- The QAnon conspiracy theory movement builds off of anti-Semitic tropes and false claims that have circulated worldwide for centuries.
- QAnon echoes centuries-old false claims that Jews secretly dominated the world and murdered Christian children.
- Members of the QAnon community have used anti-Semitic rhetoric online.
- "Even though Jews are not necessarily the target of QAnon, most of those theories sound familiar to anyone who knows anything about the history of anti-Semitism," Michael Brenner, the director of American University's Center for Israel Studies and a Jewish history professor, told Insider.
- Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
Exercise is usually a moment of escape for Gabriel. But one day in June, when the 31-year-old hopped on his Peloton spin bike, something stopped him in his tracks.
As he looked at the screen's leaderboard, which shows how others taking the spin class are performing, QAnon hashtags populated the bike's screen. The hashtags indicated that people who follow QAnon — a baseless far-right conspiracy theory that alleges President Donald Trump is fighting a Satanic deep-state cabal of human traffickers —were taking the same class.
Gabriel, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation from QAnon believers, was immediately afraid. Some QAnon followers have been linked to crimes like murders and kidnappings related to their belief in the conspiracy theory, and the FBI has warned that the movement has the potential to become a domestic terrorism threat. Gabriel is Jewish, and familiar with the danger of hate. His grandfather liberated concentration camps at the end of the Holocaust. For him, QAnon feels like an extension of hatred towards Jews.
"It's just such thinly veiled, anti-Semitic tropes," Gabriel told Insider. "I do feel that it's propagating this really dangerous movement."
Like other conspiracy theories, QAnon has echoes of anti-Semitism
The QAnon conspiracy theory's main tenet, that a secret world-dominating cabal is posing a danger to children worldwide, builds on centuries-old anti-Semitic tropes. The movement's anonymous figurehead, "Q," posts "Q drops" with cryptic messages on the 8kun messageboard that have sometimes contained anti-Semitic references.
QAnon has become increasingly mainstream. Politicians, influencers, and President Trump himself have made flattering comments about the movement, and several conspiracy theories linked to QAnon adherents have gone viral.
The popularity of QAnon comes at a time when anti-Semitism has already been on the rise in the US, according to the Anti-Defamation League, a nongovernmental organization that tracks racism and anti-Semitism worldwide. The ADL reported in May that there was a 12% increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the US from 2018 to 2019.
QAnon is not an "explicitly anti-Semitic movement," Vegas Tenold, an investigative researcher at the ADL's Center on Extremism, told Insider. But within QAnon, "there are several tropes that really sort of smack of anti-Semitism," he said.
"You're going to find very few global conspiracy [theories] that don't touch on anti-Semitic tropes," Tenold said.
The ADL's report on the state of anti-Semitism in 2017 found several anti-Semitic references in QAnon tweets. "A small percentage of tweets referencing QAnon" also referenced "Israel, Jews, Zionists," as well as the Rothschild family and George Soros — both wealthy Jewish subjects that have become wrapped up in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories — according to the report.
While QAnon harassment has not been targeted exclusively towards Jews, many Jewish figures, including Soros, have been met with anti-Semitic attacks from the community.
California State Senator Scott Wiener, who is gay and Jewish, became a QAnon target in 2019 when he introduced a bill that would give underage gay sex and heterosexual sex the same legal treatment. California State Senate Bill 145 would "end discrimination against L.G.B.T.Q. young people on California's sex offender registry," Wiener explained in an op-ed for The New York Times.
But the QAnon movement caught wind of the bill and wrongly claimed on social media that the bill would legalize sex with underage children. Wiener wrote in his op-ed that one person called his office and threatened to send his decapitated head to his own mother. Another person said he would be "lynched like Leo Frank."
Frank, who was Jewish, was the superintendent of a pencil factory in Atlanta who was wrongfully convicted of raping and murdering a 13-year-old girl in 1913. In 1915, Frank was kidnapped from prison and lynched.
The lynching led to the revival of the Ku Klux Klan, and white supremacists today continue to allege Frank was responsible for the killing.
Jewish people have been the victims of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories for centuries
Conspiracy theories like QAnon that allege the existence of a secret society, and weaponize false accusations of child-trafficking and murder against one's enemies, are built on centuries-old anti-Semitic tropes.
Several of these tropes started to develop in the Middle Ages. According to Michael Brenner, the director of American University's Center for Israel Studies and a Jewish history professor, variations of those tropes "continue to exist until this very day."
