Abstract: The QAnon conspiracy theory, which emerged in 2017, has quickly risen to prominence in the United States. A survey of cases of individuals who have allegedly or apparently been radicalized to criminal acts with a nexus to violence by QAnon, including one case that saw a guilty plea on a terrorism charge, makes clear that QAnon represents a public security threat with the potential in the future to become a more impactful domestic terror threat. This is true especially given that conspiracy theories have a track record of propelling terrorist violence elsewhere in the West as well as QAnon’s more recent influence on mainstream political discourse.

Generally speaking, law enforcement and public policy attention with respect to terrorism and political violence in North America tends to focus on jihadi or far-right extremism.1 At first glance, QAnon, the bizarre assemblage of far-right conspiracy theories that holds that U.S. President Donald Trump is waging a secret war against an international cabal of satanic pedophiles seems to present a far lesser threat to public security. However, QAnon has contributed to the radicalization of several people to notable criminal acts or acts of violence. In light of these events, this article attempts to take stock of the violence this bizarre set of conspiracy theories has engendered thus far and asks whether it should be seen as a security threat in the making.2

Though less organized than jihadi or far-right extremists, the authors argue that QAnon represents a novel challenge to public security. This is consistent with a May 2019 report by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, which details the increasing influence of anti-government, identity-based, or fringe political conspiracies, including QAnon, on motivating criminal or violent activity. The report, as presented by Yahoo News, claims that “based on the increase volume and reach of conspiratorial content due to modern communication methods, it is logical to assume that more extremist-minded individuals will be exposed to potentially harmful conspiracy theories, accept ones that are favorable to their views, and possibly carry out criminal or violent actions as a result.”3

Further, the report emphasizes that the internet allows for a “crowd-sourcing” effect wherein “conspiracy theory followers themselves shape a given theory by presenting information that supplements, expands, or localizes its narrative.”4 This effect appears particularly salient with QAnon, where followers are directed to take interpretation and action into their own hands, rather than at the explicit direction of the anonymous user (known only as Q) behind the movement. QAnon is thus markedly different from other far-right extremist groups and jihadi groups, as it lacks both a clear organizational structure and a centralization of interpretive duties.

In this article, the authors provide further context on the emergence of QAnon, a summary of five criminal cases with a nexus to violence motivated by QAnon, including one case that resulted in a guilty plea on a terrorism charge. The data presented here was collected by the authors from various sources from 2018 to the present, including QAnon community messaging pages, social media pages of individuals radicalized to criminal or violent activity, and publicly accessible news reports.

What is the QAnon Conspiracy?
The QAnon conspiracy5 emerged on Saturday, October 28, 2017, on 4chan’sa /pol/ (politically incorrect page) in a thread called “Calm Before the Storm,” when an anonymous user signing off as ‘Q’ stated that “Hillary Clinton will be arrested between 7:45 AM – 8:30 AM EST on Monday – the morning on Oct 30, 2017.”6 Q’s nom de plume is in reference to “Q” clearance, a clearance level in the United States Department of Energy.

However, QAnon finds its origins a year prior in the Pizzagate conspiracy theory,7 which alleges coded words and satanic symbolism purportedly apparent in John Podesta’s emails, hacked during his tenure as chair of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, point to a secret child sex trafficking ring at a pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C., called Comet Ping Pong. Pizzagate came to a head in December 2016 when Edgar M. Welch (whose case is discussed in detail below) traveled from North Carolina “to the popular DC pizzeria Comet Ping Pong with a handgun and an assault rifle to ‘self-investigate’ the validity of the 4chan conspiracy.”8 QAnon, beginning in 2017, thus originated out of the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, retaining the central belief that a cabal of powerful elites control the world, using their power to covertly abuse children.

Q’s claim on 4chan to have special government access and that he/she is part of a wider “anon genre” of government officials with top secret information is not entirely novel. Before Q, several 4chan posters asserted they had special government access, including FBIAnon9 and HLIAnon10 in 2016, and CIAAnon11 and WHInsiderAnon12 in 2017. QAnon devotees, many of whom may be familiar with this “anon genre,” thus are familiar with Q’s apparent need for anonymity and presumably take it as a sign of credibility.

In July 2020, nearly three years following Q’s emergence, there remains no consensus on who the original Q was and who manages the account today. However, there is a fair amount of evidence that demonstrates how QAnon grew to prominence from the narrow confines of 4chan and 8chan.b According to a 2018 NBC News investigative report, the original Q post “would have gone mostly unnoticed if not for three people – Tracy Diaz, a YouTube vlogger, and 4chan moderators Pamphlet Anon, identified as Coleman Rogers, and BaruchtheScribe, a South African man named Paul Furber.”13 NBC News reported that Rogers and Furber reached out to Diaz, asking her to leverage her large YouTube following to promote the first Q’ posts. Without sharing the 4chan thread with Diaz’ viewership, QAnon may never have grown beyond its small following on the image board site.

