How A Conspiracy Theory Is Born And How To Deal With It, Part One

Wu Ming 1, author
15 October 2018, Italy

“How A Conspiracy Theory Is Born And How To Deal With It, Part Two” can be found here.

The original article in Italian was published online at the following link:

V0.4. Translated in November 2020 with permission from both the author and the weekly magazine Internazionale, where the article was first published. The initial translation was done using DeepL Translator (; numerous post hoc corrections as well as considerable aesthetic changes, word choice modifications, sentence structure adjustments, and other improvements – in a delicate balance between faithfulness and style – were made by Joseph P. De Veaugh-Geiss (contact: tds [at], who takes full responsibility for any and all errors in the final translation. Hyperlinks included in the translation differ from those in the original article in order to accommodate an English-language audience.

Fire on the headquarters (of YouTube)

On 20 September 2018, the FBI was in Cave Junction, a small town in western Oregon with barely over a thousand inhabitants. Agents were searching for one of them, William Douglas, 35. They did not find him at home, but they intercepted him in front of a convenience store, arrested him, and took him away.

Douglas was accused of threatening employees and the CEO of YouTube, at the time the 3rd most visited website in the world, with death threats on Twitter. “I’m coming for you today #pray” he wrote to Susan Wojcicki, before announcing that he wanted to go to the company’s headquarters to commit a massacre. “You @YOUTUBE you want a bigger mass casualty aka shooting let’s see what I can do”.

With the phrase “bigger mass casualty”, Douglas was referring to an episode from a few months earlier.

San Bruno, California, 3 April 2018. A woman had entered the courtyard of the YouTube headquarters during lunch break and opened fire with a semiautomatic gun. She injured three people, one seriously, then killed herself by shooting herself in the heart. Her name was Nasim Aghdam. Two days later she would have turned 39.

Nasim had a YouTube channel on which she had talked about vegan food, body building, Persian culture, and other topics. The channel was quite popular, yet she thought YouTube was boycotting it, limiting traffic to the channel with filters. The company had also “demonetized” some videos, preventing Nasim from earning money with advertising.

Douglas had been very impressed by the attack and empathized with the woman. He too had complaints about YouTube: his videos had collected hundreds of thousands of views, but he thought they could get more, and was convinced that he had been censored because of their content.

Douglas was a right-wing extremist and a fan of conspiracy theories. In his videos he propagandized the most abstruse theories, from the flat Earth conspiracy to the “Jewish financier” George Soros controlling half the world. For about a year, however, he had been fixated on one theory in particular, or rather, a theory incorporating almost all the others – a meta-theory of the conspiracy known as QAnon.

William Douglas was a follower of QAnon. And, as we will see, he will not be the first who is arrested.

There are followers of QAnon in Italy as well, where much of this story takes place. More and more of them are to be found on the internet, in a labyrinth which the French journalists Dominique Albertini and David Doucet have called the fachosphère (‘fascistsphere’), a constellation of profiles and pages from right-wing, racist conspiracy theorists. But they do not remain confined to the shadows; on the contrary, they will soon reach the mainstream.

To tell this story well, we must start with a pizzeria.


In late spring 2016, the U.S. presidential primaries were underway. The selection of the two rival candidates was imminent, but the situation for the two parties was quite different: while Donald Trump was advancing in the Republican primary, Hillary Clinton was having a difficult time. On her left she had suffered from the competition of an unexpectedly successful candidate, Bernie Sanders, while on the right she was being targeted with more and more fury. Fox News and other media blamed her for various offenses, dating back to her time as Secretary of State in the Obama administration from 2008 to 2013.

Clinton was also accused of violating federal law for using a private email server for highly confidential communications.

The fervor surrounding her correspondence was already high when, on 15 June, a hacker who called himself “Guccifer 2.0” published more than 19,000 emails from leading figures and senior officials of the Democratic Party on the DCLeaks website.

Even with a cursory glance at the emails, one sees that the party leadership, fearing a turn too far to the left, tried to sabotage Sanders’s campaign. The incident created embarrassment and prompted the resignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, then president of the party’s national committee.

Where does the idea that the Democratic Party leaders are satanists and pedophiles come from?

On 21 July 2016, during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland where Trump was nominated as the party’s presidential candidate, every time Hillary was mentioned from the stage – always by her first name – the crowd of delegates burst out in a chant: “Lock her up! Lock her up!