Those 12th-century anti-Semitic tropes alleged that Jews were responsible for kidnapping Christian children and drinking their blood for religious rituals. Those claims, called blood-libel conspiracy theories, persisted throughout the 1800s and into the 20th century, according to the ADL.
The blood libel conspiracy theory is still alive with QAnon, as believers have claimed that the fictional deep-state cabal consumes the blood of children through adrenochrome, a fictional version of a chemical compound that's "harvested from the fear of children," The Daily Beast reported.
The movement's baseless belief in a secret cabal dominating the world also bears a strong resemblance to anti-Semitic theories.
The "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," a fictional text published in Russia in 1903, falsely alleged "a Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world," according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. "Protocols," which continues to circulate online in anti-Semitic spaces, also referenced the blood libel, falsely claiming that Jews drank the blood of Christian children.
QAnon is a recycled version of these false claims, replacing Jews with Democrats, celebrities, and anyone else the movement chooses to go after.
"Even though Jews are not necessarily the target of QAnon, most of those theories sound familiar to anyone who knows anything about the history of anti-Semitism," Brenner said. "And it is the way of arguing by laying blame on a minority — the minorities are often exchangeable."
The anonymous 'Q' figure has included anti-Semitic references in his 'Q drops'
"Q," the anonymous figure whose cryptic messages on the fringe 8kun (formerly 8chan) forum leads the movement with messages called "Q drops."
One drop, in 2018, included a stereotypically drawn Jewish man, wearing a Star of David necklace, holding a knife and standing in what is meant to show the blood of people from Russia, Poland, Hungary, and Ukraine, with the caption, "Why do they persecute me so?"
The user who originally posted the image on the now-defunct 8chan platform in April 2018 asked "Q," "How many are connected to (((roths)))?" The use of a triple parentheses around a name, also called an "echo," is an anti-Semitic symbol used online by the alt-right that targets Jews.
"Q" shared the post on 8chan and replied, writing, "The 'Chair' serves the Master. Who is the Master?"
QAnon influencers, whose interpretations of "Q drops" are just as important to the conspiracy theory as the drops themselves, have also spread anti-Jewish messages, as Mike Rothschild reported for The Daily Dot in August.
In a 2019 interview, Dylan Wheeler, an influencer who was previously prominent in the QAnon world but denounced the movement in an Instagram post in August, referenced the "Jewish Question," a common phrase for the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that Jews have inordinate control over the world.
"I don't hold back at all. Like the Jewish Question, I don't know how to answer that. Like, there are some really — I'm not saying Jews are bad, by any means. I'm saying, like, Israel has their deep state just like America has their deep state, and all that needs to be rooted out," Wheeler said in the interview, according to a transcript obtained by Media Matters for America.
Jordan Sather, a hugely popular QAnon influencer who has been banned from YouTube and Twitter, also used the triple parentheses "echo" technique to reference Jews in a tweet in March. "What is the real virus plaguing our world? (((Them)))," he wrote in the tweet, which has since been removed by the platform.
QAnon is a 'big tent' conspiracy theory movement that allows anti-Semitism to thrive
The fact that QAnon is not explicitly against Jews is part of why the movement has been so successful in indoctrinating thousands (if not millions) of people worldwide, Tenold, who researches hatred and extremism for the ADL, said.
"Q is such a big tent that it can easily accommodate" anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred, Tenold said. "Part of the genius, or the reason behind the success, of Q, is that whatever garbage you bring to the party, you can bring it to the party."
"You have everything from lizard people, and UFOs, and ancient anti-Semitic tropes, all kind of coexisting under the umbrella of Q," Tenold said, referencing the Seattle man who murdered his brother because he thought he was a lizard.
This is what has made the movement so digestible and popular within the mainstream, and led to people from different walks of life, from lifestyle and parenting influencers to Republican politicians, espousing QAnon.
That's also what makes it so dangerous. More support from the mainstream, including comments from President Trump that flatter the movement, offers an "acknowledgment" and validation for QAnon supporters, Tenold said.
Gabriel, who fears QAnon for its anti-Semitism, has continued to email Peloton's customer service team when he sees QAnon-related hashtags on the platform. The company previously told Insider it had removed QAnon-related hashtags.
Peloton is one of over a dozen tech companies that have grappled with the difficult question of how to deal with QAnon, which has spread rapidly on mainstream social media platforms like YouTube and Facebook, both of which have cracked down on the movement.
"I'm under no illusion that I'm stopping QAnon by reporting it to Peloton, but I don't want to see it," Gabriel said. "And I want Peloton to understand that they have a responsibility to stop them from further propagating on their platform."
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