QAnon. Ever heard of it?
If you’re like most Americans, the answer to that question is “no.” In fact, fully three quarters (76%) of Americans said they had never heard of the broad-scale, internet-based conspiracy group in new Pew polling. One in 5 people said they had heard “a little” about the QAnon movement while 3% said they had heard “a lot.”
Those numbers are intriguing to say the least – mostly because we simply haven’t had much (or any) credible polling on how much penetration QAnon had made into mainstream consciousness. The Pew numbers function as a sort of baseline in that regard: Roughly 1 in 4 Americans have even heard of QAnon.
Which is, candidly, reassuring, given the conspiracy theories that QAnon embraces.
Let’s start from here: QAnon is based on a belief that there is a high-level government official – “Q” – who sprinkles clues on internet message boards like 4chan and 8chan about a massive “deep state” conspiracy (or series of conspiracies) at work in the country.
“Every president before Trump was a ‘criminal president’ in league with all the nefarious groups of conspiracy theories past: the global banking elite, death squads operating on orders from Hillary Clinton, deep-state intelligence operatives, and Pizzagate-style pedophile rings. In an effort to break this cabal’s grip, according to Q, the military convinced Trump to run for president….
…QAnon fans are obsessed with finding proof that whoever is behind Q is actually connected to the Trump administration. During one Trump trip to Asia, Q posted some pictures of islands, which supporters seized on as proof that Q was on Air Force One.”
While most of QAnon’s activities are online only, supporters of the movement began to show up at President Donald Trump’s campaign rallies in the 2018 midterm elections – and were caught on camera. QAnon supporters have staged a rally in Washington.
And some adherents of the movement have taken it even further. In June 2018, a man armed with a rifle blocked traffic at the Hoover Dam demanding the release of a supposed “secret” report from the Office of the Inspector General that would break open the “deep state” cabal in the government. That was a theory heavily promoted on QAnon message boards.
Trump, because he is Trump, has occasionally promoted QAnon voices (although it’s not clear he was aware that that was what he was doing). In July 2018, Trump promoted tweets from two accounts with links to QAnon. As The Washington Posted noted at the time: “The president tagged one user in a tweet about election security and retweeted another blaming Democrats for voter fraud.”
And, in late 2019, activity on Trump’s Twitter feed sent the QAnon crowd into a frenzy. As Sommer wrote at the time:
“Trump or someone with access to his account retweeted a message of support containing the “WWG1WGA” hashtag, a reference to a QAnon motto [‘where we go one, we go all’]. In total, Trump retweeted QAnon fans more than 20 times on the same day.
“Trump’s Twitter activity provided new fuel for QAnon fans, who are convinced, among other things, that Trump is on the verge of arresting and executing top Democrats at Guantanamo Bay. QAnon Twitter accounts and messages boards seized on Trump’s retweets as a tacit acknowledgment of their conspiracy theory’s validity, while the retweets also provided the QAnon promoters Trump boosted with access to tens of millions of new potential believers.”
Whether Trump knows what he is doing or not with this – and, well, everything – is an open question. But what we do know about Trump is that he is someone very willing to believe in conspiracy theories, especially when they benefit him. For example, he has adopted the “deep state” idea fully. The effect of Trump’s love of conspiracy is that it pushes extreme ideas ever closer to the mainstream while also emboldening groups like QAnon to keep pushing their wild ideas.
That 3 in 4 Americans have never heard of QAnon suggests that the movement remains out of sight of the average American. One wonders how much longer that will stay true.