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In recent days, viral posts on Facebook and Twitter have alleged that celebrities who have contracted COVID-19 are in fact not sick, but are using the virus to cover for having been arrested.
These posts and others like them are propagated by a fringe far-right movement known as QAnon that purports to have secret information about a covert operation to unearth powerful pedophiles and reveal the “deep state” within the government.
Less than a year into President Donald Trump’s first term, an anonymous post on the 4chan imageboard gave birth to a movement that has come to be known as QAnon.
Deemed a conspiracy theory by mainstream media outlets, the movement has nonetheless gained a devoted following and adherents have made multiple appearances at Trump rallies.
Oprah goes viral
On Tuesday, March 17, Oprah Winfrey became a trending topic on Twitter. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it would have been reasonable to assume she was yet another celebrity who had contracted the coronavirus. Instead, her name was linked to a viral conspiracy theory that claimed the billionaire former talk show host was involved in a global sex-trafficking ring.
On Wednesday, Oprah responded to the conspiracy on Twitter, saying, “It’s NOT TRUE. Haven’t been raided, or arrested. Just sanitizing and self distancing with the rest of the world.”
Oprah is not the only celebrity whose name has become associated with the QAnon sex-trafficking conspiracy theory. The Facebook post that originally ignited the furor listed the names of dozens of celebrities who QAnon alleged were on the verge of being arrested under cover of the, allegedly fake, coronavirus story.
QAnon’s viral Facebook post
Following an exhortation to “stay woke open up that 3rd eye,” the lengthy Facebook post set out an elaborate mix of facts and predictions about what would happen over the coming weeks and months.
The second paragraph references Tom Hanks, who had recently acknowledged on social media that he and his wife, Rita Wilson, had tested positive for COVID-19 (both have since been discharged from the hospital). The post, though, alleges that their illness was faked and used as a cover for Hanks’ arrest for pedophilia.
“He is currently being kept in a Hotel room in Australia refusing to fly back to USA,” the post claimed. “Next celebrity arrests will be Celion [sic] Dion, Madonna, Charley [sic] Barkley, Kevin Spacey – all will claim Corona virus [sic] infections.”
So far, there have been no reports that those celebrities have COVID-19.
The post later names additional prominent figures who are tied to the alleged plot. “Former president Bill Clinton, former vice president Joe Biden, Tom Hanks, Oprah, Ellen DeGenerous [sic], Quentin Tarantino, Charlie Sheen,” and many more.
It also references the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, which had alleged that prominent members of the Democratic Party, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, were involved in a pedophile sex ring.
Pizzagate has been called the precursor to QAnon, with both focused on complex global conspiracies tied to pedophilia and sex trafficking.
The origins of QAnon
QAnon supporters often find secret messages in Trump’s tweets and public messages. In fact, the movement appears to have been inspired by something Trump once said to the press.
On October 8, 2017, as Trump stood with military leaders and their wives during a state dinner, the president offhandedly referenced the “calm before the storm.” When journalists pressed Trump on what “the storm” was, he said, “You’ll find out.”
On 4chan, a message board where all posters are anonymous and only able to post text and photos, the first QAnon post appeared on October 28, 2017. The original poster, who is believed by supporters to be a government official, has only ever identified himself as “Q” (hence, QAnon):
HRC extradition already in motion effective yesterday with several countries in case of cross border run. Passport approved to be flagged effective 10/30 @ 12:01am. Expect massive riots organized in defiance and others fleeing the US to occur. US M’s will conduct the operation while NG activated. Proof check: Locate a NG member and ask if activated for duty 10/30 across most major cities.
HRC stands for Hillary Rodham Clinton, Trump’s opponent in the 2016 election. Clinton’s imminent arrest has long been expected by QAnon, presumably as a culmination of the repeated “Lock her up” chants frequently heard at Trump rallies, both before and after he won the election.
Across subsequent posts, “Q” laid out “The Storm,” which is an elaborate theory, akin to Pizzagate, in which celebrities, world leaders and global corporations (including Coca Cola and Disney) are all on the verge of being outed as participants in a sex trafficking scheme. As president, Trump is said to be leading the mission to unearth those involved in the scheme.
QAnon and Trump
The recent coronavirus-related Facebook post claimed, “Trump will win 2020 elections and arrests of former US presidents will occur in early 2021.”
This is in line with much of the QAnon rhetoric that openly supports the president. At Trump rallies around the country, people are often found wearing shirts emblazoned with the letter “Q”.
Trump has frequently referenced the “Deep State,” which is alleged to be bad actors within the government whom he and his administration are rooting out. The QAnon movement also harbors a deep suspicion of this alleged Deep State, with some thinking the coronavirus outbreak is their doing.
All the same, it is believed Trump is aware of the plot and will soon dismantle it.
QAnon and the coronavirus pandemic
The viral Facebook post calls COVID-19 a “Lab-created Corona Virus” intended as a “cover up for mass mandatory vaccination agenda.”
The post does not provide an explanation of what government or organization is behind the virus’ alleged creation.
Scientific studies have found no evidence that the virus was created intentionally by any nation or lab. Instead, it has been found to be the “product of natural evolution.” On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic.
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