Foreign powers amplified QAnon content to sow discord that led to Jan. 6 Capitol riots, extremism expert says
Mia Bloom, co-author of "Pastels and Pedophiles: Inside the Mind of QAnon," speaks with The World's host Marco Werman about the rise of QAnon, a US-based, conspiracy-fueled movement with international reach.
Supporters of President Donald Trump, including Jacob Chansley, right with fur hat, are confronted by US Capitol Police officers outside the Senate Chamber inside the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021. Many of those who stormed the Capitol cited falsehoods about the election, and now some of them are hoping their gullibility helps them in court.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
This week, a House Select Committee began its investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Several police officers like Sgt. Aquilino Gonell gave their testimonies.
"I could feel myself losing oxygen and recall thinking to myself, 'This is how I'm going to die, defending this entrance,'" he said.
Some of the rioters that Gonell and other officers fought at the Capitol were QAnon followers — people who subscribe to the conspiracy theory that asserts Donald Trump as a kind of savior who will defeat Satan-worshiping pedophiles in the so-called "deep state."
Bloom joined The World's host Marco Werman to talk about the rise of QAnon and its international reach.
Marco Werman: I think pretty much everybody has heard of QAnon. But briefly, what is it? How did it start? How big is it?
Mia Bloom: QAnon is one of these baseless conspiracy theories that started from the underbelly of the internet, and the basic premise of QAnon is rehashed and recycled old anti-Semitic tropes, conspiracy theories about the Catholic Church, and that the world is controlled by this global cabal of mostly Democrats, but also Hollywood elites that are trafficking in children.They are raping the children, and then they are drinking their blood. And for the longest time, it was a fringe movement. And then all of a sudden, in March 2020, we saw a 600% increase in the number of people joining these message boards, Facebook groups, Twitter. And so, there was a massive uptick. So now, instead of it being a fringe movement, what we have is as many as 30 million Americans believe that there is a blood-drinking cabal running things.
What happened to QAnon after former President Trump lost the election?
On the one hand, we had some people that were very depressed. We had others that still maintained hope that things were going to work out, that the election results were going to be overturned. And then, there was a third category that we talk about in our book, "Pastels and Pedophiles: Inside the Mind of QAnon," that I wrote with Sophia Moskalenko, where they basically rejected outright everything that had happened. The election had been stolen. And so, we see the move of QAnon from talking about the blood-drinking cabal of pedophiles to Dominion voting machines. This is where we see the lead-up to what happens on Jan. 6.
Is there an original author of QAnon or did it grow organically?
Studies have been done to look at the "Q-drops" and there's almost around 5,000. And what happens is over a period of time, the grammar changes, the spelling changes, capitalization changes. There's a lot of differences that if you were someone who studies language style, it would be pretty obvious these are not the same person the entire time.
What is a Q-drop?
So, the Q-drops are these cryptic messages that originally were left on the message boards, first 4chan and then 8chan. But it was just basically in many ways a puzzle. The reason that's so important is because these Q-drops encourage people to do their own research. People are absolutely adamant that they were not told what to think. They figured it out themselves.But those Q-drops were preceded to lead to a specific conclusion. And so, this is where the psychology of QAnon comes in. As people figured it out for themselves, they felt very good about themselves. They felt very clever. And then, they were the only ones that could see through and figure it out. And then also, it instigates this almost proselytizing instinct that now I have to tell everybody and all of my friends that I'm the one that figured it out and I'm going to share it.
Let's talk about Jan. 6, the focus of these hearings in Congress. What role did QAnon play in the insurrection?
We were watching the insurrection on a live feed in real-time. And the people who were QAnon supporters were really easy to pick out of the crowd because either they would have a giant Q flag or they might have actually even been wearing a "Q" their chest. And you also had, you know, this very well-known figure, Jake Chansley, who's known as the Q Shaman, you know, with the face paint and the horns and the body tattoos. Right.So, I think there was a perception that this insurrection was exclusively a QAnon insurrection when in fact, the QAnon people seem to have bulked out the crowd, but the most dangerous elements on Jan. 6 were groups that we know, these militia groups, Oath Keepers, Boogaloo, Three Percenters, KKK, Patriot Front. We don't see the vast majority of people who believe in QAnon as the equivalent of ISIS. But if someone is a neo-Nazi or a Patriot Front or an Oath Keeper or Three Percenter, they're already dangerous. If they believe in QAnon, then that's where the problem is.
QAnon is also of interest to us because it appears to have some international connections. The Soufan Group, which looks at extremism and global security, they put out a report that pointed to Russia and China as having weaponized QAnon, that the two governments use social media to sow discord among Americans. Did foreign powers have responsibility in creating QAnon or allowing it to grow?
Absolutely. And in fact, in the book, we talked about and we traced how at the outset, in October of 2017, when you started to have people like Tracy Diaz, or known as "Tracy Beanz," posting about QAnon on her YouTube channel, she would take that Q-drop and walk the viewer through how to figure out what the Q-drop means, connecting it to either something that Donald Trump had said or something that he had tweeted. We know that Russian accounts, the internet research agency that was so involved in the 2016 election, they amplified that content. And now, Russia and China also have QAnon problems. And so, it's almost one of these ironies that while Russia tried to amplify it, now they themselves have to deal with it.
So, you're saying there are QAnon followers in Russia and China. Do they pose a threat to authority there?
Well, there are QAnon followers in 85 different countries. And what's unique about QAnon is its ability to adapt to a new environment and take on a lot of local flavor. There is QAnon in China, there's QAnon in Russia. When they get to a foreign area, they connect with local groups. So, for example, in France, they are allied with the Yellow Jackets movement. In the United Kingdom, they're connected to Brexit. We even have QAnon trying to make in-roads into Israel. And there's a number of Hebrew-language QAnon channels, which is very ironic and interesting because QAnon is really anti-Semitic.
Who else around the globe believes this? I mean, Yellow Vesters and Brexit supporters. Why?
You know, we remarked in the book and how unusual it is for countries that we tend to assume are, if not anti-American, maybe neutral, they still are loving Donald Trump. And so you'll see Trump signs at QAnon anti-vaccine demonstrations in Greece, or in France, or in the UK, and it is a bit of a head-scratcher.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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