QANON is surging across Europe as the US conspiracy theory finds new ground to flourish in nations such as Britain, Germany and France, experts have warned.
The dangerous belief is being adapted by far right groups who are mixing it with other warped theories – such as about BBC paedophile Jimmy Savile in the UK and the efforts to restore the Nazi Reich in Germany.
QAnon adherents use its symbolism to push their own agendas as part of what experts have warned is a wider problem of disinformation and conspiracy theories worldwide.
European security services have been urged to take the potential threat of QAnon seriously amid ongoing efforts to purge the content from Twitter and Facebook.
Experts told The Sun Online rising far right agendas across the continent, the pandemic, lockdowns, and growing nationalism are all helping the fuel the rise of the cult-like phenomenon.
A recent report by Get The Trolls Out! (GTTO!) found Germany, Britain, the Netherlands, France, Italy and Spain are all becoming hotspots for QAnon – based on analysis of hashtags on Twitter.
And fake news monitoring group NewsGuard provided The Sun Online with a slew of online activity which shows how Q is thriving in Europe.
The core tenant of QAnon is the baseless belief that Donald Trump is waging secret war against Satanic cabal of child-eating paedophiles who run the world.
QAnon burst into the mainstream again this month as Jake Angeli – an out of work actor known as "QAnon Shaman" – led the charge as pro-Trump rioters stormed the US Capitol.
Angeli was pictured with a horned headdress and American flag facepaint as the mob rampaged through the building's halls and overran the police.
And he immediately became the face of the disturbing and twisted movement which has been infiltrating social media and the public consciousness in the US since 2017.
Q spreaders however are to be adapting their beliefs to better connect with audiences in Europe.
It is becoming an increasingly broadchurch of ideas – also swallowing up false beliefs that Covid-19 is a hoax and nonsense antivaxx theories under the umbrella of Q.
Idle minds are the devil's workshop and this is the problem
Germany has seen the conspiracy mixed with the so-called Neo-Nazi "Reichsburger" movement, a far-right group who claim the pre-World War 2 Reich still exists and deny the authority of the modern state.
And in Britain Q fanatics have embraced long-enduring conspiracy theories about elite paedophile rings, fed by scandals such as child sex abuse by Savile and the "witch hunt" allegations by VIP sex ring fantasist Carl Beech.
The uniting factor between these ideas seems to be some kind of belief in a shadowy force – often made up of powerful paedophiles – are attempting to establish a New World Order.
Dr Rakib Ehsan, a researcher at the Henry Jackson Society's Centre of Radicalisation & Terrorism, warned of the dangers posed by Q extremists post-pandemic when speaking to The Sun Online.
He pointed to the Capitol riot as an example of how a small number of hardline fanatics can cause chaos.
WHAT IS QANON?
QANON is one of the world’s most dangerous conspiracy theories.
It alleges a worldwide network of celebrities and politicians are part of a child sex-trafficking ring which is doing battle with Donald Trump.
The cult-like belief spawned out similar viral conspiracy theories such as Pizzagate and historic hoaxes about cabals linked to Satanism.
“Q” is the central anonymous figure of the theory, who was claimed be a high-ranking government official inside the Trump adminstration.
Posts began to appear on internet forum 4Chan in June, 2017, before starting spread across social media.
Q would drip feed various pieces of information detailing a grand plan in which Trump would defeat the Satanists in an event called “The Storm”.
It was claimed thousands of suspects would be rounded up and arrested before being executed.
Q created an alternative reality as supporters shunned mainstream news outlets, instead feeding entirely of false information and bogus predictions.
It is frequently spread with the abbreviated slogan "WWG1WGA" – meaning "where we go one, we go all".
The conspiracy theory began to gain more mainstream steam and QAnon supporters began appearing at the Trump rallies.
QAnon activity exploded during the coronavirus pandemic, with reports of posts tripling on Facebook and Twitter.
Both social media giants tried to take action, but struggled to police the spread of misinformation.
The GTTO! report found that Europe was the second most prevalent place for the theory outside of North Americ.
It found Germany had the most activity on Twitter, followed by the United Kingdom, then the Netherlands and France, and then Italy and Spain.
French and German media have also reported on the spread of Q within their borders.
Die Welt recently tracked a German-language Telegram channel that celebrated the storming of the Capitol as an act "for all of us".
Le Parisien also reported on the on French Qanon supporters – finding one group with 30,000 members on Facebook.
Milica Pesic, executive director of the Media Diversity Institute (MDI), which helped produce the GTTO! report, told The Sun Online there is "fruitful ground" for these types of conspiracies to grow and be exploited by political actors.
Anna-Sophie Harling, managing director of NewsGuard in Europe, warned QAnon will continue to "flourish" unless further action is taken by tech firms to crackdown.
NewsGuard provided The Sun Online with numerous examples of recent QAnon activity across Europe.
It included an 18,000 strong Donald Trump-themed UK Facebook group which remains live and awash with Q-linked conspiracy theories.
Posters often talk about "the plan" – the central QAnon belief that Trump is executing a complex and longwinded play to depose the non-existent paedophile cult.
The Sun Online also found numerous hashtags on Twitter -which remain live despite the tech giant's crackdown – tying the baseless conspiracy theory to known sex abuser Savile and other high profile UK figures they allege are paedophiles.
Britain saw a surge in QAnon content last year which was packaged as the #SaveTheChildren movement – which even ended with protesters chanting "paedophile" outside Buckingham Palace.
