Anonymous deals with its QAnon branding problem

When you’re a notorious hacking entity like Anonymous, and a pro-Trump conspiracy cult (QAnon) steals your branding (while claiming you’re the impostor), the obvious thing to do is declare cyberwar. That’s exactly what Anonymous did this past week in a press announcement, followed by a social media and press offensive.

So far Anonymous has managed to take over QAnon’s hashtags (while adding #OpQAnon and others) and dox a couple hundred members of Trump’s pedophilia-obsessed, "deep state" doomsday cult. QAnon’s mouthpieces responded exactly as we’d expect, with taunts and tweets saying: "These people are STUPID!! They have no brains and no skills. Typical ’empty threat’ terrorists! But DO NOT click their links!! Virus city baby!!"

Take me down to the Virus City

The branding problem is real. QAnon insists they are the "real" Anonymous, all but encouraging public confusion as they’ve co-opted the hacktivist group’s name, tags, phrases, and terms, like calling their members "anons" and saying "[we] are legion."

Calling QAnon "a deformed Alex Jones conspiracy thought bubble," Anonymous hit back in its Anonymous Operation QAnon video.

"We will not sit idly by while you take advantage of the misinformed and poorly educated," Anonymous said. "In our collective we all have our differences and internal drama but we do have one thing in common; none of us are happy with your bullshit. We gonna wreck you."

The problem isn’t just that QAnon is impersonating Anonymous. It’s that QAnon is nothing like Anonymous, and the pro-Trump, anti-resistance, militantly neo-conservative, pedophile-obsessed, anti-immigrant conspiracy cult stands for everything Anonymous opposes. The group’s rhetoric mirrors that of Alex Jones with its false, hysterical calls to action regarding Democrats, "illegals," Muslims, and armed insurrection.

Which is why lots of people are comparing this to Anonymous’ campaigns against the Westboro Baptist Church and Scientology — though especially its operation against the KKK.

Back in November 2014, a Ku Klux Klan group based 75 miles south of Ferguson, Missouri began distributing flyers saying it would use "lethal force" on Ferguson protesters after the grand jury decision about Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. Anonymous declared war. It’s probably worth pointing out that the KKK also taunted Anonymous before the shit hit the pillowcase-covered fan. Anonymous seized two primary KKK Twitter accounts (and had fun with them), knocked the website belonging to "Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan" offline — the group responsible for the Ferguson threats — compromised KKK member email accounts, and conducted a phone harassment campaign on KKK members.

Achieving a primary goal of QAnon, much digital ink has been spilled over the past couple of weeks exploring who, or what, QAnon is. In a coordinated effort to get mainstream press attention, attendees of a Tampa, Florida Trump rally August 1st wore "Q" t-shirts and got "Q" signs in the right spots to be filmed by Fox News.

Ignore the sideshow, follow the talking points

QAnon considers themselves "a research group of volunteer patriots" led by a high-clearance U.S. government informant who excretes information and prophecies through cryptic online messages. Their collective hero-myth revolves around a narrative of fighting a secret ring of billionaire, Democrat pedophiles.

In fact, survivors of sexual assault and trauma should be cautioned before looking at QAnon’s social media footprint because it’s quite remarkable, and not a little disturbing, to observe just how much these individuals fixate on pedophilia and pedophiles. The fictional, detailed conspiracies centering on child rape, are QAnon’s nexus, around which is woven a nonsensical tapestry of rhetoric and conspiracy against anything that goes against Trump and MAGA values. None of which is true, despite members’ claims to the contrary.

It’s interesting to look at the events surrounding QAnon’s arrival sometime in October 2017, when the group surfaced on 4chan and then 8chan, and of course, blossomed on Reddit and Facebook. That month, the first charges were filed in the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller into alleged Russia interference in the 2016 US election.

Six weeks prior, in mid-August, the first DNC hacker, Guccifer, called Fox News to express his concerns about extradition to the U.S. He also slipped in some praise for Guccifer 2.0. You know, the 12 Russian intelligence officers indicted for the DNC hack that was done in favor of the Trump presidential campaign.

