QAnon’s Deep State conspiracies spread to Europe
QAnon started in the US in October 2017 with posts by an anonymous 4Chan user known as Q. Q — who soon amassed thousands of followers— claimed to be a White House insider with “Q-level” security clearance and access to classified information.
According to QAnon followers, US President Donald Trump is on a secret mission to rid the world of a cabal of elites, including Hillary Clinton, Bill Gates, and George Soros. These elites control a Deep State that hides a sprawling network of “pedocriminals.”
The theory has now been espoused by at least a dozen US congressional candidates. Q followers have been instrumental in fueling the popularity of Pizzagate, a conspiracy theory that emerged in 2016 and claims that former US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and other top Democrats were involved in a child sex ring run out of a pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C.
On July 21, 2020, Twitter announced that it had removed over 7,000 QAnon accounts from the platform. “We’ve been clear that we will take strong enforcement action on behavior that has the potential to lead to offline harm,” Twitter’s safety team wrote on Twitter. “In line with this approach, this week we are taking further action on so-called ‘QAnon’ activity across the service,” it added, saying it would “permanently suspend accounts Tweeting about these topics.” A year earlier, Yahoo News revealed that the FBI had listed QAnon as a potential domestic terrorism threat.
But while the conspiracy’s growth in the US has been an outward and visible process, what has gone less noticed is QAnon’s extensive root growth and spread in Europe. There, QAnon narratives are feeding on local context, and slowly but surely attracting more followers — both through popular local misinformation websites, and even celebrities and politicians who are spreading the Q gospel.
While global QAnon conspiracies are still typically US-centric in nature and spread by pro-Trump social media accounts, we are witnessing the adaptation of these theories into EU-centered — or even local — narratives, where they merge with pre-existing conspiracies and groups. In this report, we look at these trends in France, Italy, Germany, and the UK.
Table of contents:
- In 2016, Pizzagate conspiracies paved the way for QAnon
- QAnon specific accounts are emerging in European social media
- QAnon theories adapt to local contexts
- The COVID-19 pandemic as a catalyst
- The move from fringe groups to popular misinformation websites
- European celebrities and politicians contribute to the spread QAnon
- The ultimate infiltration: QAnon theories merge with very local conspiracy groups
1 – In 2016, Pizzagate conspiracies paved the way for QAnon
Although QAnon conspiracies remained fringe in Europe until recently, early signs of interest on small websites for conspiracies about alleged plots of the global elite — particularly around Pizzagate — demonstrated the potential for American QAnon narratives to gain traction on the other side of the Atlantic. The Pizzagate story, a widely debunked conspiracy theory claiming that former US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and other top Democrats were involved in a child sex ring run out of a pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C, facilitated the spreading of the Deep State’s anti-elite, pedophile framework to Europe.
- In November 2016, MaurizioBlondet.it, an Italian NewsGuard Red-rated misinformation website (which means that NewsGuard has rated the site as generally unreliable), wrote an article about Pizzagate, stating: “I need to talk to you about the pedophile-satanic scandal that is being repressed and buried by the American media in these days, because it involves the intimate entourage of Hillary Clinton.”
- In May 2017, Red-rated misinformation website ExoPortail.com, which covers purported extraterrestrial activities, wrote a summary of the alleged scandal.
- In March 2017, Red-rated website EpochTimes.de, the German edition of The Epoch Times, a conservative outlet founded by Chinese-Americans associated with the Falun Gong spiritual movement, published a story titled “#Pizzagate: Wave of missing children in Washington alerts citizens – the police lack explanation.” (This article is no longer available on the site.)
- In August 2017, Red-rated right-wing website Contra-Magazin.com published a story on Pizzagate, in which Russian President Vladimir Putin was portrayed as fighting the US pedophile ring: “Putin issued a ban a long time ago on duplicitous US institutions, which had adopted large numbers of children from Russian orphanages and in some cases placed them with US pedophile rings.”
2 – QAnon specific accounts are emerging in European social media
In late 2019 and early 2020, many new QAnon websites, pages, groups, and accounts appeared in the UK, France, Italy, and Germany, and quickly amassed large numbers of followers. Meanwhile, older accounts, groups, and pages started sharing QAnon theories, proving the growing popularity of the QAnon “brand” in those countries.
