Inside Qanon, The Latest Batshit Trump-Era Conspiracy Theory
'Pizzagate on steroids' includes sex trafficking, Russia, the Clintons and a lot of secret codes.
Pizzagate. Deep state. It seems the Trump administration is a lightning rod for wild conspiracy theories with equally fanciful names, but the latest bizarre set of internet rumours is being referred to by just one letter.
From an obscure and anonymous commenter on a backwater message board, to being spruiked by Roseanne Barr and promoted at Trump rallies, the so-called Qanon has rocketed into worldwide attention. Followers of Q, following trails of 'breadcrumb' clues, allege a sprawling conspiracy theory bringing in Trump, Robert Mueller, Russia, Satanism, Hillary Clinton, Hollywood, child sex trafficking, the Saudi royal family, North Korea, Alice In Wonderland and The Matrix.
Strap in, here's what you need to know about Qanon.
What Is Qanon?
Qanon refers to a person (or people) posting under the user name Q on internet message boards including 4chan and 8chan. The user name is Q, they kept their real name anonymous -- hence, Qanon.
Q started posting on the boards late last year, after Trump's cryptic "calm before the storm" comment during a meeting with top military brass. The president's comment was never properly explained -- some took it to mean the United States was on the brink of war -- but it led to the first posts of Q.
Q claimed they had top-secret intelligence clearance. Q-clearance is a classification for Department of Energy clearance to access top secret information, including nuclear data.
Q began posting messages, claiming to have top secret information, and alleging a mind-boggling theory that "the storm" referred to by Trump was a massive counter-coup operation where the president would wipe out all his political foes including Clinton, Huma Abedin and John Podesta.
What are Q's clues?
Q spread the theories by dropping 'breadcrumbs' of information, such as codes and puzzles, like an online scavenger hunt. A string of numbers correspond to letters; Bible verses are quoted; followers are directed to find Twitter posts; and messages are signed off with an Alice In Wonderland reference.
Some followers parse random bits of information for clues, tying random or inconsequential developments into the wider theory.
Other 'breadcrumbs' included references to the Godfather and Matrix movies, and photos posted online. Some Q fans even claimed Q was aboard Air Force One, linking a photo of clouds posted from the air to the plane's flight path. Other, using Q's claims of Q clearance, allege the person (or people) are with military intelligence.
What do the Qanon theories allege?
Soon, the theories widened to claim -- among other things -- that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un was a puppet leader and being controlled by someone else, that there was a massive child trafficking operation being run in Hollywood, and that special prosecutor Robert Mueller was not investigating Russian influence on the U.S. election but was secretly working to bring down the Clintons.
Other parts of the Qanon conspiracy theory allege the Clintons would be arrested at a specific time and place in late 2017 (they were not), that a video tape of Hillary Clinton abusing a child would be made public (it was not), and even that spelling mistakes in Trump's tweets are some sort of secret sign to the believers (probably not).
“All of Trump’s mishaps on the world stage, his detractors in the media, his various scandals can all be effectively be framed within the Qanon lore as attacks that are coordinated against him because he’s ever closer to taking down a global conspiracy committing the most atrocious crimes that could be imagined, like Satanic child sex trafficking, and blood sacrifice,” Jared Holt, a research associate for website Right Wing Watch, told NBC.
What are supporters doing? Why are we talking about it?
Well, Qanon went from a quite crazy but relatively underground conspiracy theory to massive worldwide media attention in recent months.
A follower of the theory allegedly blocked traffic at Hoover Dam with an armoured truck, in a murky incident in which he demanded a report into Clinton's emails be released. He also sent letters to Trump loaded with Q theory references.
Many Trump-supporting MAGA enthusiasts have distanced themselves from the Q theories, but Roseanne Barr has tweeted support for the 'movement'. A July tweet includes a common Q follower motto -- WWG1WGA, or "where we go one, we go all".
Most prominently however, Qanon burst into the mainstream when scores of Q followers attended a Trump rally in Florida last week. Wearing Q shirts, waving Q signs, supporters made sure their batshit theories got on global TV.
"It’s a movement, man. It’s the shift. I can feel it coming," one man told CNN on Thursday.
"Some call it the great awakening."
Trump has not explicitly voiced support for the Q followers, but a Q follower claimed to have been given VIP access to Trump's June rally in Minnesota; the same rally where Trump approached and gestured approvingly to another person in a Q shirt.
When asked about Qanon, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump "condemns and denounces any group that would incite violence against another individual, and certainly doesn’t support groups that would promote that type of behavior."
But the theories don't show any sign of slowing down anytime soon.