One of the major negative effects of social media services is that they have provided excellent channels for the spread of various strange conspiracy theories. QAnon is one of the most bizarre of these, but many people in the UK were probably not too aware of it until the crowd invading the US Capitol on 6 January included the horned, face-painted figure of Jake Angeli, the so-called “QAnon Shaman”. For those who still haven’t heard of it, QAnon is a far-right conspiracy theory which alleges that a secret cabal of Satan-worshipping, cannibalistic paedophiles (The Deep State) is running a global child sex-trafficking ring. This group was apparently plotting against Donald Trump who was, in turn, fighting against it. According to many QAnon adherents, before losing the Presidency Trump had been planning a day of reckoning called “The Storm”, when thousands of members of the cabal would be arrested. The followers accused many liberal Hollywood actors, Democratic politicians, and high-ranking government officials of being members of the cabal. The conspiracy theory included allegations of a planned coup involving Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and the billionaire George Soros. That is the basic structure, but there are so many offshoots, detours and internal debates between followers that the full list of QAnon claims is huge. Followers draw on news stories, historical facts and numerology to reach their own, often far-fetched, conclusions.
So, how does a conspiracy theory like this arise, and how does it spread? How many people believe in it, and where are they?