That next day, as the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia got underway, Wikileaks published the 19,000 e-mails as well, and added many more. In the following months more emails would follow, so many that in autumn 2016 the entire corpus included one hundred thousand emails, in addition to thousands of attachments. Federal investigations into the content of the emails, as well as the parties responsible for their leaking, were initiated.

After the leak, a conspiracy theory centered on images of children in chains and sexual abuse was born – and further developed – on the 4chan forum.

According to this theory, leading members of the Democratic Party and Clinton’s campaign managers would regularly participate in esoteric-satanic rituals, during which violence against minors were committed. All in the cellars of Comet Ping Pong, a restaurant-pizzeria in Washington that, let us mention in passing, has no basement – not even a semi-basement.

Hence the nickname of the affair: Pizzagate.

4chan is technically an “imageboard”. In reality it is much more than that: a place on the net where everything, or almost everything, is acceptable, and the most racist, sexist and anti-Semitic speech is permitted. On 4chan the rhetoric of the American “alternative” extreme right, the so-called alt-right, took shape and strengthened. Stalking and doxxing campaigns against groups or individuals – the release of sensitive data for purposes of denigration – have started from 4chan.

The Pizzagate conspiracy theory came from the over-interpretation of some emails from Clinton’s team. Campaign coordinator John Podesta had exchanged several messages with James Alefantis, owner of Comet Ping Pong and supporter of the Democrats, about a financing dinner to be held in the restaurant. Commentators on Podesta’s email noted that the expression “cheese pizza” has the same initials as “child pornography”. That started an interpretative delirium: the community deciphered – or rather, invented – a code in which “pasta” means “child”, “sauce” means “orgy”, and so on.

The narrative grew larger, becoming increasingly intricate and baroque, and from 4chan it moved to the more popular website Reddit. Shortly afterwards, full-time conspiracy theorists, such as Alex Jones and Mike Cernovich, picked it up, and they began to broadcast it from their podcasts and YouTube channels, in a crescendo of suspicion and hatred.

On 4 December 2016 a man broke into Comet Ping Pong with a rifle. He shouted that he is there to free the slave-children and fired a few shots, luckily without killing anyone. He was stopped and then arrested. His name is Edgar Welch, he was 28 years old. On 22 June 2017 he would be sentenced to four years in prison.

After Welch’s arrest, Reddit closed the forum – in slang, a “sub-reddit” – dedicated to Pizzagate for violation of the platform’s anti-doxxing rules. The forum had been used to defame and persecute private citizens, above all Alefantis.

At this point, the Pizzagate story fell off the media radar. Even its grip on the imagination of conspiracy theorists seemed to fade. In reality, the story was evolving. A theory called “Pedogate” inherited its main characters. Later, with Trump now in the White House, Pedogate converged with the narrative that would become famous as “QAnon”.

But where does the idea that the Democratic Party leaders are satanists and pedophiles come from? Understanding that is important.

Michelle Remembers and the McMartin case

Underground secrets. Abused children. Hideous rituals. In Pizzagate, key elements of a previous story resurfaced, a weave of urban legends which had shaken the United States at the end of the 20th century.

In 1980, Michelle Remembers was published. The book was written by 29-year-old Canadian Michelle Smith, in collaboration with her psychiatrist and future husband Lawrence Pazder, 44. The work was declared autobiographical: the author recounted her childhood and adolescence in Victoria, British Columbia. A distressing life, indeed a long nightmare, because of her parents, who belonged to a so-called “Church of Satan”.

During her sessions with Pazder, Smith “recovered” buried memories of sexual abuse, infanticide rituals, and acts of cannibalism, and later described the sequence of horrors and vileness which she claimed to have participated in or witnessed. She also wrote that she had been raped by her parents, multiple times, starting at the age of five. However, she provided no proof of this, and the story was full of inconsistencies.

Michelle’s mother had died in 1964, but her father was alive and spoke bluntly of slander and ramblings. Even friends and acquaintances of the family attacked Smith and Pazder, denying the contents of the book. No investigation, whether journalistic or criminal, would ever find any evidence, and almost all of Smith’s statements would be refuted by documentary sources.

The baselessness of the story did not prevent Michelle Remembers from becoming a “case” in the United States, where millions of readers believed what they read in the book. The expression “satanic ritual abuse” (SRA), coined by Pazder, started to spread. Meanwhile, psychotherapists and self-styled psychotherapists were prescribing recovered-memory therapy (RMT), which consisted of “recovering” memories from the depths of the unconscious – a set of vague and suggestive procedures that the American Psychiatric Association would never recommend nor recognize.