The authors have observed that QAnon supporters purport that their claims are empirical and do not ask that their assertions be taken at face value. The QAnon community is guided by the oft-repeated maxim, “do your own research.”14 Imitating source citation and evidence presentation in academic scholarship, QAnon followers regularly engage in elaborate presentations of evidence to substantiate their claims. In this vein, they often self-identify as investigative journalists or conspiracy researchers.15

QAnon also represents a militant and anti-establishment ideology rooted in an apocalyptic desire to destroy the existing, corrupt world to usher in a promised golden age.16 This position finds resonance with other far-right extremist movements, such as the various militant, anti-government, white nationalist, and neo-Nazi extremist organizations across the United States. In February 2020, Omega Kingdom Ministries, in effect a QAnon church, was established in the United States and other countries where the QAnon conspiracy acts as an interpretive lens for the Bible and vice versa, and in which adherents are subjected to formalized religious indoctrination into QAnon.c QAnon followers share roots with conspiracy theories that have fed other anti-government movements, such as the 90s militias that feared the “New World Order,” or the anti-government apocalypticism and religious fervor of the Branch Davidians.17

Recent criminal cases with a nexus to violence involving QAnon followers show how QAnon has contributed to the radicalization of ideologically motivated violent extremists (IMVE).18 According to the FBI, QAnon and other fringe conspiracy theories could “very likely motivate some domestic extremists, wholly or in part, to commit criminal and sometimes violent activity” and noted that “one key assumption driving these assessments is that certain conspiracy theory narratives tacitly support or legitimize violent action.”19 Below, the authors provide a chronological summary of five criminal cases with a nexus to violence motivated, in part at least, by QAnon radicalization. They start with the aforementioned Edgar Maddison Welch, whose armed search of the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria predated QAnon but represents an ideological precursor to other QAnon-motivated actions.

A QAnon flag is held by a protester at the Governor’s Mansion, in Salem, Oregon, on April 25, 2020, during a rally against economic-closure efforts aimed at minimizing the impact of COVID-19. (John Rudoff/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

Notable Cases with a Nexus to Violent Crime Linked to the QAnon Conspiracy
The authors now outline five criminal cases below with a nexus to violent crime linked to the QAnon conspiracy.d

Edgar Maddison Welch
Edgar Maddison Welch, a then 28-year-old from Salisbury, North Carolina, entered the Comet Ping Pong pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C., on December 4, 2016, with an AR-15 rifle and .38 revolver20 to potentially attempt to free children he believed might be trapped in the building as part of a sex-trafficking ring.21 Welch, a volunteer firefighter with two children,22 had a criminal record for incidents involving minor drug possession and driving under the influence of alcohol in 2007 and 2013, respectively.e

Welch entered Comet Ping Pong with his AR-15 visible, causing employees and patrons to flee, to search for evidence of child trafficking.23 Finding none, he shortly thereafter surrendered himself to the police on scene.24 Welch also admitted that there was a loaded shotgun and ammunition in his car.25 An FBI affidavit notes that, “the evidence from Welch’s cellphone also suggest that Welch attempted to recruit at least two other people to join him,” though he was unsuccessful.26

Evidence found on Welch’s cellphone indicates he watched several YouTube videos describing the ‘Pizzagate’ conspiracy theory in the days preceding his confrontation.27 Upon arrest, Welch corroborated that he had heard ‘news’ reports that there was a child-sex trafficking ring in Comet Ping Pong restaurant.28

Welch was charged with federal and local weapons violations and pleaded guilty to a federal charge of interstate transportation of a firearm and ammunition and a D.C. charge of assault with a dangerous weapon.29 He was sentenced to four years in prison in June 2017, with three years of supervised release following his term in prison.30 Welch remains in prison and has expressed regrets about his actions but maintains elements of the Pizzagate theory are true.31

Matthew Philip Wright
On June 15, 2018, Matthew Philip Wright, a 30-year-old, unemployed Marine veteran from Henderson, Nevada,32 drove an armored truck onto the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge near the Hoover Dam.33 Wright parked his vehicle on the southbound lanes, blocking traffic,34 and stood outside the vehicle with a sign calling for the release of the “OIG Report,”f which CNN reported was an “apparent reference to the US Justice Department’s internal watchdog report on the department’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe.” The 568-page report had been released the previous day, making Wright’s message unclear.35 QAnon followers expected that the document would contain revelations about nefarious government actors, suggesting Wright had engaged with QAnon theories.36

After a 90-minute standoff with police, Wright drove away, refusing to stop for law enforcement until he drove over tire strips and came to a stop.37 Upon arrest, law enforcement found in his vehicle two assault-style rifles and two handguns, 900 rounds of ammunition, and a flashbang device.38

Following his arrest, Wright wrote letters to senior government officials and politicians, as well as a letter to President Trump.39 In the letter to the president, Wright used the term the “Great Awakening”—QAnon language that refers to the reckoning Trump is thought to bring to what they see as the “Cabal” that has infiltrated the U.S. government.40 In these letters, Wright used the QAnon phrase, “For Where We Go One, We Go All.”41

Wright was charged with obstruction of a highway, endangerment, unlawful flight from law enforcement, misconduct involving a weapon, and terrorist acts.42 He later pleaded guilty to making a terrorist threat (designated as non dangerous), an aggravated assault charge, and fleeing from law enforcement under a plea agreement with prosecutors, but the court recently rejected the agreement for delivering too lenient of a prison term.43 g A future hearing date has been set to determine next steps, and Wright appears to remain in Mohave County Jail.44

Anthony Comello
While Wright’s actions received some media coverage, Anthony Comello’s alleged murder of mafia leader Frank (Francesco) Cali, a senior member of the Gambino crime family, garnered massive national attention. On March 13, 2019, Comello, a 24-year-old from Staten Island, New York, allegedly shot and killed Cali outside his family home.45 Comello, who lived with his parents in Staten Island at the time, worked periodically in construction.46

