Qanon and the Press – The Anatomy of a Smear Campaign
Several articles a day are now being published by the mainstream media attacking Qanon. We’ll examine the tactics used by the press in developing these articles and the motives behind them.
Our story begins with an observation made by General Flynn in November of 2016 when he noted that journalists had abdicated their responsibilities. Rather than fairly and objectively reporting the news, they became political activists. Average citizens saw this as an opportunity and began publishing their own news on social media.
Historically, the flow of information has been controlled through centralized news networks because expensive equipment was needed to air broadcasts and print newspapers. Today, anyone can be a print journalist by setting up their own website. Some citizen journalists have established influential platforms on Facebook and Twitter. A mobile phone can function as a broadcast studio, and thousands of ordinary people now create their own news shows.
Leveling the Playing Field
Having exclusive access to sources of information, career journalists have enjoyed an advantage over the public. But Qanon has changed that dynamic. Q is a source of information similar to those used by journalists. His messages help ordinary people understand current events. Unlike the media, Q does not provide an information narrative but raw information. Some messages require interpretation or research. Readers can interpret these posts however they choose. Some bits of information must be synthesized together with others. Then they must be contextualized. The view of current events developed by those who follow Q differs from the view put forth by the mainstream media.
The media understand the threat citizen journalists pose to their control of information. Ordinary people now occupy the roles they once filled. To counter this threat, they developed a plan to discredit the source of information used by some citizen journalists. The plan centered around a smear campaign against Q. The tactics used in this campaign will be examined in the article. We’ll begin by looking at a quote from Bloomberg’s latest article about Qanon.
Memes emanating from the conspiracy group—which are tenuously united in the discredited belief that there’s a plot to oust Trump from the presidency—have made their way into the social media accounts of everyone from Michael Flynn (who was briefly national security adviser) to White House social media adviser Dan Scavino. Sometimes these memes can be as innocent as an image featuring Trump with a QAnon slogan (as was the case for Scavino), but at other times they take on more sinister overtones such as the oath to QAnon—“Where we go one, we go all”—which Flynn posted on July 4.
The Subtle Smear
Bloomberg attempted to smear the reputation of General Flynn, who has been supportive of the Q movement. Flynn follows many anons on Twitter and interacts with them through private messages. His family took the same oath taken by thousands of Q followers, as shown in this video posted on Twitter on July 4th.
Happy 4th of July ??
God Bless America ??
— General Flynn (@GenFlynn) July 5, 2020
Bloomberg falsely reported that the oath taken by some Q followers was taken to Qanon when it was taken to the United States. Flynn’s oath (the same one taken by anyone who joins the military) was called “sinister” by Bloomberg. These remarks reveal an agenda. Bloomberg wants to convince the public that Q followers have nefarious motives for their actions.
The media know that Q intends to expose corruption. That exposure includes piecing together evidence in the public domain regarding the Obama administration’s attempt to prevent Donald Trump from being elected and then trying to remove him from office. Those attempts included the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation, the Mueller investigation, and impeachment. In the above quote, Bloomberg referred to this plot as a “discredited belief,” despite the fact that several U.S. Attorneys are currently investigating this crime and one—John Durham—is expected to release the findings of his investigation imminently. The goal here is to convince the public that every idea proposed by Q followers is a baseless conspiracy.
Anything But the Q Posts
Articles by the media rarely discuss Q’s posts because that would cause people to read them. Instead, they’ve developed a cluster of topics they know the public will find either ridiculous or repulsive. The Bloomberg article asserted that Q followers are obsessed with conspiracies, like the idea that Tom Hanks has a sex slave.
Everyone else in the family remembers the stir that corner caused when they claimed that Tom Hanks had a sex slave.
In any cross-section of the population, you’re likely to find a few people who believe Tom Hanks has a sex slave. In the truther community, that belief is more common. However, Q has never mentioned Tom Hanks in any of his posts. To discredit Q, the media falsely claim that his operation involves subjects he has never mentioned.
Like thousands of articles before it, the Bloomberg article lampooned a post by Q, without providing the post itself or the context necessary to understand it. The article referenced Q’s first post on October 28th, 2017, which predicted Hillary Clinton’s arrest.
This post has confused many people and It’s been used to support the claim that Q is a phony. If you assume that Q intends to predict future events correctly, you would conclude that he got this one wrong, but that is not Q’s intent. To understand the purpose of this post, and others like it, you must follow a string of related messages posted that same week and put them together.
