For the first time, an FBI intelligence bulletin has assessed that fringe, internet-based conspiracy theories pose a domestic terror threat that “[encourage] the targeting of specific people, places and organizations, thereby increasing the risk of extremist violence against such targets.”
The intelligence bulletin was written by the FBI’s Phoenix Field Office and released in May, but was first reported by Yahoo News on Thursday. It specifically mentions Pizzagate, the conspiracy that the Clintons and other elite Democrats were indulging in child sacrifice at a D.C. pizzeria, as well as a host of other terms common on fringe, far-right internet ecosystems like False Flags, Zionist Occupied Government, and, of course, QAnon.
For those lucky enough to not spend their days following the latest QAnon news, a brief primer: QAnon is the theory that President Donald Trump, along with Attorney General William Barr, the U.S. military, and a shadowy insider known only as “Q,” are all secretly working to take down a Deep State cabal, made up primarily of Democrats, who are controlling the world and also like to traffic and/or eat children.
Supposed promises by “Q,” posted first on fringe sites like 4chan and 8chan, keep failing to come to fruition, but that has done little to dampen the popularity of the conspiracy, both online and off. QAnon supporters make frequent appearances at Trump rallies, and the president keeps adding fuel to the fire by re-tweeting QAnon accounts on Twitter and thereby — at least in the eyes of Q adherents — validating the theory.
While it’s easy to laugh at, QAnon and other fringe conspiracies have motivated some very real-world violence.
As the FBI memo notes, in December 2016, a man entered Comet Ping Pong in Washington, DC — the restaurant supposedly at the center of Pizzagate — with an AR-15 rifle, firing a shot and pointing his rifle at an employee. The man was later arrested and pleaded guilty to federal weapons charges in March 2017.
In June 2018, a QAnon supporter in an armored truck blocked the Hoover Dam Bypass, armed with several firearms and magazines of ammunition. After a 90-minute standoff with police, he fled to Arizona where he was arrested. He has since been charged with terrorism as well as aggravated assault, unlawful flight, and weapons offenses.
As ThinkProgress reported last year, a QAnon-affiliated group also harassed police officers and civic leaders in Arizona over claims that the Deep State was operating a child sex camp in the desert there. A QAnon believer is also believed to have used the conspiracy as inspiration to gun down alleged New York crime boss Francesco Cali in March.
Travis View, a QAnon researcher who also co-hosts the QAnon Anonymous podcast, said he was relieved by the memo, as it showed that the Feds understood the real dangers that QAnon poses.
“It was an unknown beforehand whether the FBI or law enforcement was taking QAnon and other conspiracy-driven extremist movements seriously at all,” View told ThinkProgress. “This is the first confirmation that the feds are very aware of QAnon and the threat they pose.”
View described QAnon as “very much like a decentralized cult.”
“They get separated from their families and get taken down this rabbit hole to super delusional beliefs that cause them to do violence and violent things … most QAnon followers are harmless, they’re just shacked up in their room, but a few of them get so delusional that they act out in the real world.”
The FBI’s memo also specifically mentions how the internet has allowed these theories to thrive.
“The advent of the Internet and social media has enabled promoters of conspiracy theories to produce and share greater volumes of material via online platforms that larger audiences of consumers can quickly and easily access,” the report reads. “Based on the increase volumed and reach … 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.”
To be clear, QAnon is not a movement that explicitly encourages members to engage in acts of violence; a large percentage of Q-related content simply encourages followers to “enjoy the show” that is always just about to begin.
However, as proven by recent mass attacks in New Zealand, Pittsburgh, and California — to name just a few — it only takes one self-radicalized individual to carry out a major terror attack, especially at a time of heightened political polarization, a point that both View and the FBI made.
“Because some conspiracy theories are highly partisan in nature, political developments, including those surrounding major election cycles such as the 2020 presidential election, likely will impact the direction of these conspiracy theories and the potential activities of extremists who subscribe to them,” the report reads.
“My most important takeaway [from the memo] is that this isn’t a fading threat,” View said. “It is a growing threat. As the political season and rhetoric gets more heated, conspiracy theories get an over-sized importance in people’s lives — it’s certainly something to watch out for.”
The FBI assessment concludes it is “very likely” that, in the future, domestic extremists will be motivated, whether wholly or in part, by “anti-government, identity based and fringe political conspiracy theories.”
And as for QAnon? Despite its continual failure to deliver on its promises, View predicts it won’t be going anywhere any time soon. The FBI assessment, he noted, was already being explained away by QAnon followers as more evidence of the Deep State, or something planted as a way to move the media to ask Trump about Q, a long-held ambition of QAnon followers.
“The ‘Clinton body-count‘ conspiracy theory, [which claims multiple people close to the Clintons have died under ‘mysterious circumstances,’ suggesting the Clintons have something to do with it], was created in early 1990s and it trended last week on Twitter, so these sort of conspiracy theories, when they catch on and resonate with a community, they don’t go away,” View said.
He added, “I have no idea when they might give up the game, but if I were to speculate based on psychological research [into conspiracy theories and followers], this is something with us for at least a generation.”