QAnon is adapting to new national contexts throughout Europe.
Until early in 2020, QAnon was a largely unknown phenomenon outside of the US, and even within it. While some European individuals and groups had been promoting the theory since its earliest days, they were largely looking in from the outside at an explicitly US-centric phenomenon and a narrative with little applicability to the politics of their own nations. While international conspiracies have always formed part of the narrative of QAnon, with the Rothschild family, the House of Saud and George Soros all identified as part of an all-powerful global Satanic elite, the primary narratives have always been centred on the machinations and minutiae of political developments in Washington DC.
However, it was in 2020 that QAnon truly began to spread and take root across Europe, adapting itself to local contexts and interacting with culturally-specific reference points rather than existing as a foreign import. In August, academic researcher Marc-Andre Argentino used a set of criteria to define whether a country had an independent QAnon presence, such as whether it had a specific national QAnon Facebook group and whether local influencers were applying the narrative to domestic issues. He identified such a presence in almost every country in Europe, with only Estonia, Montenegro and Albania being without a movement of their own by early August.
Some countries appear to have a significantly larger presence than others when accounting for population size. Lithuania has a dedicated QAnon facebook group with 7,300 members, a remarkable number for a country with just 2.7 million inhabitants. This high engagement has been boosted by the endorsement of prominent figures such as the psychotherapist and owner of the Minfo.lt news website Marius Gabrilavičius, who has written numerous articles promoting QAnon on his platform.
One of the largest QAnon movements in Europe is that of Germany. The German-language Qlobal-Change network has 106,000 subscribers to its YouTube channel and a remarkable 122,000 subscribers to its Telegram channel, a huge number of users for that platform and a huge spike from the 20,000 subscribers it had in February. The vast majority of Qlobal-Change’s output is translations of videos from popular US QAnon influencers, with no Germany-specific content.
The largest pan-European QAnon group was QAnon Europa, which had 20,000 members prior to its removal by Facebook in August 2020. The group was set up by German-speakers and the vast majority of the content was in German, although an accompanying website set up in July now also has content in Russian, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Greek, English, French and Thai.
However, QAnon is also forming a distinct German identity through its adoption by the Reichsburger movement, an existing far-right conspiracy theory that denies the legitimacy of the modern German state and pledges allegiance instead to the defunct German Reich of 1871 to 1945, claiming that it was never legally dissolved. At recent anti-lockdown protests in Germany, the presence of QAnon iconography displayed by Reichsburger groups was noted.
movement is itself a subset of a wider global phenomenon which also includes
‘Sovereign Citizens’ and ‘Freemen on the land’, groups most commonly found in
the English-speaking world which deny the legitimacy of their national
government and invoke misinterpreted or long-superseded legal principles to
assert their personal sovereignty and freedom from local laws and taxation. A
prominent UK-based advocate of such beliefs is YouTuber and English Democrats
activist Graham Moore, who is also an enthusiastic QAnon promoter.
Along with British influencer Martin Geddes, the European QAnon influencer who has had the greatest impact on the movement both in the USA and internationally is Janet Ossebaard, the Dutch producer of the viral documentary Fall of the Cabal, the English language version of which gained millions of views after its release in March 2020 and has been translated into numerous languages. The opening monologue lists a series of conspiracy theories that apparently serve as proof of its veracity, many of which have not been referenced even in passing by Q. They include fake forest fires in California, poisons in vaccines, 9/11 as a “false flag” event, sexual references in Disney cartoons, chemtrails, and “reptilian details” in the architecture of the Vatican.
Yet amongst the largely US-focused content of the documentary, Ossebaard also inserted numerous references that would resonate more strongly with her viewers in Europe. Having described the Pizzagate theory of mass-scale child abuse by Democratic politicians in the US, she then listed what she claimed were similar examples of elite Satanic abuse networks in the Netherlands, Begium, Germany, Ireland and the UK. This linking of QAnon themes to older European reference points is a key element to packaging QAnon for an international audience.
“The world is
experiencing the biggest revolution ever. The worst nightmare of the Cabal has
come true: the people have woken up.”
Elsewhere, Ossebaard falsely credits QAnon with sparking the gilet jaunes protests in France and wider Europe, painting the protests as a popular revolution against the cabal-supporting President Macron and George Soros. While it is true that QAnon has caught on among some fringe elements of the Yellow Vests movement, they represent only a tiny fraction of the movement and QAnon ideology had nothing to do with the initiation of the protests, which were instead sparked by fuel prices.
Perhaps the most
vivid examples of the conflicting political interpretations of QAnon is its
manifestations in the former Yugoslav republics. Pro-QAnon groups can be found
in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia, and existing
uploads of the Fall of the Cabal translated into Serbo-Croatian have
received well over a million views, indicating widespread exposure to QAnon in
The largest QAnon Facebook group in the region is called QAnon Balkan which, as its name suggests, aims to unify the peoples of the region in support of the theory. As the group’s description states:
“We do not divide people by religion and nation, because we are all hostages of a handful of globalists, dangerous psychopaths, who have placed their puppets at the head of our states and institutions […] Our intention is to spread awareness among the people, so that Qanon in our region can encourage people to break the shackles and get rid of globalists forever”.
Yet there are other Facebook groups which reflect national concerns rather than regional unity. Much of the discussion in the largest Serbia-specific QAnon group, for example is fiercely nationalistic, with group members frequently expressing the desires to reassert Serbian sovereignty over Kosovo. Many group members have expressed their fury over Serbia’s normalisation of relations with Kosovo, a rapprochement apparently carried out with Trump’s support and which seems likely to impact on the ability of QAnon to make further inroads into Serbian nationalist spaces.
This exemplifies the
challenges of adapting an ideology designed by and for American nationalists to
new national settings. The Satan-worshipping cabal is believed to be a global
phenomenon, and thus non-American QAnon followers often emphasise the struggle
against it as an event that can unite humanity, as in the QAnon Balkan group.
Yet as self-described ‘patriots’, their own interpretation of justice and peace will often conflict with that of patriots in neighbouring countries. Just as neo-Nazi militias can be found fighting on both sides of the war in Eastern Ukraine, so the QAnon narrative offers no meaningful template on how border disputes, religious tensions or other sources of friction might be overcome in a post-cabal future.
Whatever the future
of the core US-centric QAnon narratives, it seems clear that the imported
themes will continue to impact on the conspiracy theory milieu across Europe.
The extent to which QAnon can be adapted to new national contexts will impact
on its ability to implant itself in new locations, but could also lead to
utterly distinct variants emerging that can no longer usefully be classified as
belonging to the wider movement.