RMT ended up creating false memories in the minds of hundreds of people. First it was the daughters and sons of the “baby boom” – i.e., those born between 1945 and the mid-sixties – then school-age and even preschool children. Unscrupulous lawyers took advantage of this to make money: investigators were hit by a wave of complaints and testimonies, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, so similar that they always looked the same; and the media acted as a sounding board, scoop after scoop.

The basic elements of the narrative about ritual abuse have been circulating for centuries in Europe

The country was now in the grip of “moral panic“, a concept coined by the sociologist Stanley Cohen to define the aggressive fear that takes hold of public opinion when it is aimed at an alleged enemy.

The consequences? Media lynchings, destroyed reputations, children stolen from their parents, unfair detentions, millions of dollars wasted in investigations and trials.

The climax was People v. Buckey, better known as the McMartin case, which by its end was the longest and most expensive criminal trial in American history.

In 1983, a whirlwind of rumors, children’s stories, increasingly extreme stories and media accusations formed around three members – two women and a man – of the McMartin family, who ran a preschool in Manhattan Beach, California.

It was a period of mass hysteria, generated by the climate of panic over SRA and the anxieties of mothers and fathers who over-interpreted phrases uttered by their children on the way home from school. Parents, frightened, began contacting each other, amplifying their anxieties. They questioned their children over and over and then weaved the stories together, always adding new details, until a multi-headed monster appeared: the diabolical McMartin family.

Smith and Pazder had a hand in it, too. As the news spread, the authors of Michelle Remembers flew to Manhattan Beach to meet with the parents and the local media. Their visit planted the idea of satanic ritualistic abuse in the town’s imagination – the rest was done by the psychologists in charge of questioning the children. As a reference text for the case, some of them referred to Michelle Remembers itself.

The McMartins were accused of years of satanic ritual abuse with as many as 400 children. They would almost always act in secret tunnels under the school, but sometimes they organized bus “trips” with the children to places chosen for rituals – all of this without anyone ever having noticed anything. A child even named actor Chuck Norris as one of the rapists, but he would never be investigated. As for the tunnels, they were never found under the school.

Despite the absence of evidence, the suspects were eventually brought to trial. The trial lasted six years and ended in 1990, with the acquittal of all accused and a shocking truth: the method of interrogation – creating false memories of abuse in the minds of children, conducted under the pressure and insistent questions from parents, investigators, and, above all, psychologists – was inadequate and dishonest.

Between the 1980s and 1990s, both in the United States and the United Kingdom, government inquiries and scientific studies concluded that there was no such thing as SRA. It was an urban legend. But moral panic is indifferent to the conclusions of research, it moves on another plane and, within two decades, it came to Europe. Or rather, it returned to Europe.

On this side of the Atlantic, in fact, the basic elements of the ritual abuse narrative had already been circulating for centuries. We find them, for example, in the anti-Jewish legend called “blood libel”, which circulated from the eleventh century to the beginning of the twentieth, and according to which Jews kidnapped and killed the children of Christians to use their blood as an ingredient in unleavened bread and additive in wine to be consumed during Easter. Believers thought that children were completely drained of blood, as with kosher slaughter, and their blood collected in a bowl.

Bologna, Modena, Rignano Flaminio

In August 1996 the Belgian police arrested Marc Dutroux, 39 years old, rapist, torturer, and murderer of at least six little girls – from then on named the “Monster of Marcinelle”.

Dutroux’s modus operandi had nothing occult, satanic, or ritualistic about it. Not even the two victims found alive in his house had reported anything like that. Yet, the Belgian authorities were approached by several adult women, presenting themselves as “survivors” of Dutroux’s abuses, who spoke of satanic ceremonies, and they were certain that the serial killer was part of an esoteric sect. The police investigated, but they did not find any evidence for these stories. Meanwhile, however, the media – even outside Belgium – dedicated articles and reports to the search for the satanic network of the Monster of Marcinelle. Various conspiracy theories would circulate about the network’s existence for a long time.

Moral panic grabbed Europe. Dutroux’s counterparts were found all over: in gardens, kindergartens, schools, and, of course, on the Internet as the new digital media was emerging. One read and heard everywhere that children were in danger. Soon, a genuine obsession with pedophilia was spreading – also in Italy.

