A Dive into QAnon: How has the power of an internet user polarized American politics?

Sophie Halliburton, Contributing Writer

Over the course of about three years, an anonymous internet user by the pseudonym  (“Q”) has significantly changed the minds of the millions of Americans who make up the QAnon movement. By spreading vague, cryptic messages, Q has led their followers to believe that Democratic politicians, namely President Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton, along with numerous Hollywood stars, are Satanic, cannibalistic pedophiles running a global cabal of human trafficking rings. 

Amidst these extreme allegations, QAnon supporters believe that there is hope to end this pedophilic cult, which revolves around former President Donald Trump being the “savior,” who will fight off the pedophiles contributing to this exploitation and trafficking of children. While these claims are outlandish, some die-hard QAnon members have dedicated their lives to decoding Q’s posts in anticipation of “The Storm,” a forecasted event when mass arrests will ensnare those who were part of this cannibalistic cabal. 


Q’s first post, or “drop,” as the posts are called, was made in October 2017 on 4chan, a website of completely anonymous users that can create and add to “boards” that address a variety of topics like music, politics, and literature. However, 4chan quickly banned Q as there was fear around the poster spreading misinformation.

So, Q moved to 8chan, a spin-off of 4chan created by a font designer and software developer, Fredrick Brennan, who invented this website when he was only nineteen. This new site entailed the same ideologies as 4chan, but with greater emphasis on freedom of speech. When Q joined 8chan, the site’s popularity skyrocketed. Simultaneously, QAnon gained millions of supporters, leading around 20% of Americans to find some truth in these right-wing conspiracies, according to a survey conducted in March 2021 by The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI).

On 8chan, there was practically zero censorship—users could post whatever they pleased, as long as it was within the legalities of the internet. With such an explicit website, the content became extremely vulgar and it was a place of hate speech, misinformation, and overall toxicity. Additionally, every user was anonymous, so people were more inclined to post insensitive comments. Ronald Watkins, the 8chan administrator, took pride in the fact that his website was so unmonitored, noting that the rest of the internet lacked this sort of perverse liberty.

Q Drops

As previously mentioned, one of the main attractions of QAnon is the cryptic, strange messages Q would post to “expose” information that was apparently sourced from deep within the government. 

Q dropped lines like “Operation Mockingbird,” or “HRC hasn’t been arrested (yet),” and numerous repeated quotes such as, “Where We Go One, We Go All (WWG1WWA)” which would soon become a prominent QAnon motto. 

While it would be hard to definitively prove Q’s motives, perhaps this way of posting information was intended to keep their audience engaged and entertained. By using obscure, confusing messages, Q created a sort of game for their followers to play along with, allowing QAnon followers to connect their demonizing fantasies to bizarre messages that, in truth, had no correlation. 

Some followers truly dedicate their lives to dissecting Q’s posts and becoming what they call “QTubers,” or QAnon supporters who share their theories and analyses on YouTube. One QTuber, Liz Crokin, expressed that she “lost family members and friends” over her involvement in QAnon, but still claimed that “[she] had to stay true to the truth.”  

Who could possibly be behind Q?

Since the entirety of the QAnon movement revolves around anonymity and secrecy, we may never get a validated conclusion as to who has been posting drops as Q. Nevertheless, there are several suspects. 

QAnon followers believe that Q is a part of the “deep state” within the government, particularly someone close to President Trump, or possibly even President Trump himself. He often quoted Q drops, and never fully discredited QAnon, which fanned the fires of the movement. “I do know that they are strongly against pedophilia, and I agree with that,” Trump remarked when asked to denounce QAnon on NBC News. His unclear, indefinite response led to more controversy around his role in QAnon, although it is possible that he may have just been trying to maintain support from this fanatical group. 

Two other major suspects for Q’s identity are either Jim Watkins or his son Ronald Watkins. Jim Watkins was the owner of 8chan, while Ron was the administrator, making the two suspiciously close to Q and essentially having the ability to uncover this person’s identity. 

In “Q: Into the Storm,” a documentary series by Cullen Hoback, the different aspects of QAnon are investigated, which specifically includes figuring out who is behind Q. Since Ron and Jim host Q on 8chan, they are closely studied in hopes to reveal insider information regarding this movement. 

