In a newly shared public assessment, the FBI is warning that adherents to the QAnon conspiracy theory — which posits that former President Donald Trump is in a covert struggle against a “cabal” of “deep state" opponents and pedophilia rings supposedly linked to celebrities and politicians — could become more violent.
The FBI document was first reported by CNN, and also posted on Twitter by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), who requested the assessment of what threat QAnon adherents might pose going forward. The conspiracy theory network was already tied to multiple acts of violence over the years, and the FBI mentioned it internally as a potential domestic terrorism threat in 2019. More recently, the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security, as well as the National Counterterrorism Center, have each warned of the threat of QAnon.
The new assessment notes that merely “generating, accessing, discussing, or otherwise interacting with QAnon-related content ... is legal and protected by the First Amendment.” The issue, however, comes when people cross over into participation in violent or illegal activities. And on that score, the assessment notes that the FBI “has arrested more than 20 self-identified QAnon adherents” who participated in the storming of the Capitol on January 6.
The assessment also provides a foreboding outlook, speculating that while some some QAnon adherents will likely drift away as the apocalyptic predictions do not come to pass, others “likely will begin to believe they can no longer ‘trust the plan’ referenced in QAnon” — and that they may have to shift to engaging in more harmful actions against perceived enemies “instead of continually awaiting Q’s promised actions which have not occurred.”
What happens next, the assessment says, will depend on “factors such as the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, the level of societal polarization in the United States, social media companies’ willingness to host QAnon-related content on their sites, and the frequency and content of pro-QAnon statements by public individuals who feature prominently in core QAnon narratives.”
On those various topics, however, the outlook does not give much to be optimistic about:
Regarding the “severity of the COVID-19 pandemic,” anti-vaccine influencers have appeared on QAnon-affiliated online shows to spread misinformation about coronavirus vaccines.
On the matter of “societal polarization,” QAnon supporters and far-right message boards have echoed former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn's apparent endorsement of a military coup in the United States. (Flynn has repeatedly associated himself with the conspiracy theory, including taking a QAnon oath.)
On the subject of “social media companies’ willingness to host QAnon-related content,” YouTube continues to host programming that promotes the Republican-led “forensic audit” of the 2020 election ballots in Maricopa County, Arizona — an effort to continue undermining the legitimacy of the 2020 election that is itself linked to QAnon followers. YouTube has also struggled to enforce bans on QAnon content, despite an official crackdown, while TikTok has become another major platform for spreading the conspiracy theory.
And as for “pro-QAnon statements by public individuals,” more than 30 QAnon supporters are currently known to be running for Congress. In addition, Arizona state Rep. Mark Finchem, another QAnon adherent, is running for Arizona Secretary of State. Meanwhile, Trump himself has reportedly become influenced by a group of his QAnon-connected advisers — including Flynn, attorney Sidney Powell, and MyPillow founder Mike Lindell — to believe that he will be “reinstated” as president by August.
In addition, Fox News prime time host Tucker Carlson has normalized QAnon conspiracy theories for conservative media audiences.