QAnon: What Does the Alt-Right Conspiracy Theory Actually Believe?

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Besides the throngs of flag-flying Trump supporters storming its entrances, the key images that circulated following the deadly assault on the US Capitol Building on 6 January last year, was the image of the “QAnon Shaman” Jacob Chansley.

The central focus on Chansley is on point as the alt-right conspiracy theory that is QAnon played a central role in the variety of ideologies that sparked the rioters into action.

For his part in the insurrection, Chansley is now serving three and a half years in prison, which is a light sentence that reflects his reduced mental health due to a number of conditions.

Chansley was part of around 2,000 rioters, who forced their way into the Capitol, aiming to disrupt a joint session of Congress in order to prevent the certification of the 2020 election results, as the demonstrators considered that Donald Trump actually won the vote despite official versions.

Whilst still holding office, Trump and his team propagated ideas around his victory, which were readily taken up by conspiracy-minded QAnon adherents, whom the president had repeatedly refused to denounce, but rather chose to stoke their flames by indicating an alliance with them.

At the time the Capitol Building was briefly overrun, around 17 percent of the US population were part of the QAnon movement, while, right now, an estimated 7 percent of the nation continues to accept the conspiracy theory, which is still a considerable 22 million people.

The Great Awakening

QAnon adherents believe the US, as well as the entire globe, is run by a cabal of Satan-worshipping paedophiles, who profiteer from the trafficking and torturing of babies. And Trump and other high up military officials are working together to thwart them.

Intimately connected to the Republican Party, QAnon once considered its archenemy to be Democrat Hillary Clinton, while this role has now been bestowed to US president Joe Biden. 

However, the left side of politics in general is despised, as it’s considered the “deep state” elite are plotting to turn the entire globe into a communist state.

At the centre of the theory is the figure of Q: an anonymous person, claiming to be a high-ranking US military official, who posts on divisive alt-right message boards, starting with 4chan, before moving on to 8chan and finally 8kun.

When Q got started, they were not the only “anon” spouting anonymous messages on these websites. And it was two 4chan moderators and a YouTuber who decided to hone it on Q’s first messages and promote them, which in turn served to stoke their own online popularity.

Cooking conspiracies

Q posted their first message, or “Q drop”, on 4chan on 28 October 2017. Q has since sent out around 5,000 messages. The volume of their messages slowed down following the election of Biden, with the last one having been posted in December 2020.

The first Q drop stated that Hillary Clinton would be arrested over the paedophile cabal, which had already been established by an earlier conspiracy known as Pizzagate. This involved a child sex trafficking ring operating out of the basement of a Washington pizzeria called Comet Ping Pong.

Pizzagate was widely believed and still is. It led deeply religious man Edgar Welch to storm Comet Ping Pong, a popular children’s eatery, holding an AR-15 rifle in December 2016. After shooting out the lock to the door that supposedly led to the basement, he found it was just a closet.

The next seventeen Q drops established Trump, referred to as POTUS, as the central figure fighting to expose the deep state plot, and the messages also revealed Operation Mockingbird: the mainstream media complicity in concealing the true nature of the paedophile trafficking elite.

Q drops are highly cryptic messages. The details within them are referred to as “breadcrumbs”. This enables dedicated QAnon followers called “bakers” to cook up their own versions of what Q is trying to convey to the public.

Q has readily cited biblical verses, which led some evangelical Christians to embrace the conspiracy. QAnon followers were quoting heavily from the Bible online in the lead up to the storming of the Capitol. And the movement also harbours strong anti-Black Lives Matter sentiment.

Enter the virus

QAnon was in full flight when the COVID-19 pandemic commenced. And as Trump appeared at a White House press conference to announce the onset of the virus, QAnon followers speculated as to whether his yellow tie sent a coded signal indicating that he didn’t consider it was real.

Q announced that the virus was real on 9 March 2020 and that followers should not be concerned about it. The following month saw Q elaborate that the “mass hysteria” around COVID-19 was a ruse being used by the Democrats, Hollywood and the mass media to topple Trump from power.

Personalities within the QAnon movement have been key in disseminating medical disinformation about the virus, ideas around mask-wearing and vaccinations being part of the deep state plot to control populations and early ideas regarding the virus as a Chinese produced bioweapon.

Q down under

QAnon spread to Australian shores in early 2018, with a small amount of followers on social media. However, with the onset of the pandemic, its accompanying restrictions and the COVID vaccination, the movement’s core beliefs spread amongst alt-right and antivaxx pockets of the community.

The rise of the local Freedom movement has been where Australian QAnon followers have found a home. And while those involved in the “freedom cause” are not all overt adherents to the movement, the same paranoid ideas have spread amongst them.

Attacks on journalists during anti-lockdown demonstrations last year displayed the belief that the media is complicit in the shielding of the elites. And the idea that the pandemic response in Victoria is a communist plot was another common theme between the Freedom movement and QAnon.

While the threats to assassinate or harm premier Dan Andrews and three Victorian crossbenchers late last year were similar to the violence readily espoused and even acted upon by QAnon followers in the states.

Akin to the way that Donald Trump would drop breadcrumb references to QAnon adherents in his country, when prime minister Scott Morrison apologised to victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse in October 2018, he referred to an unscripted “ritual sex abuse”.

Indeed, when Trump won the 2016 election, a deep division within American society caused by the rise of his supporters, was apparent from across the Pacific. And with the surge in the local Freedom movement, that same divide is growing in Australia, along with the spread of these suspect ideas.

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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