Hoback also focuses on Fredrick Brennan, who, as previously stated, created 8chan and also had former connections to Jim and Ron Watkins. Throughout the documentary series, Brennan seemed to be consistent with the firm belief that Ron Watkins was the person behind Q, or knew who was making the Q drops. 

The main evidence that points to Ron being at least in cahoots with Q is simply the fact that he was the administrator of 8chan, meaning that he had the power to private chat with Q, see their IP address, as well as determine Q’s “tripcode.” While anonymity was a crucial part of 8chan, website users still had somewhat of a username, which was called a tripcode, and was composed of a unique sequence of letters, characters, and numbers. 

“[Ron] has the power to write Q drops, I know he does,” said Brennan. “To think he hasn’t written at least one [Q drop] is very naive.”

Ron also constantly makes contradictory comments throughout “Q: Into the Storm.” Some days he would say he never follows Q, and hardly knows anything about it; others he would talk about Q’s motives and the reason behind certain quotations. 

When Hoback asked about his association with Q, Ron confidently stated, “I’ve never met the guy, I have no idea who Q is or what he is, and I don’t really care to know,” constantly reassuring the audience that he is not Q.

Over time, Q’s writing style changed, but despite there being speculation of a “fake Q,” Ron would always confirm to 8chan users that Q remained the same, since he could determine this from being the administrator. When asked why Q’s tone shifted, Ron suggests that “their team may be going on the offensive now.” Hours later, Q said the same thing—they were “going on offense.” 

Not to mention, there were numerous occasions where 8chan was temporarily taken down because of hate speech or illegal content. Yet, Q never left 8chan. In fact, besides the brief period that they used 4chan, Q never posted anywhere else on the internet. It almost seemed as though Jim and Ron Watkins had programmed Q to need their website. 

Ultimately, at the end of the documentary, Ron is on FaceTime with Hoback as they discuss Ron’s extensive research on the 2020 Presidential election, and how he posted publicly on Twitter (as himself) about the election being stolen. While explaining this, Ron slips up and accidentally tells Hoback that he had been posting as Q. “It was basically what I was doing anonymously before…..but never as Q.” When Ron said this, he and Hoback burst into laughter, realizing Ron had just exposed himself. 

How did the QAnon movement make its way to mainstream media?

For a while, these elaborate cannibalistic conspiracies seemed like something that could be avoided by the mainstream media. That was until QAnon seeped its way into Congress, which started with the election of Marjorie Taylor Greene. Assuming office in January 2021, Greene openly takes pride in her support of the QAnon movement. 

In a YouTube video, Greene exclaimed, “There’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to take this global cabal of Satan worshiping pedophiles out,” which confirmed her involvement in QAnon. Greene has also attempted to prove absurd and discriminatory theories, like that the California wildfires were being caused by “Jewish space lasers.”  

QAnon also paved its way to the outside world with in-person rallies, instead of solely conspiracy theories on the internet. In October 2020, QAnon members assembled in Hollywood, Los Angeles, protesting the alleged pedophilia and cannibalism being perpetrated by movie stars and celebrities in addition to politicians on the left. Supporters at this rally came decked out in QAnon merchandise, and posters with quotes such as, “#SaveTheChildren,” and “WWG1WGA,” the popular Q motto. The whole scene turned to chaos; some people were praying, or partaking in bizarre rituals in attempts to fight off the “demonic” celebrities, and a group even advertised, “Honk if you’re against pedophilia,” aimed at cars driving by the protest.  

As QAnon had made its way to mainstream news, many Americans began to worry that this group would interfere with the election, particularly what would occur if President Trump lost. 

“The only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged,” Trump proudly told his audience at a speech in Wisconsin, which included QAnon supporters, about three months before the election. 

Although Trump was confident he would win, Biden was elected in November 2020, causing many conservatives to immediately preach that the votes were stolen.

The storming of the capitol on January 6, 2021was not necessarily a direct result of QAnon, but many of its members were a part of the riot, expressing their refusal to accept a president other than Donald Trump. Arguably an act of domestic terrorism, the raiding of the capitol put a threat on American democracy. It also contributed to a drastic change in the political dynamic, which was largely initiated by QAnon extremists, causing the right to explicitly villainize the left and further divide the United States.