What Is QAnon, the Viral Pro-Trump Conspiracy Theory?
Making things more complicated is that Q’s online home base has changed several times. Q’s posts originally appeared on 4chan. Then they moved to 8chan, where they stayed until that site was taken offline last year after the El Paso mass shooting. They now live on 8kun, a site run by the former owner of 8chan. Each of these sites uses a system of identity verification known as a “tripcode” — essentially, a unique digital signature that proves that a series of anonymous posts were written by the same person or people.
“Drops” are what QAnon followers call Q’s posts. There have been nearly 5,000 of them so far, and most take the form of a cryptic coded message.
Here’s an example of a Q drop from September 2018:
PANIC IN DC
[LL] talking = TRUTH reveal TARMAC [BC]?
[LL] talking = TRUTH reveal COMEY HRC EMAIL CASE?
[LL] talking = TRUTH reveal HUSSEIN instructions re: HRC EMAIL CASE?
[LL] talking = TRUTH reveal BRENNAN NO NAME COORD TO FRAME POTUS?……………..FISA = START
FISA BRINGS DOWN THE HOUSE.WHEN DO BIRDS SING?
In this post, you can see coded references to “LL” (Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s former attorney general), “BC” (Bill Clinton), “HRC” (Hillary Rodham Clinton), and “HUSSEIN” (President Obama), along with references to John Brennan, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and “POTUS” — President Trump.
Many QAnon followers use “Q Drop” apps that collect all of Q’s posts in one place, and alert them every time a new post arrives. (One of these apps hit the top 10 paid apps in Apple’s App Store before it was pulled down for violating the company’s guidelines.) They then post these drops in Facebook groups, chat rooms for the Discord chat app and Twitter threads, and begin discussing and debating what it all means.
Is QAnon the same thing as Pizzagate?
Yes and no. QAnon has been described as a “big-budget sequel” to Pizzagate, because it takes the original Pizzagate conspiracy theory — which alleged, falsely, that Mrs. Clinton and her cronies were operating a child sex-trafficking ring out of the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant — and adds many more layers of narrative on top of it. But many people believe in both theories, and for many QAnon believers, Pizzagate represented a kind of conspiracy theory on-ramp.
One new element in QAnon is a number of clear and specific predictions about when and how “The Storm” would play out. For years, Q has predicted that mass arrests of cabal members would occur on certain days, that certain government reports would reveal the cabal’s misdeeds, and that Republicans would win numerous seats in the 2018 midterm elections.
None of those predictions came true. But most QAnon believers didn’t care. They simply found ways to reframe the narrative and ignore the discrepancies, and moved on.