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FBI says followers of QAnon conspiracy theory could engage in "violent action"

The personal toll of QAnon on families
The personal toll of QAnon on families and once-close relationships 07:56

Washington — The FBI warned this month in a public assessment on the threat posed by QAnon that some followers of the conspiracy theory could engage in real-world violence after forecasts made in online posts have not come to fruition.

The two-page assessment prepared for Congress by the FBI said that adherents of QAnon could harm Democrats and other political opponents who they believe are part of a corrupt cabal of global elites and government actors.

The conspiracy theory holds that this cabal runs a Satan-worshipping international sex trafficking ring and plotted to orchestrate a coup against former President Donald Trump during his presidency. The alleged members will be punished for their purported crimes, adherents believe.

The FBI issued its two-page threat assessment in response to a request by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Martin Heinrich, a Democrat from New Mexico, in December 2020. The bureau said the participation of some domestic violent extremists who are QAnon followers in the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol "underscores how the current environment likely will continue to act as a catalyst for some to begin accepting the legitimacy of violent action."

"We assess that some [domestic violent extremist] adherents of QAnon likely will begin to 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 — including harming 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 said.

Other adherents will likely disengage from the QAnon movement or lessen their involvement following the change in presidential administrations, according to the bulletin. The disengagement could be motivated by social media companies removing QAnon content from their platforms, as well as the failure of QAnon-linked events to materialize.

"Adherence to QAnon by some DVEs likely will be affected by factors such as the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, the level of societal polarization in the United States, social media companies' willingness to host QAnon-related content on their sites, and the frequency and content of pro-QAnon statements by public individuals who feature prominently in core QAnon narratives," the FBI wrote.

Prepared by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, the June 4 assessment listed several incidents involving QAnon adherents who made threats or engaged in violence. 

The FBI has arrested more than 20 self-identified QAnon followers who participated in the riots at the Capitol, while another professed adherent from North Carolina was arrested January 7 after allegedly bringing guns and ammunition to the District of Columbia and making threats against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

An Oregon-based QAnon believer was arrested by federal law enforcement in early January after allegedly firing several rounds at a federal courthouse in Oregon.

Still, the FBI said "generating, accessing, discussing, or otherwise interacting with QAnon-related content without engaging in violence or other illegal activity" is protected under the First Amendment.

While QAnon began as a fringe movement among Mr. Trump's supporters, it became more mainstream as the theory moved to social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

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