BACK STORY with DANA LEWIS

QAnon/ Cult of Conspiracy

July 30, 2020 Dana Lewis Season 1 Episode 20
BACK STORY with DANA LEWIS
QAnon/ Cult of Conspiracy
Chapters
BACK STORY with DANA LEWIS
QAnon/ Cult of Conspiracy
Jul 30, 2020 Season 1 Episode 20
Dana Lewis

QAnon -  is a bizarre far right conspiracy theory detailing a supposed secret plot by an alleged deep state against U.S. President Donald Trump. 

A murder has been carried out by a purported follower of Q.   The ramming of a truck into the gates of the Canadian P.M.'s residence was by a man who reportedly followed QAnon.  There are now multiple people seeking congressional election who are Q followers.

And yes, QAnon features on The FBI's list of dangerous cults. It is wide spread across social media with 'Q drops' tempting conspiracy minded recruits with tidbits of disinformation including that The Covid 19 virus was created by Democrats.

In this edition of BACK STORY with Dana Lewis, we speak to Middlebury Institute Professor Jason Blazakis also with The Soufan Centre a global intelligence and security consultancy.

Show Notes Transcript

QAnon -  is a bizarre far right conspiracy theory detailing a supposed secret plot by an alleged deep state against U.S. President Donald Trump. 

A murder has been carried out by a purported follower of Q.   The ramming of a truck into the gates of the Canadian P.M.'s residence was by a man who reportedly followed QAnon.  There are now multiple people seeking congressional election who are Q followers.

And yes, QAnon features on The FBI's list of dangerous cults. It is wide spread across social media with 'Q drops' tempting conspiracy minded recruits with tidbits of disinformation including that The Covid 19 virus was created by Democrats.

In this edition of BACK STORY with Dana Lewis, we speak to Middlebury Institute Professor Jason Blazakis also with The Soufan Centre a global intelligence and security consultancy.

jason blazakis:

It's exploded, unfortunately, via social media and it has inspired individuals to carry out acts of violence.

dana lewis - host :

Hi everyone. And welcome to our 20th edition of backstory. I'm your host, Dana Lewis. This backstory is about a right wing conspiracy group that got started online. It's called QNR . There is nothing funny about paranoid conspiracy theories winging their way across the internet. They influence people to think things like COVID-19 is a virus created by the so-called dark state in America to remove president Trump from the white house or Democrats like Hillary Clinton or part of a child sex ring, torturing children. There may be hundreds of thousands of Q Anon followers, including the guy who recently drove his truck with weapons through the Gates of Rido hole prime minister Trudeau's residence in Ottawa, Canada, and in 2016, a man armed with a rifle, stormed comet ping pong pizza in Washington, believing the Democrats were running a child sex ring there. And then there was the case of a man who murdered a reputed mafia boss on Staten Island, who now says in court, he was a follower of Q Anon. And if you look closely, you will see Q posters and t-shirts at Trump rallies.

Speaker 1:

A curious theme popped up at the president's campaign style rally last night signs t-shirts stating we are Q or Q Anon.

Speaker 2:

Some even think Trump is Q and he seems to speak to his disciples. Yeah ,

Speaker 3:

This represents what store , what store mr. President,

dana lewis - host :

Dangerous stuff. So here we are in an election year and the FBI identifies conspiracy theories as potential domestic terrorism threats, specifically citing Q Anon, a group that believes there is a deep state working against president Trump. The FBI assesses these conspiracy theories, very likely will emerge, spread, and evolve into a modern information marketplace, occasionally driving both groups and individual extremists to carry out criminal or violent acts. And that's why on this edition of backstory, we are doing a Q story because there are people running for Congress who are followers of Q Anon. I kid you not like Marjorie Taylor green, a Georgia Republican,

unknown :

You know, about the Q movement. Are you familiar with what that is? I

Speaker 4:

Am familiar with that. So I'm very familiar with it though. Do you think he was a bad thing or, or is it just sort of, I mean, what's your opinion, honestly, everything that I've heard of Q I hope that I hope that this is real

Speaker 5:

Then Lauren bull bird who just won the GOP nomination in Colorado's third district.

