Meet “The Storm,” the conspiracy theory taking over the pro-Trump internet

Will Sommer
Jan 12, 2018 · 6 min read

Update, 3/30: Roseanne’s tweets have drawn new attention to QAnon! Read more at my updated post here.

Barack Obama will be shipped off to Guantanamo Bay any day now.

MS-13 murdered Seth Rich, probably at the DNC’s behest.

Special counsel Robert Mueller isn’t investigating the Donald Trump campaign — he’s actually investigating the Clintons, and Trump’s helping.

And Pizzagate is real, but don’t worry — Trump finally has its perpetrators on the run.

Welcome to the exciting alternative universe of “The Storm,” an increasingly popular mega-theory on the right that has already absorbed gobs of smaller conspiracy theories. In “The Storm,” which also goes by the handle “QAnon,” Trump fans can inhabit a world where their wildest Trump hopes can come true.

Sean Hannity retweeted a tweet citing QAnon on Tuesday, and now I fear we’re only a week away from some Fox guest dropping a cryptic QAnon reference on air.

So, as The Storm’s adherents say, let’s follow the white rabbit.

The mysterious Q

The Storm is based on a series of cryptic clues posted on the pro-Trump sections of the 4Chan and 8Chan forums by to an unidentified user styling himself as “Q Anonymous” — a reference to a top-level “Q” security clearance.

Q’s fans are convinced that Q is a member of the Trump administration or intelligence community dropping good news about what’s really going on to Trump supporters. And they’ve dubbed the whole theory “The Storm” or “Calm Before the Storm,” a reference to that time Trump cryptically referenced “the storm.”

In late October, Q started regularly posting series of cryptic tips, often in the form of questions. The tips include gobs of obscure references, but the general thrust is that Trump is poised to arrest members of the Deep State in “The Storm,” a final reckoning that will end with Trump’s victory over the globalists. Some Trump fans seized on the posts as proof from a Trump insider meant to provide relief to beleaguered fans of the president.

(Incidentally, New York Magazine’s Paris Martineau has done great work on the bizarre internet subculture surrounding The Storm.)

Since the clues are being posted on anonymous online forums, all of these supposed insider clues could actually just be written by anyone with internet access and a working knowledge of conspiracy theories. In other words, even as Q fans speculate on who the clues are coming from — fan theories include everyone from White House social media director Dan Scavino to Trump himself — these people are actually definitely being fooled by a random internet troll.

Here’s an example of the clues, which Q insists on calling “crumbs”:

HRC detained, not arrested (yet).
Where is Huma? Follow Huma.
This had nothing to do w/ Russia (yet).
Do you believe HRC, Soros, Obamama etc have more power than Trump?
Whoever controls the office of the Presidecy controls this great land.

Why did Soros donate all his money recently?
Why would he place all his funds in a RC?
Mockingbird 10.30.17
God bless fellow Patriots.

It’s nonsense! But it’s evocative nonsense ripe for the conspiracy-minded. In just a few lines, Q has managed to fit in Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton, George Soros, and the CIA program Operation Mockingbird.

After the crumbs are posted, they’re compiled and analyzed by The Storm fans in PDFs like this one.

After months, the conspiracy theory has come to encompass Pizzagate, the Seth Rich murder, the Clinton Foundation, MS-13, and many more right-wing touchstones. Despite The Storm’s vastness, though, the message is simple: Trump is pulling off a string of victories over his enemies, but in secret; and everything that looks like it’s bad news for Trump is actually, secretly, good news.

The Storm is helped along by the fact that clues are vague enough that they could apply to pretty much anything. The line “PHIL_B_O_Extracted,” for example, maybe means Obama was arrested in the Philippines!

When Rep. Darrell Issa announced his retirement, QAnon enthusiasts jumped: it was the Storm’s doing! When the lights briefly went out Wednesday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, several Twitter users speculated that it was Storm operatives snatching a tech executive. Does a QAnon reference to a “Sky Fortress” mean the recent fire at Trump Tower, or Elon Musk’s SpaceX? Probably both!

How anyone could believe this?

The Storm’s believers cite several flimsy pieces of evidence that Q is actually a member of the Trump administration, and not a random troll. One is that a clue mentioned “Saturday,” and then a few days later Trump tweeted about Small Business Saturday.

Another is that Q posted a picture of some islands — right as Trump was flying over some islands, maybe! The evidence is not very convincing:

This is clearly just some guy messing with people. But the flimsiness of “The Storm” hasn’t stopped QAnon culture from blowing up on the right-wing internet, where it has been embraced by the same “self-investigators” who flocked to Pizzagate and the Seth Rich murder.

InfoWars correspondent Jerome Corsi, who made his name as one of the Obama era’s leading birthers, is now working with 8Chan moderators to “decipher” Q’s tips. YouTube videos deciphering Q’s “breadcrumbs” regularly earn more than a hundred thousand views.

A host of prominent Pizzagaters have jumped on board, with leading Pizzagater Liz Crokin claiming that Hannity himself is on board. Pizzagate promoter David Seaman declared in a recent video that The Storm means that “the second revolution is upon us, and the Deep State is being taken out.”

In maybe the best sign that a conspiracy is taking hold on the internet, The Storm’s adherents splitting into different factions. Q recently blasted the moderators of an 8Chan forum devoted to the crumbs, accusing them of self-promotion and moving the messages to another board.

The Storm has picked up enough momentum in conspiracy circles that it earned a broadcast on RT, although the anchor still looked pretty confused.

Even Roseanne Barr is on board.

I think The Storm is too weird to gain mainstream acceptance in larger right-wing media like Breitbart or Fox News. Even Gateway Pundit, which was built on garbled internet nonsense, has mostly stayed away.

Still, you could imagine its individual details about the Clintons or Mueller filtering bubbling up to the top. InfoWars is already treating these random forum messages as legitimate news sources.

More worryingly, The Storm perpetuates and builds on the same kind of material that sent a gunman into Comet Ping Pong.

Ultimately, though, I think The Storm’s success as a conspiracy theory lies in how it wraps up every murky narrative on the right into a kind of mega-narrative where Trump and his voters are always, always winning.

If you liked learning about The Storm and QAnon, check out Right Richter, my weekly newsletter on right-wing media.

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