In June, Carol Schaeffer reported on a surge of participation in German online groups related to QAnon — an elaborate U.S.-focused conspiracy theory in which President Donald Trump is portrayed as fighting a secret network of powerful individuals involved in Satanic pedophile rings.
Now, a new report by Newsguard, a U.S.-based tech company that tracks online disinformation, shows that QAnon’s ideology is growing across Europe. Websites, pages, social media groups and accounts have appeared in countries such as the U.K., France and Italy, gathering large numbers of followers.
Researchers concluded that themes central to QAnon, which was birthed with a post on the web forum 4Chan in late 2017, have been deftly fitted to various political environments overseas. Along with playing to widespread concerns about the Covid-19 pandemic, they state that the movement’s ability to tailor itself to different national audiences has played a significant part in its global growth.
“Early on, European websites raised questions about how QAnon theories applied to their countries, underlining that the deep state at the heart of these theories knew no borders. This allowed these theories to slowly morph, and target local representations of the ‘elites’ at the heart of Q’s narrative,” the report reads.
For example in July, the German website Compact-Online, which propagates right-wing views and pro-Kremlin disinformation, echoed accusations leveled at high-profile U.S. figures such as Hillary Clinton and former president Barack Obama by claiming that German politicians are also secretly managing pedophile networks. QAnon followers also consider Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Emmanuel Macron of France to be under the control of a shadowy cabal pulling the strings of international politics.
“Conspiracy theories are inherently malleable, and some have been smoothly adapted to fit new national contexts. European countries will have their own issues that fit neatly with QAnon narratives — Jimmy Savile’s prolific history of sex abuse in the U.K., for example, or Prince Andrew’s implication in the Jeffrey Epstein scandal,” said David Lawrence of the British advocacy group Hope not Hate.
“More widely, in recent years trust in institutions has eroded in many European countries, opening the door for conspiracy theories and the far right — an issue that has been exacerbated by the pandemic and subsequent government measures.”
This week, The Guardian published an investigation that studied over 170 European QAnon groups and accounts on Facebook and Instagram, with more than 4.6 million followers. According to the article, dozens of new groups have appeared since June and the following of existing accounts has increased by 34% in the same period.
Meanwhile, back on home turf, QAnon theories are moving ever closer to the halls of power. The conspiracy has exploded in the U.S., with hundreds of thousands of adherents and millions of interactions on social media. This week, Marjorie Taylor Greene, an open supporter of the movement, won the state of Georgia’s Republican primary for the House of Representatives and is almost certain to gain a place on Capitol Hill.
She is not the only QAnon follower on the ballot in November. According to Media Matters, around 20 candidates across the country have endorsed or spoken favorably about the theory.
“QAnon believers are running for office and in some cases winning, and that could happen in other democracies. It also inspires violent crime and terrorism, which is why, here in the U.S,, the FBI has named it as a domestic terrorism threat,” said Melissa Ryan, CEO of CARD Strategies, a firm that helps progressive organizations fight disinformation.
“QAnon will probably outlast Trump here in the U.S. It’s terrifying to think of it taking hold in multiple countries, where folks can coordinate online and keep the conspiracy alive.”
Photo by Grischa Stanjek / democ.
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