July 20, 2020

IntelBrief: A Conspiracy of Dunces: QAnon and the Threat to the U.S. Homeland

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
  • QAnon is a radical right-wing conspiracy that pushes an eclectic mix of often incoherent ‘theories,’ many of which are anti-Semitic, that a cabal of ‘Deep State’ powerbrokers are actively usurping President Trump.
  • Multiple individuals who self-identify as QAnon followers have carried out acts of violence as an homage to the so-called Q-brand.
  • Disgraced former government employee Michael Flynn and many other QAnon followers have publicly recited a cult-like oath pledging to combat enemies both foreign and domestic.
  • Between President Trump’s lagging poll numbers and his efforts to erode faith in the electoral process, the groundwork for QAnon-related election violence is gaining momentum.

QAnon is a right-wing conspiratorial movement that blends, creates, alters, and co-opts ‘theories’ to fit an evolving narrative underpinned by the core notion that the ‘Deep State,’ led by a cabal of elitist pedophiles, is actively working to usurp President Donald Trump. Q’s identity is unknown, but those posting in the Q name desperately want its followers to believe that someone with a military intelligence background is unveiling secret knowledge to vanquish the ‘Deep State.’ The first post attributed to QAnon appeared on 4chan on October 28, 2017, and posts later made in subsequent days focused on supposed activities, future arrests and indictments of Hillary Rodham Clinton, John Podesta, and Huma Abedin. The QAnon world has been indelibly shaped by Russian interference in the 2016 election, the Pizzagate conspiracy, and Wikileaks publishing 7,500 emails belonging to Hillary Clinton prior to the Presidential election. QAnon posts (known as Qdrops) are also unoriginal takes that often play on hackneyed anti-Jewish tropes, such as depicting George Soros and the Rothschild family as Satan-worshipping ‘puppet masters’ who fund efforts to create a new world order. Many of these same conspiracies are peddled by anti-government extremists and white supremacists, which could lead to a further co-mingling of these movements and ideologies, to include the Boogaloo Bois, a growing domestic terrorism threat. 

QAnon’s newest conspiracy has echoes of the Pizzagate affair. The July 2020 QAnon-driven conspiracy that the online furniture retailer Wayfair is engaged in wide-scale child sex trafficking, has gone viral despite the lack of evidence and sheer inanity of the notion. Chatter surrounding the Pizzagate affair led an armed North Carolina man to fire his weapon in the DC-based pizzeria he thought was holding children captive. Conspiracies associated with QAnon have prompted Q-adherents to carry out acts of violence in the past, and the overtones associated with the Wayfair theory are worrisome, especially as the QAnon community grows and grooms new members. Just recently, on July 2, QAnon-inspired violence crossed borders into Canada when Corey Hurren, an avid consumer of QAnon conspiracies, crashed his pick-up truck into the property of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. At the time of Hurren’s arrest he was armed with four guns, including two assault weapons. QAnon members are also infatuated with gun culture, with many flocking to 4Chan’s K Board to immerse themselves in weapons related material.

Recently, QAnon members have also begun taking an ‘oath of office,’ to prove their commitment to the growing conspiracy movement. The oath is ironically akin to that which a member of the national security establishment would take when beginning their stint as a government servant. In the oath, Qanon followers vow to protect the United States from domestic and foreign enemies. Of course, QAnon’s cooption is not a new tactic and like other QAnon-related initiatives the oath is adapted to include the movement’s motto, ‘where we go one we go all.’ Some highly visible figures like retired government official Michael Flynn, who allegedly remains close with President Trump, have taken the oath and inspired thousands more to pledge their allegiance to the QAnon cult. There have been several QAnon followers that have run or are running for Congress. As more QAnon followers agree to become ‘digital warriors’ at a time when Trump’s reelection prospects look dim, a key question is whether any of those oath-takers will move from being digitally determined supporters of Trump to individuals or small groups willing to take more extreme measures. Another concern is that, even if President Trump loses reelection, the QAnon conspiracy will demonstrate durability and potentially metastasize into an enduring cult responsible for sporadic episodes of conspiracy-fueled violence and mayhem. 

In 2019, at a time when Trump’s reelection seemed more plausible, the Phoenix field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) deemed QAnon a domestic terrorism threat. In a COVID-19 environment where race relations are incredibly tense and disinformation is ubiquitous, the possibility of QAnon election-related inspired violence seems quite plausible, if not highly likely. QAnon believers, especially those taking their cues from the 4Chan K Board, Flynn’s ramblings, or Q’s latest peddling of false prophecy, believe that the ‘Deep State’ is conspiring to illegally evict Trump by any means necessary. When asked yesterday by Fox News journalist Chris Wallace whether he would go on record to say whether he will accept the results of the 2020 Presidential election, President Trump replied, 'I have to see. No, I'm not going to just say yes.' If Trump loses in November, QAnon followers could be spurred to violent action. An early election day small arms strike or vehicle ramming attack against people queuing to vote, especially in urban areas more likely to support Vice President Biden, could dampen turn-out or throw any election result into widespread turmoil. Post-election scenarios where Trump has lost the Electoral College may also precipitate QAnon-related terror. By stating that voting by mail will produce fraudulent results, President Trump has already laid the groundwork for QAnon followers to strike against the ‘Deep State’ in what could be the most tumultuous and volatile U.S. election in recent memory. 


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