Ever since an anonymous 4chan post in 2017 launched the QAnon conspiracy movement, mainstream media outlets have attempted to shed light on its byzantine belief system.
In 2018, NBC News published a piece that unmasked three people responsible for the spread of QAnon, suggesting one or more of them may be “Q.”
Nearly three years into its existence, QAnon remains a leaderless phenomenon and Q has still not been definitively named. Theories about the anonymous poster who goes under the name of “Q” include that he/she is a high level military figure, a prankster, or even President Donald Trump.
For many believers, though, the rallying cry is “No one cares who Q is” because, in their view, what they hold to be true is bigger than any one person.
How QAnon grew
In a detailed NBC report in August 2018, investigators Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins identified multiple prominent figures who helped turn one anonymous post into a global conspiracy.
The original QAnon post appeared on the 4chan imageboard on October 28, 2017. It’s likely that the post would have gone mostly unnoticed if not for three people – Tracy Diaz, a YouTube vlogger, and 4chan moderators Pamphlet Anon, identified as Coleman Rogers, and BaruchtheScribe, a South African man named Paul Furber.
Rogers and Furber contacted Diaz because she had previously given legitimacy to another fringe belief, the debunked “Pizzagate” conspiracy that alleged prominent Democratic politicians were operating a child sex trafficking ring out of a Washington D.C. pizza parlor. Through a mix of videos and posts, the three helped make Q’s conspiracy theories major news.
Diaz explained to Zadrozny and Collins that the goal for the three conspiracy theorists was simple – publicize QAnon and build their respective audiences in the process.
Diaz first posted about Q on her YouTube channel on November 2, 2017. The QAnon conspiracy, which alleges the existence of secret child sex rings run by famous and powerful people, soon exploded.
In April 2018, Will Sommer, a reporter for The Daily Beast, tweeted that a QAnon march had drawn around 100 people in Washington, D.C. By autumn, though, the movement had gained national attention after “Q” signs began appearing at Trump rallies and the comedian Roseanne Barr, an outspoken supporter of Trump, tweeted her support for the movement.
Once the QAnon conspiracy had spread, some followers turned on Diaz and Rogers, accusing them of merely promoting the movement to build their personal audiences and gain financially.
Additionally, a series of possible mistakes online suggested that Diaz and Rogers may have been behind the Q posts, either as the creators of the initial post or as the creators of subsequent posts as Q once the posts gained an audience.
Both have denied being Q.
Still, for many of QAnon’s adherents, the identity of the poster is meaningless. As tweeted by one follower, “NO ONE cares who Q is. WE care about the TRUTH.”
Who is Baby Q?
Even if QAnon followers don’t care about Q’s true identity, there are those in the movement who would like to claim the title for themselves.
Austin Steinbart, known as “Baby Q” to his followers, was arrested by the FBI last month.
Steinbart had built a following by claiming to work for President Trump as a spy. Many of the QAnon conspiracies claim Trump is in a battle against the “deep state” within the government.
Some Trump supporters believe Trump is Q, but Steinbart often suggested that he was the real Q.
Steinbart, whose Twitter account simply states “Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA),” had suggested that his connection to Trump protected him from arrest despite his posting videos that included death threats. Steinbart has now been charged with extortion for his Q-related activities online, including posting the alleged brain scans of a former National Football League player.
Much of Steinbart’s online persona was based around the claim that he had special access and protection for his role as a Trump-supported spy. He also expended considerable energy attacking other Q acolytes, labeling them “#QPharisees” and pushing back on assertions that he was a scam artist.
Is there a Q?
Both skeptics and believers exist who think that Q is more than one person. For Q’s followers, this is due to their belief that the QAnon movement is a multi-faceted effort to oust the deep state.
On the other hand, some skeptics of the movement have noted a shifting tone and style that suggests copycat posters have taken on the Q mantle.
One such skeptic is Mike Rains (a pseudonym), an amateur sleuth who has meticulously documented the QAnon phenomenon on his Twitter account, Poker and Politics. Rains says it’s clear that the current creator of Q content is someone new because they have “been terrible at the job.”
Rains spoke with The Millennial Source to explain why he believes the current Q is a pretender.
“Most of the ‘QDrops’ as they are called,” Rains explained, “are low effort links to tweets by supporters or empty platitudes about impending victory.”
QDrops are what followers call new posts from Q.
For a time, Q posts were appearing on 8chan, an imageboard similar to 4chan that attracted far-right groups and had been linked to multiple mass shootings. After 8chan was forced offline for its fostering of hate groups, it reemerged under a new name: 8kun.
According to Rains, most recent drops by Q are filled with obvious errors that a government agent would know were wrong. Or they simply include obvious fake information.
For example, QAnon followers believe in “Spirit Cooking,” i.e. the idea that the movement’s enemies are into cannibalism.
“A QDrop was posted declaring Q had found evidence that these claims were true. His links led to a Facebook page called ‘Human Farming Project’ which is a group of vegans posting satirical content about eating people in an effort to shock people into understanding the evils of eating meat and a website over a decade old called ‘http://cannibalclub.org’ that claims to serve human flesh to the elite of Hollywood. The website’s ‘staff’ section shows [four] people who are all stock photos.”
These “obvious missteps” as Rains calls them have led him to the conclusion that “the current Q writer…is Jim or Ron Watkins (The men who control 8Kun).” Despite their efforts to sound like Q, Rains is unconvinced. “They know the basics of QAnon (Trump good, Dems bad) but the rest of it is whatever they want it to be.”
The persistence of a conspiracy
Rains has spent considerable time documenting dozens of Q predictions that never came true.
In a Twitter thread beginning on June 4, 2019, he laid out some of the most prominent unfulfilled Q prophecies.
These include an assertion going back to the original Q post that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would soon be arrested. There is no evidence Clinton was ever detained or arrested, and she remains active in public life and on Twitter.
In a post on November 1, 2017, Q claimed inside knowledge that Trump would imminently begin a “state of temporary military control” in the US. This prediction never came to fruition, either. In fact, most of the Q drops allude to rapidly approaching national or global events that never occur.
Nonetheless, the QAnon movement continues to inspire an untold number of followers, even to the point of criminality. One Colorado woman named Cynthia Abcug was arrested in 2019 for conspiring with QAnon believers to kidnap her child. Abcug had previously lost custody of her child to individuals who she believed to be “evil Satan worshippers” and “pedophiles.”