‘QAnon’ posts at message boards, wildly popular with far right, sprout huge web of fantastic theories about Trump, an imminent ‘Deep State countercoup,’ and arrests aimed at liberals’ supposed ‘pedophilia ring.’
In an online universe where conspiracy theories not only sprout like kudzu but attract bigger audiences the more outrageous and strange they grow, it was probably inevitable that an uber-theory like “The Storm” would become an overnight sensation.
Part “Pizzagate,” part New World Order, and part hyper-partisan wishful thinking by defenders of Donald Trump, “the Storm” is a sprawling meta-conspiracy, with actors ranging from Hillary Clinton to model Christy Teigen, in which everything you know about the current investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and potential collusion with the Trump campaign is upside down.
Special counsel Robert Mueller, in this alternative universe, is in fact preparing to indict hundreds of Democrats (including Clinton, Barack Obama, and financier George Soros) and Hollywood celebrities for their roles in a massive worldwide pedophilia ring, operated by “globalists” who are conspiring to destroy Trump — and that the president himself is himself masterminding this “countercoup.”
“What we have come up with is a possible coup,” explained conspiracy theorist David Zublick in a late-November video, “not against Donald Trump, but by Donald Trump, working with Robert Mueller to bring down the Clintons, the Democrat Party, and the entire U.S. government involved in pedophilia and child sex trafficking.”
In just a few short weeks, the theory has grown from a handful of posts on fringe Internet chat forums to become the overwhelming obsession of nearly every conspiracy theorist in the business, notably Alex Jones and his Infowars operation, as well as social-media figures such as Liz Crokin. In addition to being a constant focus of discussion on Infowars, dozens of YouTube videos and thousands of Twitter posts exploring various facets of the conspiracy, and presenting the usual dubious “evidence” to “prove” it, have shown up on the Internet.
The origins of “The Storm” lie in Trump’s cryptic remarks on October 6, saying that a gathering of military leaders represented “the calm before the storm.” When asked what he meant, Trump responded: “You’ll see.”
Three weeks later, as New York Magazine’s Paris Martineau reported, an anonymous poster at the Internet message board 4chan — one of the main organizing and recruitment forums for the alt-right — who claimed he had high-level “Q” national-security clearance began publishing a series of cryptic messages that he claimed were “intel drops” intended to start informing the public through such channels about what was really happening inside the White House, and what Trump really meant by his odd remarks.
According to “QAnon,” Trump’s remark was a reference to the indictments handed down by Mueller in late October, ostensibly related to his investigation of the Trump campaign and its alleged collusion with Russian intelligence. Most news reports about those indictments, reported to number in the hundreds, presumed that they were related to criminal behavior around the campaign.
Not so, said “QAnon,” who claimed that Trump was never really under investigation. Instead, those indictments were all being directed at a massive conspiracy involving a global pedophilia ring operated by high-level Democrats and other “globalists” who were simultaneously part of a plot to overthrow Trump’s presidency with a “deep state” coup.
This is the same pedophilia ring that was the focus of the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory that excited much of the far right in the months after the 2016 election. The conspiracists, including Jones, claimed that Clinton campaign adviser John Podesta’s emails, stolen by hackers during the campaign and published on Wikileaks, revealed that he, Clinton, and a host of others were part of a pedophilia ring operating out of a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor.
However, in the new expanded version of the theory, the pedophilia ring has gone global, drawing in alleged participants from all around the nation, and occurring in locations ranging from Hollywood to Europe. (One version of the pedophilia theory entertained by Jones claimed that the child victims were being secretly shipped to a colony on Mars.)
“QAnon” and the conspiracy theorists who piled on at 4chan, 8chan, and on Twitter claimed that contrary to the running story in mainstream media, this pedophilia ring is the real focus of Mueller’s investigation. The general conclusion, spread through the #qanon hashtag on social media, was that a wave of arrests – including Clinton, Obama, Podesta, Soros, Sen. John McCain, and a number of leading Hollywood figures and Democrats was about to happen.