In all, we counted 448,760 followers or members across Europe on just the accounts that we identify below.
- In November 2019, a @QanonFrance Twitter account was created. As of July 2020, it had amassed over 9,200 followers. Its stated objective is to “allow non-English speaking patriots to follow Q.” It publishes articles by French and American Red-rated websites, such as far-right French site Medias-Presse.info and US website TruePundit.com.
- In March 2020, a website called Qanon-fr.com was created. It states that it was founded by “a group of French, anti-globalization patriots, who campaign for the waking up of Nations.” Its stated goal is to “inform French people, and more generally, all francophones that are manipulated by traditional media on today’s worldly stakes.”
- YouTube channel Les deQodeurs (21,500 subscribers), which says it “analyzes news or important elements of History with sincerity and without filters,” was created in April 2020. The corresponding Facebook page, created the same month, now boasts more than 8,800 likes. It purports to “try and distinguish what’s true from what’s false on anything and everything.”
- Website DisSept.com (linked to the YouTube channel Les deQodeurs), which promises its readers to “get verified and verifiable information for the digital war we are living,” was created in June 2020. In less than two months, it made its way up in the top 2,500 websites in terms of online engagement in France. Website Qactus.fr was created in May 2020. A whole section of the site is dedicated to elements of the Deep State, including “Satanists” and “The Rotschilds”. Its France section covers alleged conspiracies involving French president Emmanuel Macron and the French Church.
- On Twitter, several Q accounts appeared in the last year. The account @QanonItalia (3,000 followers) was created in July 2019. The account @anon_seventeen was created in May 2020 (1,160 followers).
- The YouTube channel Qlobal-Change Italia was created in October 2019 (23,900 subscribers).
- The site Qanon.it was registered in February 2020. It publishes QAnon content in Italian and other languages, and provides links to the main national and international QAnon resources online and on social media.
- Several QAnon Facebook pages were also created in recent months, including Qanon Italia in March 2020 (13,000 likes) and The Q Italian Patriot in May 2020 (5,400 likes).
- On Facebook, the group #QAnon 2020 Facts, created in March 2020, amassed 5,000 members in just a few months. The group QAnon The Great Awakening Deutsch was also created in March 2020, and now has 2,700 members.
- The YouTube channel QAnon Defender (8,880 subscribers) was created in March 2020.
- Some German QAnon social media pages, accounts and groups are older though. The largest German-language QAnon account, Qlobal-Change, a YouTube channel with 99,600 subscribers, was created in October 2018. The Facebook group Qanon deutsch blumenberger (30,100 members) was created in February 2018. Q-Anons – Deep State, Verschwörungen, dunkle Kabalen (14,800 members) was created as early as April 2011. It changed its name in April 2019 to include a reference to the Deep State, and in April 2020, it added “Q-Anons.”
- Articles on the big German QAnon site Qlobal-change.blogspot.com date back to 2018. The site states that it aims “to give people without the necessary language skills an insight into the Q-movement in the USA,” and that “Qlobal-Change is an antipole to the lobby-financed mainstream media, whose task it is to spread a synchronized narrative that serves the interests of their donors.”
- A series of QAnon Facebook groups appeared in the UK and Ireland starting in April 2020: The Great Awakening – the History of Everything (Cabal. Q. Qanon), a group with 18,200 members was created in April 2020; Q-UK, a group with 2,500 members, was created in May 2020; and #EYES WIDE OPEN!! #WWG1WGA, a group with 1.300 members, was created in July 2020.
- One of the largest UK QAnon Facebook groups, UK Patriot Alliance, was launched in June 2018. The group has over 9,600 members. Its About page states: “This group is a place to come and learn, wake up the British People and spread the message of #Q.”
- Despite Twitter’s recent clampdown on QAnon accounts, UK QAnon accounts with thousands of followers remained active on the platform. For example, @mr_squeege, based in Cambridgeshire, England, has over 25,200 followers. The account regularly posts links from NewsPunch.com, a Red-rated website that repeatedly promotes false information and conspiracies.
