There's a growing group of Trump supporters who are convinced that the president is secretly trying to save the world from a global pedophilia ring.
They call the conspiracy "QAnon," and last week its believers ended up on national television.
The QAnon conspiracy theory is vague, complicated, and nonsensical, and it's been building support online since October 2017. It started with a post on 4chan's "Politically Incorrect" messageboard called "Bread Crumbs."
Summing up exactly what QAnon is is hard to do and, frankly, a waste of time, but the crux of it is that Donald Trump is secretly fighting a global cabal of pedophiles.
In the last few months, QAnon supporters have become more bold about taking their conspiracy theory into the real world.
An Arizona veterans charity called Veterans on Patrol (members pictured above left) came across a homeless camp in Tucson in May and decided it was a child-sex camp. The group organized under the #OperationBackyardBrawl hashtag. Members spent several days streaming at the site and eventually forced local authorities to investigate, and a cadaver dog was even brought in. Of course, nothing was found.
Things got even more intense a week after the Tucson incident, when Matthew P. Wright (above right) was arrested after he drove an armored vehicle onto a bridge spanning the Hoover Dam and blocked traffic to demand the government "release the OIG report," a call spouted by QAnon believers. Wright's standoff with the police lasted 90 minutes. He was eventually taken into custody without incident, authorities said, but a rifle and a handgun were found inside the truck.
And most recently, Q posted pictures on 8chan of attorney Michael Avenatti's office and then posted an image of a man who appears to be holding a weapon outside the office.
As QAnon gained more media attention, many users on 4chan began to suspect it was probably all bullshit, actually pretty lame, and also, quite possibly, a giant prank.
A large part of this seems to be based on the fact that QAnon supporters are, on the whole, usually a bit older than your typical far-right internet troll.
To get an idea of what kind of people believe the QAnon conspiracy theory, Roseanne Barr is one of its most vocal supporters.
Younger far-right internet personalities have been divided when it comes to QAnon stuff. Jack Posobiec announced on Saturday that he'd be "debunking" it in an interview with someone who started it.
One of the tricky things about QAnon, though, is that it's almost impossible to nail down who exactly started it or who is writing it now.
But it does appear that at least for 4chan trolls, the narrative about QAnon is shifting. Many now believe it was meant to be a prank on older conservatives.
While it's almost impossible to prove who started QAnon, there is some evidence that it was meant to be a prank all along. And more importantly, it's looking more and more likely that QAnon is actually a prank by leftists or anarchists to make the far-right look deranged.
In 1999, Roberto Bui, Giovanni Cattabriga, Federico Guglielmi, and Luca Di Meo, writing under the name "Luther Blissett," published an Italian novel called Q.
The plot of their novel Q is pretty similar in structure to the basics of the QAnon conspiracy theory.
So, let's break this down. What are the similarities between an Italian novel from the ’90s and the QAnon conspiracy theory that's resulting in armed standoffs with police in the US?
Ironically, it seems that even QAnon followers have noticed the similarities. A user last month highlighted the book, calling it "an old Q."
As for who could be carrying on their work in the 4chan age, Bui, Cattabriga, and Guglielmi are fairly certain that the main readers of Q in the US are leftist and anarchist activists.
So while Bui, Cattabriga, and Guglielmi are convinced that QAnon started as a prank, they warn that that doesn't make it less dangerous.