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QAnon is an internet conspiracy cult centered around the anonymous user Q that started on the imageboard 4chan in 2017. The user implied being a government employee with top-level clearance leaking information to the /pol/ board. The community quickly developed a fascination for the myth and began trying to decipher and analyze Q‘s often cryptically coded posts.
This kind of role-playing was a part of /pol/ culture: before Q, several other users had already been pretending to be insiders spreading alleged government secrets.
At its core, Q describes a conspiracy of powerful politicians and celebrities who run a satanic ring of cannibalistic pedophiles. Q casts former U.S. President Donald Trump as a savior who would expose the conspiracy and bring its schemers to justice.
The so-called Q-drops tie in with conspiracy theories and racisms that were already circulating on 4chan‘s /pol/ board. As such, the drops are not so much leaks from a well-heeled source in the US government, but rather a distillation and repackaging of existing narratives from the imageboard and right-wing media in general.
Thus, over three years and 5,000 posts, the theory grew into a complex cluster of myths and codes of its own, gathering a dedicated following beyond the borders of 4chan. Experts compare QAnon to religious cults.
Q‘s countless predictions hardly came true. After a landslide Trump victory in the 2020 presidential race had been foretold for years, supporters were severely disillusioned by the election of Joe Biden.
The Q-drops ended with election day and Biden‘s inauguration. Major internet platforms were already cracking down on the spread of QAnon content and doubts were growing among supporters about Q‘s long-held predictions and mythology. The community became part of the effort to overturn the election results and supporters participated in the storming of the Capitol in 2021.
Bellingcat: The QAnon Timeline
Aliapoulios et al.: The Gospel According to Q: Understanding the QAnon Conspiracyfrom the Perspective of Canonical Information
Bellingcat: How Q’s 'Lost Drops' Undermine the QAnon Myth
Artwork by Nathalie Hübel