The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has warned lawmakers that QAnon conspiracy theory followers may be on the verge of carrying out more violence in real life on Democrats and others that they perceive, however falsely, to be threats.
QAnon followers are evidently growing restless because they believe “they can no longer ‘trust the plan’ referenced in QAnon posts and that they have an obligation to change from serving as ‘digital soldiers’ towards engaging in real world violence,” the FBI warns in a document to lawmakers.
QAnon followers are conspiracy theorists who follow the word of an anonymous “Q” online, widely speculated to be fringe right wing forum 8Kun administrators Jim and Ron Watkins. The conspiracy theory-riddled posts by Q have no basis in reality but they’ve gained purchase among Donald Trump followers and others on the right. Q often posts what amounts to smear campaigns against Democratic politicians like Hillary Clinton.
But Q hasn’t posted since December of 2020, and some Q followers are evidently anxious that Q’s plan to take down the global cabal of mostly liberal politicians and celebrities who they falsely believe rule the world isn’t being executed. The FBI warns, in turn, that Democrats and others who they perceive to be enemies of the cause could be in danger.
The lack of direction and action from QAnon may lead the “digital soldiers” to harm “perceived members of the ‘cabal’ such as Democrats and other political opposition — instead of continually awaiting Q’s promised actions which have not occurred,” the FBI document reads.
The threat from militant QAnon followers is pronounced, the agency writes, following the group’s large presence at the attack on the Capitol on January 6. FBI agents have arrested over 20 self-proclaimed QAnon followers in connection with the Capitol attack — though previous reporting has found that a belief in QAnon was one of the most common shared traits among the Trump mob from that day.
QAnon followers’ participation in the Capitol breach “underscores how the current environment likely will continue to act as a catalyst for some to begin accepting the legitimacy of violent action,” the document says.
A classified version of the FBI threat assessment was circulated among legislators in February, CNN reports. But lawmakers have been frustrated with the FBI for not investigating the conspiracy theory in more depth, noting that it’s an increasingly large threat to domestic safety and democracy.
Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) questioned FBI director Christopher Wray in a hearing in April, asking why the agency “cannot or won’t tell the American people directly about the threat” of QAnon, in relation to the threat assessment. Wray responded that the agency is only investigating the conspiracy theory in relation to federal crimes such as those committed on January 6.
But ignoring the growing threat of right wing extremists has severely hampered the agency’s abilities to prevent violence before, as is evidenced by the very Capitol attack that they’re now investigating. Despite the fact that Heinrich had requested the FBI to look into the threat of QAnon in December, and the fact that at least one government agency had sent them a warning of the violence to come on January 6, the FBI never prepared a formal report on the threat prior to the day.
At the time, FBI officials said that they didn’t want to impend upon free speech — but, as NPR reported in January, that didn’t stop them from issuing warnings over protests for Black lives.
And despite the fact that QAnon supporters and right-wing extremists have been on the rise for many years and pose a huge threat in the U.S., the FBI has spent an outsized amount of time investigating left-wing protesters and advocates, even though the right is responsible for nearly all modern domestic terrorism.