Roseanne Barr’s recent career-ending tweetstorm didn't just lead to her eponymous sitcom being cancelled, it demonstrated what the ugliest side of the right-wing internet looks like. As the New York Times reported at the time, Barr's tweets weren't just racist, they occasionally delved into into the widening black hole of insane conspiracy theories known as QAnon.
Who or what is QAnon? Just asking that question sucks you into a world that's like Pizzagate on bath salts, a galaxy-brained, 4chan-bred conspiracy theory that has apparently convinced an alarming number of adults that all kinds of preposterous things are true.
The whole mess started on October 28, when an anonymous user going by the handle “Q” started a thread on 4chan’s /pol board titled “The Calm Before the Storm.” In a series of posts, Q claimed to be a high-level government employee with Department of Energy Q clearance and access to Top Secret–level information about Donald Trump, the Democrats, and the hidden big-picture machinations of the US government.
Wielding the plausible-enough-sounding details and sprawling shadow government plot of a lesser Dan Brown novel, Q began slowly painting a picture of a reality far different from the one we live in. The resulting QAnon conspiracy theory states that Trump is not under investigation by Robert Mueller. Instead, Trump is merely playing the part of hapless conspiratorial criminal while covertly helping the special counsel pursue their true quarry: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Podesta, and all the other liberal boogeymen. (It gets a LOT crazier than that, but that's the core plot.)
All of this was spelled out through cryptic hints, which seems to be half the fun for people who get into it. Before long, there were countless YouTube channels, subreddits, and message boards dedicated to collectively piecing his hints together with digital red string. One QAnon-based subreddit has more than 31,000 subscribers. On YouTube, QAnon-themed videos can have tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of views. It's even bled out into the real world, with conspiracy theorists claiming they had found pedophile camps in the Arizona desert. So this nonsense isn't likely to go away any time soon.
To sort out what this web of spurious claims consists of—and to help you identify when someone is dipping their toes into it—here's a guide to the conspiracy.
Not wishing to divulge too much information and risk potential exposure, Q drip-feeds their followers with info dumps called “breadcrumbs” so that, just like Hansel and Gretel, these theorists can be led out of the forest of fake news. The very existence of these crumbs raises questions about why someone purporting to wage a righteous and successful campaign against evil would leak anything, let alone easily crackable clues that could compromise their anonymity or the overall mission, but that line of reasoning doesn’t seem to be a concern for QAnon’s acolytes.
As followers of Q’s breadcrumb trail, QAnon believers refer to themselves as bakers, conveying both their commitment to the cause and a fundamental misunderstanding of how bakeries work.
Dough is the sum total of all the leads, answers, and concrete info gleaned from previously collected and analyzed crumbs dropped by Q. Bakers “bake” this dough by creating new threads online that puzzle out the most recent crumb drops. Some bakers, clearly not catching on to the Hansel and Gretel symbolism, have been known to refer to this dough as “batter.”
Sometimes Q likes to play pretend as Mr. Robot and drops crumbs presented like a bunch of Alex Jones cue cards or unintuitive file names. These are called "stringers" and with each new post Q sends his followers on goose chases to find the greater meanings.
Two real stringer examples:
What happened @ these hotels?
This phrase stems from a cryptic October 8 musing from President Trump while he was surrounded by military brass at a photo opp. Trump opined that the relatively uneventful moment was “the calm before the storm.” This, of course, prompted the journos on hand to press the president about what that meant. He offered no further explanation other than an equally cryptic “you’ll find out.”
While Trump, a known bullshitter, was clearly just pulling generic vaguely-intimidating phrases from his ass to sound cool, this moment resonated with Q, clearly inspiring his initial /pol post a couple of weeks later.
Bakers have since come to regard the Storm as the overarching heroic operation being carried out by Trump et al to take down the deep state villains, liberal pedophile rings, and all the money-loving globalists/Jews working behind the scenes to oppress the hapless average American.
Bakers find proof of the Storm’s effects and validity with every news article where any sort of human trafficker or child predator is apprehended. Thwarting pedophiles, an ongoing mission ferried over from the less organized Pizzagate era of right-wing conspiracy theorizing, seems to be a borderline fetish for this crowd.
This is just a way for QAnon people to refer to the Storm when they want to save characters or be cute with their usernames.
The foot soldier goons of the QAnon-verse, clowns are the CIA agents, NSA operatives, and various other spooks attempting to suss out Q’s identity and bring the Storm’s mission to a halt. Bakers will often “expose” clowns they think have been planted in their forums.
Borrowing from the term for different periods of Christian revival throughout American history, the QAnon Great Awakening will be the pre-Storm era of enlightenment achieved by bakers who successfully crack Q’s hints. While not always overt, a vein of Christo-fascism runs through the QAnon narrative. “Godspeed” is a common valediction offered in Q’s crumbs or between bakers. This subtext of noble Christian supremacy helps to bolster the latent anti-Semitic and Islamophobic elements of the conspiracy’s big picture.