Speaker 4:

The other thing that Q says, and this is the stuff that we don't, we just don't want to think about. Um, and many Americans don't want to know about, but Q is saying that they participate in pedophilia and spirit cooking and spirit cooking. They had that spirit cooking dinner. That was something else that came out in those. Um, John Podesta, WikiLeaks email re release. Remember that Q is trying to tell people on these forums unfortune , and he's trying to tell people the truth.

dana lewis - host :

So to understand whether Q Anon is a cult or a new religion or a widespread mental disorder, this Jason Blazakis written a piece for the Soufan intelligence group on QAnon. And he joins me now from California. How are you Jason? I'm doing well. Um , Dana, it's , it's good to be here. I'm on your show. The Q in the Anon , meaning the Anon is anonymous and who the heck is a cute , yeah, that's a , that's a, it's a great question. Even the people who call themselves a nons are essentially followers of Kew . Don't really know they have a, there's a lot of speculation ranging from president Donald J. Trump could be Q , um, John F K a , um , um, Kennedy jr. Um, didn't really die in a plane accident. He could be cute. Um, he could be a guy and , um, the government with a military intelligence background with , uh , accused security clearance, which means, you know, when you have Q clearance and the governments , you have nuclear , um , access secrets , uh , it could be any number of individuals.

jason blazakis:

Um, you know, who could be que , um, you know, I have my own theory, my own theory, which hasn't really been written about. And I, I may write something on it later is that it's , it's part of a large disinformation campaign , um , organized by a state to stir up trouble. Um , and , and the way that Q communicates , um, certainly has led to a lot of individuals becoming adherence to , uh , this, this movement, a state, a state, I have some concern that it could be part of a state disinformation effort. And if you look at the timing of the creation of cue , um, it was created , um, in essentially the first queue and non post was in 2017. Um, not that long after , um, president Trump's election, less than a year after it . And , and , uh, the focus of , of Q is to ensure that , uh , president president Trump stays in power as he does battle against a deep state network of individuals who are trying to use SERP his power.

dana lewis - host :

And you're going to tell me it's another Russia conspiracy?

jason blazakis:

I wouldn't go there yet. U m, but I do have some concerns that at a minimum, at a minimum, u m, there are States like Russia who may be amplifying the messages of t he individuals who feel that they are Q A non followers or adherence, u m, making it look like it's a movement larger than it really is. U m, but one thing I hope to do, and I wear many hats. I work at the Soufan center as you introduced me, D ana as a research fellow, but I also am a professor at the Middlebury Institute of international studies i n M onterey, California i s we're g oing t o start studying the syntax of the messages related to, u m, Q Anon, u m, when Q a nd n om posts a new message. U m, it's c alled a h uge drop. U m, generally, u m, in the past he has posted in, u m, various, u h, u h, freedom boards, like four Chan, eight Chan, eight K uhn, and then s tudy sort of the, t hat transition in terms of language, u m, how i t's evolved, u m, to get any kind of insights as to whether or not, u m, the syntax c ould be traced back, u m, w ith S tickley, u m, perhaps to another country, maybe this is an individual, u m, that's publishing, u m, i n writing that that is not really using, u m, English or does n ot have English as a first language.

Speaker 5:

So this is one hypothesis I have that I'm really interested in exploring here. Um ,

dana lewis - host :

Why Jason, are you taking your time because you're a serious analyst to write about this group and why am I taking my time? Cause I think I'm a serious correspondent to broadcast something about them.

Speaker 5:

I mean, they have suddenly been held

Speaker 6:

With serious regard by a lot of different agencies, including the FBI.

Speaker 5:

Yeah, absolutely. So I guess a little background about myself. I have been in the federal government for 20 years, I guess Q a non folks will automatically say, whatever I have to say is , is null and void because of a significant trust they have with individuals who worked in the federal bureaucracy. You're another one of the deep state. Yeah. They said , yeah. And I left the DC deep state. So maybe that makes me a little bit better than those who remained in. Right. But I worked in the counterterrorism Bureau at the state department studying terrorists. Um, you know, whether it's ISIS, Al Qaeda , um, understanding who the individuals are within these networks. So the U S government could sanction them. Um , and to sanction individual or organization, you have to study them deeply. Um, so I've always been interested in extremist movements. Um, you know, 10 and a half years, I was following counter related issues, primarily focusing on , um, uh , Salafi jihadist groups.

