Followers of the far-right conspiracy theory will likely migrate to other groups and their offshoots, experts say.
A United States federal intelligence report has warned that adherents to the conspiracy-theory QAnon movement could target Democrats and other political opponents with violence as the movement’s false prophecies do not come true.
The report was compiled by the FBI and the US Department of Homeland Security and released on Monday by Senator Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, who said he had requested a “public assessment of the threat posed by QAnon” in December of last year.
The report says that while some QAnon adherents will pull back from the movement, others “likely will begin to believe … they have an obligation to change from serving as ‘digital soldiers’ towards engaging in real world violence”.
Many QAnon followers believe former President Donald Trump was chosen to defeat a cabal of “deep state” liberals who are also Satan-worshipping cannibals operating a child sex trafficking ring.
In December 2020 — nearly a month before the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol — I asked the FBI and Department of Homeland Security to provide a public assessment of the threat posed by QAnon.
Here it is. pic.twitter.com/th15nMQnUN
— Martin Heinrich (@MartinHeinrich) June 14, 2021
Trump’s loss to President Joe Biden in last November’s presidential election disillusioned some believers in “The Storm”, a supposed reckoning in which Trump’s enemies would be tried and executed.
Most QAnon adherents bought into Trump’s repeated false claims that Biden won through voter fraud, while some have now pivoted to believing Trump is the “shadow president” or that Biden’s victory was an illusion.
As major social media companies suspend or remove QAnon-themed accounts, many followers have moved to less well-known platforms and discussed how to radicalise new users on them, Monday’s report also said.
The report said several factors would contribute to QAnon’s long-term durability, including the COVID-19 pandemic, some social media companies allowing posts about the theories, societal polarisation in the US, and the “frequency and content of pro-QAnon statements by public individuals who feature prominently in core QAnon narratives”.
The report does not identify any of those public individuals.
But Trump, who while in office praised QAnon followers as “people that love our country”, continues to echo a circle of advisers who give credence to the movement, according to research by Media Matters for America, a watchdog organisation.
The advisers “have egged on his voter fraud grievances and … continue to suggest Trump can and should be reinstalled into office based on those false claims”, Media Matters senior researcher Alex Kaplan found.
Media Matters also reported that 33 Congressional candidates have voiced support for QAnon theories “on some level”.
Heinrich, the New Mexico senator, had pressed FBI Director Chris Wray in April to release an assessment of how the government views QAnon.
“The public deserves to know how the government assesses the threat to our country from those who would act violently on such beliefs,” he said at that time.
The movement around QAnon has already been linked to political violence, notably during the January 6 US Capitol insurrection.
At least 20 QAnon followers have been charged with federal crimes related to the riot, according to an Associated Press review of court records.
The US Department of Justice has arrested more than 400 people in relation to the insurrection, during which pro-Trump rioters stormed the US Capitol, caused about $1.5m in damage and sent lawmakers running for their lives.
Five people died and dozens of police officers were wounded in the incident.
Some defendants have argued that Trump himself spurred them on, while others have said they were just following the crowd, that law enforcement allowed them in, or that they were the victims of disinformation stoked by right-wing media.
Lawyers for some of the defendants have argued their clients were specifically misguided by QAnon.
In one case, defence lawyer Christopher Davis argued that his client, Douglas Jensen, is a victim of an internet-driven conspiracy promoted by “very clever people, who were uniquely equipped with slight, if any, moral or social consciousness”.
Jensen “fell victim to this barrage of internet sourced info and came to the Capitol, at the direction of the President of the United States, to demonstrate that he was a ‘true patriot'”, his lawyer said, as reported by the Law & Crime news outlet.