The month before the incident, Comello entered a federal courthouse in Manhattan, requesting the arrest of Nancy Pelosi and Mayor Bill de Blasio.47 The next day, February 22, 2019, Comello was spotted at the Gracie Mansion, the official mayoral residence, asking officers to arrest high-profile Democrats, including Maxine Waters, Adam Schiff, and Nancy Pelosi.48 On March 13, 2019, Comello allegedly drove to Cali’s family home, rang the doorbell, and engaged in a conversation with Cali. Comello allegedly then pulled out a 9mm pistol and shot Cali several times.49 Comello was charged with one count of murder, criminal possession of a weapon, and assault.50

In his first court appearance on March 18, 2019, Comello wrote a large ‘Q’ in pen on his palm alongside several phrases suggesting support for President Trump, such as “MAGA Forever.”51 In a submission to the court, Comello’s lawyer, Robert Gottlieb, stated that Comello did not drive to Cali’s house intending to kill him, but to perform a citizen’s arrest as he believed Cali was part of a purported deep state.52 Gottlieb claimed Comello shot Cali after he resisted the ‘arrest’53 and that Comello believes he is “Trump’s chosen vigilante.”54

Following President Trump’s election in 2016, Comello reportedly became more interested in far-right conspiracy theories, and later became obsessed with QAnon.55 Gottlieb maintained this QAnon obsession led to Comello’s February 2019 quest to perform citizen’s arrests.56 Gottlieb submitted evidence to the court that Comello was posting about far-right conspiracies on his Instagram account, and engaging with QAnon accounts.57 According to Gottlieb, Comello came across posts that alleged the New York mafia was part of a purported deep state alongside the Democrats.58 Four days following his arrest, Comello confessed to the NYPD that he believed the mafia had been infiltrated by the CIA and that the government was spying on him.59 On June 3, 2020, Comello was deemed mentally unfit to stand trial and was ordered to be transferred to an Office of Mental Health facility for examination.60

Eduardo Moreno
Just over a year after Comello’s alleged murder of Cali, 44-year-old train engineer Eduardo Moreno, allegedly derailed a train in San Pedro, California, on March 31, 2020, to draw attention to the nearby USNS Mercy naval ship and the government’s response to COVID-19.61 The USNS Mercy was stationed in San Pedro to treat COVID-19 patients.62 Moreno allegedly derailed the train by refraining from breaking near the end of the track, causing the train to smash through several fences before coming to rest near the USNS Mercy.63 In post-arrest interviews with the FBI, he claimed derailing the train was not preplanned.64

It is unclear whether Moreno was inspired specifically by QAnon theories. Court documents note that in post-arrest interviews, Moreno stated that “they are segregating us and it needs to be put in the open.”65 The court filing notes that, “Moreno is suspicious of the U.S.N.S. Mercy and believes it had an alternative purpose related to COVID-19 or a government takeover.”66 It has not been determined that he was particularly motivated by QAnon-related theories. Further, posts by Q before the derailing do not explicitly mention the USNS Mercy.

However, many of Moreno’s comments following his arrest seem related to QAnon. Q’s first post about COVID-19 was on March 23, one week before Moreno allegedly derailed the train. Q insinuated in the post that China developed the virus to harm President Trump’s presidency and ensure Joe Biden wins the next election.67 On March 28, 2020, Q claimed “[t]hey [the Cabal] want you [the American people] divided” by religion, sex, political affiliation, and class so “you pose no threat to their control.”68 Moreno’s comments to the LAPP (Los Angeles Port Police) after his arrest that “they are segregating us and it needs to be put in the open” perhaps were made in this light.69 Moreno also claimed “the whole world is watching,”70 quite similar in phrasing to another Q post on March 28, 2020, which begins, “the entire world is watching.”71 Finally, according to an LAPP affidavit, Moreno admitted to derailing the train to “wake people up,”72 similar to Q’s repeated references to the “Great Awakening”—a mass realization about the truth of the world73—which Q also posted about on March 28, 2020.74 These connections made by the authors, however, are speculative, and more information is needed to confirm if Moreno had any relationship with QAnon. On April 1, 2020, the Department of Justice announced Moreno had been charged with one count of train wrecking.75 As far as the authors can determine from their tracking of court proceedings, he has yet to enter a plea.

Jessica Prim
To better explicate the threat QAnon poses to public security, the authors now describe, in greater detail, the apparent radicalization to violence of Jessica Prim. Prim, a 37-year-old feature dancer from Peoria, Illinois, was arrested in New York City on April 29, 2020, after allegedly driving onto a pier with a car full of knives.76 Prim was charged upon arrest with possession of marijuana and 18 counts of criminal possession of a weapon. She also livestreamed this two-day trip from Illinois to New York City and in it threatened to kill Joe Biden (without making it clear when or where) for his supposed involvement in a ‘deep state’ sex trafficking ring, in line with QAnon narratives.77

Prim had allegedly attempted to get close to US Naval ship USNS Comfort, a hospital ship sent to New York City for treating COVID-19 patients,78 as she drove up a service road on Pier 86.79 However, she had mistaken USS Intrepid, a former aircraft carrier, for USNS Comfort.80 QA­non followers thought the USNS Comfort was being used to rescue children from the “Cabal.” According to her social media posts and video livestreams as she headed to New York City, Prim alternated between believing this and that the children may be being held hostage on the ship.81

What stands out with this case is the rapidity with which Prim apparently radicalized to violence. From her first contact with QAnon propaganda, apparently on April 9, 2020—based on her Facebook posts, which the authors reviewed in detail—20 days passed until she made threats of offline violence while in transit to New York City.