jason blazakis:

But in 2016, the British government actually made a decision to designate a white supremacist group called national action. And it was from that point forward, I started looking at the more of the radical right, mill you in which Q Anon certainly sits. Um, I've become more in Q Anon. Um, given that background , um, more recently over the last couple years , um, because it's attracted a very wide following , um , it's exploded unfortunately , um, via social media. Um, and it has inspired individuals to carry out , um , acts of violence. Um , one was the situation in New York where an individual killed a mafia boss , um, because , uh , he felt that he needed to do justice. Um , by carrying out that attack against the mafia bus , you had a situation and , um, the Hoover dam area in Arizona where a Q Anon follower , um, parked his vehicle and blocked the bridge , um , and he was armed. And then you, the more recent incident showing next to a non has gone overseas, where you had an individual who was consuming , um, to a non content , um , and people could argue , um , other experts say, well, he wasn't that actively involved in Q Anon . He only had a few posts. Um, but that individual carried out , um, a ramming , um , attack against the prime minister of Canada premise or Trudeau's house in Rideau. Um, and thankfully , um, he was stopped. He couldn't do harm. Um, he was well armed , um, but 30 minutes before he actually did that attack , um, where he worked on Instagram, he reposts that one of the conspiracy theories that , um , QNR has put forward before talking about so-called event two Oh one, talking about a pandemic, talking about COVID and how all of this is being created by essentially , um , a deep state, what bill Gates in cahoots.

Speaker 5:

Right. So , um, for me, I'm running to blink my eyes fester and fester Jason, as we get lost in the mud here with this, but I mean, they're pretty incredible events. And then there was one with pizza gate, right ? He's one of the highest profile one. What would you absolutely. So pizza gate , um, predated Q Anon, but a lot of people point to pizza gate as being sort of the , the father of the , the Q Anon , um , conspiracy and, and pizza. Gate's really important to understand in the context of Q Anon , because what Q Anon about is about as a conspiracy theory directly relates to the pizza gate conspiracy. So you had , um , an individual who was within the , um, um, uh, Hillary Clinton campaign who had essentially , um, his emails hacked. Um, his emails were published on WikiLeaks and 2016. Um, and in those emails, he's talking to the owner of a Washington DC pizzeria called comet ping pong . And in those , um, exchanges , um, there are discussions between the proprietor of comment thing, pop pizza, and , um, the campaign , um, individual Podesta , um , within the Clinton campaign. And they're talking about pizza, they're talking about toppings and there are conspiracy theorists looked and examined this language and felt that somehow that's code words for children , um , who are being exploited by adults essentially , um,

Speaker 6:

That they believed that Hillary Clinton was deep in bold. Then Democrats were deep involved in holding children hostage and pedophiles and be assaulted . And that allegedly this, this man came to believe that that was taking place in the basement of the pizza store.

Speaker 5:

Correct. So they're , they're the , the , the final thinking was essentially as in , at punk pizza, there is a basement where children are being held. There are part of a , um, you know, being captive part of a pedophilia ring run by , um, people like Hillary Clinton and Podesta , um , in this man from North Carolina was reading all this online and all of this was being discussed online and it felt he that take it upon himself morally to do something about that. So he traveled from Carolina to Washington, DC, armed [inaudible] , um, started shooting , um, went downstairs to the basement , um, and didn't see any children. Um , there were no children there. Um, it was clearly , um, false information,

Speaker 6:

Got his weapon, as I understand it kind of with the revelation of, Oh gosh, this actually isn't taking place. Right. But exactly the fact is that people like that on the internet come to believe some of these wild conspiracy things from Q a

Speaker 5:

Oh, absolutely. People read this, not just individuals who are associated with pizza gate, which predated Q and on , but afterwards you had individuals who actually have taken action. And this is part of the reason why the FBI and the Phoenix field office , um , Q and on to be a domestic terrorism threat. Um, and I , I think for good reason, because individuals, particularly during a pandemic when people are trapped at home , um, they're reading information online about all these conspiracies. They feel helpless. And if they have some kind of secret understanding , um , which maybe these conspiracies , um, give them that they have some kind of secret understanding about this, like conspiracy has happening by the deep state, they could do something about it , um , because they now are empowered and they can take power back from these two are running the world,

Speaker 6:

Be clear, Q Anon says there isn't really a pandemic. It's a concern . Well, I shouldn't say that they say it's a conspiracy created by the left, by the Democrats against president Trump.

