In May of 2019, the FBI for the firs time identified fringe conspiracy theories like QAnon as a domestic terrorist threat. Exclusive: FBI document warns conspiracy theories are a new domestic terrorism threat:
The FBI intelligence bulletin from the bureau’s Phoenix field office, dated May 30, 2019, describes “conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists,” as a growing threat, and notes that it is the first such report to do so. It lists a number of arrests, including some that haven’t been publicized, related to violent incidents motivated by fringe beliefs.
The document specifically mentions QAnon, a shadowy network that believes in a deep state conspiracy against President Trump, and Pizzagate, the theory that a pedophile ring including Clinton associates was being run out of the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant (which didn’t actually have a basement).
“The FBI assesses 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,” the document states.
QAnon cult followers were out in force during the seditious insurrection at the Capitol on January 6. FBI investigation of Capitol riot focuses on far-right groups:
The Associated Press reviewed public records for more than 120 people identified at the insurrection and found that they included GOP donors, members of far-right militia, and supporters of the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory. ProPublica archived more than 500 videos taken Jan. 6 that show people in and around the Capitol wearing Trump apparel, carrying Confederate flags and sporting the symbols of QAnon. Specific individuals held up as antifa activists have turned out to be Trump supporters or QAnon enthusiasts.
ABC News reports, QAnon emerges as recurring theme of criminal cases tied to US Capitol siege:
An abiding sense of loyalty to the fringe online conspiracy movement known as QAnon is emerging as a common thread among scores of the men and women from around the country arrested for their participation in the deadly U.S. Capitol insurrection, court records reveal.
Among them is Douglas Jensen, the bearded man seen in a viral video wearing a distinctive “Q” T-shirt, menacing a lone black U.S. Capitol Police officer as he led rioters through the halls and pushed the mob deeper into the Capitol building. Jensen later told investigators that he “intentionally positioned himself” toward the front of the mob so his T-shirt would be visible to cameras and “Q” could “get the credit,” according to an FBI affidavit.
Cleveland Meredith Jr., who the government also believed to be a supporter of QAnon theories, allegedly posted online about his desire to execute House Speaker Nancy Pelosi by “putting a bullet in her noggin on Live TV,” according to court records. He went to Washington, D.C., armed with multiple firearms and more than 2,500 rounds of ammunition in his possession, according to prosecutors. He was late to the rally because his car broke down.
At least three more individuals charged on Tuesday are believed to be supporters of the QAnon theory, according to new FBI records.
The high profile of QAnon adherents in the Capitol riots represents what experts describe as a stunning evolution from a harmless fringe forum for people peddling outlandish conspiracies to a gathering space for those intent on plotting domestic terror — and the transformation could present a vexing new challenge for law enforcement.
“We don’t have a good predictor of where it’s going to go,” said Mary McCord, a former federal prosecutor and expert in homegrown terror groups who called it “extremely troublesome” to see some elected officials fanning the flames of twisted QAnon theories.
“You actually have elected members of Congress who, at best, are not condemning Q, and at worst are actually espousing some of the crazy conspiracy theories — dangerous conspiracy theories,” McCord said.
And Republicans in the Arizona state legislature, as well.
“Following the November 3, 2020 election, many QAnon adherents began pushing false and discredited theories of massive voter fraud and that the 2020 election had been ‘stolen’ from President Trump,” the Department of Justice warned in a new affidavit on Tuesday.
On Jan. 6, the influence of QAnon on rioters was evident in the mountain of social media videos and photos depicting their raid on the Capitol complex. Several rioters were seen wearing “Q” clothing, and chanting slogans tied to the movement. In a Jan. 13 bulletin prepared by the FBI for law enforcement partners, federal agents reported that “symbols associated with QAnon conspiracy theories” were widely displayed by rioters.
In charging documents, federal prosecutors have noted the apparent influence of QAnon among several participants accused of threatening violence during the siege.
Jacob Chansley, the horned helmet-wearing rioter who was one of the most widely recognized from the incident, is also believed to be a supporter of QAnon theories. [He calls himself the Q Shaman.]
“Chansley is an active participant in — and has made himself the most prominent symbol of — a violent insurrection that attempted to overthrow the United States Government on January 6, 2021,” government prosecutors said, using some of its bluntest words yet to describe the riot.
