The mysterious pro-Trump conspiracy theory known as ‘QAnon’ is moving from the fringes of the internet to Trump rallies

  • Believers in the “QAnon” conspiracy theories are increasingly making their presence known offline, including at President Donald Trump’s campaign rallies.
  • The theories hold that a cabal of elites, including celebrities, Democratic Party leaders, and the deep state, are the source of all evil and that Trump will conquer them all.
  • The complex set of interwoven theories revolve largely around promoting a positive interpretation of Trump’s leadership.

At a rally in Tampa Bay, Florida on Tuesday night, President Donald Trump was surrounded by cheering supporters, some of whom were decked out in T-shirts emblazoned with the letter “Q” and holding signs reading “We are Q.”

The paraphernalia refers to a set of pro-Trump, right-wing conspiracy theories known as “QAnon,” which hold that a cabal of elites, including celebrities, Democratic Party leaders, and the deep state, are the source of all evil and that Trump – with help from secret allies including special counsel Robert Mueller – will expose and defeat these forces.

How ‘QAnon’ emerged

In October 2017, an anonymous person who claims to have access to top-secret information (and a so-called Q-level government security clearance), began posting cryptic messages on an online message board known as 4Chan. The vague notes are written in poem-like verses, which “QAnon” followers call “breadcrumbs,” or clues to understanding Trump’s secret counter-coup against evil.

Followers believe there will be a “Great Awakening” before a “storm” – an idea derived from the president’s unclear reference last year to “the calm before the storm” – during which Trump will conquer elites, globalists, and the deep state. And Democrats including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will ultimately find themselves locked up in Guantanamo.

The complex set of interwoven theories revolve largely around promoting a positive interpretation of Trump’s leadership, and they’re infested with racism and anti-Semitism.

Fabricated child sex rings

Central to the conspiracy are the baseless accusations that certain Hollywood celebrities and Democratic politicians are involved in a child sex trafficking operation. Last week, “QAnon” followers promoted the false claim on Twitter and Reddit that Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg are pedophiles and that the Mexican cement company Cemex is helping to run a child sex ring.

YouTube has been criticized over the last few days for serving as a platform for the slanderous claims, which appeared in the top search results on the site for Hanks, Spielberg, and Cemex this week.

‘QAnon’ in the mainstream

The conspiracy has in recent months worked its way from the radical fringes of the internet to mainstream platforms, including Twitter, YouTube, and Reddit.

Celebrities with well-known right-wing beliefs, including comedian and disgraced actress Roseanne Barr and former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, have appeared to endorse the group on Twitter. Barr used the “QAnon” slogan, “Where we go one we go all,” abbreviated to “WWG1WGA,” in one message.

“QAnon” followers have begun to make public appearances. In April, hundreds marched in Washington to protest the Department of Justice. And in June, a Trump supporter at a rally in Duluth, Minnesota wearing a shirt emblazoned with the “QAnon” logo was given VIP access.

During the rally, Trump approached the man in the “Q” shirt and gestured towards him. The group’s supporters took the incident as evidence of the theory’s validity.

On Tuesday, “QAnon” – which is pronounced as the letter “Q” followed by “anon” – made a strong showing at Trump’s Florida rally, prompting reporters and others in attendence to document their presence.

It is unclear whether the president knows about “QAnon” or is aware that some of his supporters subscribe to the group.

When asked at a Wednesday press briefing whether the president “encourages the support” of “QAnon” members, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump “condemns and denounces any group that would incite violence against anoter individual and certainly doesn’t support groups that would promote that kind of behavior.”

But the president has long promoted conspiracy theories, including the “birther” conspiracy about Obama’s place of birth.