Among judges, journalists, and forensic psychologists in the 1990s, Italy was suffering a major cultural lag. The international scientific literature had already established that SRA was a legend, but some Italian prosecutors would take that well-trodden path and initiate criminal trials. The media described the authorities conducting investigations as paladins facing occult forces, heroes fighting against the devil.

The two most significant stories took place in Emilia-Romagna. They began around the same time and unfolded almost in parallel. In both we find scenes that appear to be taken directly from Michelle Remembers and the McMartin case – and also from the ancient “blood libel”.

We start in Bologna, where, in January 1996, three members of a cultural organization called Bambini di Satana (BdS) ‘Children of Satan’, were arrested, among them founder Marco Dimitri.

The BdS is an organization halfway between occultism and youth counterculture, which at that time had attracted some attention with provocative performances and statements. Dimitri had also been a guest on several national talk shows – but now he was in prison, accused of raping a teenager and small child during black masses officiated in Bologna and in the hills south of the city. The investigation, conducted by prosecutor Lucia Musti, was based on the claims of a still underage “super-witness”. The media referred to her as Simonetta: she was the ex-girlfriend of one of the three suspects. Simonetta told of human sacrifices, but the alleged victims had no name and the bodies would never be found.

Despite the vagueness of the accusations and the lack of objective evidence, the judge in the preliminary hearing issued a sentence. The defendants spent a year and a half in solitary confinement in preventive detention, while the newspapers – starting with the local newspaper Il Resto del Carlino – turned Marco Dimitri into a monster like Marc Dutroux. From Marc to Marco, it’s a short leap. Surprisingly, though, a part of the city mobilizes in Dimitri’s defense: artists, writers, journalists, and social centers. A mobilization with unknown characters, which we will return to in part two of this story.

Moral panic decreased, and the trial began in a climate of uncertainty. We are in February 1997. In five months of hearings, the prosecution revealed all of its flaws. After the first trial, the defendants were acquitted – and they were again acquitted in 2000 on appeal. The Attorney General did not appeal to higher courts. For their unjust detention, the state compensated Dimitri and his companions.

Regarding the case, we recommend the book by journalist Antonella Beccaria Bambini di Satana. Processo al diavolo: i reati mai commessi (‘Children of Satan. Trial to the devil: crimes never committed’, Stampa Alternativa, 2006, downloadable from the author’s website) and the analysis by sociologist Patrizio Paolinelli Esoterismo, sicurezza e comunicazione. Il caso dei Bambini di Satana (‘Esotericism, security, and communication. The case of the Children of Satan’).

During this time, in the province of nearby Modena, the story of the “devils” in Bassa Modenese, or Lower Modena, was developing. In the area between Mirandola and Finale Emilia, twenty people were investigated with very serious accusations. The accused are mostly parents – from whom the children, sixteen in all, would be taken away – as well as Don Giorgio Govoni, a priest much loved by his parishioners.

Separated from their parents, entrusted to new families, and questioned by psychologists for several months, the children recounted – always adding new details – sexual violence, torture, infanticide: ugly crimes, committed during night ceremonies in three cemeteries in the lower part of town. It was a crescendo: processions of dozens of people wearing tunics, hoods, and masks; pits dug to stage parodies of funerals; children forced to kill other children; babies murdered and their blood collected in a bowl to be drunk.

But those ceremonies had taken place just outside of the city centers, near busy streets, and surrounded by inhabited houses – yet no one had ever noticed anything? Between the gravestones there were no signs of any unusual activity. As for the alleged murders, no body was ever found.

In the two-year period between 1996 and 1997 local newspapers in Bologna would cover, with much clamor, what was happening. Almost every day, Il Resto del Carlino – spread in all the bars of Emilia-Romagna – dedicated several pages to the Dimitri case, to Simonetta’s depositions, to alarms of Satanism. Black masses, human sacrifices, a child locked in a coffin … this is what people were chattering about in Lower Modena. It may be that one affair had been influencing the other. Bologna is very close: from Finale Emilia you can get there in three quarters of an hour.

