The historical past of QAnon: how the conspiracy idea snowballed from the fringes of the web into the mainstream

  • The QAnon conspiracy idea was born on fringe messageboards in 2017.
  • The “big-tent” idea baselessly alleges Trump has been combating a cabal of pedophiles.
  • QAnon seeped into the mainstream and have become more and more well-liked in 2020.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

QAnon, the fictional right-wing conspiracy idea that alleges Trump is combating a “deep state” cabal of human traffickers, has had an enormous couple weeks in Congress.

Members questioned previous feedback by Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has repeatedly endorsed the motion and its related theories. Greene, who claimed last Thursday that she no longer believed in QAnon, was stripped of her congressional committee assignments on February 5.

Although Greene’s ties to QAnon have been well-documented by journalists and media watchdogs alike within the months earlier than her election to Congress, the convoluted “massive tent” conspiracy idea, which is continually spinning off new baseless allegations, has drawn latest curiosity within the wake of the Capitol riot. QAnon believers, together with white supremacists, diehard Trump followers, and militant gangs, stormed the Capitol to protest the election outcomes on January 6. 

The conspiracy-theory motion has been linked to several alleged and convicted violent crimes, including killings and attempted kidnappings. The primary identified QAnon-linked crime befell in the summertime of 2018, and the motion additionally helped fuel the January 6 insurrection on the US Capitol

Here is the place the conspiracy idea got here from. 

Twelfth century-Twentieth century: Blood-libel conspiracy theories


Jeff Swensen/Getty Photos

Conspiracy theories about teams of individuals harming kids have circulated for hundreds of years.

Anti-Semitic allegations claiming a secret cabal of Jews murdered kids started spreading all through Europe within the Center Ages. Twelfth-century tropes claimed that Jews kidnapped Christian kids and drank their blood to carry out spiritual rituals.

These fictional “blood libel” tales continued into the Twentieth century, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The notorious “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a false textual content printed in Russia in 1903, pushed the concept of “a Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world,” in response to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Michael Brenner, the director of American College’s Middle for Israel Research and a Jewish historical past professor, beforehand advised Insider that variations of those tropes “live on till this very day.” 

QAnon folklore is based on these same tropes, together with “adrenochrome,” a chemical compound that conspiracy theorists declare is harvested from kids and consumed by members of the fictional cabal. 

On the earth of QAnon, slightly than Jews writ giant being accused of pedophilia and little one homicide, it is Democrats, “elites,” and anybody else who seems to be an enemy of the motion. 

October 2016: Pizzagate 

comet ping pong pizzagate

The entrance door of Comet Ping Pong pizza store, in Washington, Monday, Dec. 5, 2016.

Related Press/Jose Luis Magana

QAnon emerged within the wake of “Pizzagate,” a 2016 far-right conspiracy idea that baselessly alleged Hillary Clinton and aides ran a child-trafficking ring out of a pizzeria in Washington, DC. 

Murmurs of “Pizzagate,” which circulated on-line through the 2016 election, began that October when a Twitter troll shared a screenshot of a Fb submit that falsely claimed the New York Police Division discovered proof on disgraced politician Anthony Weiner’s laptop computer that Clinton was concerned in an “worldwide little one enslavement ring,” as Craig Silverman of BuzzFeed News reported on the time. On the identical time, conspiracy theorists on far-right message boards have been discussing baseless claims that Clinton was allegedly concerned in a child-trafficking scheme. 

Then, a right-wing pretend information article on cited a submit on 4chan, an nameless message board that has often been the house of violent and racist rhetoric, claiming that emails from Clinton marketing campaign supervisor John Podesta, printed by WikiLeaks, used code phrases to debate little one trafficking. Quickly, a number of different right-wing web sites started posting related pretend information articles. As Silverman famous, that whole collection of occasions befell in three days. 

Lower than two months later, Edgar Maddison Welch, who was 28 on the time, drove from North Carolina to the DC restaurant, Comet Ping Pong, the place he stated he believed kids have been being held as intercourse slaves. His perception was disproven after he entered the restaurant. Welch fired an assault rifle into the restaurant and was later sentenced to four years in prison on weapons prices. In an interview with The New York Times, Welch, a father of two, stated he had “felt his coronary heart breaking over the considered harmless folks struggling.'” 

October 2017: The primary ‘Q drops’ 

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Watkins movies a YouTube video with a “Q” and American flags within the background.

Watkins Xerxes/YouTube

QAnon really started on October 28, 2017, when an nameless poster known as “Q Clearance Patriot” first posted on 4chan, a message board that is often house to violent rhetoric. “Q,” because the determine got here to be identified, claimed to have high-level authorities safety clearance and referenced a cryptic impending “storm” in a thread known as “Calm Earlier than the Storm.”

