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How dangerous are these conspiracy believers? : The seven most important questions and answers about QAnon
After Twitter, Facebook has now also acted against the QAnon movement. Facebook said on Wednesday it had removed nearly 800 groups connected to QAnon from its network.
Around a hundred pages, more than 300 hashtags and around 1,500 ads with links to the movement have also been removed.
Twitter had already deleted thousands of accounts with connections to QAnon a month ago. But why are the social networks taking action against the movement? What or who is QAnon anyway and why is the movement apparently so dangerous?
What is QAnon?
QAnon is a movement that believes in a web of conspiracy myths. These myths are very compatible and come in different variations, many of which are anti-Semitic and right-wing extremists. The QAnon movement consists of a loose association of followers who are not organized in fixed structures.
Rather, they network on platforms on the Internet - first on 4chan and 8chan, then on Reddit, Facebook and Twitter. It is therefore unknown how many people feel part of the movement. It connects an infrastructure on the Internet on which the same or similar "theories" are shared and advertised.
QAnon supporters have recently appeared in public more often, for example at anti-corona demonstrations. In the United States, a QAnon supporter is even on the verge of entering Congress: Marjorie Taylor Greene was nominated by the Republican Party to be a member of the House of Representatives in a constituency in the state of Georgia. The constituency is considered firmly in Republican hands.
And US President Donald Trump also supports the movement and regularly shares the content of the conspiracy myths on social networks. Trump said at a press conference at the White House on Wednesday that he didn't know much about QAnon. But he noticed that the followers of the movement "like me very much, which I appreciate". He heard "these are people who love our country," said the president.
What myths does QAnon spread?
Basically, QAnon supporters believe that a supposedly powerful elite of pedophile politicians in the USA runs a child trafficking ring. Evil personified - bloodthirsty, satanic and greedy for power - QAnon sees in the former US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
This part of the conspiracy myth is also known as the "Pizzagate." It originated when WikiLeaks published an email in October 2016 from John Podesta, former White House chief of staff and later Hillary Clinton's campaign manager. Podesta was in regular contact with the owner at the time The Comet Ping Pong Pizzeria in Washington DC, they mainly discussed organizing fundraising campaigns.
The right-wing radio presenter Alex Jones and the alt-right blogger Mike Cernovich spread the story spun from it from the right-wing forums 4chan that children were being hidden and abused in the basement of this pizzeria. Long-range YouTubers took up this narrative and also spread it in the more mass-market corners of the Internet.
The narrative gained such wide reach that the family man Edgar Maddison Welch from the small town of Salisbury, North Carolina, made his way to Washington on December 4, 2016, took three loaded guns with him, and stormed Comet Ping Pong to finally to bring the supposed children's hiding place to light. However, it turned out that there is no cellar under the pizzeria.
But even after “Pizzagate” turned out to be wrong, the narrative of the satanic conspiracy ring that torments children lived on. It got even bigger: QAnon is considered the even more successful sequel to “Pizzagate”, which combines more and more crude “theories”.
In addition to Clinton, billionaire George Soros is also among the targets of the conspiracy myths. The political left is involved, in the USA the Democrats, as well as some Hollywood stars Oprah Winfrey, Tom Hanks and Ellen DeGeneres.
Some QAnon supporters also believe that the members of this child trafficking ring would kill their supposed victims and drink their blood in order to extract the metabolic product adrenochrome from it and use it as a rejuvenating agent. In fact, adrenochrome can be produced synthetically and easily ordered on the Internet - a fact that QAnon supporters ignore.
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Donald Trump and an underground organization made up of American patriots, on the other hand, would fight against these elites. According to tradition, Trump was hired by high-ranking military generals to run for president in 2016 and break the conspiracy ring made up of Democrats.
How long has QAnon been around and how did it come about?
It all started with a post on the 4chan portal. There users can post and comment anonymously. This is what a user did under the pseudonym “Q Clearance Patriot”, later just called “Q”. In October 2017, Q claimed that Hillary Clinton had been arrested and that a bloody coup was about to take place in the United States. This overthrow would soon end in a "storm". This is what QAnon supporters call the time when Trump would expose the conspiracy.
"Q" posed as a high-ranking secret service employee who had information about Trump's secret war against the alleged child molester ring he calls "Deep State". "Deep State" is intended to designate a shadow government made up of celebrities and wealthy people.