Before the indictments, a woman who had been separated from her daughter committed suicide by jumping from a balcony. In May 2000, the day after his fourteen-year sentence was issued, Don Govoni died of a heart attack in his lawyer’s office. For almost three years, the local media had been writing this about him and the others:

“Horrible parades of twenty, thirty pedophiles in the alleys of Lower Modena, dissolving into wild orgies, destroying the childhood of their children or the children of their acquaintances” (“Orrorifici cortei di venti, trenta pedofili inscenati nei vialetti della bassa modenese, per sciogliersi in orge senza limiti, per distruggere l’infanzia dei propri figli o dei figli dei propri conoscenti“, La Repubblica, regional section, 13 November 1998).

Again there, as in Bologna, a part of the citizenry acted in solidarity with the defendants. They organized demonstrations, collected signatures, and put up a barricade in front of the courthouse.

Compared to the Dimitri case, the judicial outcome was more disputed. In 2000, all 15 defendants were initially convicted, but in 2001, in appeal, the trial outcomes were reversed. Eight of the defendants were acquitted “because the facts do not hold” (“perché il fatto non sussiste”), while for seven others the original sentences were revised: penalties were lowered, and the events for which the defendants were found guilty now concerned domestic abuse without any hint of rituals. In 2002, the Court of Cassation confirmed the appellate court’s ruling and tore apart the satanic arguments, speaking explicitly of “false collective memory” (“falso ricordo collettivo“).

On the other hand, though, the same court annulled two of the eight acquittals and referred the case back to the Court of Appeal of Bologna. The sentence that – once again – exonerated the defendants, in 2013, included very harsh words for the investigators and, above all, for those who interrogated the children. These psychologists were defined as “objectively inexperienced” and their approach “absolutely objectionable […] because it puts in the minds of children, in an entirely inappropriate way, details and information which can contaminate any subsequent story” (“assolutamente censurabile […] perché del tutto impropriamente veicola nella mente dei bambini dati e informazioni che ne possono contaminare ogni successivo racconto”).

In 2017 the podcast Veleno (‘Poison’), by Pablo Trincia and Alessia Rafanelli, rekindled interest in the case, providing harsh criticisms about the investigations at the time and the way children were questioned. The podcast featured new interviews with former defendants and witnesses, including some of the little witnesses back then, adults today who are convinced they were manipulated. Veleno also threw serious doubts on the sentences upheld in the higher courts. The podcast reopened old wounds and stirred consciences again. Despite the uproar and the introduction of new elements to the case, the public prosecutor in Modena declared that he did not want to reopen the investigation.

By a curious coincidence, the chief public prosecutor in 2017 was Lucia Musti, the state attorney in the Bologna trial against Marco Dimitri twenty years earlier.

Let’s return now to the first decade of the 21st century. For a time moral panic regarding satanic ritual abuse had seemed to fade, but suddenly, in 2007, it exploded again with the case of the Olga Rovere school in Rignano Flaminio, in the province of Rome.

The story was a carbon copy of the McMartin case, now also known in Italy by journalists, sociologists, and children’s workers. Every element overlapped: the nursery school, the basements, the accused educators, the bus that takes children to places of abuse, and even the presence of a figure from the entertainment world among the “ogres”: in the Italian case, the TV author Gianfranco Scancarello, husband of one of the teachers. And just as in the McMartin case, the trial ended with the full acquittal of the accused, at all levels of appeal. Also in this case, the sentences – the last issued in 2014 – criticized the methods used to interrogate the children.

The writer Antonio Scurati was inspired by the story of Rignano Flaminio to write a novel about false abuse and moral panic, Il bambino che sognava la fine del mondo (‘The child who dreamed of the end of the world’), with which he reached the finals of the prestigious Strega Prize in 2009.

The theme now seems normalized, something to be discussed with the right detachment, but make no mistake: the legends of hatred do not disappear – they flow under the currents of culture and sooner or later they re-emerge. Satanic ritualistic abuse will return. In fact, it has already returned, albeit hybridized with other myths in the wake of what is happening in Trump’s United States, where SRA and political conspiracy meet.

False detectives

In 2014 SRA would re-emerge in pop culture in the first season of the TV series True Detective, a masterpiece of writing, directing, and acting. The plot focused on ritual abuses carried out by a network of pedophiles in the political world, with references to the (fictitious) governor of Louisiana.

That the success of True Detective may have facilitated a connection between SRA and politics is not to be overlooked. Connection becomes reflexive, a cultural synapse.