Three days later, on October 31, 2017, Q predicted the indictment of Huma Abedin and Podesta on November 3, 2017. (It’s unclear if the intended reference was to Tony or John Podesta.)
Before we assume this was just another failed prediction, let’s read on. The following day, November 1st, Q said proofs would begin on November 3rd.
We know from publicly available records that the Saudi royal family donated between 10 million and 25 million dollars to the Clinton Foundation. It’s natural to wonder if they expected political favors in return for their generosity. Some have suggested that the Clintons were little more than the political assets of the Saudis.
Imagine you’re a member of the Saudi royal family, and you learn that an anonymous person claiming to be an intelligence insider is predicting the imminent arrest and indictment of your most valuable assets. (At the time, Huma Abedin was Hillary Clinton’s personal assistant. John Podesta was her 2016 campaign manager.) Would you take action to try to prevent their arrest?
Imagine your surprise on the morning of November 4th, when you and your family members are arrested, instead of Hillary. On November 4th, 2017, the day of the arrest of members of the Saudi royal family, anons realized that in addition to hints about Hillary Clinton, Podesta, and Abedin, Q had also been dropping hints about events in Saudi Arabia. Q explained that the arrest of corrupt political figures would begin in Saudi Arabia and move to the U.S and other countries. The threat that American political figures would be arrested was a diversion intended to keep attention on them, while an operation was being planned to arrest their Saudi handlers.
Does Q Predict Future Events?
Many people misunderstand the intent of Q’s operation. They assume that Q intends to predict future events correctly, but that is not true. Although Q does provide information about current events, he does not overtly predict news events in advance. He drops clues about future news events that cannot be understood at the time they’re posted. After a big news event happens, we’re asked to go back over his posts and find the messages that alluded to the event. The predictive nature of Q’s posts can only be appreciated when viewing them in hindsight.
Many people complain about Q’s murky, ambiguous communication style. Why doesn’t he just clearly state what he means? Due to national security laws, certain information cannot be released directly to the public, but it can be alluded to in an oblique way. If the correct interpretation is made, in time, we may realize that we received advanced information about a classified operation. That was the case with the decode of this RED_CASTLE GREEN_CASTLE post from March of 2018.
It’s just a guess, but the Army Corps of Engineers has as their symbol, a red and white castle.
Is Trump planning to build the border wall using Defense Department money and the corps of engineers?#Qanonhttps://t.co/15ALngHfaZ pic.twitter.com/BWMP9p7ktK
— Praying Medic (@prayingmedic) March 23, 2018
Anons theorized that although he was negotiating with Congress at the time, President Trump actually planned to build the southern border wall using the Army Corps of Engineers and funding from the Defense Department. That hunch turned out to be true when nine months later, President Trump announced for the first time publicly this was how he intended to build the wall. Q’s messages must be correctly decoded and the right meaning inferred, but it is only later that we receive confirmation of our theory.
This leads to the observation that Q could post a random message and later claim it foretold a specific new story. In theory, Q could do that. Since the intended meaning of a cryptic post is unknown, he could, at the right time, assign any meaning he wanted. It’s an interesting theory, but let’s look at how it plays out in reality.
Watch Out for Proofs
On December 2nd, 2019, Q posted a message with a couple of lines of cryptic text along with a photo of a watch showing the time of 1:29. On December 2nd, no one but Q understood the meaning of this post.
Exactly one week later, on December 9th, the Department of Justice posted a link to the long-awaited Inspector General’s report on FISA abuse. The report was posted on the DOJ Inspector General’s Twitter page at 1:29 pm eastern.
DOJ OIG releases Review of Four FISA Applications and Other Aspects of the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane Investigation.
View on website here: https://t.co/nKywtnrjA8.
— Justice OIG (@JusticeOIG) December 9, 2019
The same day, Attorney General William Barr released a statement in response to the Inspector General’s report. Barr’s response was posted on the DOJ Twitter account at 1:29 eastern.
Statement by Attorney General William P. Barr on the Inspector General’s Report of the Review of Four FISA Applications and Other Aspects of the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane Investigation https://t.co/b8gBk9UxUb
— Justice Department (@TheJusticeDept) December 9, 2019
That same day, U.S. Attorney John Durham released his response to the Inspector General’s report. His reply was posted on the Connecticut U.S. Attorney’s Twitter page at 1:29 eastern.