“Q” s messages are often cryptic and consist of rhetorical questions or are structured like puzzles. Often a call is made to the community containing “anons” (for “anonymous”) to research answers to their questions. Followers call these posts “drops”. The questions in it are heavily discussed in QAnon forums. Some followers also use special apps that collect all drops and notify them as soon as a new drop has appeared.
Does QAnon also exist in Germany?
QAnon has its second largest following in Germany. At the latest since the large-scale demonstrations against the corona measures, they have become more visible in the German public. QAnon followers last participated in these demos. Prominent representatives in Germany are, for example, the singer Xavier Naidoo or the right-wing blogger Oliver Janich. Naidoo caused a sensation with an internet video in which he was crying and talking about the alleged crimes of a child molester ring.
Naidoo mainly spreads the conspiracy myths via the messenger Telegram. He often refers to a channel that is the largest German QAnon channel on Youtube (104,000 subscribers) and Telegram (124,300 subscribers): “Qlobal-Change”. Alleged evidence of the conspiracy myths is shared on the channel, alleged sources from Twitter and YouTube are collected and of course "drops" are also left there.
Since March, the news in the German-language Telegram channel has also been mixed with criticism of the Corona measures. Since the beginning of the corona crisis, conspiracy myths have spread more widely in Germany, while previously they were mainly shared in the right-wing milieu.
The chef Attila Hildmann is also one of the most prominent representatives, 71,200 people follow him on Telegram. In it he mixes all possible conspiracy myths with anti-Semitic agitation and right-wing extremist narratives.
How do I recognize QAnon followers?
At the anti-corona demos in Berlin, Stuttgart and other cities, QAnon supporters could be recognized by a large "Q" that they carried on their T-shirts, flags or on signs. The phrase “Where we go one, we go all”, abbreviated to “WWG1WGA”, is also a code that supporters use to recognize each other. Former U.S. security advisor Michael Flynn said the phrase in a video released in July 2020.
T-shirts and fan articles from the movement can now be easily bought on the Internet. T-shirts with the letter Q in various designs (approx. 17 euros), “Great Awakening” coffee mugs (approx. 19 euros) and “WWG1WGA” stickers: QAnon is not only a conspiracy myth, but also a brand that stands out sold well.
Why is the conspiracy myth so successful?
The myths that were first spread in the 4chan and 8chan networks were made suitable for the masses by larger American Youtubers. After 8chan was taken offline in August 2019 after the attacks in El Paso and Dayton in the USA, followers also gathered on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Tiktok and Telegram.
The content is easily accessible, and the fact that Twitter and Facebook have blocked QAnon accounts and hashtags only changes the situation slightly.
The story by QAnon has all the essential criteria of conspiracy myths that make it so compatible: On the one hand, it assumes that there is no chance, but that the entire world is planned by a small, powerful elite. For example, QAnon supporters believe that Trump came to power to fight a conspiracy ring.
From their point of view everything is interrelated and there are connections between certain people, events and institutions that no one would have thought possible. This is why real news fits nicely into the QAnon narrative, as long as it roughly fits the conspiracy narrative.
On the other hand, followers believe in a secret group, the "Deep State", which is secretly pulling the strings in the world. In order to recognize "the truth" one has to go in search of it, because supposedly nothing is what it seems. The followers of the myths see themselves as “the enlightened ones” who have recognized the terrible truth and are now fighting for what they consider to be “good”.
Thinking in terms of “good” and “bad” is also typical. No opposing position is accepted. The followers' view of the world is so closed that any contradiction is stamped as "evil" and part of the fine picture.
The blogger Sascha Lobo put forward the thesis in his "Spiegel" column that QAnon's success could be explained by the so-called "Ikea effect": pieces of furniture that people assemble themselves consider them more valuable and better. Even the QAnon supporters first had to build and tinker with their castle in the air from conspiracy myths, pursue the "drops" and "research" themselves on the Internet. And after all, a theory that you yourself have been involved in has to be correct - they think.
What dangers do QAnon followers pose?
A QAnon supporter is suspected in the US of murdering a Mafia boss in New York last year. Another member of the conspiracy was arrested in April for allegedly planning to kill presidential candidate Joe Biden. The FBI, the American domestic secret service, has been warning of the movement since 2019. It is a "potential domestic terrorism threat" from her. And the Austrian Office for the Protection of the Constitution is also concerned with the movement.
And in Germany, too, calls for violence are made on the QAnon pages and forums. Blogger Oliver Janich demands in his video messages that "people in power" and journalists and editors-in-chief should be hung up. And also in the murders in Hanau and Halle you could see how the perpetrators used conspiracy narratives to justify their actions.
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