Fewer than 100 pro-QAnon social media personalities, fans, and members of their families gathered for a grassroots rally on a brutal summer day on a shadeless patch of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on the anniversary of the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil. The rally marked one of the first QAnon-specific gatherings in the offline world, independent of other conferences and Trump rallies.
Alysia Gamble, a supporter of the QAnon conspiracy theory who calls herself “RedShiftReality” on social media, cobbled together, via social media, the “family-friendly” rally dubbed The Great Awakening approximately three weeks before it took place, according to attendees. Gamble said she thought up the event after her deep interest in the Q phenomenon compelled her to do something about it offline.
“I just, you know, don’t sleep much anymore and just thought, ‘Hey, I’m going to go to D.C. with my megaphone and a sign and a table and, boy, what if I get everyone together?’ And so, this is us being a part of the solution,” Gamble told Wednesday’s crowd.
Right Wing Watch was told that the prominent social media voices who joined Gamble for her event had financed their own travels to the day’s rally. Under the heat of the unforgiving sun, they addressed a diverse crowd of Q followers. Two unmarked white vans lingered at the back of the crowd.
Forcing the Message Into the Mainstream
QAnon movement participants believe that their “decoding” a catalog of anonymous riddles left on the (now-defunct) 8chan message board makes them privy to a secret plan currently being executed by the Trump administration to uproot what they believe to be a global network of sex traffickers and satanic worshipers that directly involves high-profile Hollywood stars, business and nonprofit leaders, and Democratic Party politicians who, they say, abuse children. As The Daily Beast reports, the Trump administration has refused to explicitly address the conspiracy theory and its followers, and it may cause the Trump 2020 reelection campaign major headaches.
Lacking buy-in from mass-media outlets, supporters have turned to social media platforms and publicity stunts to disseminate their message to the broader public.
One undeniably successful moment in that effort came at a Trump rally in Tampa, Florida, last year. Trump supporters with QAnon apparel, posters, and paraphernalia placed themselves in view of network news cameras at the rally and announced themselves in a way that was impossible for national media outlets to ignore; a wall-to-wall news cycle explaining QAnon followed. Two speakers at The Great Awakening claimed at least part of the credit for that.
“Hello, Q family!” John Welch said, and received applause. “We’re all awake, of course.”
At the time of the Tampa rally, many followers of the conspiracy theory were disgruntled after explicit predictions made by Q had failed to materialize. Feeling upset by the sentiment she was witnessing, Lisa Welch and her husband John Welch devised a plan to fire up the Q community.
Lisa Welch said, “I told John if we could get the media to report on Q, we could keep people united. So, I knew we’d have to go big or go home and we bought the 100 Q shirts and made 2,500 ‘We are Q’ signs and took them to the [Tampa] rally and handed them out and the rest is history.”
The Welch couple says they have taken similar actions at Trump rallies in Fort Meyers and Panama City Beach, and did so again at Wednesday’s rally, where they passed out a suitcase-full of QAnon swag after their speech.
Q posts were distributed on the anonymous imageboard 8chan before it was shuttered for a lack of service providers willing to be associated with the website’s cesspool of unfounded conspiracy theories and hate speech. With 8chan currently offline, and social media sites attempting to curb the spread of conspiracy theories on their platforms, vying for media coverage has become a more important element in the effort to spread the message of the QAnon conspiracy theory to the general public.
Roy Davis, a known participant in Reddit discussions in the online QAnon community and co-author of a bestselling pro-QAnon book, compared actions by social media site moderators who remove content from the Q community to “going to Stephen King’s house and burning his manuscripts—no different.”
But despite recent successes in getting mainstream news publications to cover their goings-on, the anti-press sentiment was still rampant during the rally. Almost every speaker took at least a moment to rag on publications that have covered their movement, particularly publications that have accurately noted the conspiracy theory’s contribution to violent crimes.
“To be lumped in with some crazy folks out there who supposedly liked Q at one point and did crimes—frankly, it’s offensive,” pro-QAnon broadcaster and co-author Dustin Nemos told Right Wing Watch,
‘I Kind of Imagine This is What Heaven Feels Like’
People arrive at the QAnon phenomenon from a plethora of entry points. Some supporters, like Craig James from Colorado, who operates a pro-Q podcast called “JustInformed Talk,” say they approach the conspiracy theory from a worldview that is devoutly religious. Apart from promoting QAnon theories, James also uses his platform to preach Christianity. In an interview after Wednesday’s rally, he told Right Wing Watch that he believes there is a fundamental parallel between the Q phenomenon and scripture. James said the Christian religion “does coincide with Q and what we’re doing here because it is a good-versus-evil thing.”
