NO MATTER how hard President Trump was pushed at NBC’s Town Hall debate this October, he simply refused to denounce the QAnon conspiracy.
“I know nothing about QAnon,” he responded, when asked to confirm the conspiracy was false.
“I just told you,” the host Savannah Guthrie shot back.
Trump responded: “What you tell me doesn’t necessarily make it fact.”
Then, almost immediately, as a nod to supporters of the conspiracy – which believes a Satanic paedophile cabal is at work among the “Deep State” – he added: “I do know they are very much against pedophilia. They fight it very hard.”
Trump’s simple refusal to condemn QAnon may be an electoral calculation, given that its adherents are a small but not insignificant part of his electoral coalition.
Polling of 15,000 people by HOPE not hate reveals that one in 10 Americans now identify themselves to varying degrees as supporters of QAnon, and of those who identify as strong supporters, Trump has 59% support compared to 29% who back Biden.
But perhaps more worryingly is that strong QAnon supporters are three times as likely than the average American to believe that violence is sometimes necessary to defend what you believe it. They also express strong support for greater authoritarianism and overwhelmingly think the US is heading for civil war.
These attitudes throw into question what QAnon supporters will do in the event that Trump loses the election but refuses to accept the result. For the followers of a conspiracy that believes in the existence of an international cabal of paedophiles, drawn from the ranks of the Democrat, Hollywood and business elites, the fact that they perceive Trump as their leader and saviour means some might resort to violence if he is ousted and contests the election’s legitimacy.
HOPE not hate’s polling offers a fascinating insight into the QAnon supporter and their wider beliefs.
Using a statistical method called MRP (Multilevel, regression with post-stratification), which is believed to be a lot more accurate than traditional polling, our data partners at FocalData have analysed the views of 15,000 people to estimate varying degrees of support for QAnon in the United States, suggesting 10% hold some sort of support for the belief (equating to 26m adults). Just under half of this figure (4.6%) identify themselves as “strong supporters”, while the remainder (5.4%) identify as “soft supporters”.
The fact that one in 10 Americans (roughly equating to 30 million adults) identify with a conspiracy that the FBI has identified as a “domestic terrorist” threat is pretty amazing, especially as movement only emerged in November 2017.
While these people are drawn from across the political spectrum, most now say that they are backing Donald J. Trump for President.
Perhaps more worryingly, three-quarters of strong QAnon supporters and two-thirds of soft supporters believe that violence is sometimes necessary to defend something they strongly believe in. Half of those who identify as strong QAnon supporters (49%) strongly agree with the statement, with a further 24% partially agreeing. Only 18% disagree.
Among soft QAnon supporters, 25% strongly agree with the statement, while 30% partially agree. By contrast, only 13% of the general public agrees with the statement and only a further 16% partially agree.
With 82% of strong supporters of QAnon thinking that the US is heading for civil war, this attitude towards the necessity of political violence could prove highly dangerous if the election results are contested.
In May 2019, after a spate of attacks by QAnon followers, the FBI labelled the QAnon “conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists”. However, this has not stopped President Trump sending out supporting messages to QAnon followers or his sons posting QAnon messages online.
In June, Eric Trump posted an American flag on his Instagram account with the message: “Who’s ready for the Trump Rally tonight?” and the letter “Q”, the symbol for the conspiracy theory.
At the bottom of the photo was an acronym for the slogan of the conspiracy’s followers: WWG1WGA – “Where We Go One, We Go All”.
QAnon originated in October 2017, when a user of the 4chan message board, later identified as “Q”, claimed to have insider knowledge that Hillary Clinton would soon be arrested. This kind of false information would become an unintentional trademark for Q, who claimed in further posts to be a Trump insider with high-level security clearance (Q’s real identity remains unknown).
Q has subsequently made more than 4,800 subsequent posts (known as “Q drops”), outlining a predatory, Satanic conspiracy dictating world events. As users of 4chan refer to each other as “anons”, the name “QAnon” was born.
Q, who has moved from 4chan to its successor sites 8chan and then 8kun, has gained an army of enthusiastic devotees who place faith in the supposed “Plan” to take down the cabal. Q tells his followers that they represent a “digital army” whose role is to preach the truth of the movement in order to lay the groundwork for the eventual “Great Awakening”, details of which are so shocking that the population at large cannot be informed about them without the elaborate pantomime of gradual revelation.
In reality, QAnon is a “superconspiracy”, capable of merging numerous pre-existing sub-conspiracies, with new theories flourishing and older tropes finding a new lease of life under its rubric. QAnon draws particularly from the “New World Order” (NWO) tradition, which for decades has alleged that a secret elite is controlling events across the globe for the purpose of world domination.
