On paper, Thursday was a bad day for followers of the far-right conspiracy theory QAnon. A newly revealed FBI report warned that the theory’s followers presented a heightened risk for terrorism. Multiple popular predictions by QAnon followers also failed to materialize.
But for hardcore Q followers, the rough week won’t shake their faith.
The FBI memo, which was published in late May and first reported by Yahoo News, warned of the theory’s likelihood to “spread and evolve in the modern information marketplace.” So far, the warning has proven true. Despite a series of violent QAnon-inspired incidents and failed Q prophecies, movement followers still say they see nothing wrong with it, and even suggest that the FBI report is part of a conspiracy against them.
The memo names QAnon supporters, alongside followers of other fringe political conspiracy theories like Pizzagate, as being likely to carry out extremist acts in the name of their beliefs.
“One key assumption driving these assessments is that certain conspiracy theory narratives tacitly support or legitimize violent action,” the memo reads. “The FBI also assumes, but not all individuals or domestic extremists who hold such beliefs will act on them. The FBI assess these conspiracy theories very likely will emerge, spread, and evolve in the modern information marketplace, occasionally driving both groups and individual extremists to carry out criminal or violent acts.”
QAnon followers believe President Trump’s opponents are involved in a vast conspiracy of Satanic child sex-trafficking and cannibalism, and that Q, an anonymous poster on the forum 8chan, is actually a high-level military operative feeding them information on mass arrests that are totally coming this time around. The movement has been suspending its disbelief for nearly two years of unfulfilled promises of purges and revolutions.
They saved plenty of skepticism for the very real FBI memo. Maybe the FBI report was fake, a prominent Q peddler suggested on Twitter. (When asked about the memo, the FBI told Yahoo it “routinely shares information with our law enforcement partners.”)
Other Q followers on Twitter accused FBI Director Christopher Wray of acting against Trump, and suggested that he needed to be fired. A third set suggested the memo was actually good. This crowd claimed the memo was an elaborate ruse to trick the media into asking Trump about QAnon. (For reasons not entirely clear, many QAnon supporters believe that Trump supports QAnon but won’t speak openly about it unless asked by a reporter.)
But QAnon followers have stuck with their conspiracy theory through other rough patches. The theory’s followers have gone on to commit violence, including a follower who led an armed standoff at the Hoover Dam last summer, inspired by his frustration that one of Q’s clues never materialized. Months later, a vlogger who made QAnon videos was arrested for allegedly threatening a massacre at YouTube, which he believed was censoring him. In January, a Q believer allegedly murdered his brother with a sword over a conspiratorial idea. Leaders of multiple heavily armed groups on the southern border were led by QAnon believers, who were later arrested for various counts of trespassing and weapons violations. A man accused of murdering a New York mob boss scribbled a Q on his hand in court and claimed to have been motivated by his belief in the conspiracy theory.
Despite those incidents, major figures in Trump World have still flirted with the conspiracy theory. “Now do #ANTIFA,” Donald Trump Jr. tweeted after the FBI memo was revealed, in reference to the anti-fascist movement. (In fact, federal agencies have already released memos about anti-fascists, some of them based on right-wing hoaxes, The Daily Beast previously reported. Figures on the right are currently trying to have the FBI classify the anti-fascist movement as a domestic terror group, something it cannot do because anti-fascism is not a group, and the FBI makes no such domestic classifications. The same holds true for QAnon believers.)
At Trump’s rally in Cincinnati hours after the memo was revealed, warm-up speaker Brandon Straka invoked one of the movement’s slogans. The crowd around him was full of Q shirts and signs.