The character of one of the two protagonists in the series, the former policeman Rustin “Rust” Cohle, plays on the cliché of the conspiracy freak: a secluded life, the garage full of clues and findings, a conspiracy map that is hung on the wall with notes being added and moved, photographs and documents, the do-it-yourself investigation, culminating in a raid on the sect’s lair.

It is a perturbing game of mirrors between Cohle and the amateur detectives we meet while following the trail of QAnon: the fictional character reflects a certain anthropological type, who in turn seems to recast themself based on the fictional character. Umberto Eco had already pointed out that conspiracy theories are often directly influenced by novels, films, and other fictional works. To this theme he dedicated the 2010 novel The Prague Cemetery.

It does not seem like a coincidence that in the fantasies about SRA there is often the presence of famous actors, or at least characters from cinema or TV: Chuck Norris in the McMartin case, Scancarello in the Rignano Flaminio case, and – we are about to meet him – Tom Hanks in the narrative of QAnon.

“In the fresco I am one of the background figures”

It is October 2017 when messages signed “Q” start to appear on 4chan. The sender, in an allusive tone, makes it clear that they are a high-level official of the federal government.

The letter Q could be a reference to “Q clearance”, described as an authorization to access secret documents. In reality, the “Q clearance” is a clearance required by the U.S. Department of Energy, which deals with nuclear power, so it has no bearing on what the anonymous person – or group of anonymous people – says.

To be precise, Q doesn’t tell us anything: they send tight, enigmatic messages, which 4chan users call “crumbs” like those of Little Poucet. The crumbs do not seem to make any sense, or rather, they are open to interpretation: “The future tries the past”; “Learn to read the map”; “Godfather III”. Or acronyms and numbers: “DNC -> (SR 187) (MS-13) -> DWS”, in addition to the recurrence of the number 17.

From that last detail arises a spasmodic attention to the appearance of this number in Donald Trump’s speeches and tweets. Q is the 17th letter of the English alphabet, and any use of 17 by the president is interpreted as a signal of recognition, or wink, in the direction of Q.

In the fall of 2017, as NBC recounts it, Q’s messages are taken up and disseminated by some right-wing media activists. This is how the QAnon phenomenon took off.

Soon a community of self-declared “bakers” is formed, who collect the crumbs and make a “dough” of them; that is, followers try to grasp the references, find the dots to join, coerce each element into an apparently coherent scheme. The resulting narrative is called “the storm”.

The name is inspired by a phrase Trump uttered on 6 October while posing for a group photo with representatives of the armed forces. It is the “quiet before the storm”, he said. The journalists present asked him to explain himself, but he did not. According to some, it was a reference to tensions with North Korea or Iran. According to the QAnon community, it is a warning to the cabal.

In the Italian language “cabal” might be translated as cricca ‘clique’, but in English the word has an additional connotation: the term derives from Kabbalah, the Jewish esoteric tradition; thus, the term – especially when used in certain contexts – evokes the eternal “Jewish conspiracy”.

According to QAnon, an inner circle of politicians, mostly Democrats but also Republicans hostile to Trump, as well as other establishment figures – thus, a large part of the planet – have controlled the U.S. government for decades, while at the same time managing a vast and widespread network of pedophiles. In this clique are Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack and Michelle Obama, Senator John McCain, several Hollywood celebrities – the most popular of whom is Tom Hanks – and the artist Marina Abramović. Cemex, a Mexican multinational construction materials company whose real business is claimed to be trafficking in children, also plays an important role; additionally, of course, George Soros, the wildcard of today’s conspiracies.

In addition to committing acts of violence against minors, the cabal carries out ceremonies of vampirism and cannibalism during their secret meetings. On 9 July 2016, Hillary Clinton took part in a satanic dinner at Marina Abramović’s house with rituals based on human milk, semen, menstrual blood, and pig’s blood.

According to QAnon, the military was in support of Trump’s candidacy in order to break up this ring of pedophiles and save the country.

In Italy, the conspiracy theorist Maurizio Blondet took up these narratives in articles later to be shared on social networks by the future president of the RAI public-broadcasting company, Marcello Foa.

By autumn 2017, Trump and his entourage had long been the subject of a federal investigation conducted by special prosecutor Robert Mueller. The former director of the FBI had been investigating the alleged links between Trump and Putin’s Russia, and possible Russian interference in the U.S. elections the year before. But according to QAnon this is only a cover-up. It is not Trump who is under investigation: in fact, Mueller is investigating the Clintons and Obama, on behalf of Trump, a genius who is working in the shadows and playing – the expression most often used – a “4D chess game”.