Prim first started posting about QAnon in a closed Facebook group named Pizzagate Investigations Worldwide. On April 9, 2020, she replied to a post in the group, and on April 14, she shared the link to the QAnon “documentary” Out of Shadows to the page. Prior to April 9, 2020, there is no evidence Prim was familiar with or interacting with QAnon content. Her social media feeds from 2016 onward do not provide any evidence that she engaged with Pizzagate conspiracy content, or the Comet Ping Pong altercation in December 2016. The authors’ review of Jessica Prim’s social media postings found that she did not post regularly about domestic politics on her social media prior to April 2020.82

How did an individual who only recently discovered QAnon apparently radicalize to violence so fast? Her hours of livestreams, which are a rich source of personal information, suggest some possible answers. Radicalization is an individual process, and as such, some anecdotes Prim recounts in her videos indicate what may have made her vulnerable to radicalization to QAnon-related violence.

Since 2012, Prim has regularly posted content related to missing children, child abuse, and arrests of child abusers. This is very likely central to her susceptibility to QAnon narratives that feature a global sex-trafficking ring. Her social media content and livestreams reflect the significance of this narrative in her conversion to QAnon ideology.83

It is unclear what caused Prim to spiral out of control in the twenty days preceding her arrest. One element, however, emerges in a Facebook video she posted on April 28, 2020, at 12:35pm: her relationship with QAnon, she stated in the video, began when one of her clients recommended she watch Fall of the Cabal, a QAnon documentary by Dutch conspiracy theorist Janet Ossebaard.84 In this livestream, Prim claims this video motivated her to research Pizzagate, and later, QAnon. Prim’s first Facebook post about QAnon being on the Pizzagate Investigations Worldwide page is consistent with this claim.

Her sharing of the link to the QAnon documentary Out of Shadows is consistent with this hypothesis, as the documentary also focuses on QAnon claims about a global child sex trafficking ring. Since she began radicalizing into the QAnon ideology, Prim has posted about a wide range of related conspiracy theories regarding sex trafficking rings and the supposed Deep State government’s tyrannical attempts to control its population.85

According to the authors’ review of statements in her livestream and Facebook posts, Prim also apparently believes that she is the “whore of Babylon” mentioned in the Book of Revelation, and is apparently convinced she has a role in bringing about the ‘storm’ that Q promises.86 h Further, Prim claims she is the coronavirus (what this means is unclear) and that President Trump speaks to her directly in press conferences and over social media.87 A document Prim apparently posted on her Twitter account reveals she was diagnosed with a “brief psychotic disorder” following her arrest on April 29, 2020.88

The authors’ review of Prim’s social media postings and livestreams indicated that she had experienced significant trauma89 and appears to have been in crisis at the time of her arrest. In her apparent turmoil, it appears Prim latched on to QAnon, especially its child sex trafficking ring conspiracy. In the livestream from the day of her arrest, she repeatedly claimed that she cannot sit at home while children are suffering in her view because of former Vice President Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton.90 It is highly likely that QAnon conspiracy theories radicalized her to an apparent desire to commit violence, in light of the trauma that made her vulnerable.

Less than three weeks elapsed between Prim’s first QAnon post and her arrest. In this brief period, Prim went from watching online child trafficking conspiracy documentaries to offline violence-threatening behavior. Prim is a fascinating case study of how ideologically motivated violent extremist communities and ideologies can radicalize vulnerable individuals. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that conspiracy theories and fringe movements are especially dangerous in times of social upheaval and could pose a public security threat.91

Conclusion
In this article, the authors have sought to contextualize QAnon ideology and its role in radicalizing several individuals to alleged high-profile criminal or violent acts. The recent case of Jessica Prim, on which the authors present original data, particularly evinces the role the QAnon ecosystem may play in radicalizing uniquely vulnerable individuals with experiences of trauma or mental illness and the consequent threat QAnon could pose to public security.

The February 19, 2020, Hanau, Germany, shisha bar attack by Tobias Rathjen is a recent example of how conspiracy theories could play a role in radicalization to terrorist violence.92 According to a study of the attack in this publication by Blyth Crawford and Florence Keen, conspiracy narratives “indicate that Rathjen was deeply entrenched within online conspiracy communities. Drawing upon Barkun’s model of conspiracy belief, it is therefore possible to suggest that Rathjen was a supporter of a number of isolated conspiracy theories, which, when compounded, may have influenced his broader sense of paranoia and anti-establishment mindset.”93 The material consumed by Rathjen could possibly elucidate aspects of his radicalization, as the conspiracy theories espoused by Rathjen and other conspiracy theories rely on the rejection of the mainstream explanation for their own and the demonization of the other.94 As Crawford and Keen state, “this overlaps with online conspiracy communities suggests that the influence of Rathjen’s attack may be felt in spheres beyond those traditionally associated with the far right.”95 Rathjen’s deep involvement in online conspiracy theory communities and subsequent attack evinces the potential for future instances of larger scale violence motivated by QAnon.

