QAnon: What is it and where did it come from?
Twitter announced a crackdown on QAnon’s conspiracy theory, banning thousands of accounts and blocking web addresses that link to videos and websites by spreading QAnon’s bizarre ideas.
It’s a marginal movement, but one that has collected a huge head of steam online, particularly in the United States.
So what is QAnon and who believes it?
What is that?
At its core, QAnon is a wide-ranging and unfounded conspiracy theory that claims that Donald Trump is waging a secret war against pedophiles who worship Satan in government, business and the media.
QAnon believers have speculated that this fight will lead to a day of reckoning in which prominent people like Hillary Clinton will be arrested and executed.
This is the basic story, but there are so many derivatives, deviations and internal debates that the total list of QAnon’s claims is enormous – and often contradictory. Adherents draw on news events, historical facts and numerology to develop their far-fetched conclusions.
- QAnon: What is the truth behind a pro-Trump conspiracy theory?
Where did it all start?
In October 2017, an anonymous user posted a series of posts on the 4chan wall. The user signed in as “Q” and claimed to have a U.S. security approval level known as “Q authorization”.
These messages became known as “Q drops” or “breadcrumb”, often written in cryptic language littered with slogans, promises and pro-Trump themes.
- Twitter breaches QAnon’s conspiracy theorists
Nobody really believes it, does it?
In fact, thousands do. The amount of traffic to major social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and YouTube has exploded since 2017 and indications are that the numbers have increased further during the coronavirus pandemic.
Judging by social media, there are hundreds of thousands of people who believe in at least some of the bizarre theories offered by QAnon.
And its popularity has not been diminished by events that seem to scale everything down. For example, the first drops of Q focused on the investigation by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller.
QAnon supporters claimed that the investigation by Mr. Mueller about Russian interference in the 2016 American election was truly an elaborate cover story for an investigation into pedophiles. When it ended without such a bomb revelation, the attention of conspiracy theorists shifted elsewhere.
True believers argue that deliberate misinformation is sown in Q’s messages – in their minds that make conspiracy theory impossible.
What impact has it had?
QAnon supporters drive hashtags and coordinate abuse of perceived enemies: politicians, celebrities and journalists who believe they are hiding for pedophiles.
Online messages are not just threatening. Twitter claims to have taken action against QAnon because of the potential “offline damage”.
Several QAnon believers were arrested after threatening or taking offline actions.
In one noteworthy case in 2018, a heavily armed man blocked a bridge over the Hoover Dam. Matthew Wright later pleaded guilty to a terrorism charge.
- The US conspiracy theory closes the school festival
Could it have an impact on the US election?
Studies indicate that most Americans have not heard of QAnon. But for many believers, it forms the basis of their support for President Trump.
The president unwittingly or unconsciously retweeted QAnon supporters and last month his son Eric Trump posted a QAnon meme on Instagram.
- How influential is a pro-Trump conspiracy theory?
Dozens of QAnon supporters are running for Congress in November. Many have little hope, but some, like Marjorie Taylor Greene in Georgia, seem to have a good chance of winning a place.
It is very likely that a QAnon supporter – or someone sympathetic to conspiracy theory – will sit at the next United States Congress.
With further reports from Jack Goodman and Shayan Sardarizadeh
What statements do you want BBC Reality Check to investigate? Get in touch
Read more from Reality Check
Follow us on Twitter