- NewsGuard previously identified the Twitter account @martingeddes as part of its April 2020 report on Twitter COVID-19 Misinformation Superspreaders. (The account’s bio includes “Endorsed as ‘misinformation superspreader’ by NewsGuard”).
- The account is run by Martin Geddes, a London-based technology consultant and photographer, who joined Twitter in December 2007. Since 2018, Geddes has regularly tweeted and retweeted QAnon content. The account’s pinned tweet links to a 40-page e-book on QAnon written by Geddes, featuring essays on topics such as “Making sense of #QAnon and #TheStorm [8 Mar 2018]” and “25 questions for the rational #QAnon skeptic [23 Oct 2019].”
- In a July 2020 tweet, Geddes described himself as “possibly the most visible “Q advocate [in the UK]”, stating that “Not a single #FakeNews media outlet in the UK has ever reached out to me to comment on #QAnon.”
- When NewsGuard published its Superspreaders report in April 2020, the account had about 152,800 followers. Now, the account has over 188,000 followers.
3 – QAnon theories adapt to local contexts
Early on, European websites raised questions about how QAnon theories applied to their countries, underlining that the Deep State at the heart of these theories knew no borders. This allowed these theories to slowly morph, and target local representations of the “elites” at the heart of Q’s narratives. Using the themes favored by QAnon (pedocriminality, a powerful but secretive Deep State using world leaders as its puppets to advance the elites’ plan for a New World Order, etc.), QAnon stories in Europe have adopted local narratives and started to target local politicians and elites.
- In a video from QAnon YouTube channel Les deQodeurs, republished on Red-rated website LumiereSurGaia.com in July 2020, a commentator said: The Deep State is “an entity with no border… It’s similar to a cancer that has spread everywhere… In France, we are completely dominated by the Deep State.”
- The path of QAnon adoption in France is particularly interesting in that regard. French-speaking Canada seems to have been a common route through which these theories made it from the US to France. Videos by Canadian conspiracy theorist and Q follower Alexis Cossette-Trudel, host of RadioQuebec.ca, are often republished on the Facebook page of Les deQodeurs, as well as several Facebook groups operated from France.
- In recent French-language QAnon posts, French President Emmanuel Macron is described as a pawn of the Deep State. Lots of QAnon pages, groups, and accounts also share articles and videos critical of Macron and his government.
- In a July 2020 video published on DisSept.com a commentator said: “France is headed by the Deep State which is controlling everything… In the global chessboard, Macron is just a pawn.”
- A July 2020 article published on Qactus.fr linked Macron to “pedocriminal” networks. “Macron, who was sent to school with the Jesuits, was promoted to our country’s government after he worked for the Rothschild’s bank. When we know the importance of these two profiles in the world’s pedocriminal network, it seems important to evaluate a little more closely his level of implication in this network.”
- Other QAnon accounts, such as Twitter’s @QanonFrance, have shared French far-right content, including articles and videos by essayist Alain Soral, founder of the conspiracy website EgaliteEtReconciliation.fr, whose YouTube page was removed by the platform in July 2020 for what YouTube called “severe or repeated violations of YouTube’s rules forbidding the use of content inciting hatred.”
- While most content on German QAnon channels are translations of US articles and posts, German accounts have also targeted their own politicians. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is often portrayed as a “Deep State puppet” who needs to be overthrown.
- For example, in July 2020, the pro-Russian and pro-Trump Twitter account RalfTHeuer, previously identified by NewsGuard as a “Superspreader” of COVID-19 misinformation, shared a petition addressed to the White House, which said: “Dear Mr. President Trump, please help the German people to free themselves from Angela Merkel and her shadow government!”
- German elites and politicians in general are also accused of running a secret pedophilia network that involves the torture of children.
- In July 2020, Red-rated website Compact-Online.de, which publishes false content to advance right-wing views of the AfD party, along with Russian disinformation, and is among the top 100 websites in Germany in terms of online engagement, published a special print edition in its magazine titled “Child abusers: The networks of the elites,” which linked Jeffrey Epstein and US politicians to German sexual abuse cases. “All just isolated cases?” the series asked. “No, there’s a perverted system behind it too!”
