At the Extremes: The 2020 Election and American Extremism | Part 6

October 28, 2020

In the weeks leading up to the 2020 presidential election, the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) Center on Extremism (COE) in conjunction with ADL’s Center for Technology and Society is releasing a series of news briefs on topics of concern regarding the role extremists and extremism more broadly are playing in our current political environment.

Here's Part 6:

As QAnon Tightens Its Paranoid Grip on the U.S., Here’s a Helpful Guide to the Lunacy

[See here: ADL Letter to the House of Representatives Regarding QAnon]

What/Who: QAnon is a sprawling, convoluted conspiracy theory that has made dangerous inroads into American life and politics. We’ve deciphered the coded language favored by its adherents.

Why it Matters: The FBI and the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point have deemed QAnon a threat, social media companies are banning Q-related accounts, and an overwhelming, bipartisan majority in the U.S. House of Representatives has condemned QAnon, rejected its theories and cited them as motivating violence, harassment and criminal activity. Still, the paranoid theory persists – online and on the campaign trail.


In May, 2020, the Federal Bureau of Investigation concluded that QAnon and other “political conspiracy theories very likely will [foster] increasing political tensions and . . . criminal or violent acts.” The FBI classified QAnon as a “fringe political” theory, but that hasn’t kept its far-reaching, chaotic lies from infiltrating the American political system.

The QAnon theory holds that Q, a mysterious intelligence operative, is feeding “clues” to the “anons,” who are deciphering a series of messages that will lead them to some ultimate truth about an elitist pedophile ring. In Q world, President Trump is the ultimate hero – and the only person capable of unmasking these Deep State villains.

Current QAnon obsessions include puzzling over the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop, promoting the (secret) death of Kamala Harris and worrying about nefarious plans for a Democratic Election Day “coup.” The movement is rife with obsessive vitriol – aimed at the nebulous “left,” the Deep State and Democrats generally.

Acknowledging the violence already perpetrated by QAnon adherents, a range of social media giants – including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest and TikTok – have announced efforts to remove references to the conspiracy theory from their platforms.

One might imagine that this spate of condemnations and de-platforming would be enough to relegate QAnon to the dustbin of history. Instead, the paranoid ideology appears to be gaining momentum. And in 2020, it promises to be a major player in America’s increasingly divisive electoral politics.

As we grapple with the grim reality of QAnon’s grip on our country’s psyche, it’s critical that we all understand the vernacular of the conspiracy theory. What follows is a glossary of terms and coded language frequently used by QAnon adherents.

A QAnon Glossary

QAnon is a nebulous and wide-ranging conspiracy theory that encompasses a host of other conspiracy theories. It has spread from the backwaters of the internet onto mainstream platforms where it has built a substantial following among mainstream Republicans and other supporters of President Trump.

It can be challenging to keep track of a conspiracy theory as amorphous as QAnon, but a few key terms and phrases have remained consistent throughout the theory’s lifespan.

This document will explain the most common ones. For more in-depth information about QAnon’s origins and impact, please refer to the COE backgrounder.

