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US officials see QAnon adherents as an evolving security threat

As ridiculous QAnon prophecies increasingly fail to come true, the threats posed by QAnon adherents are evolving, not disappearing.
Image: Congress Holds Joint Session To Ratify 2020 Presidential Election
A U.S. flag with a symbol from the group QAnon outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.Win McNamee / Getty Images

It was last summer when Donald Trump made his first public comments about the crackpot QAnon movement, saying about its adherents, "I've heard these are people who love our country." The then-president added that he didn't know much about the deranged theory or its followers, "other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate."

Even at the time, the rhetoric was indefensible. Indeed, a year before Trump praised QAnon adherents, the FBI went so far as to classify QAnon as a domestic-terror threat in an internal memo.

As the threat grew, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) requested that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Intelligence and Analysis prepare a full assessment on the threat posed by QAnon. As the Associated Press reported overnight, officials followed through -- and their conclusions weren't exactly in line with Trump's praise from last August.

A new federal intelligence report warns that adherents of QAnon, the conspiracy theory embraced by some in the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol, could target Democrats and other political opponents for more violence as the movement's false prophecies increasingly fail to come true.

For those who may need a refresher, the basic idea behind the madness is that Donald Trump is secretly at war with nefarious forces of evil, including Democrats, Hollywood celebrities, the "deep state," cannibals, and an underground ring of Satanic pedophiles who are operating a child sex trafficking ring that only adherents of the conspiracy theory are aware of.

QAnon adherents were convinced that a reckoning was imminent, in which Trump would be re-elected and his enemies would be vanquished. When President Biden took office, some followers of the crackpot theory came to realize that their bonkers ideas were not coming to fruition.

Ideally, such disillusionment could be an encouraging development: QAnon adherents could move on with their lives, leaving the madness behind them. But according to the findings from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, there's a fear among officials that some followers "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."

We've already seen some evidence of this: many of the participants in the Jan. 6 insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol were QAnon adherents.

And there's no reason to think the threat will dissipate anytime soon. The AP's report added that the FBI and DHS findings concluded that "several factors will contribute to QAnon's long-term durability, including the COVID-19 pandemic, some social media companies allowing posts about the theories, societal polarization in the U.S., and the 'frequency and content of pro-QAnon statements by public individuals who feature prominently in core QAnon narratives.'"

It won't help that some who've expressed sympathies for QAnon ideas are now elected Republican members of Congress.

Schumer said in an overnight statement, "Even before the horrific January 6th insurrection, QAnon supporters spread disinformation that amplified hatred and violence and threatened our democratic institutions. This assessment raises awareness for our government and the general public to the evolving threat posed by domestic violent extremists' adherence to QAnon's dangerous principles and further shows the urgent need for an independent January 6th commission."