- In July 2020, Red-rated website Pravda-TV.com (in the top 250 in terms of online engagement in Germany) also published an article that suggested that the international pedophile ring had spread to Germany: “Strikingly, more and more cases of abuse and complex child sex crimes are coming to light in our country, too. This wave is just beginning. What until now seemed to be individual acts of a few perverts turns out to be very well and tightly organized subgroups in the worldwide operating paedo networks.”
- The largest German-language QAnon account, Qlobal-Change, a YouTube channel with 99,600 subscribers, lists its location as the United States, suggesting that it might be run by an American hoping to export the QAnon ideology.
- In recent QAnon stories, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is being targeted by Q followers in the country, while Matteo Salvini, leader of the right-wing League Party is being lauded.
- In July 2020, QAnon Twitter account @anon_seventeen tweeted: “Trump is acting to prevent [Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe] Conte’s dictatorship.”
- In February 2020, YouTube channel Dentro la Notizia (mentioned on Qanon.it as a good resource) posted a video titled “Trump, Putin and Salvini united against the EU elites will free Italy!” The video, which was viewed over 22,000 times, claimed: “The three of them [Trump, Putin and Salvini] have all common enemies: Soros, the Deep State, and the technocrats of the EU Commission… Trump and Putin are taking steps to get Italy back to the Salvini government [right-wing] and free us from the diabolical elites that dominate the European Union.”
- In the UK, debates are raging on QAnon Facebook groups as to whether Prime minister Boris Johnson has been “installed” by Q and is working closely together with US President Donald Trump to advance “the Plan” and “drain the British swamp.” (Four years ago, Donald Trump campaigned on a pledge to “drain the swamp” in Washington.) On such discussion boards, Brexit and the British government’s decision to ban Huawei from the UK’s 5G networks are cited as evidence of Johnson’s allegiance to Q.
4 – The COVID-19 pandemic as a catalyst
The conspiratorial worldview at the heart of QAnon — especially the idea that a secret government is trying to impose a new world order — has blossomed in recent months. The COVID-19 pandemic gave rise to many similar theories, including the idea that the pandemic is part of a plan imposed by world elites — with Bill Gates at the top — to vaccinate most of the world’s population.
- In a May 2020 tweet, @ItalyQanons (8,500 followers) wrote: “Bill Gates and WHO killed more people with vaccines than those who died because of diseases.” Another May 2020 tweet stated: “The same Deep State that created the virus wants to simulate an alien attack that will be 10 times worse than September 11.”
- In May 2020, @chiossi_manuela⭐⭐⭐ Qanon, an account with more than 17,000 followers, shared a YouTube video claiming that Bill Gates owned a patent for the coronavirus and that “drinking hot water” and “Vitamin C” can “kill the virus.”
- In May 2020, StefanQ, a twitter account with more than 4,700 followers, shared the documentary “Plandemic,” which is filled with false claims about the virus. The account also shared articles from Red-rated site MaurizioBlondet.it, which falsely claimed that people who had received a flu shot were more at risk of contracting COVID-19.
- In Germany and other German-speaking countries, Q accounts have promoted the theory that the COVID-19 pandemic was being used by governments around the world to conduct a large rescue operation to free children imprisoned by the “elites.”
- Such a claim was promoted by Red-rated, far-right Swiss website Legitim.ch in an April 2020 article. “The alleged corona pandemic may be the last desperate attack on our God-given freedom. But this shot obviously backfired, because with the global lockdown the background powers have literally dug their own grave,” the site wrote. “Instead of a totalitarian world government, the official revelation of the darkest secrets, the liberation of children, and the mass arrest of the so-called world elite are now imminent.”
- In April 2020, LesMoutonsEnrages.fr, an anonymously run blog that promotes conspiracy theories and health misinformation, published an op-ed that stated: “According to Q and the Qanon theory, the coronavirus crisis just enabled Trump to pass a new step towards freeing the US from the stranglehold of the Deep State.”
- In July 2020, LumiereSurGaia.com, a website that has published QAnon conspiracy theories since 2018, published a video from YouTube QAnon channel Les deQodeurs claiming that the COVID-19 pandemic was “part of the Deep State’s plan… The plan was to destroy the economy to create chaos and create a demand for a world government headed by Soros, Rothschild and the Saudi family …. The objective is to get rid of Trump.”
