What is QAnon, the Trump-supporting conspiracy movement?

What is QAnon, the Trump-supporting conspiracy movement?
Supporters of US President Donald Trump, including member of the QAnon conspiracy group Jake Angeli, aka Yellowstone Wolf, center, enter the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (AFP)
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Updated 13 January 2021

What is QAnon, the Trump-supporting conspiracy movement?

What is QAnon, the Trump-supporting conspiracy movement?
  • Movement drew in white supremacists and other far-right followers, as well as so-called ‘anti-vaxxers’ — people who believe in conspiracy theories about vaccines
  • Trump fed QAnon fever before last November’s US presidential election, floating his own conspiracy theories about a planeload of black-clad saboteurs

PARIS: The QAnon conspiracy theory has been blamed for fueling a riot at the US Capitol on January 6. Social media companies have begun to crack down on its followers, with Twitter closing 70,000 accounts on Monday.
AFP explains the origins and beliefs of what was once a fringe Internet phenomenon:
In 2016, a false theory spread on the Internet, which eventually became known as “Pizzagate,” alleging that top Democrats ran a child sex-trafficking ring from a pizzeria in Washington DC.
It appeared to have been sparked by innocuous messages published by WikiLeaks recounting a Hillary Clinton fundraiser, and culminated in a man firing a gun in the restaurant in December 2016.
QAnon began in late 2017 with posts on the anonymous messaging board 4chan and a similar site, 8kun, by a user named “Q Clearance Patriot,” who claimed to be an American intelligence official with access to classified information.
Q alleged that Democrats ran a Satanic child-kidnapping and paedophile ring and that the US security establishment, referred to as the “deep state,” was conspiring to cover it up along with a global liberal elite.
According to the story, US President Donald Trump was working against them and a “great awakening” could be expected.
Q moved his or her posts to more prominent sites and picked up followers, helped by Trump’s repeated claims that there was indeed a plot against him from inside the US government.
Followers began to identify themselves with shirts and patches with large “Q” symbols, often together with the US flag and their motto “Where We Go One, We Go All,” expressed #WWG1WGA.
Fuelled by sharing on social media, the movement gathered momentum, picking up thousands then hundreds of thousands of followers in a loose network.
Researchers say the movement drew in white supremacists and other far-right followers, as well as so-called “anti-vaxxers” — people who believe in conspiracy theories about vaccines.
The Covid-19 pandemic appears to have been a major catalyst, with researchers saying there is an overlap between protesters against mask-wearing and social distancing and QAnon believers.
The QAnon movement is a “sponge for conspiracy theories. Everything is taken seriously, from anti-Semitism to 5G to masks, including science fiction,” said Internet researcher and academic Tristan Mendes France from the University of Paris.
Miro Dittrich, a German researcher who monitors online extremism, said conspiracy theories tended to flourish in times of crisis, when people feel they have no control or are looking for scapegoats.
“As after September 11, which inspired many conspiracy theories, I fear we are witnessing the same phenomenon with the pandemic,” Dittrich told AFP recently.
In Europe, where QAnon has gathered tens of thousands of followers, strict lockdowns have also helped garner interest, according to Dittrich.
“Confinement has played a role, with people being isolated from their social environment and spending a lot of time online,” he said.
Research by the London-based ISD think tank found that QAnon-related posts on Facebook nearly tripled between March and June last year, when stay-at-home orders were in place around the world.
Trump has never condemned the movement and fed QAnon fever before last November’s US presidential election, floating his own conspiracy theories about a planeload of black-clad saboteurs disrupting his party convention.
“It is gaining in popularity,” he said approvingly in August last year. “They like me very much.”
Rich Hanley, a professor at Quinnipiac University’s School of Communications in Connecticut, told AFP that Trump reflects — and profits from — a society ever more lost in the smoke and mirrors of the Internet.
“He may be an outlier among presidents, but not among a growing number of conspiracy theory-loving Americans,” Hanley told AFP in September.
Trump has also lavished praise on Marjorie Taylor Greene, one of several QAnon followers elected to the US Congress last November.
Greene, who has said that “Q is a patriot,” said she was “inspired” to run for office by Trump.
Following the riot at the Capitol, criticism of Facebook and other social media platforms including Twitter and Parler reached fever pitch over their role in spreading disinformation.
“You’ve got blood on your hands, @jack and Zuck,” tweeted Chris Sacca, an early Facebook investor who has become one of the network’s harshest critics, referring as well to Twitter’s chief Jack Dorsey.
As well as suspending Trump’s account, Facebook says it is now taking action by deleting QAnon accounts and investing more in its fact-checking operations.
Twitter announced Monday that it had suspended more than 70,000 accounts linked to the QAnon theory.
Both platforms have warned about the risk of future violence, particularly before US president-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20.
Meanwhile Parler, a conservative social network that functions without moderators and is favored by Trump allies and supporters, was forced offline on Monday when Amazon’s web unit cut access to its servers.
Mendes France said the crackdown on mainstream platforms risked driving believers toward fringe Internet sites.
“The problem is that the move to more radical platforms exposes the ‘soft fringe’ of the movement to even greater radicalization,” he said.