Weeks earlier, on October 5, President Trump advised reporters, “Perhaps it is the calm earlier than the storm.” A reporter requested Trump “what storm” he was speaking about, and the president replied, “You may discover out.” The imprecise remark did not appear to reference something in any respect, however on 4chan, messages from “Q” despatched Trump supporters right into a frenzy of theorizing.

With “Q drops,” the identify given to messages from the nameless “Q” determine, the concept of this upcoming “storm” solidified into the idea of imminent public executions and arrests for child-traffickers and pedophiles. “Q’s” predominant subjects in these early days have been associated to Clinton’s impending arrest (Clinton was by no means arrested), and have been an offshoot of “Pizzagate.” “Q drops” within the fall of 2017 additionally targeted on George Soros, a Jewish Democratic donor who’s often the topic of conspiracy theories, and Clinton aide Huma Abedin, as a Bellingcat investigation found

November 2017: QAnon influencers unfold the idea on-line 

An August 2018 NBC News investigation discovered that three people — Tracy Diaz, Paul Furber, and Coleman Rogers — had been chargeable for plucking “Q drops” out of obscurity and spreading them all through the web.

Furber and Coleman have been moderators of the 4chan board that contained “Q drops,” and Diaz was a far-right conspiracy-theory YouTuber. “Their purpose, in response to Diaz, was to construct a following for Qanon — which might imply greater followings for them as nicely,” NBC Information’ Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins reported. 

These beginnings laid the groundwork for the function influencers would play within the QAnon group. With weblog posts, YouTube movies, and podcasts, QAnon influencers, together with Ron Watkins, InTheMatrixxx, and ShadyGroove, have change into identified for deciphering “Q drops.” 

Many well-liked QAnon theories have been by no means referenced by “Q,” however have been unfold by well-liked influencers locally, together with Frazzledrip, the conspiracy idea falsely alleging the existence of a video depicting Clinton and Abedin sexually abusing a toddler earlier than filleting his face and sporting it as a masks. Moreover, the declare that John F. Kennedy Jr. remains to be alive, in addition to the idea of “adrenochrome,” have been “delivered to Q by its believers,” as Mike Rothschild, a conspiracy-theory researcher who’s writing a guide about QAnon, stated in a tweet.

January 2018: ‘Q’ strikes to 8chan, which later turns into 8kun

ron watkins oan

Ron Watkins was interviewed by OAN’s Chanel Rion as a “cyber analyst.”


In January 2018, “Q,” recognized by a singular tripcode that confirmed they have been the identical poster, moved over to the message board 8chan, which was run by Jim Watkins and his son, Ron. The platform went offline earlier than reappearing as 8kun in 2019.

Researchers have suspected that each males might have posted as “Q” or no less than have data of who “Q” is. Fredrick Brennan, the software program developer who created 8chan and has since change into its most vocal critic, advised Insider in an interview final fall that both Watkins would have had the facility to pretend the tripcode related to “Q.” 

July 2018: QAnon paraphernalia pops up at Trump rallies 

qanon dominion contractor noose

A automobile with a flag endorsing the QAnon drives by as supporters of President Donald Trump collect for a rally outdoors the Governor’s Mansion on November 14, 2020 in St Paul, Minnesota.

Stephen Maturen/Getty Photos

In the summertime of 2018, as QAnon grew to become extra well-liked, clothes and flags associated to the conspiracy idea started popping up at Trump rallies across the nation, as NPR reported. Travis View, the host of the QAnon Nameless podcast, identified in a tweet on the time that a number of folks wore “We Are Q” shirts at a July 31, 2018, rally in Tampa, Florida. 


March 2020: QAnon goes mainstream with COVID-19 misinformation

Whereas QAnon started as a fringe motion, it seeped into mainstream on-line areas from 2018 to 2020.

At first of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic started, the QAnon group performed an enormous function in spreading medical misinformation, which in flip helped convey extra mainstream believers into the fold.

A lot of the medical misinformation associated to the pandemic, together with false claims concerning the security of sporting face masks, was popularized by the QAnon group, as a September 2020 BBC investigation discovered. 

July 2020: ‘Save the Youngsters’ and the Wayfair conspiracy idea

qanon save the children sign trump

An individual wears a t-shirt with the anagram WWG1WGA, the QAnon slogan, whereas taking part in a “save the youngsters” march and rally in New York Metropolis, New York, U.S. August 12, 2020.

REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

In the summertime of 2020, the motion pivoted its pro-Trump narrative to focus on “Save the Children,” a motion that purports to hunt an finish to human trafficking. Precise anti-human-trafficking advocacy groups have begged QAnon believers to cease clogging their hotlines with false ideas.