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QAnon, which first surfaced in 2017, rests on the baseless theory that Trump is fighting against a global network of billionaire pedophiles, devil-worshipping Democrats and baby-eating Hollywood stars and their “deep state” counterparts embedded in the U.S. federal government’s sprawling bureaucracy. A growing group of followers consumed and contributed to the false narratives first on the freewheeling social media site known as 4chan, then on other social media sites, fueled by what they thought were cues from “Q,” a secret intelligence official they believed was leaving clues about government corruption. It is not clear if “Q” even exists.
Many of the claims are dark and outlandish, and for years adherents to the theory were considered mostly fringe and not a significant threat. They had “keyboard bravado,” as one FBI special agent said last week, and were confined to the darkest corners of the web.
But recently, numerous violent incidents have been linked to people who support QAnon theories, and recent polling suggests that the conspiracy theories are reaching wider audiences than previously thought. For example, more than one in three Americans believe a so-called “deep state” is working to undermine Trump — another unfounded conspiracy commonly peddled by QAnon users — according to an NPR/Ipsos poll conducted in December.
For law enforcement officials seeking to prevent future violent attacks, the rise of QAnon is presenting fresh challenges … “We have to separate the aspirational from the intentional and determine which of the individuals saying despicable things on the internet are just practicing keyboard bravado, or they actually have the intent to do harm,” said FBI agent-in-charge Steven D’Antuono during a press briefing last week.
In the wake of the Capitol attack, the FBI prepared a document meant to assist law enforcement partners in identifying QAnon “indicators” online, defining phrases and hashtags used by its followers.
In a separate bulletin distributed to law enforcement partners on Jan. 13, the FBI warned that conspiracy-minded followers of QAnon may feel emboldened after the perceived “success” of the Capitol assault.
“Some [domestic violent extremists] view the 6 January event as a success, in conjunction with the potential to exploit follow-on lawful gatherings and ideological drivers — including conspiracy theories, such as QAnon — likely will also inspire some [domestic violent extremists] and others to engage in more sporadic, lone actor or small cell violence,” the bulletin warned.
The Washington Post reported Monday that the FBI privately warned its partner agencies that QAnon adherents have discussed returning to Washington for Joe Biden’s swearing-in, posing as National Guard troops. QAnon adherents discussed posing as Guardsmen to try to infiltrate inauguration, FBI intelligence briefing says.
That didn’t happen. Instead, these head cases held a virtual Inauguration party. Huffington Post reports, ‘It’s Over’: Devastated QAnon Believers Grapple With President Joe Biden’s Inauguration:
Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday marks not only the historic beginning of a new presidency, but also, for countless Americans, the devastating end of a yearslong grift.
For believers of QAnon, the far-right conspiracy theory that holds Donald Trump as a deity-like figure secretly battling a “deep state” cabal of pedophiles who control the government, things weren’t supposed to go down this way. Month after month, year after year, they had been told by “Q,” the group’s shadowy online leader, and Q’s army of social media influencers, that a symbolic “storm” was coming. The mythology held that on Wednesday, at long last, the Bidens, Obamas and Clintons would be rounded up and executed for child sex trafficking, treason and other crimes. Trump, having finally conquered evil, would remain in power.
This was the moment they had desperately been waiting for.
Inside digital safe havens for far-right extremists, such as Gab and Telegram, massive QAnon groups turned into virtual watch parties reacting to Wednesday’s ceremony in real time. As the event began, members could hardly contain their joy — or their desire for bloodshed.
“WELCOME TO THE GRAND FINALE!!!” someone cheered in a 185,000-member Gab group. “Anyone else wanna puke with excitement?!?!?!” another person asked amid a rapid stream of messages coursing through a 34,000-member Telegram channel. Others salivated over the idea of decapitations and sexual violence against prominent Democrats. Several messages were too grotesque to publish.
By 11:45 a.m., though, as Kamala Harris took her vice presidential oath of office, the crowds grew anxious.
“Well this popcorn just got cold,” one QAnon supporter wrote. “When do the arrests start??” another questioned. Still, they continued clinging to hope while counting down the minutes until their long-awaited “great awakening.”
But as noon arrived, and a grinning Biden placed his hand on a Bible to be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, reality came crashing down.
“I can’t stop crying. Fuck. Why?” one person pleaded. “It’s over,” another conceded. Some wondered how they could possibly mend their broken relationships with the loved ones they’d pushed away over their obsessions with Q.