A more recent precursor is the “Pizzagate” theory that emerged ahead of the 2016 presidential election, which alleged that Democratic politicians were trafficking children for use in paedophilic rituals. That in turn led to an attack on a Washington D.C. pizza restaurant by an armed fundamentalist Christian, convinced that children were being held in its (non-existent) basement.
The frantic, independent theorising of Q followers has proved capable of rolling any event into its grand narrative, from the momentous – such as the JFK assassination or the sinking of the Titanic – to the seemingly insignificant, such as the mispricing of items on the retail site Wayfair, or a “hidden symbol” in a frame of a Disney film.
The overall effect is kaleidoscopic and disturbing, but for followers it provides a simple framework of Good versus Evil through which the world can be understood.
A strong sinew of antisemitism runs through QAnon. Q has identified a triumvirate of “puppet masters” at the centre of the international cabal: the Rothschild family, George Soros and the House of Saud. Soros and the Rothschild family have long been targets for antisemitism, with the latter smeared as sinister, sometimes supernatural global financiers for 200 years.
Q has directly tapped into this toxic legacy, for example erroneously alleging that Rothschild has a controlling interest in every nation’s central bank. Q has also suggested that Hitler was a “puppet”, a notion popular among Holocaust deniers, and alluded to Israel’s role in the conspiracy, stating: “We are saving Israel for last. Very specific reason not mentioned a single time.”
Such statements have encouraged some followers to import established antisemitic theories into the QAnon narrative. Like the NWO theories that preceded it, QAnon builds on old prejudices alleging the existence of a secret Jewish government, sometimes in league with Satanic forces, exercising a “hidden hand” behind world events. QAnon-aligned Facebook groups were riddled with theories of Jewish control, including references to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious antisemitic forgery outlining a fiendish plan for world control.
A popular subsidiary theme alleges that “adrenochrome” is at the heart of the conspiracy, a mythical drug allegedly harvested by the cabal from the blood of children, echoing the ancient antisemitic blood libel myth.
Our MRP analysis gives a state-by-state estimate for QAnon support. This analysis is based on the data of 15,000 people and combines those who indicate both strong and soft support.
We found that Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana and Virginia were the states most likely to support QAnon. It is also worth noting that the ‘swamp’ of Washington D.C. also has a high level of support.
The states with the lowest levels of support were Hawaii, New Hampshire and New Mexico. In Hawaii, we estimate “strong support” for QAnon to be just 1.1%.
Our polling found that young people were particularly strong followers of QAnon, which probably reflects their use of social media – where QAnon is active and spreads – and the susceptibility of young people to conspiracy theories more generally. Our polling found that 18.4% of 18-25 year-olds supported QAnon, with 8% claiming to be strong supporters and 10.4% soft supporters.
Among 25-34 year-olds support for QAnon was 17.9%, and 13.7% among 35-44 year-olds.
By comparison, fewer than 1% of those over-65 identified themselves as strong supporters, with a further 1.7% as soft supporters and 36% of those over-65 strongly opposed to QAnon and its theories, compared to just 14% of 18-24 year olds.
It might surprise some people to learn that support for QAnon was higher among African-Americans than the population as a whole, with 7% identifying themselves as strong supporters and a further 6.5% as soft supporters.
The attitudes of Latinos towards QAnon mirror those in society as a whole. However, in Florida, a state where HOPE not hate polled 2,000 people, support for QAnon was higher among Latinos (9.7%) than for any other group.
Florida-based political strategist Jose Parra explained that this owed much to the backgrounds of many Latinos in the state. “There’s a lot of people in South Florida who have been victims of a totalitarian regime back home and they are more sensitive to that type of messaging.
“Living in those countries has meant, especially in the age of social media, that you get your information from friends and close associates, and you don’t get it through the traditional media because the traditional media is controlled by their governments.
“So there is a deficit of trust for the mainstream media and an over-reliance on social media to get information. So when they arrive here they are more likely to believe a WhatsApp chain that somebody forwarded accusing Biden of being a paedophile – as I have seen in many instances – than they are to believe the Miami Herald, which they will see as a socialist newspaper and in the pocket of the left.”
Our Florida polling confirms Parra’s point: 31% believe that it is definitely or probably true that “there is a Deep State plot involving Democrats, Government officials and military and intelligence officers to bring down President Trump” and 40% think that “the global elite are using Coronavirus to reshape the world order”.
A whopping 48% think “elites in Hollywood, government, the media and other powerful positions are secretly engaging in large scale child trafficking and abuse.”