Speaker 5:

So you have individuals most certainly , um, uh , based on my research, a preponderance of individuals who are adherence or say that they believe Q Anon , um, guidance that believe that there is a plan demic . There was even a movie made by Q and non followers , um, called pandemic that said this was a stage by the new world order and people like George Soros , um, to essentially , um, you know, take power , um, and to eliminate eMoney enemies. Um, but in terms of the , the actual Q and on , um , the individual who posts , um, Q drops as they're called , um, essentially posts on the various boards, he's under like little coded messages from yeah . Coded messages that Anon , um , adherence, decode. He said that COVID-19 was real. Um, but it was a good thing be prepared for it. Um, and I think the thinking behind that as many decoders believe is that either Genesis for the beginning of what a non calls, the great awakening, many

Speaker 6:

People are going to get this great awakening. And we're talking about a few dozen people on the internet, are you,

Speaker 5:

And I know it's impossible to tell, but, you know, take a guess just it in the tens of thousands, or is it , I think, I think we're at least in the tens of thousands now, there's , um, you know, individuals who are essentially what they call it like red pilled , um, people who have seen the light , um , they see that there is first and foremost, a deep state that exists that is trying to , um, work as a secret cabal , um, to , uh , you serve the president, president Trump, who is essentially the white Knight of this , this movement. Um, and on the second part of this thinking is that if this great awakening occurs, once you see and become enlightened , um, there's going to be a battle for the soul of , of , of America. And you have to do something about it. And is there potentially an armed battle? Um, I look at Qanan as a cult , um , and cults , particularly Paul step leave. And apocalyptical like thinking , um, you know, things like a great awakening where there could be a battle between good and evil , um, you know, white hats versus black hats in the context of how [inaudible] describes them . Um , white hats being essentially the Q Anon followers , um, within the government who are doing battle against the black hats who are , um, sickness and part of this deep state conspiracy. Um, whenever you had to think about the world and Manichaean terms like human on puts forward, there is this definite risk of , of turning to a via apocalyptical like scenario. And if president Trump were to say lose, or it looks like he will lose, my fear is that you have to, and on adherence who may try to take , um , you know , matters in their own hands and carry out acts of violence to try to stop the, the, from the state to make sure the great awakening occurs or to stop those who are trying to stop the great awakening,

Speaker 6:

Like the guy who went into the pizza store, they have been convinced, and they've been consuming this stuff

Speaker 5:

They'll believe that this wasn't a fair election, but in fact it was something done by the deep state and they have, they have got to stand up maybe with weapons and fight it. Absolutely. And , and even , um , Q post on COVID-19, he said , um, this is going to be used by the Democrats to create COVID-19, to create mass hysteria. Um , and it's all of an eye towards the election. So Hugh himself is talking about COVID-19 in the, of the election, how Democrats could use it as essentially a bulwark against president Trump , um , and therefore making the election look illegal. And at the same time, you have the rhetoric of the president, of course, saying that , um , the , the president poll numbers aren't as bad as they're saying. Um, but if you have say male and voting , um, which would be a responsible thing to do during COVID-19 , um, that that's somehow cast as a dispersion upon the possible results of the election. So I think the president himself unfortunately, has played in the hands of some of these two non followers by saying that the election itself is already perhaps not credible because of COVID-19. And because of the ideas behind Malin voting, which he said will lead to fraud. And if there's fraud related to the election, then president Trump loses because of fraud. That's going to be very upsetting to Q a non followers.

Speaker 6:

So Jason, does the president unknowingly unwittingly plate Q a non followers, or do you think that he is aware of QA ,

Speaker 5:

Um, and actually dropped some

Speaker 6:

Things that may benefit him in, in with certain things ?