Moreover, QAnon continues to gain traction in American popular culture. For example, QAnon followers have recently absurdly alleged on social media that Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, and other celebrities are under house arrest for their participation in child sex trafficking rings. These posts have circulated widely online, with some celebrities even responding to the allegations.96

QAnon is not destined to remain on the periphery of political discourse either. CNN reported that former national security adviser Michael Flynn posted a video on July 4, 2020, which showed him and a group repeating an oath of office before saying the common QAnon phrase, “Where we go one, we go all.” The post also included the hashtag #TakeTheOath, apparently referencing a social media trend by QAnon users from earlier in the week.97 Flynn’s lawyer Sidney Powell told The Washington Examiner, “The slogan comes from an engraved bell on JFK’S sailboat—acknowledging the unity of mankind. The oath is obvious—the federal oath in support of our Constitution. He wanted to encourage people to think about being a citizen. Don’t read anything else into it.”98

Further, as reported by Alex Kaplan at Media Matters as well as in The New York Times,99 more than 60 candidates who have run for Congress in 2020 appear to have expressed some degree of support for QAnon (mostly Republicans and Independents; two of the 66 were Democrats), and Marjorie Taylor Greene,i a QAnon follower running for a Georgia seat in the House of Representatives, is favored to win the Republican nomination as well as the general election.100 Jo Rae Perkins, a QAnon follower,j recently won the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Oregon, though she appears likely to lose in the general election.101

Already, then, QAnon supporters are trying to have an increased impact on mainstream discourse in the United States. With this mainstreaming, as well as the impending presidential election that seems likely to only increase QAnon’s salience, an increasing frequency of criminal or violent acts by QAnon supporters seems possible, even likely.102 While the aforementioned criminal acts seem largely motivated by QAnon, only Matthew Philip Wright has been charged with a terrorism offense. However, the 2020 Hanau shisha bar attack presents one example of how conspiracy theories can help propel larger-scale terrorist attacks.103 If more individuals with greater organizational skills and operational acumen seek to pursue QAnon’s agenda, it could eventually lead to more significant threats to public security and become a more impactful domestic terrorism threat, though this potential development appears, at present, to be far on the horizon.

However, the threat to public security that QAnon presents is not exclusive to the movement and the cases described above, but rather, is representative of broader currents in the American information landscape. The increased consumption and circulation of misinformation on social media, as well as its negative consequences, is evinced especially by QAnon, but its effects on public safety are not limited to it. The emergence of future (related or unrelated) conspiracy theories that may be effective at radicalizing individuals to terrorist violence should thus not be ruled out as threats to public security.

Regulation of QAnon content by social media companies, activity which would be guided and governed by the adherence of QAnon supporters to respective platforms terms of service, may present one pathway to decreasing the likelihood of individual radicalization to violence.104 This could operate similarly to Facebook and Twitter regulation of jihadi content by the Islamic State and al-Qa`ida affiliates. On July 21, 2020, Twitter announced105 that it will be taking action against QAnon in light of “coordinated harmful activity.” Already Twitter has suspended 7,000 accounts and will be limiting 150,000 more.106

However, regulation of QAnon content could simply result in platform migration and further reinforce QAnon’s cosmology that sees a cabal of pedophiles lurking behind every corporate or governmental decision.107 This is to be considered carefully, based on the authors’ observation of QAnon activity on Telegram, there is a growing overlap between QAnon channels and more extremist channels affiliated with the proud boys,108 paramilitary groups, and white supremacists.109 Additionally, the law enforcement community and researchers need to consider the growing transnational dimensions of QAnon.110 QAnon is arguably no longer simply a fringe conspiracy theory but an ideology111 that has demonstrated its capacity to radicalize to violence individuals at an alarming speed.     CTC

Amarnath Amarasingam is an Assistant Professor in the School of Religion at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada. He is also a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, an Associate Fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, and an Associate Fellow at the Global Network on Extremism and Technology. His research interests are in radicalization, terrorism, diaspora politics, post-war reconstruction, and the sociology of religion. Follow @AmarAmarasingam

Marc-André Argentino is a PhD candidate in the Individualized Program at Concordia University, Montreal (in Theological Studies, the Centre for Engineering in Society and the Institute of Information System Engineering). Marc-André is an associate fellow at the Global Network on Extremism & Technology and an associate researcher at the Centre d’Expertise et de Formation sur les Intégrismes Religieux, les Idéologies Politiques et la Radicalisation. Follow @_MAArgentino

Substantive Notes
[a] According to News Guard, which rates the credibility of news and information sites, “4chan is an anonymous— users never need to make an account or pick a username, even a pseudonymous one— image board.” From a functional perspective, “it is broken up into threads where users can discuss different topics; moderation on the platform is virtually non-existent. 4chan is rife with pornography and other posts that many would consider shocking or inappropriate, such as violent imagery and racial imagery.” “4chan.org,” News Guard Tech, Accessed July 2020.

[b] According to News Guard, which rates the credibility of news and information, “8chan bills itself as ‘the Darkest Reaches of the Internet.’” Furthermore, “anyone can anonymously post text, videos, images, and other files as well as links to external websites. Content appears on ‘boards,’ which anyone can create.” “8ch.net,” News Guard Tech, Accessed July 2020. In 2019, 8chan was used to announce deadly attacks at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand; a synagogue in Poway, California; and a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. In March 2019, as the New Zealand gunman live-streamed his rampage, 8chan allowed the grisly footage to reach millions. Subsequently, 8chan was taken down in August 2019. 8chan returned as 8kun in November 2019, with several boards dedicated to QAnon. Benjamin Goggin, “8chan — the website connected to mass shootings and conspiracy theories — has relaunched as 8kun,” Business Insider, November 3, 2019.