Chad President Idriss Deby killed in clashes with militants

Chad President Idriss Deby killed in clashes with militants
Updated 11 min 39 sec ago

Chad President Idriss Deby killed in clashes with militants

Chad President Idriss Deby killed in clashes with militants
  • Deby said he was headed to the front lines to join troops battling “terrorists”
  • Deby, 68, came to power in a rebellion in 1990 and is one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders

N’DJAMENA: Chad’s President Idriss Deby has died while visiting troops on the frontline of a fight against northern rebels, an army spokesman said on Tuesday, the day after Deby was declared the winner of a presidential election.
Deby, 68, came to power in a rebellion in 1990 and was one of Africa’s longest-ruling leaders.
His campaign said on Monday he was joining troops battling what he called extremists after rebels based across the northern frontier in Libya advanced hundreds of km (miles) south toward the capital N’Djamena.
The cause of death was not yet clear.

A four-star general who is a son of Chad’s slain president Idriss Deby Itno will replace him at the head of a military council, the army announced Tuesday.
“A military council has been set up headed by his son, General Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno,” the army’s spokesman, General Azem Bermandoa Agouna, said on state radio.
Army spokesman Azem Bermendao Agouna announced his death in a broadcast on state television, surrounded by a group of military officers he referred to as the National Council of Transition.
“A call to dialogue and peace is launched to all Chadians in the country and abroad in order to continue to build Chad together,” he said.
“The National Council of Transition reassures the Chadian people that all measures have been taken to guarantee peace, security and the republican order.”
Western countries have seen Deby as an ally in the fight against extremist groups, including Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin and groups linked to Al-Qaeda and Daesh in the Sahel.
Deby was also dealing with mounting public discontent over his management of Chad’s oil wealth and crackdowns on opponents.
His election victory had given him a sixth term in office but the April 11 vote was boycotted by opposition leaders.


Russia reports 8,164 new COVID-19 cases, 379 deaths

Russia reports 8,164 new COVID-19 cases, 379 deaths
Updated 20 April 2021

Russia reports 8,164 new COVID-19 cases, 379 deaths

Russia reports 8,164 new COVID-19 cases, 379 deaths
  • The government coronavirus task force said 379 people had died in the past 24 hours
MOSCOW: Russia reported 8,164 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, including 1,996 in Moscow, taking the official national tally since the pandemic began to 4,718,854.
The government coronavirus task force said 379 people had died in the past 24 hours, pushing its total death toll to 106,307.
The federal statistics agency has kept a separate count and has reported a much higher toll of more than 225,000 from April 2020 to February.

NGOs seek $5.5 bn to rescue 34 mln people from famine in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan

NGOs seek $5.5 bn to rescue 34 mln people from famine in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan
Updated 20 April 2021

NGOs seek $5.5 bn to rescue 34 mln people from famine in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan

NGOs seek $5.5 bn to rescue 34 mln people from famine in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan
  • $5.5 billion needed for urgent food assistance to reach more than 34 million

GENEVA: More than 260 non-governmental organizations signed an open letter on Tuesday calling on governments to donate $5.5 billion to prevent famine in 2021 in countries that include Yemen and South Sudan.

The sum has been called for by the United Nations’ World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization.