As Martineau pointed out, however, there has been a credibility problem for “QAnon” early on, since he posted in early November a scenario in which hundreds of arrests, and massive social turmoil, were about to be unleashed within a matter of days. “Rest assured, the safety and well-being of every man, woman, and child of this country is being exhausted in full,” he wrote. “However, the atmosphere within the country will unfortunately be divided as so many have fallen for the corrupt and evil narrative that has long been broadcast. We will be initiating the Emergency Broadcast System (EMS) during this time in an effort to provide a direct message (avoiding the fake news) to all citizens.”
November came and went, of course, without any such event. But that hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm among QAnon’s horde of fans.
These apparently include a significant portion of radical-right social-media users, as indicated by the SPLC’s Hate Tracker, which monitors the spread of extremist ideologies and claims on Twitter. The #qanon hashtag began trending in late November, and steadily grew over the ensuing weeks. By early January, it began regularly trending upward.
“The Storm” reflects in many regards the need for right-wing conspiracists to constantly “push the envelope” of public discourse by proposing increasingly outrageous and arcane theories just to distinguish themselves in an increasingly crowded field, especially on social media and YouTube. People who run such conspiracy mills, particularly Jones, have built their careers around attracting attention by pushing increasingly insane and groundless claims.
However, the #qanon phenomenon also suggests that the spread of conspiracy theories is being inflamed to the point of hypertrophy, largely through the growth of social media as a presence in people’s daily lives. The surprising rapidity at which “The Storm” has spread is testament to the extent to which such claims gain real life and become widely believed.
The hashtag’s rise on social media in late December, probably not coincidentally, happened at about the time that Jones adopted the “QAnon” theories and claimed them as his own: “A lot of what QAnon has said, I had already gotten separately from my White House sources, my Pentagon sources, my CIA sources,” he told his audience on Dec. 24.
He went on:
We are seeing a slick countercoup to the globalists that they are calling a coup, because the criminals that have hijacked the country, and all their little minions that have bet on it, were wrong. They failed. …
They’re calling it a coup because it’s justice. It’s the crimes they’ve committed – the Uranium One, the pedophilia, the money laundering, all of it, and the executive order Trump signed to seize money connected to trafficking in people, women and children and slaves, and money connected to drug dealing, and all of the stuff … and they’re all having to step down right now, and that’s just the beginning.
So ‘The Storm’ is real. That’s our storm of justice and resistance and standing up.
Infowars correspondent Jerome Corsi — the longtime conspiracy maven responsible for many of the nonsensical claims about Obama’s birth certificate, as well as a host of other similarly flimsy theories — chimed in shortly with an “intelligence analysis” of QAnon’s posts, from which he concluded that the anonymous poster was “legitimate,” that is, someone genuinely working from within the White House with real knowledge of inside information.
“The Storm is upon us,” Corsi told an interviewer, continuing:
2018 will be the year of the counterattack that Donald Trump is going to wage against the deep state. This is going to be a battle of enormous proportions which will determine whether or not the American republic as a constitutional republic sustains or does not. Depending upon Donald Trump’s success or failure, we will have a coup d’etat which will replace the Constitution with a globalist, socialist state.
This is a battle of classic heroic proportions, which is going to be waged on the intelligence front and the average American person would be unaware of it had there not been an entity like QAnon who had come forward from a knowledgeable position to start dropping the clues, the breadcrumbs, as he says, that will lead people to the research they need to do and the understanding they need to achieve to see how our intelligence agencies, our justice system, the FBI have been corrupted and how dangerous this is. The republic is hanging by a thread and it’s now going to be Donald Trump’s unique opportunity to save it and I don’t think there is anybody better that I can think of in the political landscape to be on the scene than Donald Trump.
Sprinkled in and subsumed under the rubric of the “Storm” theories were a number of strangely associated theories, such as one positing that the Las Vegas shooter was actually an inside job carried out by Saudi-sponsored “false flag” terrorists, or another claiming that the dossier compiled by a British intelligence agent on the Russian activity was a complete fabrication bought and paid for by Obama and Clinton. Within the 4chan and 8chan communities, a debate arose over whether children were being raped as part of a Satanic conspiracy, or a CIA blackmail scheme.
