The Global QAnon Conspiracy Theory

26 August 2020

Until recently, the conspiracy theory known as QAnon was mostly known only in America.

QAnon is the belief that U.S. President Donald Trump is fighting a "deep state" plot of sex traffickers against him. The term "deep state" means a group of government employees who secretly work against the president.

The extreme-right idea has gained believers throughout the United States. Trump has often retweeted messages from QAnon. It is estimated that more than 12 Republican candidates running for Congress have accepted some of its ideas.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is worried about QAnon believers. It has identified conspiracy theories as a possible terror threat.

However, QAnon believers appear to no longer live only in the United States. Believers are thought to be in at least 71 countries. That information comes from QAnon researcher Marc-Andre Argentino.

"There has been massive growth," said Argentino. He is a Ph.D. candidate at Canada's Concordia University.

Outside the U.S., Germany has become home to the largest number of QAnon followers, Argentino said. One German QAnon channel on the encrypted messaging app Telegram has 120,000 members.

In the past month, the biggest growth in QAnon's international followers has taken place in Brazil. The country has been hit hard by the coronavirus, and more than 114,000 people have died there.

A man in the crowd holds a QAnon sign with the group's abbreviation of their rallying cry
A man in the crowd holds a QAnon sign with the group's abbreviation of their rallying cry "Where we go one, we go all" as crowds gather to attend U.S. President Donald Trump's campaign rally at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada (Reuters/Patrick Fallon)

What does Q stand for?

"Q" is an online writer who claims to be a government employee at a top secret level and with knowledge of the deep state's systems.

But few experts believe he is a government insider. And many suspect more than one person may have been behind the Q writings over the years.

Q first appeared online in October 2017. The writer made an unusual prediction: Former Democratic party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton would soon be arrested. Her arrest would be followed by nationwide riots, the prediction said.

The prediction proved false. Q made many more untrue predictions. One stated that large numbers of Democratic Party members would be arrested.

Q has continued to write about Trump's "secret war" against sex traffickers and others have passed the writings along and repeated them.

Q last wrote publicly on July 31. The writer said the coronavirus health crisis was created to help keep then-likely Democratic Party presidential nominee Joe Biden from appearing in public before the election. It was also created to force Trump to stop having his large gatherings, Q wrote.

"QAnon believes President Trump is the person who will save the world from this network of bad actors and he will uncover the Deep State that exist[s] in the United States and overseas," said Kevin Grisham. He is the associate director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino.

Who are QAnon believers?

Georgia businesswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene is a believer. She just won the Republican Party nomination Tuesday for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. She is expected to win the seat in November.

Q's followers have grown on social media: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Telegram. Argentino said about 300,000 to 400,000 people write about QAnon on Facebook, Twitter and Telegram each day.

Since the start of the spread of the new coronavirus around the world, QAnon support has grown a lot. The number of QAnon Facebook group members has jumped 800 percent to 1.7 million. Argentino added that pro-QAnon Twitter accounts have increased 85 percent -- to 400,000. In recent weeks, both Facebook and Twitter have removed writings by QAnon.

How popular is QAnon overseas?

Most of the recent growth in QAnon following has taken place in countries other than the U.S. "You're starting to see these sort of groups popping up everywhere," Grisham said.

Germany, Britain, Australia and Canada are among the countries where supporters appear to be growing. Also, observers are watching what Russian- supported media are saying.

Experts who study QAnon said there were no signs Russia had a hand in creating it. However, Russian media has increased its coverage of the movement.

Cindy Otis is a former CIA employee and a disinformation expert. Reuters reports that she said Russian-backed news organizations have been writing more about QAnon because it shows division in the United States.

I'm Susan Shand.

VOA's Masood Farivar reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English with additional material from Reuters. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.


Words in This Story

conspiracy theory –n. a theory that explains an event or situation as the result of a secret plan by powerful people or groups

massive–adj. large in amount or degree

encrypted–adj. to change from one form to another especially to hide its meaning

slogan–n. a phrase or expression used by a group or business to attract attention

popping up –v. to appear suddenly or in an unexpected way