- In July 2020, the UK Qanon Twitter account @mr_squeege, which has over 25,000 followers, linked to a June 30 article titled “Social distancing was created by the CIA as a torture technique.” The article was published by Oye.News, a Red-rated UK news website that imitates the BBC’s logo and website.
- A large UK QAnon Facebook group, UK Patriot Alliance, regularly spreads false information about the virus, including its origins. An April post from one of the group’s administrators claimed that “the cabal and their global network…set this virus off to crash the markets and destroy Trump’s chances at the 2020 presidential election. If that isn’t obvious by now, it will be in the months to come.” An April 2020 post from the same administrator began by stating: “Do you think that these people can let off a biological weapon in China and get away with it?”
5 – The move from fringe groups to popular misinformation websites
After being confined to fringe social media groups and media, in 2020, QAnon conspiracies started spreading on popular misinformation websites in Europe, which helped boost their visibility on this side of the Atlantic.
- Videos from QAnon YouTube channel Les deQodeurs (a play on the word “Decodeurs” which is the fact-checking unit of newspaper Le Monde, but with the letter “Q,” which apparently stands for QAnon) have recently been shared on some of the most popular Red-rated websites in France, including LumiereSurGaia.com, (ranked in the top 400 websites in France in terms of online engagement), Alterinfo.net (top 600), LesMoutonsEnrages.fr (top 750), Cogiito.com (top 1,000), as well as the conspiracy-filled platform AgoraVox.tv (top 1.100).
- In June 2020, Alterinfo.net, a French website that regularly publishes false information and conspiracy theories, often to advance views considered anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic, published an article titled “Qanon — many questions leave us puzzled on the Floyd George incident… False Flag?” The article suggested that the death of George Floyd was staged.
- In July 2020, Cogiito.com shared a video which called all “digital soldiers” to spread the false claim that US company Wayfair was practising child trafficking through its selling of furniture online.
- In December 2019, Compact-Online.de, the website of a monthly German magazine that publishes false content to advance right-wing views of the AfD party, along with Russian disinformation, published a special edition about the Deep State, connecting the conspiracy’s framework with German politics: “The AfD and other patriotic forces are being hunted,” it said. “With the overthrow of Hans-Georg Maaßen as President of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the Deep State has shown that the security structures are no longer concerned with protecting our free basic order, for example against Islam.” (In March 2020, Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution announced a probe into COMPACT, for the spreading of “xenophobia and conspiracy theories.”)
- In July 2020, Pravda-TV.com (ranked in the top 250 websites in Germany in terms of online engagement) published multiple articles about alleged child trafficking networks in Germany.
- In July 2020, website Databaseitalia.it (ranked 410 in terms of online engagement in Italy), whose domain was registered in June 2020, published an article entitled “Q-Anon, The duty of seriousness.” The site features an entire section about QAnon, with articles published almost daily.
- “In this new type of war, fought with disinformation and conditioning, a new type of army becomes essential, a digital army that is able to convey and spread the real news, an army that becomes a megaphone of the people’s demands but also a popularizer of the rot that slowly comes to the surface thanks to the suggestions of Q,” the article said.
- It was shared on Facebook by some of the most popular QAnon accounts, thus reaching more than 300,000 users.
6 – European celebrities and politicians contribute to the spread QAnon
Once popularized by websites generating significant engagement online, some of the Q conspiracy theories have gone a step further into the mainstream in Europe, with celebrities and politicians promoting them.
- In recent months, popular German soul and R&B singer/songwriter Xavier Naidoo (a former juror on Germany’s popular casting show DSDS) has been a driving force behind spreading QAnon conspiracy theories, notably via his Telegram channel. Already critical of Germany’s immigration policies (“Your daughters, your children shall suffer, and get changed in the gym next to wolves,” he sang in a song published on social media), he published two videos in April 2020 on Telegram that embraced the QAnon conspiracy claiming that governments around the world are using the COVID-19 pandemic to conduct a big rescue operation to free children imprisoned by the “elites.”
- German rapper Sido suggested in a YouTube interview that he believed in QAnon and the existence of an elite pedophile network in Germany, even though Xavier Naidoo was, in his opinion, “too deep in it.”