[c] Omega Kingdom Ministries (OKM) is part of a network of independent congregations (or ekklesia) called Home Congregations Worldwide (HCW). It has online services at the moment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. OKM, however, has central hubs in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, and Australia where in-person meetings and trainings take place. Its infrastructure is different than a traditional church as the services in non-pandemic times take place in the home of a leader with 10 to 12 other individuals. During these services, the first hour is dedicated to a liturgy where QAnon conspiracy theories are reinterpreted through the Bible. In the second hour, during an analysis of Qdrops, QAnon serves as a lens to interpret the Bible itself. Marc-André Argentino, “The Church of QAnon: Will conspiracy theories form the basis of a new religious movement?” Conversation Canada, May 18, 2020.

[d] The inclusion criteria for selected cases is whether there is a nexus to violent crime. See “Violent Crime,” National Institute of Justice. The authors have excluded criminal cases where this was not apparent. Jessica Prim, though not charged with a violent crime, was included due to the apparent threats she made in her livestream against presidential candidate Joe Biden.

[e] Welch also allegedly hit and seriously injured a 13-year-old with his car in 2016, though the authors were not able to determine whether the investigation, which remained open during his arrest for the Comet incident, resulted in charges. Jonathan Drew and Tom Foreman Jr., “DC pizza shop gunman regrets actions, still believes fake Hillary Clinton child sex ring story,” Global News, December 8, 2016.

[f] Q and QAnon influencers hyped up the OIG report in question with the belief it would reveal incriminating evidence that would bring down the Democrats. QAnon adherents were thoroughly disappointed when the report was released, as it did not contain the revelations they expected. ‘Q’ responded to the OIG report, claiming there were multiple versions of the OIG report but the one that had the incriminating evidence was not the one that was publicly released. Will Sommer, “QAnon, the Crazy Pro-Trump Conspiracy, Melts Down Over OIG Report,” Daily Beast, June 19, 2018.

[g] The indictment of Wright from 2018 remains sealed.

[h] Her social media accounts were operated under a pseudonym, but the authors were able to establish that the accounts very likely belonged to her because she referred to herself by her real name and broadcast video of herself on them. See also Marc-André Argentino, “29/ According to Prim God had awakened her to the fact that she is …,” Twitter, May 1, 2020.

[i] According to reporting from Media Matters in 2018, Greene posted on Facebook about an “awesome post by Q.” See “Marjorie Taylor Greene Facebook QAnon2,” Media Matters. She has posted the QAnon slogan on Facebook (see “Marjorie Taylor Greene Facebook QAnon 1,” Media Matters) and on Twitter (see “Marjorie Taylor Greene Twitter QAnon 2,” Media Matters), the latter in response to a tweet defending the legitimacy of “Q” where she also wrote, “Trust the plan” (another catchphrase QAnon supporters use). Greene also has tweeted the QAnon-connected hashtag “#GreatAwakening” to far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. She has also appeared in a video where she discussed following QAnon, calling “Q” a “patriot” and “worth listening to.” See Travis View, “Marjorie Taylor Greene, candidate for congress, also happens to be a QAnon follower,” Twitter, June 6, 2020. According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Greene “has posted a series of tweets defending QAnon, including one”—now deleted—”encouraging her followers to message her with questions so she can ‘walk you through the whole thing.’” Jim Galloway, Greg Bluestein, and Tamar Hallerman, “The Jolt: When industry and neighborhoods mix, trouble often follows,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 2, 2019.

[j] According to reporting from Media Matters, “Perkins has repeatedly tweeted in support of QAnon and posted the QAnon slogan on Twitter, and both her personal and campaign Facebookpages. See Jo Rae Perkins, “The MG Show -236- 5/1/20 ‘Information warfare.’ Imagine that …,” Twitter, May 4, 2020, and Jo Rae Perkins, “Congratulations to @laurenboebert We need more #Patriots like Lauren …,” Twitter, July 2, 2020. Perkins has also said she follows the “Q team.” See “Jo Rae Perkins January 2 Facebook video,” Media Matters. See also Alex Kaplan, “Here are the QAnon supporters running for Congress in 2020,” Media Matters for America, updated July 23, 2020.

Citations
[1] Jim Bronskill, “Canada adds right-wing extremist groups to terrorist list,” National Observer, June 27, 2019.

[2] Amarnath Amarasingam, “The Impact of Conspiracy Theories and How to Counter Them: Reviewing the Literature on Conspiracy Theories and Radicalization to Violence,” in Anthony Richards, Devorah Margolin, and Nicolo Scremin eds., Jihadist Terror: New Threats, New Responses (London: IB Taurus), pp. 27-40.

[3] Jana Winter, “Exclusive: FBI document warns conspiracy theories are a new domestic terrorism threat,” Yahoo News, August 1, 2019. The FBI document was presented within this Yahoo News article.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Adrienne LaFrance, “The Prophecies of Q American conspiracy theories are entering a dangerous new phase,” Atlantic, May 15, 2020.

[6] Authors’ tracking of pro-QAnon online postings.

[7] Cecilia Kang, “Fake News Onslaught Targets Pizzeria as Nest of Child-Trafficking,” New York Times, November 21, 2016.

[8] Fruzsina Eordogh, “With Pizzagate, Is Cybersteria The New Normal?” Forbes, December 7, 2016.

[9] “FBI Anon on 4chan – Just the Q&A,” Imgur, July 5, 2016.

[10] “High Level Insider,” 4chan/Pol/, July 10, 2016.

[11] “CIAAnon 4chan AMA,” 4chan /pol/, January 30, 2017.

