QANON is the bizarre conspiracy theory that was tied to the fortunes of former President Donald Trump.
Trump refused to condemn the right-wing group, who believe cannibals and paedophiles secretly control the world and have been involved in a number of violent incidents.
A Trump supporter holds up a vast Q letter as he queued up to meet the President at a rally in PennsylvaniaGetty Images – Getty
What is QAnon?
QAnon is a conspiracy theory that has gained popularity among large swathes of Trump supporters.
Its supporters claim that the former president communicated about “covert battles” between himself and the Deep State.
However, suspected QAnon leader Ron Watkins told his followers to “go back to their lives” in wake of Trump’s election loss to Joe Biden.
According to NBC, the theory centres around an anonymous source, Q, who is trying to tell the world a secret – or multiple secrets.
AFP or licensors A QAnon supporter[/caption]
Supporters of the entirely unfounded theory believe that this ring is filled with celebrities and political elites, who have been covertly running the United States government for decades.
The theory gained more press coverage after a supporter held a vast letter Q at a Trump rally in Pennsylvania in August 2018.
In June 2018, an armed QAnon follower blocked traffic at the Hoover Dam, demanding the president release a report allegedly tying past presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton to the alleged sex ring.
The protester, Matthew Wright, pleaded guilty to terrorism charges in February 2020.
The movement seemed to lose steam with Trump’s election loss, with QAnon supporters demanding “what happened to the coup?”
AFP or licensors Members of QAnon await the arrival of President Donald Trump for a political rally in 2018[/caption]
How did it start?
The bizarre theory originated in December 2016, when Edgar M.Welch entered a Washington DC pizza parlour and demanded to see a basement that did not exist.
According to NBC, he believed the restaurant was part of a child sex ring, a conspiracy known as Pizzagate.
The US news site reported that eight months later, a person going by “Q” posted for the first time on the anonymous politics message board 4chan, known to be a hotbed of conspiracy talk.
QAnon has crept from the dark web and into the real worldGetty Images – Getty
Since his first message, which involved Hillary Clinton, Q posted nearly 1,800 messages.
Followers try to decipher these nonsensical posts, with some of Trump’s most loyal supporters using them as a way to explain away any scandal the President might face.
Jared Holt, a research associate for Right Wing Watch who has followed the growth of QAnon, said: “All of Trump’s mishaps on the world stage, his detractors in the media, his various scandals can all 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.”
Most of the deadlines mentioned in Q’s posts have been and gone, with all shown to be unfounded.
The Mega Agency The Proud Boys hold a rally in Portland, Oregon, on September 26, 2020[/caption]
How big is its following?
The bizarre theory has gained cult status among some followers, with Q-related products such as T-shirts, mugs and jewellery available.
Reddit’s QAnon community GreatAwakening had 50,000 subscribers by 2018 – just two years after the theory first surfaced.
And conservative celebrities such as Roseanne Barr, James Wood and Curt Schilling have also referenced its existence, giving it yet more press coverage.
Despite originating in the darkest corners of the web, social media sites and online retailers bolstered its image with Amazon having to remove “Amazon’s Choice” labels from linked merchandise in 2018.
On October 15, 2020, Trump refused to condemn the QAnon conspiracy theorists – insisting: “I don’t know them”.
AFP or licensors The theory gained cult status among some Trump followers, with Q-related merchandise available[/caption]
Why has Twitter and Facebook banned QAnon-linked accounts?
Twitter announced in July that it had banned 7,000 accounts linked with the conspiracy theory.
It removed 150,000 accounts from trends and search features as the social media site took action against the misinformation for the first time.
On August 20, bosses at Facebook axed thousands of QAnon conspiracy accounts only hours before Donald Trump said “I heard they like me very much.”
The ban included around 900 pages and fan groups and 1,500 ads supporting the pro-Trump conspiracy which alleges he is saving the world from a satanic, sex-trafficking establishment among other bizarre claims.
But on Tuesday, October 6, 2020, Facebook said it would place an outright blanket ban on QAnon linked accounts and content.
In a blog post, Facebook said: “On August 19, we announced a set of measures designed to disrupt the ability of QAnon and Militarized Social Movements to operate and organize on our platform.
“In the first month, we removed over 1,500 Pages and Groups for QAnon containing discussions of potential violence and over 6,500 Pages and Groups tied to more than 300 Militarized Social Movements. But we believe these efforts need to be strengthened when addressing QAnon.
“Starting today, we will remove any Facebook Pages, Groups and Instagram accounts representing QAnon, even if they contain no violent content.
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“This is an update from the initial policy in August that removed Pages, Groups and Instagram accounts associated with QAnon when they discussed potential violence while imposing a series of restrictions to limit the reach of other Pages, Groups and Instagram accounts associated with the movement.
“Pages, Groups and Instagram accounts that represent an identified Militarized Social Movement are already prohibited. And we will continue to disable the profiles of admins who manage Pages and Groups removed for violating this policy, as we began doing in August.”