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.


Mexico says US ‘fabricated’ drug charges on former defense minister, releases evidence

Mexico says US ‘fabricated’ drug charges on former defense minister, releases evidence
Updated 30 min 50 sec ago

Mexico says US ‘fabricated’ drug charges on former defense minister, releases evidence

Mexico says US ‘fabricated’ drug charges on former defense minister, releases evidence
MEXICO CITY: Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Friday that the US Drug Enforcement Administration had “fabricated” drug trafficking accusations against his country’s former defense minister and then his government published what he said was the entire case file provided by US authorities when they sent him back to Mexico.
The unprecedented move came one day after Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office announced it was dropping the drug trafficking case against retired Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos. The 751-page file included transcripts of intercepted Blackberry messenger exchanges that were marked: “Shared per court order, not for further distribution.”
It wasn’t immediately clear if release of the documents would affect other court cases in the US.
The US government dropped its charges against Cienfuegos in November in a diplomatic concession to the important bilateral relationship and sent him back to Mexico, where he was immediately released.
López Obrador said there was a lack of professionalism in the US investigation and suggested that there could have been political motivations behind US authorities’ arrest of Cienfuegos at Los Angeles International Airport in October, noting that the investigation had been ongoing for years, but the arrest came shortly before US presidential elections.
The US government quickly responded that it reserved the right to prosecute Cienfuegos in the future. López Obrador’s comments threatened to get the security relationship with the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden off to a rocky start.
López Obrador said Friday that Mexican prosecutors had dropped the case because the evidence shared by the United States had no value to prove he committed any crime.
“Why did they do the investigation like that?” López Obrador said. “Without support, without proof?”
The released documents include purported text messages from December 2015 between two drug gang figures based in Nayarit state that refer to a meeting at the Defense Department with a man they describe as ”The Godfather” at one point and as “Salvador Sinfuego Sepeda” at another.
In the exchange between Daniel Silva-Garate and Juan Francisco Patrón Sánchez, both of whom later were killed, Silva-Garate describes being picked up by men with short, military-style haircuts who tell him they are going to the Defense Department headquarters in Mexico City and describe a meeting with “The Godfather.”
He wants you to work so there is a crapload of money,” Silva Garate texts his boss. “We have to do something from Colombia.”
Silva-Garate tells his boss the “The Godfather” told him “Now we are going to do big things with you … that what you have done is small-time.”
Patrón Sanchez says he wants unmolested routes to ship drugs from Colombia and Silva Garate texts back, “He says that as long as he is here, you will be free … that they will never carry out strong operations,” or raids.
Silva Garate tells his boss the “The Godfather” told him that, “You can sleep peacefully, no operation will touch you.”
Speaking at his daily news conference Friday, López Obrador insisted his government would cover up for no one.
“We’re not going to fabricate crimes. We’re not going make up anything,” he said. “We have to act based on the facts, the evidence, the realities.”
López Obrador acknowledged that many Mexicans have confidence in the US justice system, seeing them as “the good judges, flawless, those don’t make mistakes, those are honest.”
“In this case, with all respect, those that did this investigation did not act with professionalism,” he said.
Nicole Navas Oxman, acting deputy director of public affairs at the US Department of Justice said, “The United States reserves the right to recommence its prosecution of Cienfuegos if the Government of Mexico fails to do so.”
In a statement Thursday night, Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office went beyond just announcing it was closing the case by clearing the general entirely.
“The conclusion was reached that General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda never had any meeting with the criminal organization investigated by American authorities, and that he also never had any communication with them, nor did he carry out acts to protect or help those individuals,” the office said in a statement.
It said Cienfuegos had not been found to have any illicit or abnormal income, nor was any evidence found “that he had issued any order to favor the criminal group in question.”
A seven-year investigation by the US authorities was completely disproved by Cienfuegos within five days of having the US evidence shown to him, the statement said.
All charges were dropped and Cienfuegos, who was never placed under arrest after he was returned by US officials, is no longer under investigation.
López Obrador asked why he’d been arrested so close to the US election. “What was the message? Who from? What were they trying to do, weaken the Mexican government, weaken Mexico’s armed forces, spark a conflict with the current government?”
Gladys McCormick, an associate professor in history at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, said the only surprise was that Mexico didn’t make a better show of looking into Cienfuegos.
“One would think that they would have at least followed through on some semblance of an investigation, even if it was just to put some window dressing on the illusion that the rule of law exists,” McCormick said. “From the Mexican side, this signals the deep-seated control the military as an institution has on power. It also shows that the level of complicity at play in this case.”
López Obrador has given the military more responsibility and power than any president in recent history, relying on it to build massive infrastructure projects and most recently to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine, in addition to expanded security responsibilities.
Cienfuegos was arrested after he was secretly indicted by a federal grand jury in New York in 2019. He was accused of conspiring with the H-2 cartel in Mexico to smuggle thousands of kilos of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana while he was defense secretary from 2012 to 2018.
Prosecutors said intercepted messages showed that Cienfuegos accepted bribes in exchange for ensuring the military did not take action against the cartel and that operations were initiated against its rivals. He was also accused of introducing cartel leaders to other corrupt Mexican officials.
Under the pressure of Mexico’s implicit threats to restrict or expel US agents, US prosecutors dropped their case so Cienfuegos could be returned to Mexico and investigated under Mexican law.
Acting US Attorney Seth DuCharme told a judge at the time, “The United States determined that the broader interest in maintaining that relationship in a cooperative way outweighed the department’s interest and the public’s interest in pursuing this particular case.”
Even though the US yielded on Cienfuegos, Mexico’s Congress a few weeks later passed a law that will restrict US agents in Mexico and remove their diplomatic immunity.
Those restrictions, combined with dropping the case against Cienfuegos and suggesting the DEA made up the case against Mexico’s former defense secretary, could sour the security relationship for the Biden administration, experts say.
“It is surely going to be a relationship of much more mistrust,” said Ana Vanessa Cárdenas Zanatta, a political science professor at Monterrey Technological and Anahuac universities in Mexico City. “This gives Biden all of the cards to distrust the relationship with Mexico so that they continue in secrecy and resume the pressure on the Mexican government of ‘what are you doing in the fight against drug trafficking?’”
Mike Vigil, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s former chief of international operations, said clearing Cienfuegos “could be the straw that broke the camel’s back as far as US-Mexico cooperation in counter-drug activities.”
“It was preordained that Mexican justice would not move forward with prosecuting General Cienfuegos,” Vigil said. “It will greatly stain the integrity of its judicial system and despite the political rhetoric of wanting to eliminate corruption, such is obviously not the case. The rule of law has been significantly violated.”