Fans of a baseless pro-Trump conspiracy theory have a new target: Michael Avenatti, the lawyer representing adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who claims to have had an affair with the president.
On Sunday, the shadowy figure at the center of the “QAnon” conspiracy theory — who claims to be a high-ranking government official with top-secret security clearance — posted a link to Avenatti’s website on the 8chan imageboard. He then posted two photos showing the exterior of Avenatti’s office building in Newport Beach, California, along with the message, “Buckle up!”
Approximately one hour later, “Q” posted another photo of a man standing near Avenatti’s office. He appeared to be holding a cell phone in one hand and a long, thin object in the other. It was unclear whether the man worked for Avenatti, was a QAnon follower, or was simply a pedestrian unaware he was being photographed.
We are trying to identify the man in this picture, which was taken outside my office yesterday (Sun) afternoon. Please contact @NewportBeachPD if you have any details or observed him. We will NOT be intimidated into stopping or changing our course. #Basta pic.twitter.com/YIKS6D0Grq
— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) July 30, 2018
In an interview with the Daily Beast, Avenatti suggested the man could be holding a shank. “That’s not a set of keys,” he said. “It also looks like he’s wearing a toupee of some sort. And not a very good one I might add.” Avenatti added that since he was mentioned by Q, the number of threats against him had quadrupled.
Newport Beach Police Department said they were looking into the incident ,which they described as “suspicious circumstances.”
QAnon has replaced Pizzagate as the go-to conspiracy theory for the Trump-friendly, fringe sections of the internet, ever since a Pizzagate supporter inadvertently debunked the theory himself by barging into Comet Ping Pong pizzeria with an AR-15 in December and firing three shots. He was looking for child sex trafficking tunnels like the ones described by ardent supporters of the Pizzagate conspiracy, but, unsurprisingly, found none.
“We [got] 30 to 40 calls a day about this bullshit,” one employee told ThinkProgress at the time. “There are staff members as young as 19 that work there and they have to deal with this. It’s real, real sad.”
The man was later arrested, charged, and convicted on several counts, including assault with a dangerous weapon. In June last year, he was sentenced to four years in prison.
But the implosion of Pizzagate did not stop followers from latching onto the QAnon conspiracy. In a nutshell, it claims a secretive cabal of Deep State global elites (including, but not limited to, Hillary Clinton, President Obama, George Soros, the Pope, the Queen, the DNC, the Saudi Royal Family) are responsible for all of the world’s evil, and also like to indulge in child abuse and pedophilia. Standing up to them are Trump, the U.S. Special Forces and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is supposedly using the Russia investigation as a front to deliver sealed indictments against all of the global Deep State cabal.
The QAnon theory is expansive and explosive enough to welcome smaller conspiracy theories into fold. Veterans on Patrol, an Arizona-based group whose leader is not actually a veteran, has spent the last two months claiming that an abandoned homeless shelter in Arizona was actually a front for a child sex camp — despite repeated independent investigations concluding otherwise.
Despite the ridiculous nature of Q’s claims, the theory has begun to seep into the mainstream. Last Tuesday, conservative commentator Ben Shapiro retweeted “Praying Medic” an account which is one of the main QAnon promoters on Twitter. Shapiro’s followers include high-level Republican lawmakers, as well as the president’s two elder sons, Donald Jr. and Eric Trump, and his daughter, Ivanka, who currently serves as adviser to the president.