QAnon is a nonsensical and evidence-free mega-conspiracy theory that claimed Donald Trump was appointed president by the military to save the nation from a pedophilia ring. The hysteria around it has recently placed people in real danger.
While some believers have made real-world appearances, for the most part the baseless conspiracy theory's adherents were largely confined to fever-swamp corners of the internet.
When they started showing up to Trump rallies.
And then, this Tuesday night, it launched into the mainstream. There's someone holding up a sign about the conspiracy theory, in clear view of Trump, on national cable television.
So, what is going on here? Who or what is QAnon? And how is it creeping into real life?
QAnon true believers think that the world — but especially the United States — is controlled by a secret, powerful organization, or cabal, and Trump became president to stop it.
"It's every conspiracy theory built into one," NBC News reporter Ben Collins, who covers QAnon, said. "It's the concept that a cabal has been running the United States government solely for the explicit purpose of having a child sex ring in the background."
"It's bananas. It's wrong," he said.
However, to a certain type of person, particularly older internet users, the conspiracy theory isn't so far-fetched.
"A lot of tenets of QAnon, especially the part about a 'deep state' plot, aren't that different from what's on Fox [News Channel] or talk radio every day. So when a person already prone to support Trump hears about QAnon, they've been primed to believe this stuff by the rest of conservative media," explained Daily Beast reporter Will Sommer, who has covered QAnon since it began.
"Q" or "Q Clearance Patriot" is an anonymous internet user or group of users claiming to be a high-ranking government official close to Trump who has been posting cryptic "intel drops" online since October.
Like many bad things on the internet do, this all began on 4chan. The posts have since moved to 8chan, another imageboard, allegedly for "security" reasons.
Q refers to these completely ambiguous and preposterous "intel drops" as "crumbs" or "breadcrumbs" of information that they are "dropping" to inform the public of Trump's war against the cabal and its deep state operatives.
In posts, Q has hinted they cannot reveal too much information and risk public exposure. Instead they leave cryptic clues so that people can figure out the message that it's trying to get across. Because of this, many QAnon followers refer to themselves as "bakers."
Q's posts are often so full of abbreviations, military jargon, and nonsensical catchphrases that they are basically incomprehensible, so with each new message QAnon followers storm the web to figure out the "true meaning."
Over the past 10 months, these "crumbs" have been used to build an absurd counternarrative to what is actually happening in the world and in United States politics.
NY Mag's Select All did a great explainer laying much of this out in December, when the QAnon theories were just beginning to bubble up into wider awareness.
QAnon believers take Q seriously because of the supposed "evidence" that can be worked out in the "crumbs" in posts, like the picture and analysis below, which QAnon followers believe proves Q was on Air Force One with Trump.
Another tactic Q uses to "prove" that they are connected to Trump are coded messages that don't often work.
"Fans also point to Trump using phrases 'predicted' by Q as proof of the story’s legitimacy," explained Sommer. "One supporter requested that Trump used the phrase 'tip top' in the State of the Union Address. While Trump never said 'tip top' in that speech, QAnon supporters felt vindicated three months later when Trump said it instead at the White House Easter Egg Roll. QAnon supporters have even claimed Trump uses his hands to make a 'Q' sign as a signal to them."
According to Q, nearly every president before Trump was a "criminal president" who was part of an evil Satanist pedophile global organization.
It also claims members of the US military who were not corrupted by the cabal supposedly approached Trump and begged him to run for president so that they could purge the government of the deep state operatives without a military coup.
According to Q-established lore, JFK was assassinated because he planned to take down the cabal — a quote falsely attributed to JFK is often cited as evidence of this. The assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan was a warning to the president to stop trying to improve the lives of Americans by taking power from the deep state.
To give you an idea of how truly detached from reality this all is: Q claims Trump is not under investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller — Clinton and Obama are. Trump is actually working with Mueller.
Q claims Obama and Clinton were working with other members of the cabal/deep state on a "16 year plan to destroy America," which would eventually cumulate in the orchestration of World War III between Russia and the United States.
