QAnon’s “Calm Before the Storm” (CBTS) refer to a series of cryptic, conspiratorial posts released on 4chan and 8chan authored by a user identified as “Q” or “Qanon” (“Q” being short for “Q Clearance,” a high-level security clearance within the U.S. government) using the tripcode [Q !ITPb.qbhqo]. While conspiracy theories, including some based around pizzagate, have arisen based on the posts, many have mocked the content as a type of prank or live action role-playing (LARP) game.
On October 28th, 2017, cryptic messages were submitted to 4chan’s /pol/ board by a user with the ID “BQ7V3bcW,” which included a series of questions regarding United States politicians and military (shown below).
On October 31st, 2017, a post titled “Bread Crumbs – Q Clearance Patriot” was submitted to 4chan’s /pol/ board, which contained a list similar rhetorical questions regarding various issues in United States politics (shown below).
On November 1st, 2017, a screenshot of the “Bread Crumbs” post was submitted to the /r/conspiracysubreddit, where it gathered upwards of 600 points (86% upvoted) and 520 comments over the next two months. That day, YouTuber The Outer Light uploaded a video about the 4chan post. In the coming days, additional posts by the user were submitted on 4chan’s /pol/ board with the title “Calm Before the Storm.” Some believe this to be a reference to a cryptic statement made by United States President Donald Trump, who, on October 5th, 2017, without explanation, told reporters that they were witnessing the “calm before the storm,” while posing for a photograph with a group of military commanders (shown below, right). The reference being that “the storm” is a Trump-led campaign to arrest top Democrats for allegedly being involved in a satanic child-sex-trafficking ring.
On November 6th, The Outer Light YouTube channel uploaded a video regarding a Donald Trump tweet containing three plus signs, with some speculating that the tweet was predicted by a Q post. The video has since been removed. The following day, a thread about the post was submitted to /r/conspiracy.
On November 20th, 2017, a PDF titled “The Book of Q” was released on Google Drive, which contains a collection of various Qanon posts. That day, YouTuber Steve Motley uploaded a video titled “QAnon Leaker Says Trump/Navy/Marine Corps/NSA Taking Down Globalist Deep State!” (shown below, left). On December 4th, 2017, YouTuber UniRock uploaded a video titled “A Qanon Post Leads to Strange Findings,” discussing a post by Q submitted to 8chan (video deleted).
On December 19th, New York magazine posted an explainer on the conspiracy theory. In the post, they described the conspiracy theory as similar to Pizzagate, asserting that Trump was never involved with Russia, not under investigation for collusion with Russia, but rather it was President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who were working with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In this conspiracy theory, much like Pizzagate, “the democrats are Satan worshipper running a global sex trafficking ring” that Trump is attempting to takedown.
Rosanne Barr Tweet
On November 17th, 2017, actor and comedian Rosanne Barr tweeted two references to the Qanon conspiracy theory. First, she tweeted, “who is Q?” She followed this several minutes later by tweeting, “tell Qanon to DM me in the nexxt 24 hours.” The tweets (shown below) were later deleted.
Several months later, on March 30th, 2018, Barr tweeted, “President Trump has freed so many children held in bondage to pimps all over this world. Hundreds each month. He has broken up trafficking rings in high places everywhere. notice that. I disagree on some things, but give him benefit of doubt-4 now.” Before being deleted, the tweet (shown below) amassed as many as 4,000 retweets and 12,000 likes.
While many online were confused by the tweet, others published explanations as to false nature fo the claim. In a series of posts writer Dianna E. Anderson tweeted, “Roseanne’s tweet about Trump “saving kids” has to do with a fake claim from Trump Internet that arrests for human trafficking are up since Trump took office. There are a few things wrong with that. (a short [?] thread). Claim’s been rotating since at least last summer (when I first saw it) and we don’t actually have official numbers for Trump’s administration yet. Most recent numbers are 2016. Second, the specific number Trump folks like to cite is about 6k, compared to ~2k under Obama (these are all numbers from memes about this). The 2k number from Obama is Homeland Security Investigation arrests. The number for Trump is … well. ?” The initial post in the thread (shown below) received more than 3,200 retweets and 7,800 likes in four days.
