The Qanon conspiracy theory that recently began to surface at President Donald Trump’s rallies has burst into the national consciousness, but some of the most conspiracy-friendly figures on the far right are pushing back against the theory — including the very ones that helped the theory gain prominence.
Qanon has become too much for some of the web’s most die-hard Trump supporters — the moderators of Reddit’s r/The_Donald, a message board of Trump supporters that boasts almost 640,000 members and is one of the most active communities on the entire website.
Two moderators of the community, who oversee the subreddit and its hundreds of posts per day, told NBC News that they have banned Qanon posts and automatically delete any new posts about the theory that they now view as an embarrassment to their community. The moderators declined to disclose their real names to NBC News out of concerns for their privacy.
The ban highlights just how powerful the Qanon theory has grown among those on the far right, even on the turf where Qanon found some of its earliest followers. Qanon followers have a significant overlap with r/The_Donald, according to a data analysis from Vox.
Those moderators are not alone. Far right figures have almost uniformly begun to disparage the theory. Rick Wiles, host of the Christian survivalist radio show "Trunews," recently called Qanon "a big lie," according to Right Wing Watch, which tracks far-right media. Wiles propagates other theories such as a coming civil war started by liberals.
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Other more mainstream Republican pundits have also spoken out publicly against Qanon, highlighting just how widespread the theory has become — and that they aren't happy with how it reflects on Trump supporters.
Infowars founder Alex Jones once promoted the theory, but then told his followers that it had been compromised.
"Stick a fork in the avatar of Qanon,” Jones declared in May, claiming to have spoken to the person behind the leaks that make up the theory. “It is now an overrun disinformation fount.”
Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic series and an outspoken Trump supporter, recently said the theory was making Trump supporters look like “a bunch of idiots.”
The rise of the Qanon hoax, and its speed at affecting mainstream political culture, has surprised even the most hardened political provocateurs. The various threads of the theory are connected by the baseless belief that a high-level government official, “Q,” is leaking information about Trump’s secret war against a pedophile cult run by politicians including Hillary Clinton and Hollywood celebrities.
Embedded in the hoax is what’s become an addictive game for its followers, in which they pick apart the president's words and news articles, trying to validate the clues, or “crumbs,” left by Q on anonymous message boards. There is no evidence for any of the claims.
“Q” T-shirts and signs are now regularly seen at Trump events. Qanon billboards have been spotted around the country. “Q” paraphernalia is readily available on Amazon. A Qanon app was surprisingly popular on Apple’s App Store until it was removed. True believers of the conspiracy have even taken real-world action, causing concern that the theory could eventually inspire violence.
Efforts to stymie the theory come as public interest in the theory spiked in recent weeks after numerous Trump supporters at a rally in Florida were photographed wearing “Q” gear. Google Trends showed a significant spike in searches for “Qanon” in late July and early August, though the searches have tapered off in recent days.
As the theory has peeked into the mainstream, conservative pundits have sought to distance themselves and the Trump movement from it. While Trump himself has at times embraced certain conspiracy theories, such as widespread voter fraud and a missing Democratic National Committee server, Qanon appears to be too far even for Trump supporters familiar with the internet’s fringiest elements.
Growing resentment of Qanon and its followers has even led some people to try to figure out the identity or identities of “Q.” Reddit may have helped the Qanon theory gain momentum, but it could also lead to its downfall. A Reddit community called r/Qult_Headquarters is now home to people “dedicated to documenting, critiquing, and debunking the chan poster known as 'Q' and his devotees.”