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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The QAnon conspiracy theory is growing — and being weaponized to boost President Trump ahead of the election.

Why it matters: What began as a single conspiracy theory linking Hillary Clinton to child trafficking four years ago is now part of a convoluted web of falsehoods being spread to undermine Joe Biden.

The big picture: In a year of unrest and expected election turmoil, experts are concerned that belief in QAnon could be another instigator of violence in some communities if Trump loses in November.

  • "That's the question that keeps me up at night," said Bryce Webster-Jacobsen of the cyber threat intelligence firm GroupSense, which specializes in disinformation.
  • Tracking these kind of local, potentially militant groups is difficult, he said, because recruitment is often both online — where most of the QAnon community lives — and offline.

By the numbers: New polling provided exclusively to Axios by HOPE not hate, a U.K.-based anti-extremism nonprofit, found more than a third of Americans saying that they believe it's at least probably true that elites "are secretly engaging in large scale child trafficking and abuse."

  • 10% said they are at least “soft” supporters of QAnon, specifically.
  • The QAnon theory is based on a sprawling online network that analyzes cryptic messages in remote online forums by an anonymous figure “Q," who claims, without evidence, to be a Trump administration official with high-level clearance.

Driving the news: Recent reports about what was purported to be Hunter Biden's computer hard drive have sparked renewed activity from Q, with more concrete ideas to latch onto.

The backstory: In 2016, the Pizzagate conspiracy theory claimed that elites and Hillary Clinton's campaign manager were involved in a child sex trafficking ring being operated out of a popular pizza place. It was a niche conspiracy theory, but it led someone to show up to a pizzeria in Washington DC with guns.

Trump has winked at QAnon followers on multiple occasions — most notably with his refusal to condemn the conspiracy theory when asked directly.

  • Earlier this year, Donald Trump Jr. jokingly insinuated that Biden was a pedophile, a nod to QAnon lore that many Democrats use their political power to hide widespread pedophilia.
  • Some Republicans politicians' adoption of aspects of the theory has helped bring it more mainstream, Webster-Jacobsen said.

What we're watching: Nearly a dozen QAnon supporters are running for Congress. And of Republicans who know about QAnon, 41% said it is a somewhat or very good thing for the country, according to Pew Research Center.

What's next: Tech companies are desperately trying to ban QAnon from their platforms before the conspiracy can spread any further.

  • On Monday, Spotify removed QAnon podcasts and TikTok officially banned all QAnon content. YouTube and Peloton announced QAnon crackdowns last week. 
  • Facebook and Triller both banned QAnon earlier this month. Etsy banned QAnon products two weeks ago. And Twitter shut down QAnon accounts in July.

Yes, but: Despite these bans, QAnon followers still find other places online to congregate, like Parler, a far-right social media app.

Go deeper ... Poll: One-third of Americans are open to QAnon conspiracy theories

Go deeper

Nov 13, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Spotting political indicators without the polls

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

With political polls looking close to useless, newsrooms are increasingly turning to internet trends, demographics and local news in an effort to crack America’s baffling political code.

Why it matters: This election proved that polls aren't the only way to measure public opinion trends — and that other measures, like social media, may give us a window into enthusiasm among populations that polls are missing.

3 hours ago - Science

The "war on nature"

A resident stands on his roof as the Blue Ridge Fire burned back in October in Chino Hills, Calif. Photo: Jae C. Hong/AP

Apocalyptic weather is the new normal because humans are "waging war on nature," the UN declared on Wednesday.

What they're saying: "The state of the planet is broken," said UN Secretary-General António Guterres, reports AP. “This is suicidal.”

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: Nursing homes are still getting pummeledU.S. could hit herd immunity by end of summer 2021 if Americans embrace virus vaccines, Fauci says.
  2. Politics: Pelosi, Schumer call on McConnell to adopt bipartisan $900B stimulus framework.
  3. World: U.K. clears Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for mass rollout — Putin says Russia will begin large-scale vaccination next week.
  4. Business: Investors are finally starting to take their money out of safe-haven Treasuries.
  5. Sports: The end of COVID’s grip on sports may be in sight.

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