The Daily Beast published an explanation of her relationship to the conspiracy theory, explaining why she spread this unverified claim. They wrote:
“‘Q’ or ‘QAnon’ refers to a user on the anonymous message board 4chan. The user claims to be a high-ranking government official with inside knowledge of the White House where, he claims, Trump is planning mass arrests of top Democrats for allegedly being involved in a satanic child-sex-trafficking ring. Or something. QAnon’s messages have always been vague to the point of near-gibberish, opening them to interpretation. When QAnon has given specifics–like the time he claimed John Podesta would be arrested or indicted Nov. 3–the prediction has fallen flat.”
Several media outlets covered the tweets and conpiracy theory, including CNN, Newsweek,The Daily Dot and more.
On March 30th, Twitter published a Moments page about the reaction to Barr’s tweets.
As the conspiracy theory continued to grow on- and offline, references to Q began appearing in various spaces, including on billboards and merchandise. On June 29th, Snopes published that advertisements for the Q conspiracy were appearing in George and Oklahoma. That day, Daily Beast reported Will Sommer tweeted, “QAnon billboards are a thing now. This one’s in Georgia.” The post (shown below, left) received more than 850 retweets and 1,700 likes in one month.
On July 24th, 2018, The Daily Dot published an interview with several sellers of Q merchandise, particularly t-shirts (example below, right) with the phrase “WWG1WGA” or “where we go one we go all,” a phrase frequently misattributed to President John F. Kennedy, but is a quote from the film White Squall. In the interview, one of the sellers explains their motives, “Q has explicitly criticized those who utilized this movement to enrich themselves. I am not one of those people. My goal is to get the spread the TRUTH to as many people as possible and expose the evils of the deep state.”
Appearance at Trump Rally
On July 31st, 2018, audience members sporting signs saying “We Are Q” appeared at a rally for Donald Trump. The presence led to national media attention explaining the group, most notably from the Washington Post and the New York Times. It also led the conspiracy group to trend on Twitter (shown below, right). It also trended on /r/Politics, where a link to the Washington Post article gained over 5,400 points.
On March 12th, 2018, an anonymous 4chan user submitted a post referring to QAnon as “pols greatest achivement” and “big prank” designed to trick “normies and boomers” (shown below, left). On July 6th, a post was submitted to 4chan’s /pol/ board discussing speculation that “Q is just a huge prank on boomers” (shown below, right).
On August 4th, Jack Posobiec tweeted that he was working on an article for One America News to debunk QAnon, along with screeshots describing it as an elaborate prank (shown below).
Working on a new
OANN</a> piece debunking QAnon. I am in contact with one of the people who started it of it who is ready to go on record <a href="https://t.co/VZ2zVwedWO">pic.twitter.com/VZ2zVwedWO</a></p>— Jack Posobiec 🇺🇸 (JackPosobiec) August 4, 2018
On August 6th, BuzzFeed News published an article titled “It’s Looking Extremely Likely That QAnon Is a Leftist Prank on Trump Supporters,” which discussed speculation that QAnon was a hoax based on the 1999 Italian novel Q by Luther Blisset.
NBC News Investigation
On August 14th, 2018, NBC News published an article titled “How three conspiracy theorists took ‘Q’ and sparked QAnon,” which reported that the news site traced early spread of the conspiracy theory back to YouTubers Tracy Diaz, Coleman Rogers and Christina Urso. Additionally, the article reported that “some QAnon skeptics” believed Rogers was behind the QAnon posts:
“Still, Qanon skeptics have pointed to two videos as evidence that Rogers had insider knowledge of Q’s account. […] One archived livestream appears to show Rogers logging into the 8chan account of “Q.”The Patriots’ Soapbox feed quickly cuts out after the login attempt. “Sorry, leg cramp,” Rogers says, before the feed reappears seconds later.”
That day, the article reached the frontpage of /r/TopMindsOfReddit, where it received upwards of 420 points (97% upvoted) and 170 comments within 48 hours.
On September 12th, 2018, Reddit banned the QAnon-themed subreddit /r/The_GreatAwakening for “inciting violence, harassment, and the diseemination of personal information” (shown below). The ban came one day after the site removed the /r/milliondollarextreme subreddit for violating content guidelines regarding violent content.
That day, Twitter user @HugaWendy tweeted a list of related subreddits that had also been removed by Reddit admins (shown below).