[12] “WH Insider Anon,” 4chan /pol/, October 29, 2017.

[13] Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins, “How three conspiracy theorists took ‘Q’ and sparked Qanon,” NBC News, August 14, 2018.

[14] Authors’ tracking of pro-QAnon online postings. See also Rose See, “From Crumbs to Conspiracy: Qanon as a community of hermeneutic practice,” senior thesis, chapter 3, Swarthmore College, 2019.

[15] Travis View, “How Conspiracy Theories Spread From the Internet’s Darkest Corners,” Washington Post, September 18, 2018.

[16] Anti-Defamation League, “QAnon,” ADL Backgrounders.

[17] John R. Hall, Apocalypse Observed: Religious Movements and Violence in North America, Europe and Japan (Oxford: Routledge, 2000); Chip Berlet and Matthew Lyons, Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort (New York: Guilford Press, 2000).

[18] “CSIS Public Report 2019,” Canadian Security Intelligence Service, May 20, 2020, p. 11.

[19] Winter. The FBI document was presented within this Yahoo News article.

[20] Justin Holgate, “USA v. Edgar Maddison Welch,” Affidavit, December 12, 2016, para. 5.

[21] Ibid., para. 7.

[22] Keith Alexander and Susan Svrluga, “Alleged ‘pizzagate’ gunman’s parents ‘stunned’ by news,” Washington Post, December 13, 2016.

[23] Holgate, paras. 22-30.

[24] Ibid., paras. 23, 28-31.

[25] Ibid., para. 32.

[26] Ibid., para. 7.

[27] Ibid., paras. 9-13.

[28] Ibid., para. 28-31.

[29] “North Carolina Man Pleads Guilty to Charges in Armed Assault at Northwest Washington Pizza Restaurant,” United States Attorney’s Office, District of Columbia, March 24, 2017.

[30] “North Carolina Man Sentenced to Four-Year Prison Term For Armed Assault at Northwest Washington Pizza Restaurant,” United States Attorney’s Office, District of Columbia, June 22, 2017.

[31] Jonathan Drew and Tom Foreman Jr., “DC pizza shop gunman regrets actions, still believes fake Hillary Clinton child sex ring story,” Global News, December 8, 2016.

[32] Richard Ruelas, “QAnon follower who blocked bridge near Hoover Dam pleads guilty to terrorism charge,” Arizona Republic, February 11, 2020.

[33] Stephanie K. Baer, “An Armed Man Spouting a Bizarre Right-Wing Conspiracy Theory Was Arrested After A Standoff At The Hoover Dam,” BuzzFeed News, June 17, 2018.

[34] AnneClaire Stapleton and Steve Almasy, “Man who blocked traffic on Hoover Dam bridge wanted release of government report,” CNN, June 16, 2018.

[35] Ibid.; “READ: The Justice Department IG report on Clinton’s email,” CNN, June 14, 2018.

[36] Baer.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Richard Ruelas, “Plea deal rejected for QAnon follower who drove armored vehicle onto bridge near Hoover Dam,” Arizona Public, June 1, 2020 (and updated June 3, 2020); Henry Brean and Dave Hawkins, “Suspect in Hoover Dam standoff writes Trump, cites conspiracy in letters,” Las Vegas Review-Journal, July 13, 2018.

[39] Brean and Hawkins.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Rio Lacanlale, “Henderson Man’s Motives in Standoff Near Hoover Dam Still Murky,” Las Vegas Review-Journal, June 16, 2018.

[43] Ruelas, “Plea deal rejected for QAnon follower.”

[44] “Inmate Search,” Mohave County Arizona, accessed June 22, 2020.

[45] William K. Rashbaum and Ali Watkins, “What We Know About the 24-Year-Old Accused of Killing Frank Cali, a Gambino Mob Boss,” New York Times, March 17, 2019.

[46] Ali Watkins, “A Conspiracy Theorist, Anthony Comello, and a Mystery Motive in Gambino Murder,” New York Times, March 22, 2019.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ibid.; Bobby Allyn, “Lawyer: Shooter Wasn’t Trying To Kill A Mob Boss. He Was Under ‘QAnon’ Delusion,” NPR, July 22, 2019.

[49] Rashbaum and Watkins.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Ali Watkins, “A Conspiracy Theorist, Anthony Comello, and a Mystery Motive in Gambino Murder,” New York Times, March 22, 2019.

[52] Ali Watkins, “He Wasn’t Seeking to Kill a Mob Boss. He Was Trying to Help Trump, His Lawyers Say,” New York Times, July 21, 2019.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Timothy Johnson, “Alleged QAnon-inspired murdered was obsessed with Fox News,” MediaMatters, July 22, 2019.

[58] Watkins, “He Wasn’t Seeking to Kill a Mob Boss.”

[59] Ali Watkins, “Accused of Killing a Gambino Mob Boss, He’s Presenting a Novel Defense,” New York Times, December 6, 2019.

[60] Frank Donnelly, “Alleged mob-boss killer found mentally unfit to stand trial,” SILive.com, June 3, 2020.

[61] Christopher Weber, “Feds: Engineer intentionally derailed train near Navy hospital ship,” Washington Times, April 1, 2020.

[62] Brianna Sacks, “A Man Admitted To Trying To Crash A Train Into The USNS Mercy Over Coronavirus Suspicions,” Buzzfeed News, April 1, 2020.

[63] Douglas Swain, “Statement of Probable Cause A. Moreno Derails Train at the Port of Los Angeles Near USNS Mercy,” April 2020, paras. 5-7.