“We call on you to provide the additional $5.5 billion needed for urgent food assistance to reach more than 34 million girls, boys, women and men around the globe who are a step away from famine. This assistance must begin immediately,” the open letter said.

The letter was penned by NGOs working with an estimated 270 million people “facing hunger, starvation or famine all over the world.”

They include Oxfam, Christian Aid, World Vision, Tearfund, Save the Children and Care International

“In Yemen, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, DR Congo, Honduras, Venezuela, Nigeria, Haiti, Central African Republic, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Sudan and beyond we help people who are doing all they can to simply get through one more day,” the letter said.

“These people are not starving, they are being starved.”

“It is human actions that are driving famine and hunger and it is our actions that can stop the worst impacts,” the NGOs insisted.

“There is no place for famine and starvation in the 21st century. History will judge us all by the actions we take today.”


EU expands sanctions against Myanmar military, companies

EU expands sanctions against Myanmar military, companies
Updated 20 April 2021

EU expands sanctions against Myanmar military, companies

EU expands sanctions against Myanmar military, companies
  • Latest sanctions target 10 individuals and two military-controlled companies
  • Since the coup, security forces have killed at least 738 protesters and bystanders

BANGKOK: The European Union expanded its sanctions against Myanmar’s military leaders and army-controlled companies ahead of a regional meeting to discuss the worsening crisis after army leaders deposed the elected government.

The Council of the European Union’s latest sanctions target 10 individuals and two military-controlled companies already subject to sanctions by the US, Britain and other governments.

It is unclear if such moves are having any impact as the military escalates its efforts to crush opposition to its seizure of power. Myanmar’s economy is already in crisis, worsened by the coronavirus pandemic and by the mass civil disobedience movement that arose following the Feb. 1 coup.

The EU said the number of individuals sanctioned was expanded to 35 people it said were responsible for undermining democracy and the rule of law, for repressive decisions and for serious human rights violations.

The two military-controlled companies, Myanma Economic Holdings Public Company Ltd. (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corp. (MEC), have vast holdings in many industries and help to fund the military.

All are subject to having their assets frozen, travel banned and other measures. EU citizens and businesses are banned from doing business or providing funds to them without special permission.

“Today’s decision is a sign of the EU’s unity and determination in condemning the brutal actions of the military junta, and aims at effecting change in the junta’s leadership,” the EU said in a statement.

“Today’s decision also sends a clear message to the military leadership: continuing on the current path will only bring further suffering and will never grant any legitimacy,” it said.

Since the coup, security forces have killed at least 738 protesters and bystanders, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which monitors casualties and arrests. It says more than 3,200 people are still detained, among the nation’s deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.

The EU already had an embargo on sales to Myanmar of arms and equipment that can be used for internal repression; an export ban on dual-use goods for use by the military and border guard police; export restrictions on equipment for monitoring communications that could be used for internal repression, and a prohibition on military training for and military cooperation with the army.

Last week, the US S&P 500 said it was removing India’s Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Ltd. from its sustainability index due to its alleged dealings with Myanmar authorities. Adani did not respond to a request for comment on that move.

Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday exhorted the UN Security Council to act immediately to halt the violence and protect civilians. So far, the council has not taken such action, which would likely be blocked by China and Russia.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations — which is holding a summit on Myanmar this month — maintains a policy of “non-interference” in each others’ political matters and has rejected the idea of imposing sanctions against the junta.

Ban urged ASEAN to send a high-level delegation to Myanmar. He said he had tried unsuccessfully to make a diplomatic visit himself.


US envoy to Moscow returning to Washington for consultations

US envoy to Moscow returning to Washington for consultations
Updated 20 April 2021

US envoy to Moscow returning to Washington for consultations

US envoy to Moscow returning to Washington for consultations
  • Moscow “recommended” that ambassador John Sullivan temporarily leave amid soaring tensions

MOSCOW: Washington’s envoy to Moscow will return to the United States for consultations, the US embassy said on Tuesday, after Moscow “recommended” that ambassador John Sullivan temporarily leave amid soaring tensions.
“Ambassador Sullivan is returning to the United States for consultations this week,” the US diplomatic mission in Moscow said in a statement sent to AFP, quoting the envoy as saying he needed to “speak directly” with senior officials on the state of US-Russia relations.