Speaker 5:

Well, I'll tell you, Q Anon thinks the president is messaging secretly to them. Um , I have no evidence that the president believes that he somehow was secretly messaging to Q Anon , but if there were a couple of tweets , right, one was quarry , we had over a hundred team . The other one used something about with his friends in the UK who supported the UK and the queen, and saw that in Q Anon is a coated drunk . No, absolutely the Q and M people that see how you use quarantine and how you made us a hand gesture that looked like a queue . Um, but he has indeed retweet it . Um, Q Anon followers over a hundred plus times. I think last night I read through , um , media was maybe up to 145 times , um , Donald Trump jr. Eric Trump have tweeted and retweeted memes , um , and , um , other Q and non follower rhetoric before. So they're, they're , I think they're, they're not doing it because necessarily there are two and on followers, or believe in Q I think they're not just being careful with our social media feeds and then two and non followers, you know , being the conspiracy serious , they are read something into it. I'm like the president is signaling something special to us. Um ,

Speaker 6:

I understand that though, that sounds pretty sinister to me.

Speaker 5:

They have retweeted tweets from Q and non followers and the president, I'm not Q and himself, but QNR followers adherence people on social media who believe in Q , um, and, and the president has retweeted them. Um, so, you know, he probably doesn't know that he's retreating Q and non followers. Um, I don't think he's being necessarily careful about what he retweets. Um, clearly he has a , uh , a capacity to, to retweet many things , um, later, which he has removed or deleted his own tweets , um, or his campaign team or the waste house have disassociated from those tweets. Or they've said that that's not really what he was meaning. Um, so I , I don't think tensional on purpose , um , by the press . I think it's unintentional, but the, the problem is because he's not careful about what he says over social media. It is really riling up these individuals who are not followers and then believe essentially in bolsters. The theory is that somehow president Trump is , um, perhaps to himself or trying to motivate , um, to a non people to support him in some fashion. And there is a political element to this too , beyond the Trump's . Um, you know, there are , um, last count, there was a journalist who said that there was more than 66 Q and non followers running for various state and federal offices. So you have this normalization that's occurring with Q Anon as well. And that makes it really dangerous. How many more than 60?

Speaker 6:

I mean, I'm shocked by that. And I, I was reading in the Atlantic and they, by the way, they didn't call it a cult. They call it a new religion,

Speaker 5:

The kind of religion. Yeah. There's religious overtones to it. Absolutely. They think it'll be adopted current at least

Speaker 6:

35 current or former congressional candidates have embraced Q according to an online tally , but a nonprofit media matters.

Speaker 5:

Yeah . Yeah. And I think that same journalist who has continued to study this as they put it at 66 and there's another 30 plus who , um , are running for office right now , um, many , uh , lost already. Um , but people who were running to be become members of Congress. And I think there was one member , um, potentially , um , one individual that may get elected , um, out of Georgia memory serves, I forget her name off the top of my head, but you may actually end with a scenario where you have , um, a que non follower in Congress. Um , and that's the danger of , of this movement , um , that somehow it becomes more normalized. Um, a lot of people call it a fringe movement, but slowly , um, you have more and more people reading , um , consuming, watching videos like planned DEMEC who actually believe what's being written , um, and then may become followers themselves, or somehow by virtue of passing along this video to other people in their Facebook group , um, it becomes more of a normal thing. Um, and , and that's really dangerous storing a pandemic. You're taking it very seriously. Oh, absolutely. Um, you know, there are people who, who are trapped. Like I said, who are , we are living in uncertain times? Um, when you feel uncertain, you feel powerless. Um, conspiracy theories have resonance in ways in which can motivate individuals to join the movement or at worst , um, you know, become , um, an entity or individual who carries out violence on behalf of a moon because of something they saw online. Um, you know, pedophilia is a terrible thing. Um, and if people actually believe some of the things going on, like the most recent conspiracy theory put forward by Q Anon that somehow Wayfair the furniture company was selling essentially , um, material. Um, and, and , um, for really high prices, $13,000 for a stack of cabinets , um, people are saying, well , um , that's some part of a ring of , of children being sold by, by Wayfair, which was completely wrong. And , but it took off on social media and had an impact on Wayfair and they had to respond . So , um , you see this danger, if you actually think a child's in danger , um, you want to do something about it. And if you believe that conspiracy , um, you may actually do something about it and there was no, there , there, and that's the challenge with, with Q and on, and , and the threat it poses, please, Louisiana ,

Speaker 6:

Like wildfire through the internet , um, over, over several years now. Right. So now you , um, from, from Reddit to Facebook, to Twitter, Twitter now has taken down some 7,000 accounts , um, linked to Q Anon. Do you think that that's a good idea? Is it going to do anything or is this just sort of closing the barn door after the horse has bolted?

