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After mainstream exposure, QAnon is starting to fracture

Who would've thunk?

FILE PICTURE: David Reinert holds a large "Q" sign while waiting in line on to see President Donald J. Trump at his rally August 2, 2018 at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania.(Photo by Rick Loomis/Getty Images)
FILE PICTURE: David Reinert holds a large "Q" sign while waiting in line on to see President Donald J. Trump at his rally August 2, 2018 at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania.(Photo by Rick Loomis/Getty Images)

Last Tuesday, a conspiracy theory that had been festering in the fringes of the Trump-friendly internet burst into the mainstream, when some supporters of the President were seen holding QAnon signs at a Trump rally in Florida.

Media outlets rushed to explain, debunk, and “analyze” the conspiracy, which broadly claims that Trump is fighting a global cabal of deep-state pedophiles who also like to indulge in Satanic Abuse at cement plants in Arizona. In response, naturally, the popularity of Q exploded, and the main QAnon subreddit (the topical page on Reddit where proponents gather online) quickly posted disclaimers about how they were neither violent nor a cult, but merely “researchers.”

Whatever they prefer to be called, their views don’t hold up to any amount of scrutiny, and this week, the newfound media attention began to deeply splinter the movement. Pro-Trump posters are embarrassed by the conspiracy, former supporters are trying to backtrack on claims they ever believed it, and posters on 4chan and 8chan are just viciously trolling everyone.

Let’s start with the pro-Trump posters, who have been eagerly disavowing QAnon. Townhall columnist Kurt Schilchter described QAnon as “frivolous nonsense,” while Trump fanboy and alleged fraudster said it was “BS” to contemplate that Trump was actually working with Mueller. In a Reddit discussion, former Press Secretary Sean Spicer simply replied “No.” when asked whether QAnon was legitimate. Even WikiLeaks has jumped onboard to call QAnon a “Pied Piper” operation.

Things are a bit more dicey among the more conspiracy-minded posters who have previous used unsubstantiated claims to bolster their own social media presence. Michael Flynn Jr, son of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, said that he’d never taken Q seriously, while Jack Posobiec has said that he’s working on a piece “debunking” the QAnon theory.

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Both Posobiec and Flynn Jr. were instrumental in pushing the now debunked “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory, sort of a prequel to QAnon, which claimed that a pizzeria in Washington, D.C. was actually a front for — you guessed it — a global child sex-trafficking ring.

The disagreements have trickled down to 4chan and 8chan, where the Q conspiracy originally began. On Monday morning, half of 8chan constituted posts trolling or mocking believers, while a significant portion of the rest of the posts were Q believers saying this trolling was part of a leftist disinformation campaign. Oddly enough, hacker collective “Anonymous” has also promised to “wipe out” QAnon followers, setting the stage for more bitter online arguments over Q.

As Daily Beast reporter Will Sommer has previously pointed out, while QAnon originated on a part of the internet which leans demographically younger, most of Q’s most ardent supporters are baby boomers. This, to put it politely, has led to some inter-generational disagreement.

The QAnon discourse.
The QAnon discourse.

The QAnon conspiracy also bears remarkable similarities, as Buzzfeed News noted, to a 1999 Italian novel named Q, which focuses on a Renaissance conspiracy and is described as an “‘operations manual’ for cultural disruption.” Ironically, the original book was mainly targeted at leftist protesters and activists, which suggest that maybe one of them could have had a handle in starting the latest version of Q.