In the final days of January, the identity of Reddit user “DeepF—ingValue” from the forum WallStreetBets was made public at the same time most people were learning of the site’s existence. The user had not been accused of a single crime and was not under criminal investigation but was doxxed in the media all the same.
Similar investigations into WallStreetBets have already been announced by the SEC, and we are likely to see more users unmasked as a result. As a cybersecurity analyst and U.S. Army veteran, it made me think — If a certain 4chan account known as “Q” had been promoting GameStop stocks instead of violence at the U.S. Capitol, would we already know who they are?
Articulating what the QAnon movement believes is difficult — one of its strengths is that it functions as a “big tent conspiracy theory,” meaning people who identify with the movement do not necessarily believe the same things. Foreign actors and domestic terror groups have also inserted themselves into the movement, using it to drive membership and propagate politically advantageous chaos. However, the whole society is held together by a single lynchpin, the “Q” account and the individual or individuals running it. QAnon relies on the conviction that “Q” is highly placed within the government and fighting on behalf of the American people. Publicly prosecuting those behind the account for their role in the Capitol riots is our best chance to push back against this narrative.
The evidence against “Q” starts all the way back in fall 2017, when they identified themselves as a high-ranking military official and began posting cryptic messages, known as “drops,” about a shadow war being fought by Donald Trump on behalf of the American people. These drops were then interpreted by the QAnon community, who sought to piece together hidden clues with current events to construct an alternate reality where this conflict was indeed taking place, a process commonly referred to as “doing your own research.” Almost 5,000 of these drops have taken place since, a steady stream of lies and disinformation which have incited violence, destruction and death across the country.
Part of the resilience of the QAnon movement is that these drops are open to interpretation, meaning that proving one conspiracy wrong is irrelevant. If the worldview a believer has fashioned based on their research falls apart, there are dozens of alternative readings on message boards across the internet. Not only do these alternate readings prevent susceptible individuals from being able to come back to reality, but they can also lead to further radicalization depending on the viewpoints of site moderators. Undoubtedly, there will be additional court cases driven by the actions of such QAnon adherents, but until we address the source, we are not doing anything to curb similar events in the future.
Several reputable news sources have already printed theories on the identity or identities of “Q” based on open-source materials. There is no reason the multi-trillion-dollar security apparatus of the United States government could not do the rest, particularly considering the credible threats of further violence and the extraordinary powers granted by the Patriot Act. If foreign insurgents had stormed a military outpost with flags and shirts embolized with “Q” on them, we would know their identities already.
It is easy, and perhaps convenient, to pin all this on political opponents. There are certainly those who share a measure of the blame. However, doing so without this corresponding action only drives a wedge between our already fractured country without offering an opportunity for reconciliation. Prosecuting President Trump for his part in the Capitol riots without pursuing similar charges against “Q” is like trying to charge gasoline for causing a fire without indicting a match. The House came close to this realization back in October 2020, when they voted to condemn QAnon and other fringe conspiracy movements by a vote of 371-18. However, this condemnation lumped “Q” and those “Q” deceived together. By specifically targeting and prosecuting “Q,” we can begin to recognize those Americans as victims rather than criminals, while simultaneously cutting off a recruiting tool for future extremists. If the government has time to investigate Reddit posts about meme stocks, shouldn’t they have time for that?
Jason Hansen is a cybersecurity analyst and U.S. Army veteran who lives and works in the Boulder metro area. He holds numerous technical certifications and plans to graduate from Regis University with a master’s degree in information assurance: cybersecurity in the spring.
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.