  • QAnon
    • Q is a reference to “Q level clearance,” a top-secret clearance level within the Department of Energy. Anon is short for anonymous. Users of image boards like 4chan and 8kun (formerly 8chan) refer to themselves as anons.
    • “Where we go one we go all.” Apart from QAnon itself, WWG1WGA is the most common term/hashtag in Q circles. It underscores the community and “togetherness” element of a movement where everyone is a “digital soldier” in the battle to expose the Deep State.
  • MAGA
    • Make America Great Again. This initially had nothing to do with QAnon, but the movement, reflecting its fervent support of President Trump, has adopted it. However, the use of “MAGA” on its own does not signify belief in the QAnon conspiracy theory.
  • The Great Awakening
    • The Great Awakening refers to Q’s dissemination of information, which began in October 2017. Followers of Q believe that they are part of a vast intelligence operation designed to slowly awaken the American people to the truth about the Deep State.
  • The Deep State
    • The Deep State refers to the entrenched powers within U.S. government institutions that work on behalf of the Cabal. These are the men and women who ensure that the elites’ Satanic desires are carried out and covered up.
  • The Cabal
    • The Cabal is the shadowy group of overlords who control the world. Suspected members include Oprah Winfrey, George Soros and extra-terrestrials.
  • The Storm
    • Alternatively, “The Storm is Coming/We Are The Storm.” This is a reference to a much-anticipated future event that is central to QAnon lore: that the Justice Department is holding hundreds of thousands of sealed indictments against Democratic politicians and other members of the elite, enumerating their many crimes, mostly related to sex trafficking. At some point, these indictments will be made public and arrests of Deep State actors will begin.
  • Sealed indictments
    • See above
  • Ten days
    • A prophesized period of unrest that will correspond with The Storm, which has led to vivid speculation about any news story or event referencing 10 days. When President Trump contracted COVID-19 it was speculated that he needed to quarantine for 10 days. QAnon followers believed this was confirmation of upcoming mass arrests.
  • The Plan/Trust the plan
    • QAnon claims a plan is in place to defeat the Deep State and the Cabal. Everything that happens, even President Trump’s apparent blunders or negative news coverage, is all part of that plan. Q asks the followers to blindly trust that things are happening behind the scenes, and that everything will work out as long as they trust the President and the plan.
  • Adrenochrome
    • Adrenochrome is a real chemical compound produced by the oxidation of adrenaline. It is also a fictionalized drug in works by authors like William Burroughs and Hunter S. Thompson. QAnon believers claim that the elite, particularly in Hollywood, harvest adrenochrome from the adrenal glands of trafficked children, using it as an elixir to stay youthful.
  • Mole/tunnel children
    • During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government set up a makeshift hospital in New York City’s Central Park. At the same time, the U.S. Navy volunteered the hospital ship USNS Mercy to the city to aid overflowing hospitals. QAnon claimed that the tents in Central Park were there to hide holes in the ground that would be used to rescue the many children who were allegedly being trafficked in tunnels under the park. These rescued children would be taken to USNS Mercy. This theory gained additional traction because the Q subway line runs under the park.
  • Save the/our children
    • QAnon hijacked this hashtag from a legitimate campaign to raise funds for an anti-trafficking organization and it quickly became a massively successful tool for bringing new people into the movement. The Save the Children campaign elevated QAnon’s visibility via nationwide protests and led the Proud Boys to align themselves with QAnon. #Savethechildren also became a convenient way to spread QAnon disinformation online, making it difficult for social media platforms to distinguish between legitimate content and QAnon nonsense.
  • 17anon
    • Alternative spelling of QAnon, since Q is the 17th letter of the alphabet. Used to avoid blocking algorithms on social media.
  • Q sent me/us
    • Shorthand for declaring allegiance to Q.
  • Satanic
    • Q frames the fight against the Cabal and Deep State as a fight between good and evil, and there is a significant Christian/Evangelical undercurrent to the QAnon movement. Thus, the enemies of Trump are often described as Satanic.
  • Sex cult/cannibalism/ritual murder
    • In its effort to demonize political enemies, QAnon frames them in the most abhorrent, dehumanizing ways possible. This explains its reliance on narratives like Satanism, pedophilia, cannibalism and ritualistic abuse/murder.
  • Pizzagate
    • Pizzagate was QAnon before there was QAnon. In 2016 a completely unfounded conspiracy theory cropped up claiming that Democrats were running a child sex trafficking ring out of Comet Ping Pong, a Washington, D.C. pizza restaurant. The conspiracy led Edgar Madison Welch to make his way into Comet Ping Pong in December 2016 and discharge a military-style rifle.
  • Pedogate
    • A variation of QAnon that focuses solely on the pedophilia aspect, claiming that the Cabal’s purpose is to supply children to Democratic pedophiles.