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Reddit bans Qanon subreddits after months of violent threats

Reddit was key to Qanon’s emergence from the fringe corners of the internet and into more mainstream conspiracy and far-right media circles.
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An attendee holds signs a sign of the letter "Q" before the start of a rally with U.S. President Donald Trump in Lewis Center, Ohio on Aug. 4, 2018.Maddie McGarvey / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Reddit banned its largest community focused on the fringe conspiracy theory Qanon on Wednesday, claiming the subreddit was cut off “due to repeated violations of the terms of our content policy.”

The community, called /r/GreatAwakening, had more than 71,000 subscribers making over 10,000 comments on average per day before it was banned. A backup subreddit, /r/the_greatawakening, was also banned, along with 17 other Qanon focused communities, including r/BiblicalQ and r/Quincels.

The subreddit, which is a term for the common interest groups that make up Reddit, has been host to a stream of violent threats based on the conspiracy theory — despite repeated calls from the community’s moderators urging them to stop, particularly in recent weeks. Qanon devotees falsely believe that President Donald Trump is secretly waging a war with special counsel Robert Mueller to take down a global pedophile ring led by Hollywood celebrities and the Democratic Party, most notably Hillary Clinton.

Threats to kill Clinton pervaded GreatAwakening earlier this month when users were incensed by a Qanon-based theory that she was somehow causing military planes to fall out of the sky. GreatAwakening members implored the community to “kill all enemies”

Reddit was key to Qanon’s emergence from the fringe corners of the internet and into more mainstream conspiracy and far-right media circles. An investigation by NBC News found that moderators moved Qanon posts from 8chan, a hard-to-navigate internet message board used mostly by trolls and younger people, to Reddit, making it accessible to a larger, older, and less internet savvy audience of conspiracy theorists. From there, Qanon crept to Facebook, where it continued to grow.

A spokesman for Reddit confirmed the banning in a statement to NBC News.

“As of September 12, r/greatawakening has been banned due to repeated violations of the terms of our content policy,” the spokesperson said. “We are very clear in our site terms of service that posting content that incites violence, disseminates personal information, or harasses will get users and communities banned from Reddit."

In March, Reddit shut down the original Qanon subreddit, /r/CBTS_stream, for the same reason, after it was found to be “encouraging or inciting violence and posting personal and confidential information.” Reddit also banned its moderators from the site. The group had more than 20,000 subscribers at the time.

The Reddit ban will hamper the Qanon theory’s spread and splinter its followers, but it is not a death knell for the theory’s faithful community. Tens of thousands of users congregate on Twitter and in closed Facebook groups dedicated to QAnon. One of the most popular, named “QAnon Follow The White Rabbit” has more than 51,000 members. Thousands of others gather on Discord, a gaming-focused chat service that hosts channels like QNN, Q Central, and Patriot’s Soapbox, the chatroom for a 24-hour livestreamed YouTube channel for the dissemination and discussion of Qanon topics.

In August, as media coverage of Qanon increased, several of the largest Qanon Facebook groups changed their names, fearing the platform would ban them. When no action was taken, the groups reverted to their original names.

Reddit ramped up enforcement against racist, sexist and anti-Semitic subreddits earlier this week. The site pulled down the community r/MillionDollarExtreme on Monday, along with ironic offshoot communities like r/BillionShekelExtreme. The community, named after a quickly cancelled sketch show on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim from 2016, was filled with racist and antisemitic posts at the time of its banning.

Last October, Reddit banned a community devoted to Pizzagate, a smaller conspiracy theory that also alleged Clinton was running a child sex ring out of the basement of a pizza shop that had no basement. Qanon’s basic tenets hinge largely on the belief that the Pizzagate conspiracy was real all along.

Qanon believers have grown increasingly restless in recent weeks as several prophecies of “Q,” the purported government leaker sharing secrets to Qanon followers on 4chan, were proven wrong.

GreatAwakening users began to waver in their support when former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was found guilty of eight felony counts as part of Mueller’s Russia probe, and the president’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to eight felony charges. Q had repeatedly led posters to believe Mueller, Manafort and Cohen were working in tandem to catch the alleged child sex ring.

“Q” posted on 8chan shortly after Reddit’s action, aligning the ban with Alex Jones, who along with his website Infowars were recently removed from Facebook, Google, Twitter and Apple.

On its last day, r/GreatAwakening users had reverted to rote conspiracy talking points from years’ past — claiming 9/11 was an inside job, and that the Anthrax investigation was covered up by Mueller.

It is unclear precisely which post or comment was the final straw for Reddit’s ban.