The Thursday shooting at the Annapolis Capital Gazette that left five people dead has set off a whirlwind of conspiracy theories on the right-wing internet.
The leading strand of conspiracy theories focuses on the diamond-like symbols that 39-year-old shooting suspect Jarrod W. Ramos—who had a long-running grudge against the paper over a failed defamation lawsuit—edited onto photos of his enemies.
Ramos used a picture of one of his perceived enemies with the symbol edited onto his head as his own Twitter profile picture, prompting a number of conspiracy theorists to mistakenly believe that the picture showed Ramos himself with the diamond symbol.
One pro-Trump user tweeted that the symbol was proof that Ramos was being mind-controlled through the CIA’s MKUltra program, a series of mind-control experiments that were officially discontinued more than 40 years ago but continue to figure prominently among conspiracy theorists.
“The Jarrod guy has this symbol on his forehead,” reads the tweet, which has received more than 500 retweets. “They are activating their assets via [phone].”
In fact, the symbol is a “sacrificial” mark from the Japanese manga series Berserk. Ramos’s use of the symbol on social media would match an established interest in Japanese anime.
“He had a thing with Japanese animation,” said Zak Shirley, a lawyer who represented the Capital Gazette in the lawsuit. “He would quote from Japanese animation.”
Believers in QAnon—a complex conspiracy theory that’s growingly increasingly popular among Trump supporters—have also seized on the shooting. QAnon relies on message board posts made by an anonymous character dubbed “Q,” who quickly blamed the shooting on Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA).
“Low IQ Maxine should be blamed!” one post from “Q” read.
But “Q” quickly pivoted away from that idea, saying Ramos’s use of the diamond symbol was proof that he was under the sway of Freemasons.
“Weak minds. Use of symbolism to push strength and belonging to something powerful,” one post from Q reads. “Controlled.”
“Q” went on to claim that the shooting was part of an effort to ramp up “violent attacks” meant to frame Trump supporters on pro-Trump forums like websites like 4Chan for violence.
QAnon believers have become increasingly prominent at Trump rallies, wearing coordinated “Q” outfits and, in one case, receiving a VIP pass to get close to Trump. And now, thanks to Q’s focus on the symbol, they’re left to puzzle out the hidden meanings behind an anime.
But even before the suspect’s name was released, pro-Trump media figures were suggesting that the shooting was meant to distract from news events that showed Trump in a positive light. Right-wing provocateur Laura Loomer, for example, hinted at some greater meaning behind the timing of the shooting.
“The shooting in #Annapolis is changing the news cycle,” Loomer wrote in a now-deleted tweet. “Now nobody is going to talk about Maxine Waters or the FBI/ Rosenstein testimony that occurred on Capitol Hill today. How convenient for the Democrats.”
“Civil war is here,” Loomer added in a later tweet.