QAnon is not a solely right-wing phenomenon, drawing supporters from across the political spectrum, but it has developed pockets of support among the British radical and far right. Whilst the spread of the theory has so far largely been limited to an individual rather than organisational basis, QAnon has found proponents among a handful of influential online figures, and its narratives are beginning to take hold in far-right Facebook groups and street movements. The significant areas of crossover between the QAnon worldview and pre-existing far-right conspiracy theories and populist narratives has facilitated this spread, and provides opportunities for further cross-pollination.
Distinctively American political ideologies and styles often fail to translate to UK audiences, and orthodox QAnon has jarred with sections of the British right wing, who have variously rejected the theory as a “psyop” that appeals only to gullible people, or too Trumpian, disdaining its “Americanising” influence. There is a degree of tension between the strong anti-royalist streak of QAnon and British nationalism, which may have played a role in limiting its spread; Q has insinuated that the Queen is corrupt, and UK-oriented QAnon narratives have heavily promoted the notion that various members of the House of Windsor are paedophilic Satanists. Such narratives may have been off-putting for some who would otherwise approve of its pro-Trump narrative.
Notably, the remnants of the British Alternative Right, which mobilised behind Trump in the 2015/2016 campaign, have also largely ignored or rejected the theory. Some of the culturally concerned alt-lite deem QAnon a PR risk, for example the professional conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson complaining that it makes “conservatives look like swivel-eyed lunatics”. For some on the racially obsessed alt-right, the theory is not racist enough; “Morgoth”, a key British alt-right figure, observes that despite QAnon spreading among otherwise non-political Brits, it fails to address “demographics” and “political correctness”, rendering it a “sanitized” version of the alt-right.
The Conspiracist Crossover
There are, however, significant shared narratives and concerns that have facilitated the intermingling of QAnon and the British far right. Conspiracy theories and populism both employ a binary worldview that divides societies between corrupt or evil elites and the pure or unknowing people, a framework that contextualises fears and hardships by personifying them into an identifiable enemy. British right-wing rhetoric has exploited the deep political and cultural divides in the UK, and an intense distrust of London-centric political and media “elites”, as well as shadowy “globalists” in the European Union. The turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent government measures has exacerbated this pre-existing distrust, and has facilitated an explosion of anti-lockdown, anti-5G and anti-vaccine conspiracy theorising, which has proved popular, as we have reported elsewhere, amongst sections of the far right. Belief in one conspiracy theory signifies an openness to others.
In some ways QAnon is particularly well suited for adoption by right-wing reactionaries, who present themselves as chivalrous “protectors” of the nation and the family, and so have long stoked fears about rapacious – and, in recent decades, south Asian and Muslim – child abusers preying on white children. Children play a symbolic role in nationalist discourse, representing the innocence of the nation as a whole, and so invoking a threat to children is an effective way of mobilising support against a group of people. From age-old antisemitic myths, to the exploitation of the grooming gang scandals, such discourse reflects both genuine fears but also a cynical political tactic; presenting an enemy as child molesters, murderers and, at the most conspiratorial end, cannibals is the most effective and unequivocal way to demonise them.
This crossover has facilitated the coalescence of QAnon and sections of the radical and far right around shared concerns, a notable recent example being the August 2020 furore around the Netflix film Cuties. A coming-of-age drama exploring the role of social media in sexualising children, Netflix’s promotion of the film, which included a poster featuring prepubescent children in suggestive poses, sparked an intense backlash, uniting QAnon converts and the likes of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (AKA Tommy Robinson) against “Nonceflix”.
For QAnon supporters, Cuties is further evidence of widespread child abuse in Hollywood and the wider entertainment industry, and an attempt to corrupt viewers to make them more amenable to paedophilia. For the far right, it indicates the continued decay of traditional values and the West as a whole, a sentiment which for some is fuelled by the longstanding “Cultural Marxism” conspiracy theory, which alleges that sinister left-wingers embedded in cultural and political institutions are working to brainwash populations and undermine the West. Strains of this theory fixate on supposed plots to sexualise children and normalise paedophilia, and QAnon and adjacent theories, such as Pizzagate, are easily incorporated into this narrative.
The notion that predatory Cultural Marxists are sexually targeting children is particularly popular with antisemites, who regard it as one means by which Jews are attempting to subjugate or eradicate whites. This, alongside numerous other antisemitic tropes pervasive in QAnon, has led to discussions among the extreme right about exploiting the theory to radicalise people into Jew-hatred. A post shared on nazi Telegram channels claims that whilst QAnon is “retarded”, it “serves as an opportunity to breach the gap and awaken people to whom truly rules us”. Indeed, some opportunistic antisemites appear to be tailoring their content to resonate with the theory. The nazi and leader of Patriotic Alternative Mark Collett addressed Cuties in a video titled “THEY WANT TO SEXUALLY ABUSE YOUR CHILDREN”, in which he states that “The establishment and the media are coming for your children”, and desire “A world where twisted perverts can pick up a child prostitute with no fear of recrimination.” Sections of the extreme right are also adopting QAnon terminology, with references to adrenochrome becoming increasingly popular on antisemitic Telegram channels.
