QAnon: What is the conspiracy theory and why do New Zealanders believe it?

If you haven't heard about QAnon, it's time you did. The conspiracy theory started on social media, then snaked its way across the world and into politics - including here in New Zealand.

It's a megastore of conspiracy - believers think the world is owned and run by a secret sect of satanic sex traffickers and paedophiles made up of US Democrat politicians and Hollywood elite. They're known as the "deep state" and they control all government and mainstream media.

The theory was pretty unhinged to begin with - and then along came COVID-19. With much of the world under lockdowns, bored stiff and scared, QAnon gained traction.

According to followers the virus is a hoax, an excuse to control people. There were protests on the street against lockdowns and social media lit up with misinformation about COVID-19.

It's gotten so out of control that the FBI considers QAnon a potential domestic terror threat and the courts are starting to show their muscle.

One Kiwi conspiracy theorist was recently fined almost $1 million over what the courts said were "disgraceful" posts about an Australian MP.

Karen Brewer accused MP Anne Webster of being "a member of a secretive paedophile network" who had been "parachuted into parliament to protect a past generation of paedophiles".

Judge Jacqueline Gleeson ordered Brewer to pay a total of $943,110 to Webster, saying there was no "sensible basis" for the "wholly indefensible" allegations. 

Conspiracy has crept its way into Kiwi politics too with the New Zealand Public Party claiming 5G will cause "a radiated atmosphere" that will "destroy DNA, and cause cancer".

Protesters at an Auckland anti-lockdown protest.
Protesters at an Auckland anti-lockdown protest. Photo credit: Newshub

Speaking to The Project, journalist and documentary filmmaker David Farrier described QAnon as "batshit insane".

"When Billy TK was on stage at Destiny Church's events saying 'an international assassin has been sent to kill me', Brian Tamaki after that distanced himself," he says.

"And when Brian Tamaki is the one is the one saying 'you're too much for me' you should really take something from that."

The Public Party's leader Billy Te Kahika vehemently denies being a conspiracy theorist - he says it's ironic his party is being labelled so.

"We search for facts every day," he told The Project.

"We look for updates from the World Health Organization, the Centre for Disease Control, research universities like Oxford and Cambridge, the University of Auckland. We fact-check ourselves every day".

Farrier says the problem is "there's no social barrier anymore to believing in bullshit".

"There's something very powerful about people's deep distrust about what's going on in the world at the moment," he says.

"People are worried and people don't know what's going on and I think that will keep uniting them to fall into these quite bonkers beliefs."

American QAnon supporters.
American QAnon supporters. Photo credit: Getty

But these beliefs will find it more difficult to spread on social media after Facebook announced on Wednesday it will ban all Facebook and Instagram accounts that represent the QAnon movement.

It's an escalation of an August policy which banned a third of the groups for promoting violence. Now, instead of relying on user reports, Facebook staff will seek out and remove the pages.

"We've been vigilant in enforcing our policy and studying its impact on the platform but we've seen several issues that led to today's update," Facebook said.

"For example, while we've removed QAnon content that celebrates and supports violence, we've seen other QAnon content tied to different forms of real-world harm, including recent claims that the west coast wildfires were started by certain groups, which diverted attention of local officials from fighting the fires and protecting the public."