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LONDON — QAnon has crossed the Atlantic — and it’s found fertile ground within protest groups, populists and conspiracy theorists across Europe.
In France, the Yellow Jacket movement has embraced the American movement. In Italy, backers hail from the anti-vaccine community. In Britain, adherents draw from Brexit followers.
At first glance it’s not a natural fit. The U.S. conspiracy theory — now with millions of acolytes worldwide — alleges a vast deception to undermine U.S. President Donald Trump. It blends anti-government, anti-lockdown and anti-Semitic rhetoric with unfounded beliefs about a vast pedophile ring run by the global elite. Its followers adhere to a quasi-religious belief that a great savior — aided by “Q,” an anonymous government insider from whom QAnon gets its name — will protect followers from the dark forces behind the conspiracy.
And yet, a review by POLITCO of tens of thousands of social media posts and online discussions across six languages discovered QAnon’s language and ideas are increasingly making their way into existing online communities and protest movements across the Continent.
The main reason why: the coronavirus crisis.
“If you feel like you’re losing control of your life, you’re more likely to believe in these conspiracy theories,” said Jonathan Bright, a senior researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute. “The coronavirus supercharged things. People are spending even more time online, so have more time to come across anti-vaccine and other conspiracy content.”
In the U.S., discussion about QAnon has broken into the political mainstream. When Trump was asked to disavow the group at a recent town hall event, he first said he knew “nothing about QAnon” but then added: “I do know that they are very much against pedophilia,