The overlap between QAnon and the far right has seen several prominent figures with large online followings flirt with, or openly adopt, the theory. The most significant is Gerard Batten, former UKIP leader, veteran anti-Muslim activist, and a key figure in a series of far-right street demonstrations in 2018 and 2019, many of which focused on grooming gangs. Batten, who currently boasts 70,000 Twitter followers, has a strong conspiratorial streak, having promoted the notion of a “shadow world government” and Cultural Marxism for years. His conspiracy theorising has intensified notably during the pandemic, alleging that the virus is a bioweapon and that lockdown measures are a sinister elite power grab.
In April, Batten wrote approvingly of the Pizzagate film Out of Shadows, and in July, he wrote:“The BBC attacking QAnon tells you there must be something in it. We know the Deep State organised the Russiagate coup against Trump, & failed. We know Epstein ran a pedo ring to compromise powerful figures. How much else will prove true? Time will tell.”However, whilst he has made other claims about Pizzagate and Trump’s alleged war against a “deep state”, QAnon appears a fringe interest for Batten, and he is yet to embrace it fully.
Brian Silvester, a disgraced former UKIP councillor and former leading figure in the anti-Muslim For Britain party, appears more dedicated. Silvester has built up a 50,000 following on Twitter through Islamophobia, but has focussed on the “scamdemic” since the onset of COVID-19. Silvester has promoted QAnon sporadically since December 2017, but appears to have embraced the theory in a more serious manner this year, including making an appearance on the Charlie Ward show. Another figure is David Vance of the AltNews Media blog, who had 170,000 followers before his Twitter account was deleted in September. Vance has pushed posts including QAnon hashtags as far back as August 2018, but, as the posts concerned generic right-wing talking points, it is unclear if he fully grasped their meaning.
Whilst Batten and Silvester have significant social media followings, they are both currently politically homeless, meaning they cannot exert direct influence on an organisation. Members of a wide variety of radical and far right parties, including UKIP, For Britain and the 5 Star Direct Democracy Party (formerly Democrats and Veterans) have endorsed QAnon, but the theory has spread most significantly into the English Democrats (ED), a minor group that focuses on English, rather than British, nationalism. The loudest of the ED QAnon advocates is Graham Moore (AKA Daddy Dragon), owner of a 22,000 subscriber YouTube channel, where he broadcasts his “Full Breakfast” show and his various stunts, for example flying a Trump banner via large balloons bearing the letter Q outside Windsor Castle. The anti-British state attitude of ED to some extent chimes with the anti-deep state rhetoric of QAnon, and Moore in particular makes heavy use of pro-personal sovereignty politics similar to that of the American right. The party is, however, a minor force, standing just five candidates at the 2019 General Election, with Moore receiving just 1.2% of the vote.
On the Streets
A more concerning development is QAnon’s inroads into right-wing street movements. One fringe group that appears susceptible to the theory is the Nottingham-based British Street Commandos (BSC), a pseudo-military outfit in which former English Defence League leader Tim Ablitt has been active. A promotional poster for one of the group’s events featured QAnon iconography, and members of BSC attended a 22 August “Justice for All” rally, also advertised as the “Great Awakening” march, which brought as many as 1,000 onto the streets of Nottingham.
The official promotion of the event advertised the seemingly unconnected aims of “Raising awareness of veterans affairs, mental health & related suicides/child abuse grooming gangs”, which was explained by the QAnon beliefs of the chief organiser of the march, military veteran Dean Cumberpatch. In a video prior to the event, he uttered the Q slogan “Where we go one, we go all”, and claimed he is “well aware of the Satanic rituals.” He also claimed to have contact with “a general from Q” and a “group from Q” named “The Punishers”. “We are changing dark to light, you evil scum”, Cumberpatch grimly stated.
QAnon iconography was clearly visible at the event, as were the signs of various far-right groups, including open nazis (whom Cumberpatch later disavowed in strong terms). Q symbols were also visible at a 5 September far-right dominated event in Dover, held to protest the “invasion” of immigrants into the country, alongside signs with slogans such as “#SAVEOURCHILDREN/END HUMAN MEAT”. There were ten arrests at the event.
Another example is the remnants of the Swindon Yellow Vests, led by former UKIP candidate Martin Costello, who held a tiny “Save Our Children” event in Swindon town centre. Costello, who has used QAnon hashtags, was formerly a leading figure in Make Britain Great Again (MBGA), an oddball Trump-worshipping group obsessed with Cultural Marxism. MBGA is best known for a 2018 incident in which Costello and eleven others entered the left-wing bookshop Bookmarks in London, with members of the group chanting “Trump” and one abusing staff as “fucking paedophile lovers”.
QAnon has yet to spread wholesale into the British radical and far right, currently featuring as one of a myriad of fragmented concerns. However, its potent blend of anti-elitism and exploitation of deep-seated fears, combined with the growth of anti-COVID-19 conspiracy theories, means there is room for far-right converts and opportunists to take up its mantle and spread the theory further.