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16 October 2020 22:38

Still, QAnon accounts are appearing prominently on Twitter and their conspiracy theories are reaching the president.

In QAnon-linked US candidates, populism meets conspiracy

The most basic QAnon belief casts President Trump as the hero in a fight against the "deep state" and a sinister cabal of Democratic politicians and celebrities who abuse children. Since there's no leadership or structure to QAnon, its supporters incorporate existing conspiracy theories and develop new ones. That's when he began listening to conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and reading Infowars, which exposed him to QAnon theories for the first time. "There'd be a lot of Youtube and Reddit mini-celebrities within the community that would be like the anointed decrypter for that point in time," Jadeja noted. I was probably in a deep depression I think when I found Q." Jitarth Jadeja, former QAnon follower [S]uch shouting, irrational, you sound like the homeless guy on the street yelling about Judgment Day," Jadeja said.

"I think superficially it did seem like [QAnon] gave me comfort," Jadeja said. "I think we tend to underestimate the extent to which these sorts of narratives are appealing," Alethea Group's Otis said, "especially when we're in a time of great stress and emotions are high." View, the conspiracy theory researcher, said QAnon preys on vulnerable people who in some cases might be suffering from mental health issues. "I think it's a mistake to say that QAnon is a conspiracy theory, because this kind of makes it sound like Area 51 or Big Foot," he said. In a May 2019 bulletin, the FBI warned that conspiracy theories like QAnon could "very likely" motivate criminal and sometimes violent activity in the US especially because of the reach and volume of conspiratorial content available online. QAnon theories often start out on fringe internet forums like 8kun and 4chan, according to Alethea Group's Kaplan.

"It becomes especially dangerous once these conspiracies go on to platforms like Twitter and Facebook, because it increases the breadth of the reach that these false conspiracies have," she said. After two years in the world of QAnon, Jadeja said, cracks began to form in his conviction. On top of that, Jadeja said, he was noticing more logical inconsistencies in QAnon's theories. It went like this: A QAnon follower had supposedly asked Q to tell President Trump to use the phrase "tip top" in a speech. Another Reddit community called QAnonCasualties functions as a support group for friends and family members of QAnon believers.

Looking back, Jadeja said, he doesn't think there isn't a single relationship in his life that wasn't affected by his time believing in QAnon. Jadeja thinks it's possible more QAnon believers can follow his path out. That's why, he said, he decided to share his story — in the hope that other believers might see that there is life after QAnon and reevaluate their choice to support it. In a batch of QAnon-linked Republican congressional candidates on ballots across the US this general election season, experts see the product of increased polarisation and a new form of conservatism fostered by the conspiracy-theory friendly President Donald Trump. The web of convoluted conspiracies known as QAnon, which began in 2017 when a shadowy figure known as Q began posting fringe ideas and breadcrumb narratives on sites like 4chan, has gone increasingly viral, although its support offline has been harder to quantify.

Trump, for his part, said in August of QAnon supporters: "I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate." Supporters of US President Donald Trump and a woman wearing a shirt supporting the QAnon conspiracy movement cheer the president in Ypsilanti, Michigan in May [Leah Millis/Reuters] In QAnon, Brian Levin, the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University San Bernardino (CSUSB), told Al Jazeera, you have "the visceral appeal of an anti-elite message that is elastic enough to capture a lot of folks who feel fear and disenfranchisement from the current political system". For QAnon believers "Q+" is President Trump. And that's exactly what conspiracy theories like QAnon address." In August, after winning the primary, Greene sought to distance herself from QAnon in an interview with Fox News, saying the conspiracy theory was not "part of my campaign" and something she has not "talked about for quite a long time now". Her campaign has said she does not support conspiracy theories. "I think the problem with this has been the lack of leadership in the Republican Party, with respect to really using all the means that they have to eliminate conspiracy theories and bigotry from their discourse," said Levin. More than 1 in 50 tweets about voting in the 2020 elections in August and September were posted by QAnon accounts, according to research released Friday by Advance Democracy, a nonpartisan nonprofit. The research also found that 2 in every 25 tweets using the hashtag #voterfraud originated from QAnon accounts, a sign of how ubiquitous the conspiracy theory has become on Twitter, one of the last remaining major social media platforms to allow QAnon content. QAnon is a conspiracy theory that falsely claims the world is run by a secret cabal of child-eating Democrats and Hollywood celebrities who worship Satan, and that President Donald Trump is fighting a secret war to stop them. Some QAnon believers have recently begun joining local armed militant groups, and one of the 13 men who plotted to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer posted about his belief in the conspiracy theory. "The fact that one in 50 tweets about voting in the 2020 elections are coming from QAnon accounts illustrates just how far social media companies still need to go to combat this dangerous conspiracy theory," said Daniel J. 30, two months after Twitter said it would take steps to limit the reach of QAnon accounts on its platform. Still, QAnon accounts are appearing prominently on Twitter and their conspiracy theories are reaching the president. Advance Democracy said that at least 100,000 accounts on Twitter with QAnon-related terms in their bios remain on the platform. "It's important that Facebook and Twitter have taken action to curb the spread of conspiracy groups like QAnon that are promoting disinformation--and, in some cases, violence--on their platforms," Jones said.