The widespread resistance to Trump and his policies, Q purports, is due to the cabal desperately working against the administration.
This screenshot above is from a entirely nonfactual video with nearly 800,000 views that "explains" QAnon.
Q's first posts referenced "the coming storm," which has been interpreted by QAnon followers to mean the moment when the Trump-led operation to take down the evil globalist cabal is made public and its leaders are sent to Guantanamo Bay.
There's only one problem — actually, there are so many problems, but let's start with the obvious — in certain posts, Q has unequivocally said that the storm would begin on a certain date, or that certain people would be arrested on certain dates.
But the dates come and go. For example, when Huma Abedin and John Podesta are not arrested, Q jumps in with an update that things were delayed for a certain reason and that Trump is in complete control.
Why "the storm"? Because Trump said it himself, in a meeting with military officials in October. You can trace all of QAnon to this one off-the-cuff comment.
Q claims they have been directly tasked by the president to share these crumbs as part of an information dissemination program QAnon followers refer to as the "Great Awakening."
The rallying cry of QAnon followers is "Where we go one, we go all" — a quote they often misattribute to JFK. It is actually from the 1996 movie White Squall.
Another popular phrase amongst QAnon believers is "trust the plan," aka the master plan that Trump is in control and the deep state globalist cabal will be removed from power soon.
That's a broad overview. Here's a brief sampling of some other specific things Q has claimed:
* German Chancellor Angela Merkel is Adolf Hitler's daughter. (NOPE.)
* The Las Vegas massacre was an inside job arranged by the Clintons and Saudi Arabia. (NO.)
* The Queen of England is a member of the globalist cabal and Princess Diana was killed because she found out about their child trafficking and sacrificing and was trying to flee the royal family. (ALSO NO.)
* Kim Jong Un was placed into power by the CIA. (SURVEY SAYS: NO.)
* Sen. John McCain is a traitor who supports ISIS. (ABSOLUTELY NO.)
* Someone attempted to shoot down Air Force One while Trump was on his way to meet with North Korea's Kim Jong Un. (NO.)
So why does this matter? Why are talking about this meme-driven conspiracy theory that by all evidence is completely detached from reality?
Because it is starting to spill over into the real world, with real-life consequences. In April, approximately 200 people showed up in Washington, DC, for a QAnon March.
In March, the QAnon subreddit /r/CBTS_STREAM, which had more than 20,000 subscribers, was permanently banned for "encourag[ing] or incit[ing] violence" and posting personal/confidential information.
In June, an armed man spouting QAnon talking points engaged in a 90-minute standoff with police at the Hoover Dam.
The man, later identified as Matthew P. Wright, filmed himself demanding that President Trump keep his promises to the American people.
"No more lies. No more bullshit. We the people demand full disclosure," he said. "We elected you to do a duty. You said you were going to lock certain people up if you were elected. You have yet to do that. Uphold your oath."
The Daily Beast has a good explainer of how Q hyped followers up for the release an OIG report. When it failed to deliver damning conclusions against Democrats, Q spread the idea of a second secret report existed to appease true believers.
And on July 29, Q posted pictures of attorney Michael Avenatti's office and then posted an image of a man who appears to be holding a weapon outside the office.
And celebrities with massive followings are also falling for it. Roseanne tweeted extensively about QAnon in November and recently tweeted the abbreviation for the rallying call.
And here's the president's son, Eric Trump, liking the misattributed QAnon rallying call.
The president is known to sometimes tweet false information promoted by Fox News, far-right outlets, or people he trusts.
And don't forget "Pizzagate," an entirely made-up conspiracy theory involving Democrats and child sex trafficking, and which prompted an armed man to show up at a DC pizza place to "self-investigate." Of course, Q has said they are real.
"I think [QAnon] is truly, legitimately dangerous,” Daily Caller White House correspondent Saagar Enjeti told the Washington Post.
Citing a harassment campaign against him, Enjeti said that QAnon struck him as different from other conspiracy theories due to the "rhetoric, and the dedicated base of believers, and the patterns of propensity for violence."