[64] Ibid., para. 10b.

[65] “Train Operator at Port of Los Angeles Charged with Derailing Locomotive Near U.S. Navy’s Hospital Ship Mercy,” U.S. Department of Justice, April 1, 2020.

[66] Ibid.

[67] Post no. 8537514, March 23, 2020, archived at qanon.news.

[68] Post no. 8600954, March 28, 2020, archived at qanon.news.

[69] Swain, para. 10a.

[70] Ibid., para. 6d.

[71] Post no. 8601061, March 28, 2020, archived at qanon.news. This observation was first made by the reporter Mike Rothschild. See Mike Rothschild, “I don’t know if the man arrested for trying to ram a train into USNS Mercy, Eduardo Moreno, is a QAnon believer …,” Twitter, April 1, 2020.

[72] Swain, para. 13a.

[73] See, p. 13.

[74] Post no. 8601001, March 28, 2020, archived at qanon.news.

[75] “Train Operator at Port of Los Angeles Charged with Derailing Locomotive Near U.S. Navy’s Hospital Ship Mercy,” U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Central District of California, April 1, 2020.

[76] Bryan Rolli, “Women arrested with car full of knives after threatening Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton,” Daily Dot, April 30, 2019; “Peoria woman facing drug, weapon charges after confrontation with NYPD officers; says ‘I’m the Coronavirus,’” WMBD News, May 2, 2020.

[77] Will Sommer, “A QAnon Devotee Live-Streamed Her Trip to N.Y. to ‘Take Out’ Joe Biden,” Daily Beast, April 30, 2020.

[78] Ibid.

[79] Thomas Tracy and John Annese, “Unhinged woman whose Facebook posts threatened Biden caught with knives near USS Intrepid,” New York Daily News, April 29, 2020.

[80] Sommer, “A QAnon Devotee Live-Streamed Her Trip.”

[81] Ibid.; authors’ tracking of Jessica Prim’s social media posts and livestreams.

[82] Authors’ review of Jessica Prim’s social media postings.

[83] “The Extremist Medicine Cabinet: A Guide to Online ‘Pills,’” Anti-Defamation League, November 6, 2019.

[84] Chris Klomp, “Janet Ossebaard: miljoenen views voor kwalijke onzin,” chrisklomp.nl, May 1, 2020.

[85] David Emery, “Is a Hillary Clinton ‘Snuff Film’ Circulating on the Dark Web?” Snopes, April 16, 2018.

[86] Author tracking of Jessica Prim’s social media postings.

[87] Tracy and Annese.

[88] Authors’ tracking of Jessica Prim’s social media postings.

[89] Authors’ tracking of Jessica Prim’s social media postings.

[90] See Marc-André Argentino, “33/ In all of this turmoil Prim latches onto QAnon and the child …,” Twitter, May 1, 2020.

[91] Andrew Blankstein, Tom Winter, and Brandy Zadrozny, “Three men connected to ‘boogaloo’ movement tried to provoke violence at protests, feds say,” NBC News, June 2, 2020.

[92] Blyth Crawford and Florence Keen, “The Hanau Terrorist Attack: How Race Hate and Conspiracy Theories Are Fueling Global Far-Right Violence,” CTC Sentinel 13:3 (2020).

[93] Ibid.

[94] Ibid.

[95] Ibid.

[96] Mackenzie Sadeghi, “Fact check: Ellen, Oprah, many others are not under house arrest for child sex trafficking,” USA Today, June 18, 2020.

[97] Marshall Cohen, “Michael Flynn posts video featuring QAnon slogans,” CNN, July 7, 2020.

[98] Jerry Dunleavy, “Michael Flynn recites oath of office using slogan associated with QAnon,” Washington Examiner, July 5, 2020.

[99] Alex Kaplan, “Here are the QAnon Supporters Running for Congress in 2020,” Media Matters for America, July 15, 2020.

[100] Lisa Lerer, “The QAnon Caucus,” New York Times, June 18, 2020.

[101] Lerer.

[102] Winter.

[103] Amarasingam, “The Impact of Conspiracy Theories and How to Counter Them,” pp. 27-40.

[104] Winter.

[105] See Twitter Safety, “We’ve been clear that we will take strong enforcement action on behavior that has the potential to lead to …,” Twitter, July 21, 2020.

[106] Ben Collins and Brandy Zadrozny, “Twitter bans 7,000 QAnon accounts, limits 150,000 others as part of broad crackdown,” NBC News, July 21, 2020.

[107] Marc-André Argentino, “How QAnon Will Fight Back Against Twitter’s Ban And What Happens Next,” Observer, July 22, 2020.

[108] Will Sommer, “Qanon-Believing Proud Boy Accused of Murdering ‘Lizard’ Brother With Sword,” Daily Beast, January 9, 2019.

[109] Based on authors observation of QAnon followers and channels on Telegram.

[110] Some recent examples are Carol Schaeffer, “How Covid-19 spread QAnon in Germany,” Coda Story, June 19, 2020, and Jaime D’Alessandro, “Perché Bill Gates diventa il bersaglio preferito di tutti i complotti,” Repubblica, May 27, 2020.

[111] Marc-André Argentino, “In the Name of the Father, Son, and Q: Why It’s Important to See QAnon as a ‘Hyper-Real’ Religion,” Religion Dispatches, May 28, 2020.

Stay Informed

Sign up to receive updates from CTC.

Sign up