If there were any doubts the QAnon conspiracy has gone fully mainstream, Trump’s rally in Tampa Tuesday put at an end to them.
Supporters of the pro-Trump, far-right theory were clearly visible both in the lines outside the rally and inside the exposition hall. They carried signs demanding answers to debunked conspiracy theories, joined regular Trump supporters in heckling the media and proudly rocked QAnon t-shirts and hats — because what’s a conspiracy theory without someone being able to profit off it?
Crowd in Tampa ahead of the President’s rally includes one person bearing a Seth Rich conspiracy poster pic.twitter.com/Ax7cln6x8o
— Betsy Klein (@betsy_klein) July 31, 2018
People lining up for the Trump rally in Tampa today. A lot of the chan anons might treat Q-Anon like a LARP, but by all appearances there are plenty of people who take it seriously irl. pic.twitter.com/uys7kmnAs1
— Travis View (@travis_view) July 31, 2018
QAnon follows on in similar style from last year’s infamous Pizzagate conspiracy theory. But while Pizzagate focused its ire on one small pizzeria in Northwest Washington, the QAnon conspiracy theory is much more far-reaching, claiming that a global Deep State cabal is responsible for most of the world’s evil, and that Trump, along with Robert Mueller, are working to deliver sealed indictments and ship everyone from Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) to George Soros to Hillary Clinton off to Guantanamo Bay.
The expansive nature of the QAnon theory — it involves everything from banking conspiracies to claims of Satanic Abuse and supposed child sex trafficking by Democratic lawmakers and public figures — means that smaller theories can be adopted into the fold as offshoots. For example, over the last two months in Arizona, a group called Veterans on Patrol has been “investigating” what they claim is an abandoned “child sex camp” tied to QAnon, and have been harassing public officials who say that those claims are bogus.
It is stunning to me how many ppl in this #TRUMPTAMPA crowd have QAnon signs or t-shirts. That is not a healthy sign for GOP or for America.
— Adam Smith (@adamsmithtimes) July 31, 2018
— Andrew Kirell (@AndrewKirell) July 31, 2018
The QAnon theory began on 4chan before migrating over to the even more obscure 8chan. These sites were instrumental in helping craft the so-called “alt-right” during 2015 and 2016 but, as journalist Will Sommer at the Daily Beast notes, QAnon is actually far more popular among baby boomers than their younger, more tech-savvy counterparts on the right.
It’s easy to dismiss QAnon as a ridiculous conspiracy theory, likely propagated by a very dedicated troll, but it is starting to have some serious real-world consequences. On Sunday, Michael Avenatti, the lawyer representing adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who claims to have had an affair with President Trump, was targeted by QAnon followers. In June, a man with an AR-15 drove an armored vehicle onto the Hoover Dam and demanded that the government “Release the OIG report,” a key part of the QAnon theory that had, in fact, been made public earlier that week.
All of this is made infinitely easier by the willingness of YouTube — which has long been a hub of conspiracy theories — to not only host QAnon conspiracy videos, but regularly push them via its various algorithms to the top of search results.
This past weekend, for instance, QAnon decided that Tom Hanks was a member of the Deep State cabal and a pedophile. On Monday, the top search results for Tom Hanks on YouTube were related to QAnon accusations before the algorithm reverted it.
According to Buzzfeed News, the accusations against Hanks stem from a single, unverified tweet by Sarah Ruth Ashcraft, claiming that she was purchased by Hanks at 13 as a “dissociated #mindcontrol doll.” Ashcraft later boasted about how QAnon had helped her increase her Twitter following by 20,000.
Though the majority of voices promoting the conspiracy tend to be fringe or right-wing voices, conservative media figures like commentator Ben Shapiro have also retweeted official QAnon Twitter accounts in recent months. As ThinkProgress previously noted, in late July, Shapiro retweeted the Twitter account “Praying Medic,” one of the main QAnon promoters. The account had tweeted a baseless claim about former U.S. dignitaries retaining security clearances because they were members of the “Deep State.”
Shapiro has nearly 1.5 million followers, including GOP chair Ronna McDaniel, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz (TX), presidential adviser and first daughter Ivanka Trump, and President Trump’s two elder sons, Donald Jr. and Eric.