However with each anti-mask and anti-human-trafficking rhetoric, QAnon gained steam amongst “normies,” in what College of Amsterdam researchers have known as the “normiefication” of QAnon.

A conspiracy idea alleging the Wayfair furnishings firm was promoting human kids on its web site went viral in mainstream social-media areas like Instagram in July. The Wayfair idea was created by a QAnon influencer, Insider found.

Lifestyle influencers, mommy bloggers, and yogis started to espouse QAnon rhetoric on-line.  This group’s QAnon beliefs are extra tied to the concept of a secretive, shadowy cabal than to Trump being our savior. It is this model of QAnon that is additionally unfold to different international locations, together with Germany.

July-October 2020: Platforms crackdown on QAnon

In the summertime of 2020, tech firms started to crack down on QAnon, which had reached thousands and thousands of customers in Fb teams, an NBC News report found

Twitter banned 7,000 QAnon-linked accounts in July 2020, starting a wave of moderation. TikTok banned QAnon-related hashtags that month, adopted by a Fb ban in August.

In October, Twitter and Fb elevated their moderation and YouTube started cracking down on the idea. 

November 2020: The motion focuses on voter-fraud claims

stop the steal

Individuals attend a rally in help of President Donald Trump on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.

AP Photograph/Jose Luis Magana

When Joe Biden gained the 2020 presidential election, QAnon believers, like different communities of Trump supporters, did not imagine the outcomes. QAnon mythology relied on Trump remaining in workplace for an additional 4 years, and the information that his tenure was over got here as a shock. 

Becoming a member of forces with the Stop the Steal movement, QAnon shifted to focus its efforts on voter-fraud allegations to discredit the election. Ron Watkins and different QAnon influencers, together with the attorneys Lin Wood and Sidney Powell, popularized the conspiracy idea alleging Dominion Voting Methods had interfered within the election.

The declare is baseless, and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Safety Company (CISA) has stated that the election was the “most safe” election in American historical past.

One America Information Community, a pro-Trump propaganda outlet that regularly unfold the false declare that Trump had gained the election, interviewed Watkins, claiming that he was  “cyber analyst” who recognized points with Dominion’s machines. 

The Dominion declare grew to become so widespread that Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, each tweeted about it. As Ben Collins of NBC News reported, citing Advance Democracy analysis, 1 in 7 tweets about “#Dominion” within the weeks after the election originated from QAnon accounts. 

QAnon’s voter-fraud claims contributed to the frenzy that led to the US Capitol riot

December 2020: ‘Q’ stops posting 

Whereas “Q drops” grew to become much less frequent over the course of 2020, they stopped altogether on December 8, after “Q” posted a since-deleted pro-Trump YouTube video.

By way of the January 6 riot on the US Capitol, which featured many QAnon believers, and Biden’s inauguration, “Q” has stayed silent. 

However “Q” has change into much less essential to the motion through the years. As Insider reported in October 2020, even discovering arduous proof that Jim Watkins or another person was “Q” may not influence the motion in any respect. 

“I feel lots of people have this fantasy that after we form of uncover the reality to QAnon and its origins, that may one way or the other break the spell for the QAnon followers,” View, the QAnon Nameless host and researcher, advised Insider in a earlier interview. “That is simply not the case.” 

January 2021: The Capitol riot and post-Trump QAnon 

Qanon shaman viking riot capitol

Jake Angeli, the “Q Shaman,” was one in every of a number of protestors to confront Capitol cops on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. – Demonstrators breeched safety and entered the Capitol as Congress debated the a 2020 presidential election Electoral Vote Certification.

SAUL LOEB/AFP through Getty Photos

On January 6, pro-Trump insurrectionists stormed the US Capitol in protest of Biden’s win. The coup try, which occurred whereas Congress met to certify the Electoral Faculty outcomes, featured many QAnon believers, together with the “Q Shaman,” a preferred fixture at QAnon rallies. 

However a lot to the dismay of QAnon believers, Biden was inaugurated on January 20. Many QAnon followers started to precise a loss of faith in the theory, as they thought Trump would one way or the other be capable to stay in workplace. Nonetheless, the conspiracy idea has been in a position to shift a lot that it remains hugely popular weeks after the inauguration. 

February 2021: Marjorie Taylor Greene

marjorie taylor greene

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is seen together with her face masks pulled down as she speaks with a colleague on the ground of the Home on January 3, 2021 for the swearing in of the brand new Congress.

Erin Scott-Pool/Getty

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a freshman Republican from Georgia, started her first time period in Congress in January. However Greene’s help for the QAnon conspiracy idea, in addition to different offensive claims, drew criticism within the wake of the Capitol riot. Greene claimed to disavow QAnon, however members of the Home voted to take away her from her committee assignments on February 5. 

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