Speaker 5:

Um, I think unfortunately it's more the latter, but I will say it was a good decision , um, to take down , um, in authentic , um, Twitter accounts and handles associated with the Q and M movement. And I think , um, in addition to taking down those 7,000 and removing them outright , um, probably I think I read 150,000 we're , we're limited in some way as well. That's a positive action Reddit , um, was the first out there in 2018 to take action against Q Anon . Um, particularly those that were , uh , putting out conspiracies on the subreddit board known as our conspiracy board. Um, and then you have YouTube actually I noticed about three or four weeks ago, and this could be happening much longer than that, but [inaudible] videos now have underneath of them a box that says like, this is a far right conspiracy , um, which it is, and it's good. They have that fact checking box. And then I think we probably both read that Facebook may be taking a decision soon , um , to remove to a non-related , um, groups as well , um, to non is all over Facebook , um , private groups and public groups in the context, from my perspective, these are good decisions because these are mainstream social media platforms that touch so many more people than say four Chan , um , eight Chan or eight Q and ever have . Um, so you're, you're I think, inherently making their reach , um, less impactful by taking those actions. My fear is though , um, it's, it's a little too late , um, and they may migrate to another service , uh, and , and the , the, the conspiracy will continue on and particularly problematic is the fact that they may have a member of Congress or people on state assemblies in the United States who are , um, politicians who could be advocating things , um , from a policy perspective that are problematic. Um, so yeah , I think again, barn door , um, was closed after a horse left. Like you said, Dana. Well , I mean, that's always been the intelligence debate with , uh , terrorism . Do you, do you allow these things to kind of bubble at the surface so that you can monitor them or do you pull them off and push these people underground? And it makes it much more difficult to get after some of the more extremists that , that may be contemplating violence. Yeah. Now that is the dilemma. You remove them from open source platforms in which you could observe them. And they go to the encrypted communications in which they're more difficult to track that is, that is the dilemma. From my perspective, I'd rather have fewer individuals as part of a movement , um, and have a more difficult time monitoring them. Um, you know, you still can go into those encrypted apps. You can break the encryption, you can insert an individual who pretends to be part of a group and it gets bad at , um, online and can still, you know , infiltrate that encrypted network. Right. Um, in , in that chat group where if it's telegram that joined that telegram group. So there are still law enforcement tools , um, time honor , that can infiltrate in groups that are more secretive in nature. Um, from my perspective, I'd rather just have them fewer have fewer recruits and members in adherence. And I think that's why I think the actions taken by Twitter, Facebook, YouTube , um , Silicon Valley writ large like Reddit's action in 2018. It's very important because it can limit the, the number of individuals who are consuming this information. I just want to also add tech talk has unfortunately become another Avenue in which the pizza gate conspiracy, which a lot of people thought was dead in 2016, had a second life because it took off , um, and tick tock again. And then tick talk actually made a decision to, I think, remove the hashtag , um, pizza gate , um , remove some of the other Q Anon hashtags. And that's really important because tech talk is now sort of the viral social media platform. And it seems like they're taking early action against that , um, proliferation over their platform, which is a good thing. Jason Blazek is with the Soufan center, mind blowing stuff, and really intriguing. And thank you so much for taking the time to kind of lay this out for me. No, my pleasure Dana is a pleasure to be with you and to be with your listeners in may

Speaker 2:

Follower of Q Anon was arrested in New York, attempting to assassinate democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden, a woman from Illinois armed with a dozen knives. When Trump tweets about the dark state, he feeds conspiracy theories that are not harmless Spiricin theories and their close cousin, fake news are socially destructive and dangerous, especially for those with mental illnesses. You and I will no be hearing more about Q and even if we don't care to I'm Dana Lewis, thanks for listening. Please subscribe to backstory and share it . We need your support to make this grow, and we'll talk to you again soon. [inaudible] .