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Local FBI field office warns of 'conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists'

The assessment noted that the document is the first from the FBI to analyze conspiracies and their connection to violent acts.
David Reinert holding a Q sign waits in line with others to enter a campaign rally with President Donald Trump and U.S. Senate candidate Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa. on Aug. 2, 2018, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.Matt Rourke / AP

FBI agents in Phoenix have issued an assessment detailing what they say are the risks posed by people who believe in fringe conspiracies including Qanon and Pizzagate, which have been cited as the impetus for a series of violent incidents over the last three years.

The document came in the form of an intelligence bulletin, intended for other law enforcement agencies but not for public disclosure, from a local FBI field office about how “fringe political conspiracy theories very likely motivate some domestic extremists to commit criminal, sometimes violent activity.”

The bulletin, which was first reported by Yahoo News on Thursday, was circulated May 30 and said the assessments were “made with high confidence” based on information from other law enforcement agencies, court documents, FBI investigations and other sources.

“The FBI assesses anti-government, identity based, and fringe political conspiracy theories very likely motivate some domestic extremists, wholly or in part, to commit criminal and sometimes violent activity,” the document reads. “The FBI further assesses in some cases these conspiracy theories very likely encourage the targeting of specific people, places, and organizations, thereby increasing the likelihood of violence against these targets.”

The assessment was written by the FBI’s Phoenix field office and was not a product of the FBI headquarters or other members of the U.S. intelligence community. The FBI declined to comment.

The document lists several instances of criminal activity by believers in such theories, first describing a standoff between police and a Qanon follower in Tucson, Arizona, who falsely believed a local homeless encampment was a child sex trafficking location. Tucson is about two hours away from Phoenix.

While it’s unclear whether more people are subscribing to and acting on conspiracy theories than in the decades past, the assessment noted that the document is the first from the FBI to analyze conspiracies and their connection to violent acts.

“This is the first FBI product examining the threat from conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists and provides a baseline for future intelligence products,” the assessment states.

The document describes Qanon believers as those who follow “an anonymous government official known as Q posts classified information online to reveal a covert effort, led by President Trump, to dismantle a conspiracy involving ‘deep state’ actors and global elites allegedly engaged in an international child sex trafficking ring.” NBC News tied the roots of Qanon to three veteran internet conspiracy theorists last year.

The document warns that “throughout history, such conspiracy theories have fueled prejudice, witch-hunts, genocide, and acts of terrorism.”

“In the context of domestic terrorism, extremists often view the activities of alleged conspirators as an existential threat that can only be stopped through drastic, or even violent means,” it reads.

Lawyers for Anthony Comello, a New York man who killed a suspected Gambino crime family boss in March, claimed he “became certain that he was enjoying the protection of President Trump himself, and that he had the president’s full support,” in part due to Qanon.

“Mr. Comello's support for QAnon went beyond mere participation in a radical political organization, it evolved into a delusional obsession,” Comello’s lawyers wrote.

Believers have repeatedly ignored failed prophesies, including the very first post, which was posted to an anonymous message board. The first post from “Q,” the purported government insider, was released in October of 2017, and referred to Hillary Clinton’s imminent arrest and a deployment of the National Guard in the next several days. Neither event occurred.

Believers were also forced to reckon with more failed prophecies this week, as “Q” gave a vague “24-hour warning” Tuesday of an event that did not come to pass, leaving followers frustrated and disillusioned.

Adherents were similarly let down Thursday when the Department of Justice declined to prosecute FBI chief James Comey as part of a probe by the Office of the Inspector General. Prosecuting members of a purported Satanic, child-eating cabal by way of the inspector general’s office has become a key cog for belief in Qanon.

“Q,” who now posts on an extreme far-right forum, didn’t mention the FBI field office’s report in posts Thursday, but once again claimed the failed predictions were part of the plan.