FBI Warns QAnon Believers Could Turn Violent

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A QAnon flag in the crowd along the National Mall on July 4, 2019. The conspiracy theory has grown in popularity.
Credit...Samuel Corum for The New York Times

Katie Benner

  • June 15, 2021

The F.B.I. said this month that QAnon adherents could turn to violence as some of the conspiracy theory’s major predictions, including that Democrats would be subject to mass arrest and detention, have not come to pass.

The conspiracy theory holds that a corrupt cabal of global elites and career government employees who run a Satan-worshiping, child sex-trafficking ring will soon be rounded up and punished for their misdeeds; and that former President Donald J. Trump will be restored to the presidency.

QAnon has grown online, with believers watching message boards for new information and directives from Q, an anonymous figure who posts predictions and tells adherents to “trust the plan.”

But the arrests have not happened and Mr. Trump did not return to the White House as predicted this spring, sowing doubts among some believers whose once decentralized community is now a large, real-world and global movement.

The F.B.I. said in a June 4 threat assessment that as people increasingly believe that they can no longer “trust the plan,” they could be compelled to shift “towards engaging in real-world violence — including harming perceived members of the ‘cabal’ such as Democrats and other political opposition — instead of continually awaiting Q’s promised actions which have not occurred.”

The two-page bulletin was compiled by the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security, and was earlier reported by The Associated Press.

It said that other QAnon adherents may disengage from the movement or reduce their involvement now that several long-promised QAnon predictions had failed to materialize. And it said that major tech companies also helped people to disengage from the movement after they began to remove QAnon content.

The F.B.I. detailed instances when QAnon believers have turned to violence, noting that it had arrested more than 20 self-identified QAnon adherents who participated in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. A popular belief within QAnon was that the election had been stolen from Mr. Trump and that true patriots would fight to keep him in office.

The F.B.I. emphasized that believing in QAnon or consuming materials related to the conspiracy theory was activity protected by the First Amendment, and that the conspiracy theory falls under the purview of law enforcement only when adherents engage in violent or other illegal activity.

But the F.B.I. also said that the fact that some of the domestic violent extremists who participated in the Jan. 6 attack identified as QAnon adherents “underscores how the current environment likely will continue to act as a catalyst for some to begin accepting the legitimacy of violent action.”

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