Year in a word: QAnon

(noun) A far-right conspiracy theory alleging that a cabal of satanic paedophiles are running a global sex-trafficking ring while simultaneously working to overthrow US president Donald Trump

In a year punctuated by dark, digitally viral conspiracy theories, QAnon might be the one that trumps them all.

Born on the controversial Reddit message board 4chan, the conspiracy theory was originally put forth by an anonymous individual named “Q” who claimed to have inside knowledge of the supposed sex ring’s existence thanks to high-level government clearance.

QAnon is the ideological successor to Pizzagate, the 2016 conspiracy theory that claimed Democrats were secretly running a human trafficking ring at restaurant establishments, including a Washington pizzeria. But it has proven to have more longevity.

Since it was first propagated in 2017, the movement has quickly shifted from the far-right fringes towards the mainstream. An internal Facebook analysis this summer found that millions of the site’s subscribers followed QAnon-linked groups and pages. The liberal non-profit Media Matters, meanwhile, found that Mr Trump had amplified QAnon followers on his presidential Twitter account on at least 265 separate occasions.

In an August press conference, Mr Trump said he did not know much about the movement other than “I understand they like me very much” and had “heard that these are people that love our country”. In an October town hall with NBC News, the president declined to denounce the group.

What happens to QAnon after the president leaves office? While some followers were apparently shaken by Mr Trump’s election loss, Mr Trump has done nothing to cut ties with the movement, and has praised Marjorie Taylor Greene — a new Republican congresswoman who has publicly promoted QAnon theories.

Few expect Mr Trump to disappear quietly into the night — and they should not expect QAnon to either.

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