During the rally, Lisa Welch and her husband John expressed a similarly evangelical interpretation of the QAnon phenomenon. Welch told attendees that Q had “restored our faith in humanity and I kind of imagine this is what Heaven feels like.”
Former Trump photographer Gene Ho stressed to attendees that he believed that the Q movement “is all about blood”—both the blood that some Q believers say elite Democratic pedophiles drink for its adrenochrome and the blood of Jesus Christ.
“This whole thing of what we’re doing is all about blood. Q says constantly, ‘Check the bloodlines.’ We know they’ve been misusing blood with their adrenochrome and all of this stuff. But ultimately, what this is about, it’s about blood and it’s about blood from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” Ho said.
Believers of the QAnon phenomenon present at Wednesday’s rally described to Right Wing Watch the emotions and sense of community they felt while attending.
Holding a homemade sign depicting a crudely drawn “Pepe the Frog” lying in a bed with Q insignia on it was a young man named Michael who told me he had traveled from northeast Pennsylvania the night prior so that he could attend The Great Awakening Rally. Michael told me that since growing familiar with Q and supporting Trump, he felt deeply connected to his “fellow Americans” for the first time.
“I got here early this morning and I immediately felt this cohesion. It was like we knew each other but never met, something that I had never experienced before,” Michael said.
Nino, a young man standing with Michael told us: “I’m searching for answers and I’m here today. It feels right.”
“Q is about all of us together and all of us not being scared, because that’s what happened to us in America,” Ho told the crowd assembled near the Washington Monument. He later added, “Q has wakened us up. Q has made us alive again and Q has taught us to think for ourselves.”
Pro-QAnon social media personality Jordan Sather admitted that pursuing this alternate explanation for what’s going the world has cost him more than a few relationships.
“It took a couple of years of me ostracizing away, being ostracized from various social circles and friends and family—the people who just haven’t chosen to look at the information and piece it all together yet. You often get ostracized from those folks,” Sather said.
A recurring theme in Wednesday’s QAnon gathering was a reassurance to attendees that the personal sacrifices they have endured for supporting the movement would ultimately pay off. John and Lisa Welch told the crowd that their children had stopped talking to them.
“Our children got jealous and told us they couldn’t talk to us anymore until Trump was out of office,” Lisa said. “Our response? ‘We will see you in six years.’ We’re going to be helping him save the world. We’re going to be busy.”
John added, “Most of us have lost someone since this has all started. Hopefully, one day soon, they’ll realize that we were fighting for them all along. We can’t focus on the ones we’ve lost right now, because there’s so much work to be done.”
People who believe in QAnon often find themselves on the fringes of other, more hateful, conspiracy theories. One rally participant asked speaker Dylan Wheeler, a conservative social media personality who has used the handle “Education4Libs” and has reportedly been embraced by Turning Point USA, why Wheeler thought some conservatives labeled their theories about Israel as anti-Semitic. Wheeler empathized with the audience member.
“So many of these conservatives, they have an open mind until you start questioning Israel. The people who own our media are 90-percent Jewish, and there’s only five corporations owning our media,” Wheeler said, going on to criticize prominent conservative speakers who he said had dodged the “Jewish Question.”
During a Q&A portion of Sather’s presentation, a woman told Sather that she was drinking turpentine and sugar to remove what she believed were intestinal parasites in her digestive tract. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers turpentine “Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health” in sufficient concentrations.
A Movement Going Nowhere
The question surrounding the QAnon movement is where it goes next, not whether it sticks around. Even in the absence of Q’s clues with 8chan offline, the most devout believers in the conspiracy theory remain determined and committed.
“We’ve been in a somewhat Q-less stint for a while, but I think that is soon going to come to an end,” Sather said, going on to reassure attendees that their movement was on the cusp of “a civilization-defining moment.”
The White House has refused to directly comment on QAnon while it simultaneously winks and nods to the conspiracy theory’s supporters. Q supporters have reported that the Secret Service confiscated QAnon signs and apparel from recent rallies. Despite this, QAnon believers like Nemos are undeterred in their belief that the president both knows and is supportive of their movement, citing the president’s hand-gestures at rallies.
“At least whoever controls his Twitter is in touch with Q. I mean he’s doing the air-Qs often, he’s pointing at the shirts, we had the Q baby thing, I mean, that’s just one of hundreds of examples at this point. It’s not like he’s distancing or actually denying it in any way,” Nemos said. “At this point, I think it’s pretty fair to say that he’s at least courting it.”