The game will end with the “big awakening”, the moment when Trump’s operation strikes the pedophile network and its leaders are imprisoned in Guantanamo. To this end, the Department of Justice already have 25,000 indictments ready, currently sealed, for the leaders of the Democratic Party and the main members of the cabal.

Q’s mission is to prepare the most astute part of public opinion for the big day.

It is not clear why Trump would authorize someone to warn his enemies, even on a forum like 4chan, by leaking details of a plan that, in theory, is secret. This is, as we will see, the contradiction at the core of conspiracy literature.

The great awakening is always presented as imminent. When, on 25 August 2018, John McCain dies, on 8chan it is assumed he did not really die of cancer: he probably committed suicide to avoid arrest and imprisonment in Guantanamo.

In early 2018, the QAnon community moves from 4chan to 8chan, an even less moderated forum, which is so permissive that you can find autopsy videos and child pornography on its bulletin boards. Ironically, a forum frequented by real pedophiles is chosen to denounce conspiracies of imaginary pedophiles.

At the same time, QAnon colonizes much more visible and respectable areas of the internet: first Reddit, then YouTube, then Twitter. Not only that, several vendors start to produce and sell merchandise online, especially on Amazon, such as sweatshirts, t-shirts, caps, mugs, and various QAnon-themed gift items.

In April 2018 an app called QDrops is launched, which allows one to receive “crumbs” on your smartphone and follow the work of the “bakers” in real time. In a very short period of time, the app climbs the list of the most downloaded apps from Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store.

QAnon spreads quickly in the American right, especially in the boomer demographic, those over fifty. Celebrities embracing the cause are also boomers – for instance, the actress Roseanne Barr – so much so that the alt-right, composed mainly of people under forty, begin to mock QAnon as a theory for “old people”.

On 7 April 2018, a demonstration in favor of QAnon is held in Washington. Only 200 people participated, but this is the outbreak of the conspiracy theory in the “real world” outside of internet forums.

Shortly afterward, the debut of QAnon turns into a series of violent attacks.

On 15 June, a man armed with a rifle blocks the bridge of the Hoover Dam in Nevada, side-by-side with an armored truck. His name is Matthew Wright, 30 years old. Before he is arrested, he shouts sentences referring to QAnon and displays a sign asking the White House to “release the OIG report”, the Office of the Inspector General’s report on Hillary Clinton’s emails.

In fact, the report had already been published the day before. It is more than 500 pages, but QAnon must have read it quickly because it is immediately made known that they consider it a fake. Instead, Trump has the authentic report in his hands. If made public, it would prove that the FBI, Department of Justice, and Democrats broke the law in an attempt to prevent Trump’s victory. Yet, for some reason, Trump keeps it in his drawer.

In the same period, in Arizona, an impromptu right-wing militia explores the outskirts of Interstate 19, near the Mexican border, in search of “child sex camps”. They call themselves Veterans on Patrol (VOP). Their leader, Michael Lewis Arthur Meyer, 39 years old, is a follower of QAnon and is convinced that there are places in the area where children are held prisoner and raped. Places owned by Cemex.

The VOP try to convince the Tucson police that an abandoned homeless encampment on Cemex land shows signs of the presence of children held in slavery. The police investigate, but find nothing. On 12 July, Meyer is arrested for trespassing on private property. In defiance of the authorities who ignore his reports, he occupies a tower on the “criminal” land.

On 8 August, in Orange County, California, the sheriff’s office arrest 51-year-old Forrest Clark, accused of setting a wildfire nicknamed “Holy Fire“, which would devour thousands of acres of forest. “This place will burn!”, announced Clark, a well-known conspiracy fanatic and by then a follower of QAnon for several months.

Douglas, Wright, Meyer, Clark, and before that Welch. They all resemble real-life projections of True Detective‘s Rust Cohle.

At this time there is a turning point. On 31 July, an enthusiastic crowd greets Trump in Tampa, Florida, wearing QAnon T-shirts and raising signs saying “We are Q”. They steal the scene from the president, with reporters talking almost exclusively about them. It is QAnon’s definitive entry into national and, shortly thereafter, international news. On 8chan, Q comments: “Welcome to the mainstream. We knew this day would come.”

A new phase begins. Even those who until now have not been paying attention realize there is a problem. The question is: how to deal with it?