In many regards, however, the “Trump countercoup” component of “The Storm” is almost secondary to the overarching conspiracy theory that has been fueling much of the passion and animus accompanying its spread on social media — namely, the uber-“Pizzagate” belief that there is a massive conspiracy afoot in America to abduct, rape, and murder hundreds, perhaps thousands of children to satiate the appetites of a satanic cabal operating at the highest levels of government.
Jones described the evil nature of this cabal to his audience in December:
They literally created an army of people they can control who wanted to have sex with children and be evil, and who they could destroy at any time. And what’s even sicker is the people above that aren’t even into raping kids. They just want to kill kids. The lesser vampires just want to feed off their energy and rape them. These people want to kill them.
Then there’s Liz Crokin, the onetime gossip columnist turned “investigative reporter” who writes for TownHall.com and has a large following on social media, in large part to her long-running claims that pedophilia is rampant in America. She not only believes that “QAnon” is a legitimate inside information source, but that it actually is Trump himself, perhaps with the help of key aide Stephen Miller.
She told an interviewer earlier this month that she thinks the president and his team have been doing “intel drops” at 4chan and 8chan and on social media as a way of “red-pilling” members of the public to soften the inevitable shock that will accompany the wave of arrests that’s coming:
Now, I believe Q is President Trump, working possibly with Stephen Miller, to drop this information behind the scenes to get a campaign going, to red-pill people as to what is going on with The Storm, and their takedown of the Deep State, which includes the Deep State pedophile scene. I’ve been telling people for a very long time the stuff that goes on with these elitists, these occult elitists, who literally are raping, sacrificing children, drinking blood, like eating babies literally. It’s too hard for an average person that has no idea that any of this is going on to take it in all at once.
So there’s been a very orchestrated effort behind the scenes by President Trump and his administration to slowly wake up the public as to what, that A), this goes on, that it’s real, and B), that they’re taking down these people. When there are mass arrests, and there are names like Hillary Clinton that pop up, or thrown in prison for sex trafficking, there’s not mass hysteria. People will realize, ‘Oh my gosh, maybe this is real,’ or like, this isn’t just some kind of coup or whatever, this is real and this is really going on.
Crokin has been nothing if not indiscriminate in accusing people of participating in the pedophilia conspiracy, notably including well-known entertainment figures. In late December, she tangled on Twitter with supermodel Christy Teigen and her husband, the Grammy-winning singer John Legend, claiming that pictures she ran of her children indicated they were participants in the Pizzagate ring.
When Teigen responded with a tweet indicating she was “disturbed” by Crokin’s accusation. "Chrissy you run in circle with people who rape, torture & traffic kids. This is a fact, I expose sex trafficking for a living," responded Crokin.
Teigen replied angrily: "YOU POSTED MY DAUGHTER AND HAVE 50,000 PEOPLE ACCUSING ME OF BEING IN A PEDO RING. I don't care HOW you backtrack or WHAT you deleted. I have it ALL. I'm the last person you are f***ing with. You are DONE with me and my family. You are going to court."
Legend chimed in: "You need to take my family's name out of your mouth before you get sued."
Beyond baselessly smearing innocent people with outrageous claims of the vilest nature, the pedophilia-ring conspiracy theories have proven to have a singularly toxic effect ever since they began circulating. The “Pizzagate” theories produced an incident in December 2016 in which a gunman entered the chief pizza restaurant suspected by the conspiracists of indulging in child sex trafficking and threatened partons inside by firing off a round. More recently, an alt-right activist in western Washington named Lane Davis allegedly murdered his father because he was agitated over his beliefs that liberals knowingly participate in the pedophilia ring.
Incidents such as these, however, seem done little to dampen the wild imaginings of the conspiracy theorists promoting these beliefs.