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How QAnon pushed pedophilia into the GOP Twitter mainstream


  • Insider analysed hundreds of thousands of tweets to better understand how QAnon themes have circulated within conservative social-media circles.
  • Republican Party leaders started tweeting about child sex trafficking more regularly after QAnon emerged.
  • Tweets related to the far-right conspiracy theory increased after Jeffrey Epstein’s arrest and during House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
  • Read Insider’s reporting on how the Republican Party has embraced QAnon as a fired-up part of its base.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

When the QAnon conspiracy theory first materialised on far-right message boards in 2017, Republican Party leaders weren’t tweeting much about child sex trafficking, an Insider analysis of influential GOP Twitter accounts showed. Since then, the GOP’s preoccupation with conspiratorial rhetoric around pedophilia and child sex trafficking has grown significantly, to the point where Republican leaders as a group collectively produced 40 tweets about QAnon themes during one week in September.

QAnon, which began when an anonymous account claiming to have a “Q” level government security clearance began posting messages on a now defunct 4chan politics board in October 2017, is a conspiracy theory rooted in the false belief that a cabal of child-trafficking Democrats is plotting against President Donald Trump. It has grown increasingly mainstream, particularly within GOP ranks and the party’s base.

To better understand the circulation of QAnon subject matter in the conservative social-media sphere, Insider reviewed the tweets of hundreds of prominent Republicans, including the entire GOP congressional caucus, each GOP state governor, and more than a dozen popular commentators and GOP candidates for Congress.

We searched for dozens of phrases and hashtags closely associated with the QAnon conspiracy theory, from “deep state” and “WWG1WGA” to “pizzagate” and “trafficking children,” dating back to October 2017.

Insider’s analysis found that QAnon motifs were not major talking points for Republicans when “Q” first emerged on 4chan but have picked up steady traction over the past two years. Forty-five per cent of the accounts that Insider analysed had published tweets trading in subject matter associated with QAnon; these included the accounts of dozens of elected officials. #WWG1WGA #Perkins4Congress4OregonCD4

Those who tweeted about QAnon and child sex trafficking most frequently were conservative influencers and congressional candidates with a documented interest in the conspiracy theory, topped by the One America News Network reporter Jack Posobiec — the most prolific tweeter overall — Marjorie Taylor Greene, Charlie Kirk, Erin Cruz, and Donald Trump Jr. (Posobiec told Insider in an email that QAnon was a “4chan hoax” that he had “debunked,” but his Tweets closely tracked QAnon themes.)

Tweets from elected officials were led by GOP Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, who posted regularly about “deep state” corruption and occasionally about child pornography, and Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio, a moderate Republican who published two dozen tweets about child abuse and pornography.

Republican brass tweeted about QAnon or child sex trafficking 10 times a week on average, a number that more than doubled after the notorious sex offender Jeffrey Epstein’s arrest and suicide in mid-2019.

Despite Epstein’s well-documented friendship with Trump and close association with major Republican donors, he’s loomed large in the GOP Twittersphere even after his death. During one week in November, three dozen tweets were posted pertaining to QAnon or child sex trafficking, 14% of which concerned the late sex offender.

Since August another wave of activity has cropped up.

“This is your daily reminder that the mainstream media dedicated more time and fever to the number of diet cokes @realDonaldTrump drinks, than to transcripts which reveal that former President @BillClinton visited a private sex/pedophile island with two young women,” the conservative activist Candace Owens tweeted in August.

The tweet has racked up more engagement than any other in Insider’s analysis, with nearly 48,000 retweets.

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