The conspiracy movement QAnon has been around for nearly four years, and it’s never been more popular. But QAnon influencers and their followers now appear to be disavowing the group, telling anyone who’ll listen that “there is no QAnon.”
At first glance, this might seem like members of QAnon are finally coming to their senses and realizing that former President Donald Trump will not return to power any minute to unmask a Satanic, child sex-trafficking ring run by liberal elites. But the reality is that surface-level QAnon disavowal is an effort by high-profile influencers to distance the conspiracy theory from the past few months of negative media coverage.
“After January 6, the QAnon brand was badly tarnished," the anonymous founder of the Q Origins Project, which seeks to document how the movement came about, told VICE News. He added that by "claiming that QAnon was never really a thing," believers were trying to get rid of their bad reputation.
But QAnon members seem to have forgotten that they’ve been referring to themselves both in name and ideology as “QAnon” for years, before the label became toxic.
The name “QAnon” has been used since the anonymous leader “Q” first appeared on the message board 4chan. “Q” was the poster, and the “anons” were the anonymous 4chan users who followed the posts. Since then, the name has been used to describe not just the person posting the cryptic messages but also the wider movement, which relies on followers’ interpretations of Q’s clues, something previously unseen in conspiracy movements.
“Over time ‘QAnon’ came to describe the movement as a whole, which is apt because the feedback loop between Q and the anons is one of the movement's most notable features,” the founder of the Q Origins Project tweeted earlier this week.
While there has been some reference to QAnon being a name concocted by the media in the past, there’s a reason that this week has seen a huge wave of “there is no QAnon” comments. The first two episodes of Cullen Hoback’s documentary “Q: Into The Storm,” debuted on HBO over the weekend.
“Qanon? Fail....bye bye Cullen, you've lost any respectability from the Anons before it even airs,” one Twitter user responded when the filmmaker tweeted to promote the show. Another Twitter user replied, “Even beginners know there is no QAnon.”
The idea within the QAnon movement that there is no such thing as QAnon originates from a post from Q, who wrote on October 17 of last year: “There is Q. There are Anons. There is no QAnon.” “Q” went on to say that QAnon was something made up by the mainstream media to tarnish the movement.
“Q” conveniently ignored the fact that past “Q Drops” had referred specifically to QAnon in posts in 2018 and 2019.
But in recent weeks, as Q has stopped posting, it appears that followers have had more time to trawl back through some of Q’s older writing, and have begun fixating on the October post.
Family members of QAnon believers have told VICE News that their loved ones are now telling them that QAnon doesn’t exist as a way to rebuff any arguments made against QAnon.
QAnon followers are also using the “there is no QAnon” line as a way of excusing high-profile figures who appear to have disavowed QAnon. For example, when Marjorie Taylor Greene kind-of-sort-of-not-really said she didn’t believe in QAnon, followers quickly claimed that she was speaking to them in code and only making the denial to appease her Republican colleagues.
In another instance, Michael Flynn, who is one of the most revered figures within the QAnon community, responded to a journalist’s question about QAnon by asking “What is that?” QAnon supporters said his response is exactly what a true believer would say.
When Lin Wood, the de facto QAnon king these days, publicly said he wasn’t involved in QAnon, he was applauded on the conspiracy movement’s internet forums. And when Tucker Carlson told the world he could find no evidence of QAnon on the internet, followers took it as tacit support of their cause.
But claiming that there is no such thing as QAnon completely ignores the fact that for years, those at the heart of the conspiracy theory used the term freely to describe the movement.
“Some of the earliest websites that compiled posts written by Q even had QAnon in their domain names—and some of the maintainers of those sites are now also claiming that there was never a QAnon despite evidence of them using the term for years,” Nick Backovic, a researcher with Logically, a fact-checking group that tracks QAnon, told VICE News.
QAnon influencers quickly latched onto the name within months of Q’s first post, using it to title their books, podcasts and highly popular YouTube videos.
In the latest edition of one popular QAnon book released in 2019, all references to QAnon have been removed, even in the book’s title.