QAnon originated in the US, but its unconventional extremist theories have spread to Europe — and are gaining traction
It’s been years since Dutch rapper Lange Frans had a hit single. Now, however, the former lead singer of hip-hop band D-Men records two-hour podcasts spouting outlandish ideas about vaccines, UFOs and “the weird things” surrounding the 9/11 attacks.
He particularly likes QAnon’s internet conspiracy theories, which claim that the world is ruled by a cabal of satana-worshipping pedophiles.
“That’s the thing nobody wants to talk about,” he says I. “This is the feeling of the QAnon people: They need to get rid of these pedophiles at the highest levels.”
QAnon originated in the US, but researchers have found that Europe has become increasingly fertile ground for the movement and other conspiracy theories, particularly since the onset of the pandemic.
A report from the campaign group Get The Trolls Out! Analysis of hashtags on Twitter revealed that Germany, UK, Netherlands, France, Italy, and Spain are becoming QAnon hotspots.
Lange Frans had nearly 100,000 subscribers to YouTube before he was shut down from the channel in October for violating rules on hate speech and misinformation, notably when he accused Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte – without evidence – of protecting an alleged shadowy network of pedophiles . Lange Frans calls this “censorship”.
He’s far from the only one who’s subscribed to QAnon, the far-right conspiracy theory. Europe’s QAnon fans are growing on social media. They claim different conspiracies involving factors such as 5G mobile networks and coronavirus, sometimes linking them in a flamboyant grand theory about how 5G installations caused the pandemic.
But like Lange Frans, many QAnon supporters have been taken down from Twitter and YouTube after violating the social media giants’ rules.
Groups like France’s DeQodeurs, Germany’s Querdenker movement, and Denmark’s Men in Black have shifted to other internet and social media platforms to share the perceived truth they believe the establishment is leading to want to silence.
For example, more than 100,000 subscribers to the messaging app Telegram follow German conspiracy theorist and anti-Semitic extremist Attila Hildmann, a prominent vegan chef who claims Berlin’s Pergamon Museum is the seat of “Satan’s throne.”
Mr. Hildmann is a leading lateral thinker figure associated with the neo-Nazi Reichsbürger group, which claims that the German Reich or Reich before World War II still exists.
Mr. Hildmann fled to Turkey in late 2020 to avoid prosecution on multiple criminal charges, including incitement to racial hatred and harassment.
The Berlin-based Amadeu Antonio Foundation says the QAnon conspiracy theories are fueled by racism and violent imagery. The foundation says theorists are using twisted logic to spread hostility towards women, minorities and democracy.
“The QAnon conspiracy ideology is the driving factor behind one of the most dynamic and dangerous anti-Semitic, right-wing extremist movements of our time,” says foundation board member Timo Reinfrank.
Karen Douglas, a professor of social psychology at the University of Kent, says anyone can fall prey to conspiracy theories when they feel psychologically lost about events in their life or the world, especially in times of crisis.
“It explains why there are so many conspiracy theories about Covid-19,” she says.
“People are scared and insecure and are looking for ways to deal with the uncertainty, insecurity and loss of social contact. It also helps explain why conspiracy theories are so common in elections and after disasters. They seem to thrive in times of turmoil.”
QAnon followers claim to be fighting the ruling class’s sinister plans. Many are ardent supporters of Donald Trump and believe he is fighting the so-called deep state, the child trafficking elite, shadowy corporations and fake news media.
Official explanations of shocking events involving eccentric, scandalous characters are dismissed: the alleged suicides of convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and tech mogul John McAfee are assumed to be fake.
The pandemic has only confirmed these alternate versions of reality: QAnon supporters question the existence of a global health crisis, saying a state of emergency will allow the elites to control the masses through lockdowns and vaccines.
Lange Frans is one of them, arguing that vaccines are fake drugs developed by pharmaceutical giants with the help of corrupt politicians and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
“I will never, ever, never get the vaccine,” he says. “It feels like a scam or a rush. And it’s easy to see who the players are – they’re vying for the pharma business.”
And there are consequences.
Last April, former French politician Rémy Daillet-Wiedemann, a promoter of QAnon-style theories about child sex rings, was accused of orchestrating the kidnapping of an eight-year-old girl — along with plotting to attack vaccination centers.
Another French QAnon supporter, former paratrooper Christian Maillaud, was charged in August with helping to overthrow the French state. And earlier this month, a German father involved in the Querdenker movement killed his wife and three children after police uncovered his fake Covid passport.