Evolution of QAnon: From a bunch of geeks to a radical movement

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Until the fish jumps out of the water, you never know what kind of school hides underneath the surface. So when QAnon activists took part in this week’s storming of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., it proved that the organization so vehemently supporting Donald Trump and also sympathizing with Vladimir Putin can also present certain threats beyond internet, in the real world.

Meanwhile, images of a shirtless Arizona-based wannabe actor donning horns in the Capitol, Jake Angeli, who failed in his professional field and fell for conspiracy theories, made me look into the QAnon organization cells not only within the USA, but around the world!

The QAnon conspiracy movement, which until recently was perceived as a bunch of geeks and adherents of conspiracy theories, today represents a serious social force with elements of uncontrolled radicalism, supporting Trump and… Vladimir Putin. At the same time, conspiracy theories that are spreading across this vast group of like-minded people are consonant with fake news and manipulation we observe in the Russian media.

In fact, QAnon almost always echoes Russian propaganda narratives.

For example, in September 2020, large-scale protests engulfed London, Berlin, Paris, and Boston, all aimed to deny coronavirus! And it was the members of QAnon that stood at the core of those rallies, which echoed the main narratives of Russian propaganda denying the real threat of COVID-19.

But, even before these large-scale protests, in August 2020, research data was published on the dynamics of the spread of QAnon conspiracy theories. According to the information published, since December 2017, bots affiliated with the Russian intelligence have been engaged heavily in circulating QAnon messages. The #qanon hashtag turned out to be the most popular one among Russian “special accounts” (4,000 of which Twitter has blocked for spreading disinformation), having been mentioned more than 17,000 times.

It is also interesting that QAnon’s origins stem from a 4Chan user who went as Q, posing as a military intelligence operative with extensive access to government secrets. He started sharing these secrets with the online community. All of them though looked like conspiracy theories, sometimes way too absurd, and almost none of them were confirmed with time. The conspiracy hype not only made the user a “public opinion leader”, but also allowed founding from scratch of a movement, whose efforts so far climaxed at the storming of the Capitol.

And, what’s rather indicative, is that the riot received active coverage by almost all information platforms sponsored by the Russian military intelligence GRU.

Also, let me remind you that conspiracy theories are one of the elements of both Soviet and modern Russian propaganda. For example, in the 1990s, when the post-Soviet propaganda machine had not yet been restored in impoverished Russia, a huge number of pseudo-scholars, experts, and political experts appeared in the media space, overwhelming the Russians with conspiracy theories, thereby distracting them from pressing internal issues.

We could observe the movement’s evolution for decades, but the adepts of conspiracy theories have never been a hazard as an anti-social element radicalizing society and posing a real threat to the constitutional order. But, as time shows, everything happens for the first time one day and I don’t rule out that, while a couple of years ago the world was shaken by the threat of ISIS, then in the future, QAnon may well become the actual successor of this terrorist organization.

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