William Gregory Douglas Arrest
On September 20th, 2018, William Gregory Douglas, a YouTuber who pushed conspiracy theories, such as QAnon, Pizzagate and Flat Earth, was arrested after allegedly making a series of death threats towards YouTube employees (Douglas shown below). Douglas’s posts state that he felt YouTube had been censoring him and his videos.
According to the FBI, Douglas began making the threats on August 23rd, 2018 under the YouTube handle LiamXmaiLRevolutionX. In a series of tweets, Douglas wrote threatening notes toward YouTube employees saying “I would kill the 100 YouTube employees,” “you want a bigger mass casualty aka shooting let’s see what I can do” and “return my channel you low life Sholes before someone else comes and shoots more of your employees.” Additionally, on September 17th, he appeared to allegedly threaten YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki: “Susan, I’m coming for you today, #pray.”
The FBI reports:
“The complaint also details three videos in which the subject identifies himself as William Douglas. In those videos, he ‘provided long rants about the ‘Deep State’ and stated he has been ‘shadow-banned’ from YouTube, which he described as a government operation.’ In one video, ‘he stated he has to go to Mountain View to ‘visit’ people at YouTube.’ Approximately 700 people work at the YouTube premises in Mountain View, California.
Douglas has amassed more than 430,000 views with conspiracy theory videos. The Daily Beast reports, “FBI agents traced his IP address to his Oregon home, and arrested him without incident outside a convenience store.” He faces charges of “cyberstalking and transmission of threats in interstate commerce to injure another.”
On March 2nd, 2019, Minecraft creator Markus Persson tweeted the message “Q is legit. Don’t trust the media” (shown below). Within 72 hours, the tweet received upwards of 16,000 likes and 5,300 retweets.
On March 4th, Persson replied to a tweet asking why so many QAnon predictions “not come true?” with “it’s about the knowledge that has been uncovered” (shown below). That day, Newsweek published an article titled “QAnon Conspiracy Endorsed by ‘Minecraft’ Creator Makus ‘Notch’ Persson.”
Michael Flynn’s Involvement
Following former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s removal from the position and subsequent plea deal with Special Counsel Robert Mueller over Flynn lying about Russian contacts in the Russiagate scandal, Flynn has been a frequent person of interest within the Q community. Many followers of the conspiracy theory believe that Flynn is working with Mueller and Trump to bring down the deep state, while others believe Flynn to be Q himself. According to the Daily Beast, “The most ardent of those fans add three “star” emojis to their Twitter handles, a reference to Flynn’s status as a retired three-star general.”
While Flynn has not commented on the conspiracy theory publicly, his family members have. His brother and sister, Joseph Flynn and Barbara Redgate, have hinted at their support for the theory, while his son, who used to publicly support the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, has denounced Q. In March 2019, Joseph tweeted, “Q.” He later deleted the tweet, claiming that his Twitter account was hacked. He wrote, “HA! I have had a busy day today, all of the Sudden my phone is blowing up about my last tweet. Absolutely no offense to the Anons out there, but I did not tweet the ‘Q’ tweet, looks like I have been hacked! God bless.” He followed the tweet with a reference to “The team,” which is known as the “Q team,” Trump’s group of expert hackers, within the theory (tweets below, left).
Flynn’s sister, meanwhile, has also posted and reposted messages of support for Q, tweeting the conspiracy theory slogan “WWG1WGA” (example below, center).
However, while Flynn’s son has pushed back against his and his father’s involvement in the conspiracy theory, he has still become a person of interest for Q followers. In November 2018, QAnon researcher Travis View tweeted, “Yesterday Michael Flynn Jr. promoted 23andMe on Twitter. This is throwing the QAnon community for a loop, because Q called out 23andMe by name in an April 16 Q drop. Now they’re trying to figure out why General Flynn’s son would promote such a supposedly evil company” (shown below, right).
President Donald Trump’s Acknowledgement
On August 19th, 2020, when asked by reporters about the conspiracy theory, President Trump responded, “I don’t know much about the movement, other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate. I have heard that it is gaining in popularity. I’ve heard these are people that love our country.”
When told by the reporter about the details of the conspiracy theory, he added, “I haven’t heard that. But is that supposed to be a bad thing? … If I can help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do it.”
REPORTER: QAnon believes you are secretly saving the world from this cult of pedophiles and cannibals. Are you behind that?
TRUMP: Is that supposed to be a bad thing? We are actually. We are saving the world. pic.twitter.com/rPYFU1B8WB
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) August 19, 2020