QAnon - the 'deranged' conspiracy theory that's sweeping America

A conspiracy theory described as "one part Pizzagate, one part X-Files" hit the headlines this week, emerging from the underbelly of the internet into the mainstream.

QAnon followers believe US President Donald Trump and the man investigating his campaign's alleged ties to Russia, Robert Mueller, are actually working together in secret to take down a massive Satanic paedophile ring involving Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Tom Hanks.

Several dozen believers showed up at a Trump rally in Florida earlier this week, in what one Washington Post columnist described as the group's "coming-out party".

They were wearing shirts and carrying signs reading 'We Are Q', 'His name was Seth Rich' and 'Where we go one we go all'.

Like most conspiracy theories nowadays, QAnon began on the internet. In October last year a person calling themselves 'Q' posted to web forums 4chan and 8chan, claiming to be a high-ranking government insider with access to classified documents.

Those documents show, according to Q, Mr Trump is waging a secret war against a "deep state" child trafficking ring.

A true believer in QAnon.
A true believer in QAnon. Photo credit: Getty

Weeks before the first post from Q, Mr Trump had made a curious reference to the "calm before the storm". Asked what he meant, he simply said, "You'll find out."

Q made a number of cryptic posts called "breadcrumbs" over the next few weeks and months, leaving it up to followers to decode what is really happening.

What they worked out is roughly this: Mr Trump only pretended to work with Russia to win the election to provide a cover for Mr Mueller's investigation - which is not into Mr Trump's Russian ties, but into the alleged crimes of Mr Obama, Ms Clinton, Hollywood celebrities like Steven Spielberg and even Republicans like John McCain.

Those crimes supposedly include running a child porn ring - if that sounds familiar, it's because it's the very same claim made by believers of the debunked Pizzagate conspiracy theory.

Some believe every US President before Mr Trump was a part of the child sex ring, while others think John F Kennedy was shot because he was about to bust the story wide open.

Q followers, who call themselves "bakers", have wrapped up several previous conspiracies into QAnon - such as believing Jewish bankers run the world and mass shootings are faked.

Trump supporters in Florida.
Trump supporters in Florida. Photo credit: Getty

"Imagine a volatile mix of Pizzagate, InfoWars and the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, multiplied by the power of the internet and with an extra boost from a handful of conservative celebrities," was how one Guardian writer described it.

"One part Pizzagate, one part X-Files," wrote Vice News.

The Washington Post even called it a "deranged conspiracy cult" in a headline for a news article - not an opinion piece.

Q's identity remains a mystery. Some followers have suggested it's Mr Trump himself, while others believe it's an Air Force official, Kim Dotcom, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, the late John F Kennedy Jr or perhaps even a group of people.

Celebrities that have expressed support of the theory include actress Roseanne Barr, Infowars host Alex Jones and Fox News host Sean Hannity - vocal supporters of the US President.

Asked to comment on the presence of several QAnon believers at his recent rally in Florida, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Mr Trump "condemns and denounces any group that would incite violence against another individual and certainly doesn't support groups that would promote that type of behaviour".

She said the conspiracy theorists' attempt to drown out a CNN reporter's live cross was "freedom of speech". Both the President and QAnon followers think CNN isn't real news.

Needless to say, aside from Q's cryptic and anonymous internet posts, there is no evidence any of it is true.