likely to block that path. However, among the disillusioned, disheartened veterans of the Q movement, there will be some, like the anon who first posted that Nazi cartoon and the others, however many they may be, whose posts included the “k” word, for whom the Jews are the main issue. They will join or form groups whose main métier is to spread verbal poison, but some of them may do worse.