Statement of U.S. Attorney John H. Durham https://t.co/1dV40dyzDU
— U.S. Attorney CT (@USAO_CT) December 9, 2019
Did Q’s watch photo showing the time of 1:29 foretell these events exactly one week in advance (to the minute) or was it just a coincidence? That is for each person to decide. When we observe events that appear to be a coincidence, at some point, it might be worth considering whether they are truly coincidental or whether they are coordinated.
The media portray Q’s messages as a collection of false predictions and incoherent ramblings. Are they ignorant of how Q’s posts appear to foreshadow news stories? If they are aware, why do they ignore this in their reporting?
Silence and Violence
The media intend to silence Q and his followers. Several tactics have been employed to achieve that objective. Early on, the press claimed that because Q chose to post on 4chan, he must be aligned with white supremacists who also post there. That’s like saying that if you post on videos on YouTube, you must be sympathetic to transsexuals who also post there. The websites 4chan, 8chan, and 8kun have hundreds of message boards. Each board is dedicated to the discussion of a different topic. As is true of Twitter, Facebook, or any other platform, white supremacists are a small cross-section of the user base.
The accusation that Q is connected to white supremacy isn’t true. Q has never posted a message espousing racist ideology. If he had, you can be sure the press would have a screenshot of it, and it would be prominently displayed in their articles. Although the claim that Q is connected to white supremacy isn’t true, it was a necessary tactic. The media hope to tie Q to some form of violent extremism.
Because there are no ties between Q and violence, the media have decided to manufacture them. Read a few articles about Qanon, and you’ll notice how reporters go out of their way to make some connection—no matter how contrived it might be—between Qanon and acts of violence. In their latest article, Bloomberg insinuated, without evidence, that a mass murderer in Germany espoused “‘Qanon-like beliefs.”
In February, in Hanau, Germany, a lone gunman espousing QAnon-like beliefs massacred nine people in bars frequented by immigrants before killing his mother and himself.
The media have no evidence that Q followers are violent. Such evidence doesn’t exist. But they’ve found another way to establish the violence connection. In 2019, Yahoo News published an article claiming that the FBI issued a bulletin warning about the threat of violent extremism related to “fringe conspiracy theories” like Qanon. The article centers around a bulletin supposedly published by the FBI’s Phoenix Field Office.
The FBI Bulletin Examined
I decided to investigate the origins of the alleged FBI bulletin.
I contacted Jana Winter, the author of the article, and Michael Isikoff, who was credited with developing the lede for the story. (This is the same Michael Isikoff who publicized the infamous Steele dossier that was used to obtain a FISA warrant to surveil Carter Page.) The document embedded in the article is hosted on a private Scribd account. I asked Isikoff and Winter to provide a link to a government website where the bulletin can be found, or other information could validate it. Neither Winter nor Isikoff responded to my request. One would hope they didn’t just find the document on Scribd and assume it was legitimate. If they obtained it from a government source, why not provide information about how it was obtained?
I contacted the FBI’s Phoenix field office. The agent who responded said he could not verify the existence of the bulletin. He suggested I file a FOIA request and referred me to the Bureau’s National Press Office. I searched the FOIA database with no results and filed a new FOIA request with the title of the document as the search query. The FOIA request returned no results.
I contacted the National Press Office, and they could not confirm the existence of the bulletin. They provided links to congressional testimonies of FBI & DOJ officials who addressed this matter and a link to an FBI article describing the categories they use to define violent extremism. The FBI currently has only four categories of domestic violent extremism:
The FBI classifies domestic terrorism threats into four main categories: racially motivated violent extremism, anti-government/anti-authority extremism, animal rights/environmental extremism, and abortion extremism.
One of the links provided by the Press Office pointed to a hearing where FBI Director Christopher Wray testified about violent extremism. Wray said the FBI doesn’t “investigate ideology, no matter how repugnant.”
I did a forensic examination of the alleged FBI bulletin and found a number of artifacts that call into question its validity. (The entire thread that examines these issues can be found by clicking on any of the tweets below and then following the linked tweets in the thread.) A few observations will be provided here to illustrate my main concerns.