Really, though, this Great Awakening is just “red-pilling” for people who believe themselves to be above something as low-brow as a term from The Matrix.
Follow the White Rabbit
Try as they might, these folks can’t resist references to the Wachowski siblings' sci-fi trilogy and Q, borrowing the directives given via computer screen to Neo in The Matrix, has craftily urged his horde to follow the white rabbit. The white rabbit in question could represent anything from the Playboy bunny and Hugh Heffner to the Catholic Church to a New Orleans artist with the last name Podesta—no relation to John—who happens to work with bunny-suited mannequins.
Alice and Wonderland
Why stop at white rabbit when there’s so much more to mine from Lewis Carroll’s stories? While some bakers have referred to Obama as Alice, most steer clear of such gender-bending casting and assign that role to Hillary Clinton. And where else would her Wonderland be than Saudi Arabia, a magical land full of hookahs and Clinton Foundation payoffs?
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
There doesn’t seem to be a consensus in the QAnon community about who these recurring codenames refer to. Some say Snow White is Julian Assange, others believe it's the CIA. Some think the dwarfs are targets being eliminated by the storm, others think they are seven supercomputers operated by the intelligence community.
Surprisingly, this last bit does have one foot in reality. At the dawn of the computing age, from the 1950s to 70s, IBM and seven other manufacturers (e.g. Honeywell, RCA, UNIVAC) worked on major mainframe computation projects for government agencies. At the time, IBM, the biggest player of the bunch, was referred to as Snow White, with each of the other company machines taking on a nickname of one of the Disney dwarves. Over time, conspiracy theorists have mythologized these powerful computers into Hal 9000–style villains autonomously pulling strings or being controlled by nefarious deep state brass.
This is the alleged CIA plot dating back to the 1950s wherein the agency gained control of the media in order to control the masses via propaganda. Every Washington Post article about potential Russian collusion is Operation Mockingbird. Robert Deniro saying “fuck Trump” at the Tonys: Operation Mockingbird. This article: 100 percent Operation Mockingbird.
QAnon is essentially the greatest crossover event in conspiracy theory history. Q folds in references to all the greatest hits like Freemasons, MK Ultra, and the symbology of the Illuminati. The triangle, a staple of Illuminati lore, plays into Q’s story as a representation of the three mega-wealthy families that control the entire world. These are often represented as plus signs for some reason, despite there being no mystery within or outside of the community as to what those plusses represent.
So, just who are these powers that be? Well, you probably already guessed Soros (+). Q has also dusted off the oldie-but-goodie Rothschilds (++). The third and final contender is the House of Saud (+++), the ruling royals of Saudi Arabia.
Ever the storyteller, Q has insinuated that the Soros clan overthrew a fourth, unnamed powerful family to take their spot as the third-richest lineage on the planet and has left it up to the bakers to figure out just which famous family that might be. Theorists have yet to collectively determine who Y is, but current contenders for the title include the Bushes, the Rockefellers, and *record scratch*—the Merkels?!
The Titanic and the Olympic
Apparently, JP Morgan sunk the Titanic— that he’d actually switcheroo’d with a copy ship, the Olympic—in order to found the federal reserve. (Just go with it.)
This fringier topic only comes up occasionally in the QAnon bubble, as Q has never directly referenced it in a crumb, but I’m including it here anyway it because it's A) hilarious and B) a great example of how the bakers have folded in every preexisting conspiracy into their gumbo of insanity.
The cabal of evil countries controlled by the Triangle want the world permanently on the brink of nuclear apocalypse. What better a way to keep the world’s population docile and controllable? But for that they need a scapegoat threat. So they formed a new nation and installed a “madman” puppet leader that can easily be controlled to keep the ruse alive. According to the bakers, this is what the CIA did with North Korea and the Kim family.
According to QAnon boards, the Storm has already busted some lower-tier deep state consiglieres like Huma Abedin, Chelsea Clinton, and John McCain. But in the good guys’ infinite mercy, they’ve decided to allow these evildoers—who they have accused of facilitating the kidnapping, rape, and murder of children—to go about their day-to-day lives as normal, so long as they wear ankle monitors. This has resulted in every photo of QAnon conspiracy villain in a maxi dress, orthopedic boot, or flared pant leg to be scrutinized in an attempt to see if someone is attempting to hide their tracker.
BDT is an acronym for Blunt and Direct Time as well as the Bangladeshi taka, the country's unit of currency. I really have no clue what they’re going for with this one. Something about some thwarted potential terrorist being born in Bangladesh as proof of Q’s bona fides?
Another unsolved topic with a few competing theories, some say Q’s references to the papacy-centric Coppola film are meant to implicate the Catholic church in the global pedo ring. Others think it’s about how the Rothschilds own the Vatican after lending them some money in the 1800s. Some just think it’s an allegory for the whole swamp draining thing.
Whatever the connection to his larger tapestry, master troller Q got a bunch of dummies to watch a bad three-hour movie searching for clues and, for that, I doff my cap. Keep up the good work, Q.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.