Tesla CEO Elon Musk smiles as he addresses guests at the Offshore Northern Seas 2022 (ONS) meeting in Stavanger, Norway on August 29, 2022.(CARINA JOHANSEN/NTB/AFP via Getty Images)
Elon Musk has allowed QAnon accounts and content to flood back onto Twitter, where they’re spreading violent conspiracy theories and dangerous disinformation and promoting QAnon events. Musk has even provided some of the accounts with a verified blue check symbol.And this is likely just the beginning: Most of the 70,0000 QAnon linked accounts that were kicked off the platform in the wake of the Capitol riot are eagerly awaiting their return as part of Musk’s planned amnesty for banned accounts, which is expected to take effect some time this week.
The wholesale return to Twitter will once again give the QAnon movement a huge platform to recruit new believers into a conspiracy that has repeatedly shown itself to inspire violence, including multiple murders. One of the most prominent QAnon accounts on the platform right now is one being run by John Sabal, known to his followers as QAnon John. Sabal is running the account belonging to his company Patriot Voice, which organizes large QAnon-linked conferences that have featured sitting GOP lawmakers and well-known figures from MAGA world. Sabal’s account has received the blue check verification, which is obtained by subscribing to Twitter’s new $8-a-month subscription service.In recent days, Sabal has been using Twitter to promote his upcoming QAnon conference in Texas, which will feature Trumpworld figures like Rudy Giuliani and Kash Patel, who was chief of staff to the Acting Secretary of Defense during the Trump administration. Sabal has also been posting new “Q drops” direct from 8kun, which have been a mix of conspiracy theories about “a war on your DNA,” a promise from Q to hold a question and answer session with followers, and a cryptic message about prophets. Sabel’s also been pushing COVID-19 conspiracies and praising Musk for “banning pedophiles” after Twitter suspended a number of prominent anti-fascist accounts.
But Sabal is just one of many accounts that are now openly sharing QAnon memes, hashtags, and conspiracy theories on Twitter after Musk altered the platform’s policy to effectively allow users to post anything they want, as long as it doesn’t break U.S. law.Searching for well known QAnon hashtags, which until just weeks ago would have returned very few results, now returns a flood of content that openly supports the violent conspiracy movement that has been blamed for an increasing number of murders in recent years.Another account that was restored in recent days is an account belonging to Romana Didulo, the self-proclaimed QAnon Queen of Canada.
The return of QAnon-linked accounts comes just days after Musk ran a poll that asked users if banned accounts should be allowed back on the platform en masse, except for those who broke the law or engaged in “egregious” spam. An overwhelming 72% of respondents voted in favor of reinstating banned accounts (of course, those results might have been influenced by multiple threads on fringe message boards that called for users to spam Musk’s poll in order to achieve their desired result).
In January 2021, in the wake of the Capitol Riot, Twitter permanently deleted 70,000 QAnon accounts for sharing harmful content at scale. The ban, together with similar moves by Facebook and Instagram, was a significant blow to QAnon’s ability to capture new users, but the movement didn’t die—instead, it was relegated to less mainstream platforms like Gab, Telegram, and most recently Truth Social.Musk has already reinstated the most important QAnon account on Twitter when he allowed former President Donald Trump to return. The former president has not resumed tweeting, preferring instead to continue sharing QAnon memes on his own Truth Social platform.However, Trump has almost 90 million followers on Twitter and less than 5 million on Truth Social, and the appeal of a larger platform could prove too tempting for the former president. Allowing tens of thousands of QAnon accounts to return to Twitter could have a massive impact on the conspiracy movement’s ability to spread, and followers are very excited about the return. “Been on Twitter since Elon reinstated Trump,” one user wrote on a popular QAnon Telegram channel on Friday. “It is ripe for red pills, most influencers on Twitter put down this movement but don’t realize anons are breaking all the stories these days.”One of those excited for his return is Ron Watkins, the former administrator of 8kun, who helped facilitate the rise of QAnon—and who many believe was writing Q drops himself.“Congratulations President Trump on getting released from Twitter jail,” Watkins wrote on his Telegram channel last week. “I have also appealed my Twitter suspension and am waiting for a response.”Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.