“That sort of material, that sort of messaging is rampant here in social media circles and among the Latino community,” Parra said.
In another possible surprise, support for QAnon was highest among graduates and those with other professional degrees. At 15.3%, this was substantially higher than the 9.7% of those who left school with no or few qualifications.
Politically, QAnon supporters have a hotchpotch of political and cultural views, which probably reflects the broad cross-section of society from which they are drawn.
For example, they strongly support the Black Lives Matter protests and believe there is systemic racism in the US, but three quarters believe that white people are discriminated against as much as people of colour.
Strong supporters of QAnon also identify themselves slightly more as “very conservative” and “conservative” than they do “moderate and liberal”, while for soft supporters, they identify themselves more as “moderate” than anything else.
A greater proportion of Roman Catholics identify themselves as strong supporters of QAnon.
Perhaps counterintuitively, QAnon supporters appear more optimistic about their own futures and that of the country’s than the rest of the population. Over three-quarters of strong QAnon supporters think their lives are better than five years ago, considerably higher than in society as a whole – and yet they are more pessimistic about the future.
QAnon supporters are far more likely to believe that race relations in America are good, the political system works well and are satisfied with how democracy is working.
They have more negative views on Muslims, Jews and Asians, however, than those who oppose QAnon or don’t have an opinion. Three-quarters of strong QAnon supporters think Islam is incompatible with the American way of life, while 76% think Jews have an unhealthy control of powerful institutions.
Unsurprisingly, QAnon followers also believe in numerous other conspiracy theories: 88% believe that a Covid-19 vaccine will be used maliciously to infect people with poison, while 81% believe Covid-19 is a bio-weapon intentionally spread by the Chinese state to weaken Western economies.
In addition, 82% believe “the global elite” are using Coronavirus to reshape the world order, while 93% believe elites in Hollywood, government, the media and other powerful positions are secretly engaging in large scale child trafficking and abuse.
But it is their attitudes to violence that should be of most concern, especially given their support for Donald Trump and the possibility that he will contest the election result. Strong QAnon supporters are three times more likely than Americans as a whole to strongly believe that “violence can sometimes be necessary to defend something you strongly believe”, with soft QAnon supporter almost twice as likely to believe this statement.
It is normal to dismiss conspiracy theories as a joke, and QAnon is no different. The lurid tales of international cabals, 40,000 secret and sealed indictments and Trump lying about having Covid in order to flee to the bunker to await the Great Awakening, are all easy to be laughed off as inconsequential nonsense.
But this would be dangerously wrong. Over the last three years there have been a succession of violent attacks and terrorist plots from QAnon supporters. These include Mathew Wright who, in June 2018, blocked a dam in Arizona with an armoured vehicle. When arrested, police found two military-style rifles, two handguns and 900 rounds of ammunition in his vehicle.
Six months later, a Californian man was arrested with bombing-making equipment in his car,in an alleged plot to blow up a satanic display in Illinois. In March 2019,Anthony Comello shot dead a mafia boss in New York, with his lawyer later telling the media that his client “ardently believed that Francesco Cali, a boss in the Gambino crime family, was a prominent member of the deep state, and, accordingly, an appropriate target for a citizen’s arrest”.
A few months later, a QAnon supporter allegedly smashed up the Chapel of the Holy Hill in Sedona, Arizona, while shouting about the Catholic church supporting human trafficking. And in April of this year, a QAnon supporter was charged with intentionally derailing a freight train in Los Angeles.
No wonder the FBI has designated QAnon as a “domestic terror threat”.
On 28 October 2017, “Q” first emerged with a series of messages in a thread entitled “Calm Before the Storm”, which itself was a reference to a seemingly off-the-cuff comment President Trump had made in the White House a few weeks before.
“The Storm”, according to Q and his followers, was the moment that the international paedophile cabal (encompassing Clinton, Obama and the US and global elite) would be arrested. And now, after many false predictions, QAnon supporters believe that The Storm might be upon us.
When Trump was hospitalised in early October, many QAnon supporters were convinced that this was all cover to spirit the Commander-in-Chief away to safety as arrests began. They even dissected Trump’s tweet notifying the world of his illness as proof that The Storm was happening.
While President Trump is increasingly courting QAnon as a key voting bloc in these elections, the hundreds of thousands of active QAnon supporters across the US see themselves as much more intrinsically linked. They are Trumps’ stormtroopers and are now ready to follow their leader, who they view as their nation’s saviour, into battle.
And it is in this context, with the possibility of Donald Trump refusing to accept the election result combined with their attitude to violence being acceptable to further their beliefs, that trouble could really ensue.
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