German language websites have daily lengthy updates detailing Trump's ongoing battle against the "deep state" – connecting the dots between recent events and historic posts by the anonymous Q.
And another site links Q to the so-called Reichsburger movement which claims Germany is "still occupied" and there was "no peace" following World War 2.
Many German Q fanatics think the Reich will be somehow liberated and reinstalled by Trump.
Italy has seen the growth of hashtag #ItalyDidIt which claims its leader ,Giuseppe Conte, was actually behind the "fraud" which Trump claims stole the US election from him.
French language Q content focuses on President Emmanuel Macron – who they often claim is a puppet of China – and has produced lists of alleged members of "French paedophile networks".
Newsguard director Ms Harling told The Sun Online: "It's difficult to say exactly in what form QAnon will exist as we move past the events of January 6, but one thing is certain – large numbers of Q followers will continue their efforts to erode trust in democratic institutions.
"Its adherents are angry, frustrated, and desperate for answers. Social media is giving it to them."
"As long as social media platforms prioritise engagement and velocity of content over user safety and credible information, conspiracy theories in the form of QAnon will continue to flourish."
"American conspiracy theories that seek to undermine democracy spread online to the UK, and beyond.
"Governments should not underestimate the power of US tech firms to influence global far-right discourse."
Dr Ehsan attributed Q's transatlantic spread to the worldwide anxiety being faced by millions during the pandemic and the globalised nature of the English language.
He described there being a "strong overlap" between old conspiracy theories – especially anti-Semitic ones – with QAnon.
The expert added there is "fertile ground" for it take took root in Europe as extremist groups have seized on the pandemic to spread their lies – especially in Germany.
Dr Ehsan told The Sun Online: "Idle minds are the devil's workshop and this is the problem."
He went on: "Once we get a hold of the pandemic, some individuals are going to re-enter society with completely new lines of thinking and different views of the world.
“This needs to be taken seriously by the security services, and I am sure they are taking it seriously. "
He however warned censorship may not be the answer as it merely forces these ideas underground – and said crackdowns by Big Tech companies are already being exploited by QAnon.
MDI executive director Ms Pesic explained to The Sun Online that QAnon is symptomatic of deeper problems with distrust in the media, rising far-right sentiments and the normalisation of the spread of conspiracy theories
She said Europe is providing to be "perfect soil" for QAnon due to a new post-truth era – where facts are less important in public discourse.
And she added that Q is "not inventing many new ideas" as many of its core beliefs are simply reheated version of older – and again often anti-Semitic – ideas.
"You have a new generation and lots of discontent around, and when you have discontent its very easy to use those concerns for political gains," Ms Pesic told The Sun Online.
She described political movements using and promoting conspiracy theories as an example of when "evil meets evil".
The future of the Q movement in particular is likely tied to Trump, the expert explained – so the world will have to see what the former-president does next as he faces a second impeachment trial.
Violence and incidents linked to QAnon
NUMEROUS often violent incidents have been linked to QAnon.
May 2018 – Michael Lewis Arthur Meyer claimed to have uncovered a child sex trafficking camp at a cement plant in Tucson, Arizona.
He occupied a tower on the property for nine days and was later arrested for trespassing. QAnon supporter Meyer was arrested again in 2019 after tampering with water barrels meant for migrants.
June 2018 – Matthew Philip Wright blocked the Hoover Dam with armoured truck while armed with an AR-15 rifle. He claimed he was on a mission from QAnon.
Wright was demanding the Justice Department release a report into Hillary Clinton's emails, and he urged Trump "lock certain people up". He was jailed for seven years.
March 2019 – Mob boss Frank Cali was allegedly murdered by QAnon conspiracy theorist Anthony Comello. Comello is alleged to have believed Cali was a member of the "deep state".
The suspected killer also believed himself to be under Trump's personal protection and displayed the phrase "MAGA forever" on his hand during a court appearance.
April 2020 – Jessica Prim livestreamed her attempt to "take out" Joe Biden in New York City. Armed with knives she travelled to US Navy hospital ship Comfort – which she claimed was being used by paedophiles.
She was avid QAnon believer and shared numerous posts on Facebook urging for high profile Democrats to be taken down.
January 2021 – Trump fans and QAnon believers storm the US Capitol in a violent riot that leaves five dead, including a cop. Numerous rioters are linked to Q, including Ashli Babbitt – who was shot and killed by police.
The riot is used to impeach Trump for a second time as he is accused of actively inciting the insurrection.
QAnon has been previously labelled a “domestic terror threat” by the FBI over its tendency the inspire violence.
Trump never explicitly endorsed the conspiracy theory, but was repeatedly accused of spreading it via his Twitter.
He often retweeted messages from accounts linked to QAnon – including while spreading false claims of voter fraud.
The former President refused to condemn it during an NBC town hall on the campaign trail, saying “I don’t know about QAnon“.
“What I do hear about it, they are very strongly against pedophilia,” Trump said.
And he defended retweeting claims from QAnon linked accounts by saying “people can decide for themselves”.
Trump allies such as General Michael Flynn and lawyer Sidney Powell have also been accused of promoting the conspiracy theory – with Flynn pledging an “oath” to QAnon.
US congresswoman Majorie Taylor Greene has also been branded "QAnon Rep" as she has a history of appearing to endorse the theory along with other baseless conspiracies.
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