Like a flipped switch, the attitude inside online QAnon communities shifted from glee to shock and misery: “NOTHING FUCKING HAPPENED!!!”; “So now we have proof Q was total bullshit”; “I feel sick, disgusted and disappointed”; “Have we been duped???”; “You played us all”; “HOW COULD WE BELIEVE THIS FOR SO LONG? ARE WE ALL IDIOTS?”
Answer: Yes, yes you are, you are all fucking idiots.
Meanwhile, several QAnon loyalists performed medal-worthy mental gymnastics to keep their delusion alive. A few suggested that the video of Biden becoming president was a deepfake and that he was actually locked away behind bars as it played across the nation. Others posited that Biden himself had in fact been working with Trump to dismantle the deep state all along, and would be the one to sic the military on the supposed traitors. Many simply pleaded with each other to stay patient: “Q wouldn’t do this to us. He wouldn’t let us down. Don’t lose hope.”
Ron Watkins, the former administrator of 8kun — a platform that has long been vital to Q’s communication with believers — also pulled the plug: “We gave it our all,” he told his nearly 120,000 Telegram subscribers. “Now we need to keep our chins up and go back to our lives as best we are able.”
Looks like a frustrated 8kun moderator just nuked the /qresearch/ boards and posted a message trolling Jim Watkins:
— Jesselyn Cook (@JessReports) January 20, 2021
Even Joe M, one of the earliest and most widely known Q backers, had hinted days ago that QAnon could be a ruse: “Next week, either Q turns out to be an elaborate
well-intentioned hoax … or we are all about to watch the Red Sea part and the unfolding of a new biblical-level chapter in human civilization,” he wrote on Jan. 16. But on Wednesday afternoon, he wasn’t ready to accept defeat: “My faith is not in Q, or ‘The Plan’. My faith is in red-blooded, proud and tenacious Americans and everything they have always stood for,” he assured the tens of thousands of users in his Telegram channel. “No matter how dark today may feel, that faith is unbreakable.”
To be sure, this isn’t the end of QAnon or the immense damage it has inflicted on this country. The movement, which the FBI considers to be a domestic terrorist threat, has already evolved and regrouped to string its members along time and time again, and it has planted deep roots in an array of other communities: yoga lovers, church groups, school classrooms, anti-vax networks — the list goes on.
As I’ve explained before, some of these unhinged nuts have already turned QAnon into an apocalyptic cult religion. Candida Moss writes, How a New Religion Could Rise From the Ashes of QAnon.
QAnon’s mass radicalization of Americans is part of Trump’s legacy. Addressing it will likely be one of the Biden administration’s greatest challenges.
It’s unclear where the conspiracy theory goes from here; many ardent supporters are vowing to keep marching forward, undeterred. For today, though, the group is at a loss.
“WE’VE BEEN SCAMMED INTO BELIEVING Q!!!” a Telegram user declared.
As I’ve said before, conspiracy theories never die. When they are disproved, the conspiracy theorists just concoct a new conspiracy theory to explain away why they were so wrong. Paul Waldman of the Washington Post makes ths point. QAnon is mortally wounded. But the right’s conspiracy theories will never die.
The good news is that the Biden administration is promising to crack down on these domestic terrorists. Avril Haines, Joe Biden’s newly-confirmed director of national intelligence, told Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) that she would provide him with a public assessment of the threat from QAnon, which Heinrich requested last month in a letter. See, Biden’s Intelligence Pick Pledges Threat Assessment on QAnon: “I’ve seen that letter and absolutely, if confirmed, I would work with the FBI and DHS to get an answer to that question,” said Haines.
Speaking to the veteran presence at the Capitol insurrection, Biden’s nominee for secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin, pledged on Tuesday to “rid our ranks of racists and extremists” at his own confirmation. Lloyd Austin, Biden’s nominee to lead Pentagon, vows to take on extremism in the military.
Biden’s nominee to run the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, told a different Senate panel that he intends to use the secretary’s current powers against white supremacist terrorism.
In addition, Biden has tapped a distinguished veteran of the War on Terror — Russ Travers who spent four decades in the intelligence and security apparatus, rising to become acting head of the National Counterterrorism Center — to confront a much different threat from far-right terrorists. Biden Taps a War on Terror Veteran to Stop White Supremacists.