By Tim Wyatt
QAnon — the bizarre pro-Trump conspiracy theory alleging Satan-worshipping paedophile elites — has made a foothold in the UK, according to a new poll by the anti-extremist group Hope Not Hate.
The first nationally representative survey of British attitudes towards the movement that has surged in popularity in the United States in recent months suggests as many as one in 20 Britons supports QAnon.
Even more worrying, 25 per cent of respondents agreed with a key tenet of the sprawling conspiracy theory: “Secret satanic cults exist and include influential elites.” Among younger people, aged 18 to 35, this baseless belief was endorsed by more than a third of those surveyed.
A similar figure (26 per cent) agreed that “elites in Hollywood, politics, the media and other powerful positions are secretly engaging in large-scale child trafficking and abuse”, another core belief of QAnon followers.
The conspiracy theory has also blended and merged with other misinformation, Hope Not Hate’s broader report argues, including antisemitism, fears that a Covid-19 vaccine will be used to microchip people, and that the pandemic itself was started deliberately to depopulate the Earth.
QAnon began in 2017 when an anonymous user on the extreme online forum 4chan began posting cryptic messages, claiming to be a government official with high-level security clearance. This person (or persons), who uses the name Q, has continued posting occasional messages, which followers dedicate themselves to unravelling for clues about what will happen next.
Although the messages are vague and can be interpreted in numerous ways, the movement is united by the belief that a cabal of Satan-worshipping paedophile establishment figures secretly run the world and that Donald Trump is fighting to expose and defeat them.
Trump has engaged with Q devotees online many times, retweeting some of their messages while never explicitly repudiating or endorsing the movement. Several Republican candidates for national office have also flirted with, or outrightly embraced, QAnon.
Although QAnon is not explicitly religious, it has found favour among some parts of the evangelical Christian right in America, while some scholars have argued that it resembles a faith system itself more than just a political conspiracy theory.
Speaking during a Religion Media Centre Zoom discussion on QAnon earlier this year, Joe Uscinski, an associate professor of political science at Miami University, said: “Because the Q drops can be interpreted in any way you want, you really do wind up in a place of fan fiction where anyone can make up any version of Q they want which involves any material: so if you have an evangelical background you will make up something where Jesus will save us.”
Polling in the US suggests a similar proportion (six per cent) of Americans believe in QAnon as do those in the latest UK survey, although experts warn polling on conspiracy theories is notoriously difficult.
Joe Uscinski, associate professor of political science at Miami University
Dr David Robertson, lecturer in religious studies, Open University
QAnon conspiracy theory edges towards power
What’s behind the rise of QAnon in the UK?
How QAnon took hold in the UK
‘Quite frankly terrifying’: How the QAnon conspiracy theory is taking root in the UK
How QAnon conspiracy theory memes are spreading on Facebook in the UK