I compared a known FBI bulletin on “Black Identity Violent Extremism,” which can be found on the FBI’s website. (Black Identity Violent Extremism is no longer a recognized category. It was replaced with the broader “Racially Motivated Violent Extremism.”) Several scanning irregularities were found on that bulletin. The exact same scanning errors appear in the document featured in the Yahoo News article. Note the boxes that obscure the first few letters of each line of text.
The last page of the Black Identity Extremism bulletin has a customer satisfaction survey. The numbers for sections 1-3 line up vertically, but the numbers for sections 4-6 are left of the vertical line.
The Yahoo News bulletin on conspiracy extremism has the same alignment problem with its customer satisfaction survey.
Below are parts of the customer satisfaction survey of both forms. The bulletin on black identity extremism (top) has a scanning error that makes the checkboxes overlap the first few words of text on each line. The Yahoo News bulletin (bottom) has the same scanner artifact.
The bulletin on black identity extremism (top) has a watermark showing the fiscal year 2017 (FY17). The Yahoo News bulletin (bottom) shows the fiscal year 2019.
Despite being issued by different field offices in different years, the same revision date appears at the bottom of both forms on the customer satisfaction survey.
On the last page of the black identity violent extremism bulletin (top), there is a product serial number that provides a unique tracking number. The product serial number was redacted from the bulletin that appeared in the Yahoo News article (bottom), making it virtually impossible to track. That step would be necessary if you hoped to pass off a forged document as real.
It’s difficult to confidently state this bulletin is legitimate, given the FBI’s position that they do not investigate ideologies, their official categories of violent extremism, and Yahoo’s refusal to provide corroborating evidence in light of suspicious findings. Nevertheless, once the bulletin was published, the mainstream articles that followed it confidently claimed the FBI had declared Qanon a domestic terror threat.
Paging Michael Isikoff
This operation is not unlike the way the FBI obtained a FISA warrant to surveil Carter Page. The information required for surveillance was not readily available, so it was manufactured by Christopher Steele. In its raw form, Steele’s information was not admissible as evidence in court, so it was promoted by Michael Isikoff and Yahoo. Once it was featured in a recognized news outlet, it was considered to be validated and became admissible as evidence. The surveillance of Carter Page became the pretext to smear the Trump presidential campaign and later, the pretext for the Mueller investigation. Isikoff and Yahoo appear to have contrived the FBI bulletin for the same purpose—to give it credibility and use it to smear their enemy.
The Streisand Effect
In 2003, a photographer published a photo of Barbara Streisand’s home in Malibu, California. Streisand sued the photographer and tried to have the photo removed from the internet. Her efforts only created greater public interest in seeing her home.
Thanks to efforts by the media, the movement is growing faster than ever. An internal audit by Facebook uncovered thousands of groups and pages with millions of members. What did they expect would happen after publishing more than 2,000 articles slamming a tiny, irrelevant, fringe, kooky, dangerous internet conspiracy? The growth of the movement was the thrust of Bloomberg’s latest article. When they weren’t comparing Q to ISIS, they whined about how the movement is becoming normalized.
The conspiracy isn’t going to go away soon and, as the Republican Party begins to count on QAnoners for votes, its paranoid style is almost on the verge of political normalization.
In one important aspect, though, QAnon is like Islamic State: Adherents often start from a feeling of alienation and then acquire an unquestioning faith in the righteousness of a cause that gives vent to their frustrations.
After convincing the public that Q is a violent movement, the next step was convincing tech companies. Social media and internet providers were pressured to de-platform anyone giving a voice to Qanon. (After all, they wouldn’t want to support terrorists, would they?)
Since December of 2017, Q had been posting on 8chan. Insinuations that 8chan supported violence led to tech providers cutting off their services. That move silenced Q during the three months it took 8chan’s owner to set up another website, 8kun.
When Twitter announced it was suspending Q followers’ accounts, they justified the move by claiming, without evidence, that they engage in “offline harm” (violence).
We’ve been clear that we will take strong enforcement action on behavior that has the potential to lead to offline harm. In line with this approach, this week we are taking further action on so-called ‘QAnon’ activity across the service.
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) July 22, 2020
Once society believes a group is violent, they can be attacked financially. If banks and payment gateways can be pressured to close the accounts of Q followers, it wouldn’t just be the icing on the cake for the media; it would be mission accomplished. I believe that in time, we’ll learn this was their real objective all along.
My Twitter thread on Yahoo’s FBI bulletin.