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FBI warns that QAnon’s ‘digital soldiers’ may engage in ‘real world violence’

Capitol riot, frustration with failed prophecies and growing social unrest could ‘act as catalyst for some to begin accepting the legitimacy of violent action’

Alex Woodward
New York
Monday 14 June 2021 22:51 BST
Capitol rioter blames Trump for insurrection

A vast online-driven conspiracy theory movement, growing frustrated with calls to “trust the plan” as QAnon’s predictions fail to materialise, may begin to engage in “real world violence” against lawmakers and perceived political enemies, the FBI has warned in a recently unclassified report.

QAnon proponents – immersed in a decentralised belief system that has laundered disinformation and conspiracy theories tied to violence from obscure corners of the internet into mainstream channels across social media – may begin to believe they have an “obligation” to accelerate beyond “digital soldiers” to carry out their prophesied violence rather than continue to wait for instruction, according to a document prepared by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security and viewed by The Independent.

Fuelled by the false narrative that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” from Donald Trump, at least 20 QAnon proponents joined the mob that breached the US Capitol on 6 January to overturn millions of Americans’ votes, according to federal law enforcement’s report dated 4 June, 2021.

The violence at the Capitol has underscored “how the current environment likely will continue to act as a catalyst for some to begin accepting the legitimacy of violent action,” according to the FBI and DHS report.

The report was first reported by CNN.

Other QAnon adherents “likely will disengage from the movement or reduce their involvement” following the election of Joe Biden and changes across the administration, the report says.

Their disengagement from the movement may be tied to sweeping bans and the removal of QAnon-related content on social media platforms, as well as the “failure of long-promised QAnon-linked events to materialize.”

But QAnon followers’ loyalty to the movement may be strengthened as they migrate to other fringe platforms, the increased social polarisation in the US, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the “frequency and content of pro-QAnon statements by public individuals who feature prominently in core QAnon narratives,” according to the report.

QAnon’s constantly evolving “big tent” conspiracy narratives hold that “deep state” actors are embroiled in Satan-worshipping sex trafficking rings and have conspired to undermine the former president – beliefs that have cast a wide net across online groups, from anti-trafficking campaigns to evangelical Christians, or have enmeshed decades-old antisemitic and racist tropes with newer theories about Covid-19, 5G, and the manipulation of voting machines and foreign governments to ensure Mr Trump’s election loss.

Federal law enforcement has made several arrests in 2021 involving alleged violent plots involving QAnon propnents and conspiracy theories, the report outlines.

On 8 January, federal law enforcement arrested a self-identified QAnon adherent on charges of destroying government property after allegedly firing several rounds at a federal court building in Oregon.

In March, a man deliberately derailed a train at the Port of Los Angeles to draw attention to a naval vessel there because he believed the ship had an “alternate purpose” related to Covid-19 and wanted to “wake people up,” according to the report.

Based on those assessments and the failed insurrection on 6 January, among other reports, the FBI and DHS believe that some QAnon adherents will not longer wait to “trust the plan” and feel “an obligation to change from serving as ‘digital soldiers’ towards engaging in real world violence – including harming perceived members of the ‘cabal’ such as Democrats and other political opposition – instead of continually awaiting Q’s promised actions which have not occurred.”

The report follows Senate Republicans’ successful blockade of a bipartisan congressional inquiry into the assault on the Capitol, as GOP lawmakers continue to manipulate a narrative around a riot inspired by their persistent “stolen” election myths.

Nearly 5 million people in the US – roughly 15 per cent of the population – believes in some of the core elements of the QAnon delusion, according to recent polling from the Public Religion Research Institute and the Interfaith Youth Core, which found that the conspiracy narrative is as popular as some major religions.

That group believes that “the government, media, and financial worlds in the US are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation.”

Around 20 per cent – or one in five Americans – agrees that “there is a storm coming soon that will sweep away the elites in power and restore the rightful leaders.”

A vast majority of Americans, 77 to 80 per cent, do not believe those statements.

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