The UK is now the second biggest hub for QAnon internet activity in the world, a new report has revealed.
Falling second behind only the US where the far-right movement originated – and has been bolstered by the president – a quarter of people in the UK now say they believe in conspiracy theories that align with QAnon.
Originating in a 4chan message board in October 2017 with a single post from an anonymous user identified only as ‘Q’ claiming to be a Donald Trump insider with access to classified information, QAnon has since spiralled into a conspiracy intended to “raise awareness” that Trump is waging war against a network of powerful Satanic paedophiles.
While the conspiracy theory has its roots firmly in the US, research by Hope Not Hate reveals that other false theories that align with the QAnon worldview have begun to proliferate in the UK.
The poll revealed a particularly strong belief in the conspiracy theory among young people, with 35% of 18-24s and 33% of 25-34s agreeing that “secret Satanic cults exist and include influential elites” – far higher than the average of 25% of the population.
More than a quarter (29%) of the UK population polled by Hope Not Hate said they agreed with the statement that regardless of who is officially in charge of governments and other organisations, there is a single group of people who secretly control events and rule the world together” – with this belief held by 38% of 18-24s and 43% of 25-34s.
Meanwhile, 26% of people polled agreed that “elites in Hollywood, politics, the media and other powerful positions are secretly engaging in large scale child trafficking and abuse”.
While decoupled from US conspiracy theories about Donald Trump, the UK has seen a growing minority engage in movements such as Save Our Children, which centre on fictional child trafficking plots – attracting people unaware of the campaign’s roots.
The report acknowledges that real life events, such as the high-profile institutional child abuse scandals of recent years, have raised fears, but states that the “disproportionate, illogical, and exaggerated nature of these conspiracy theories push them into the realm of dangerous fantasy.”
The rise of the QAnon movement in the UK is also closely intertwined with the spread of Covid-19, with slogans such as WWG1WGA (Where We Go One, We Go All), anti-vaccination, anti-5G and Save Our Children often seen at anti-lockdown protests.
Hope Not Hate’s research found that 17% of people polled agreed that “Covid-19 has been intentionally released as part of a ‘depopulation’ plan orchestrated by the UN or New World Order”, while 14% agreed that a Covid-19 vaccine “will be used maliciously to infect people with poison or insert microchips into people”.
Much of the growth of the QAnon movement in the UK can be attributed to the rapid spread of Facebook groups, with Hope Not Hate highlighting research by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), which found that global membership of QAnon Facebook groups soared by 120% in March 2020.
Experts believe this trend may have been even more pronounced in the UK. Prior to March, Hope not Hate had identified just three UK-specific
Facebook groups devoted to QAnon, with a combined membership of less than 5,000.
But by mid-May, there were at least 10 dedicated Facebook groups with a rapidly growing membership of more than 20,000, although groups devoted specifically to the promotion of QAnon represent only a minor element of its rise.
The central aspect of the QAnon worldview – that there are thousands of
children being kept captive in dungeons and tunnel networks across the world – has drawn in many who might otherwise have rejected the heavily pro-Trump and narrow political narratives of the original movement
QAnon researcher Marc-André Argentino reported in September that membership of 114 Facebook groups which present a softer anti-trafficking face, but were actually dominated by QAnon content, had increased by 3,029% since July.
In early October the social media platform banned all groups, pages and Instagram accounts openly affiliated with QAnon, but a quick Facebook search reveals that groups focused on child trafficking “awareness” and anti-5G messages are still active with tens of thousands of members.
With 6% of people in the UK professing support for QAnon (3.2% strong support, and 2.5% soft support) and 19% having at least heard of the conspiracy theory, Hope Not Hate Have also highlighted the role of media appearances made by high-profile figureheads.
The groundwork for the movement has long been laid by British conspiracy theorists such as David Icke who, despite denouncing Trump, Hope Not Hate said had spent decades promoting the idea that a single, global ring of Satanic elites are trafficking, ritualistically abusing and cannibalising children – mirroring beliefs held by QAnon supporters.
The report states: “Whilst Icke’s views may seem niche, we should not underestimate his ability to introduce dangerous notions to new audiences.”
Researchers have specifically highlighted a “friendly” three-hour interview with Icke on the True Geordie podcast in September 2019, which has received close to a million views.
In the podcast, Icke alleges “a very common theme of paedophilia” among elites, alongside “literally human sacrificing and animal sacrificing Satanism.
“And you can chart these bloodlines, if you like, back into ancient history [...] The cement that holds this web together is paedophilia and Satanism”.
The podcast, based in London, usually produces sports and comedy content and has almost 1.9m subscribers – most of them young people.
As a result of its research, Hope Not Hate has identified five potential dangers posed by the movement, which is already inspiring regular protests across the UK including a recent demonstration outside Buckingham Palace and a thousand-strong march on Oxford Street.
They include the following:
QAnon sustains antisemitic conspiracy theories which sit at the core of its belief system
It provides access to a pool of people for the far-right to exploit due to a crossover between conspiracy theories
It poses a risk to legitimate child protection in the UK as it has it the US
It could inspire harassment & violence as also seen in the US
It encourages corrosive and disproportionate distrust of institutions
In the US QAnon movement has been designated a ‘domestic terror threat’ by the FBI after a number of kidnappings, car chases and a murder.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.