Photo Credit: AP Photo/Michael Kappeler
By Kurt Johnston
On December 7, 2022, twenty five German citizens were arrested on charges of conspiracy to overthrow their country’s government. In a January 6th-type plot, the terrorists hoped to storm the Reichstag, execute Chancellor Olaf Schultz, and take hold of a restored German empire (“the fourth Reich”). Those arrested were allegedly part of the “Reichsbürger movement,” a far-right terrorist organization that believes that Germany’s post-WWII government is illegitimate. This movement has become more widespread since the first wave of COVID-related lockdowns, and has been implicated in other coup and kidnapping attempts within the last two years.
This story may seem like a curious obscurity, a brief headline destined for a wikipedia footnote. However, the Reichsbürger plot is yet another indication of a worldwide increase in violence that has been inspired by conspiracy theories and far-right extremist ideology. It is not a coincidence that the Reichsbürger movement has ties to both QAnon and AfD (Alternative for Germany, the country’s far-right political party). It is also not by chance that the plot appears similar to the one carried out on the US Capitol Building on January 6th; the conspiracy theories cited in that attack have spread internationally. QAnon and far-right doctrines like it have gone global– the question is, why has this inspired waves of violence?
QAnon emerged in the United States in 2017, becoming particularly popular in 2020. Anti-government sentiment grew as a reaction to lockdowns in the early stages of the COVID pandemic, a phenomenon that exponentially increased the number of QAnon believers. Its primary belief, according to the New York Times, is that “a group of Satan-worshiping elites who run a child sex ring are trying to control…politics and media” in the United States, which according to some polls, is thought to be true by almost 20% of Americans. For believers in QAnon, this cabal of entrenched political and financial elites runs a so-called “deep state” that controls global politics. The theory hailed Donald Trump as the leader who would take down the deep state and restore democracy, and has echoed ideas of rigged or stolen elections. While QAnon is similar to past conspiracy theories and reflects familiar antisemitic tropes present in other ideologies, its internet presence (on alternative social networks like 8kun, Gab, Parler, Truth Social, etc) has made it incredibly popular in the United States and abroad.
For example, QAnon is becoming more and more popular in the United Kingdom. As COVID lockdowns became a flashpoint in Britain, QAnon began to take hold in alt-right groups. QAnon-hijacked slogans on social media (for example #SaveOurChildren) were present in anti-government protests in London. UK-based advocacy group Hope Not Hate reported that 17% of people in the country believed that the COVID-19 pandemic was a conspiratorial “depopulation plan”. Similarly, the report found that while only 6% of those polled supported QAnon by name, over 25% expressed support for the idea that satanic cults of elites exist, engage in human trafficking and child abuse, and rule the world as a cabal. This surprisingly high support for a US-centric theory has worried British officials, especially as domestic organizations that support QAnon theories continue to rise.
QAnon has also found a receptive audience in Germany. Over 200,000 Germans subscribe to QAnon’s theories, and “Q” flags were commonly seen at COVID lockdown protests. Many of the anti-semitic beliefs espoused by German Neo-Nazis mirror those of QAnon; one far-right conspiracy theorist labeled former Chancellor Angela Merkel a member of “the new world order” and a “Zionist Jew”. One particularly problematic aspect of the German far-right movement is its ties to the special forces and police, which has sparked a discourse on military reform. QAnon’s foothold in Germany is likely to increase, escalating the potential for further attacks on the state.
QAnon’s ideology has proven flexible, a factor that has contributed to its popularity. Japan’s incredibly small but vocal contingent of QAnon believers have promoted outlandish claims that mirror other historical Japanese conspiracy theories. QAnon members in Japan claim that Japanese politics (and the imperial family) are controlled by foreigners who have put ethnic Koreans in power.
Similarly, Brazilian QAnon supporters have transferred the ideological “hero” role from Donald Trump to former President Jair Bolsonaro. According to one Brazilian expert, left-leaning political parties in Brazil have been denounced as participants in the global cabal, and Bolsonaro has been hailed as a “nationalist crusader.” Unlike the riots on January 6th, the recent attack on Brazil’s democratic institutions did not involve QAnon; a widely circulated photo of the Brazilian “QAnon shaman” (pictured below) predated the Brasilia attacks by over a year. However, the familiar conspiracy theories of election fraud, the “deep state”, and false flag protesters– present in QAnon ideology– were certainly embraced by the Bolsonaro supporters in Brasilia on January 8th.
Photo Credit: Anadolu Agency
In Canada, Romana Didulo (known as the “QAnon Queen”) has asserted that she is the true sovereign leader of the country and has convinced supporters to make citizen’s arrests of Canadian police officers. By promoting QAnon-associated theories, her fringe group supposedly amassed 60,000 online followers. Once seen as an entirely American problem, QAnon has not only spread abroad but has evolved to fit the theories and beliefs held by citizens of each country.
Prior to the January 6th attack on the United States Capitol, QAnon seemed to be only tangentially related to other far-right extremist groups. While QAnon promulgates antisemitism, its core tenets seem to be politically rather than racially focused. However, research has revealed that far-right groups in the United States are not isolated movements but a “tangled web”– more interconnected than previously believed. The Reichsbürger plot emphasizes this point and applies it more globally: the group drew inspiration from not only QAnon but also neo-Nazi beliefs, particularly antisemitism and white supremacy. QAnon should not be viewed as an exclusive group but as an umbrella label associated with other far right movements, including those that display violent, white supremacist ideologies.
The years since the onset of the COVID pandemic have illustrated that QAnon is not a uniquely American phenomenon. QAnon and conspiracy theories like it have inspired terrorist schemes, anti-government riots, and sporadic violence around the world. QAnon is an ideology that should be monitored not only in the United States but around the globe; the next Reichsbürger-type plot may be on the horizon.