- Another well-known German follower of Q is the vegan chef and cookbook author Attila Hildmann. In June 2020, on Telegram, he called on people to push the US to help free Germany. “Demand the freedom of Germany and a military tribunal for Merkel,” he wrote. “Now is our chance to announce that we want to be a free and sovereign nation again.” (According to reporting by T-Online.de, this post was followed by thousands of tweets calling on the US and Russia to intervene in Germany.)
- In May 2020, Italian MP and anti-vaxx activist Sara Cunial (formerly a member of the 5 Star Movement, now independent) gave a speech in Parliament promoting conspiracies previously popularized by pro-Qanon accounts — targeting Bill Gates and attacking the alleged “Deep State Italian style.”
- In June 2020, UK pop singer Robbie Williams gave an interview in which he supported the Pizzagate theory, stating that “nothing has been debunked” and “there’ve been no answers.”
- The interview was conducted by former BBC and ITV television presenter Anna Brees, and shared on her Twitter account, which has more than 44,000 followers. The video received nearly 2,000 likes.
7 – The ultimate infiltration: QAnon theories merge with very local conspiracy groups
A sign that these theories are making their way toward the mainstream in Europe: They are being shared and republished within uniquely local groups, including pro-Yellow Vests groups in France and long-standing far-right conspiracy groups in Germany.
- Interestingly, two subsets of Facebook groups seem to have been particularly interested in the Q narratives recently: pro-Yellow Vests groups and groups supporting Didier Raoult, the French doctor who has been hailed as a hero in conspiracy circles for supporting the use of the drug hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19, even when the French government did not authorize the treatment. (Multiple randomized trials have found that the drug did not provide beneficial effects to COVID-19 patients and did not prevent infection after exposure to the COVID-19 virus.)
- For instance, a July 2020 QAnon video from website DisSept.com was republished on pro-Yellow Vests groups (including a public group called Yellow Vests and boasting 196,000 members) and on pro-Raoult ones.
- Some pro-Yellow Vests groups are openly embracing Q, such as a group created in March 2019 called “Yellow Vests against Pedocriminality” (1.100 members).
- YouTube channel It is time*, which has 24,400 subscribers, states on its About section that it is the “channel spreading crucial information about the revolutionary movement of the Yellow Vests and the New World Order.”
- QAnon websites and accounts in France also link to well-established alternative French media. In its Links sections, Qanon-fr.com links to several French websites, including TV Libertes, a far-right streaming channel whose stated goal is to give a voice to those who “defend the French spirit and the European civilization;” RT France, the French-language version of RT, a 24/7 TV news channel and Russian government disinformation and propaganda effort; and Kontre Kulture, an online library that belongs to a company that is majority owned by far-right essayist Alain Soral, and which sells books by Soral and others, including Hitler’s Mein Kampf and Goebbels’ The Battle for Berlin (Combat pour Berlin).
- QAnon theories in Germany have resonated with followers of Reichsbürgerbewegung, a conspiracy that claims Germany is not fully sovereign and has secretly been occupied since the end of WWII by the US, frequently lamenting the stationing of US troops in Germany. (According to the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, this Reichsbürgerbewegung encompasses about 19,000 people.)
- For example, the Red-rated site DieUnbestechlichen.com published a June 2020 article that reported on the order of “US President Donald Trump to withdraw about one third of the US troops stationed in Germany,” stating that “Although this news is positive in every respect, the mainstream, which is enslaved to the US empire under the leadership of the Deep State, seems to regard this as bad for Germany.”
- Offline, Q has amassed quite a number of followers in Germany, notably in far-right spheres.
- As early as April 2020, Qs were spotted on protests against the government’s coronavirus measures, where protestors have incorporated them into their clothing or on their posters.
- QAnon also recently gained more traction in Germany after a far-right extremist murdered 10 people and wounded five in a racially motivated attack on a shisha bar in the western city of Hanau, in February 2020. Although he did not name QAnon, his 24-page manifesto and videos he posted prior to the attack included conspiracy theories common among Q followers, including the existence of secret societies that control citizens and underground military bases where children are tortured.