The first Guccifer also told Fox that his source in the U.S. government told him a secret. "So I think Guccifer two-zero is an inside job," Guccifer 1.0 told Fox. "I think Guccifer two-zero is something made from some guys at the State Department. Some guys from the cyber command of the NSA, and some guys from the Vault, Vault 7 of the CIA."

Around six weeks later QAnon arrived on the internet scene armed with conspiracies and meme artwork, social media savvy, and fast propagation. Amid the hackneyed calls to "believe" and fight for "truth" wrapped in "deep state" conspiracy theories, its primary talking point is that the DNC hack was an inside job involving FBI, DOJ and using CIA tech to frame the Russians.

This exact messaging was relayed on InfoWars in December. Sometimes QAnon members bear witness to Q’s "truths" and predictions through Trump’s words and the timing of his choice of topics, cementing their fervor in exclamations of proof. The QAnons think they’re witnessing Trump confirm the prophecies of Q as days go by. It’s more like Q and Trump are reading from the same script.

Disinformation cult

Even if QAnon didn’t spring from the heads of GRU and IRA strategists, fully-formed and in war armor at birth like Athena emerging from Zeus, they’ve had the success of doomsday cults written all over them from the start. It’s like a Russian disinformation campaign dressed up as an Illuminati prophecy cult — with, according to a new investigation by Vox, recruits pulled from The_Donald and "red pill" subreddits.

Like every cult belief system that’s come before them, QAnon has a proto-doomsday event (and requisite moving goalposts for its proof of truths). Branch Davidians had a rapture, Heaven’s Gate had flying saucers, and Aum Shinriko had a third world war. QAnon’s endgame event is alternately called "the storm" and "the awakening," or "great awakening."

As described in When Prophecy Fails by Leon Festinger, the endgame-belief strategy is accompanied by a phenomenon of believers doubling-down when the event doesn’t happen, and the truths of their leader turn out to be false. It’s a template for getting believers to push a narrative that’s as old as time. There’s a "prophecy" delivered by a "conspiracy" to people who claim to read the "true signs" about an endgame. The faithful will be rewarded, the outside world punished.

Upon a failed prophecy the believers double-down, telling themselves we didn’t believe enough, we’re under attack and must fight harder, we must get more followers and publicity. According to the Festinger team’s research, the fact that the endgame event didn’t happen doesn’t make the conspiracy adherents give up; many become more convinced than ever that their beliefs are going to come to pass.

A honeypot for psychotic breaks

We should probably worry about what might happen next with QAnon. Some say the whole thing is an elaborate prank on Trump supporters. I think believing this is a mistake.

Apparently, so does Anonymous. "We haven’t really talked about QAnon and how utterly stupid the conspiracy theories are behind it," tweeted YourAnonNews. "It is an obvious troll to pull in the far right wing conspiracy mob, and it has worked. QAnon is a fabrication, and eventually people are going to get hurt because of it."

They’re not wrong. "A man was arrested last month after barricading himself inside an armored truck on top of the Hoover Dam in protest of a Justice Department report often cited by QAnon followers," reported American magazine Forward. "True believers also held a march outside the White House in April. In the past month, QAnon has popped up on a billboard in Georgia and at multiple Trump rallies."

It’s probably also worth noting that the man just arrested for the SoCal Holy Fire, Forrest Clark, "recently became fixated with fabricated politically motivated pedophilia, and was an early QAnon ‘researcher’," according to Forbes contributor JJ MacNab.

Anonymous has had some success in its doxing of QAnon members so far. But right now, thanks to the hypocrisies of Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and others, odds are not in the favor of neither hacktivists nor targets of these groups. Until social media platforms stop avoiding their direct responsibility for hosting and distributing QAnon (and Alex Jones), and press outlets stop laughing at the conspiracy nuts, it looks like Anonymous has its work cut out.

Images: Scott Olson via Getty Images (Qanon trio); vovashevchuk via Getty Images (Honey jars)

from Engadget