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CNN Special Reports
CNN Special Report: Inside The QAnon Conspiracy. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired May 29, 2021 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Handmaid's Tale actor and activist Bradley Whitford will be joining us tomorrow. He will talk about his fight to convince senators to back the Voting Rights Bill. So you won't want to miss that. Join us tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern right here on CNN. I'm Pamela Brown. The CNN Special Report, "INSIDE The QANON Conspiracy" starts now.
ANNOUNCER: The following is a CNN SPECIAL REPORT.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: In January we aired a special report on the conspiracy called QAnon. Now, it's been hard to pin down exactly how many Americans believe in this conspiracy.
But a new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute says that 15 percent of the American population believes in the core tenets of QAnon, that's almost 50 million Americans who believe in a fantasy.
Over the next hour, we'll take you inside the cult of QAnon.
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COOPER (voice-over): On January 6th, QAnon came out of the shadows. What had started as an online conspiracy theory had quickly become a kind of cult. And for some QAnon followers, this was the day they'd been waiting for.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm here because Q sent me.
COOPER (voice-over): They made their presence known in the crowd of Trump supporters in Washington that day. When the mob stormed the Capitol, many QAnon supporters were on the front lines.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Freedom!
COOPER (voice-over): At least one supporter died that day. This woman, Ashli Babbitt tried to break through a door inside the Capitol. She was shot to death by a Capitol Police Officer. She was a 14-year veteran of the Air Force in the Air National Guard. This is her in a QAnon shirt at a Trump rally in September.
How does a veteran fall into a deranged conspiracy cult? To understand what QAnon is you have to go down a rabbit hole where suspicion and fantasy, mixed with age old anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and resentments. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will knock (ph) out the evil.
COOPER (voice-over): Some Q believers liken it to a scene in "The Matrix" when the truth of the world is revealed to those who take the right pill.
The truth according to Q was that then President Trump was a kind of Messiah. Some Q followers believed he might actually been a time traveler or being from another planet. They believed Trump was secretly fighting a holy war against the Deep State and a cabal of Democrats and celebrities who were Satan worshipping pedophiles, molesting children and harvesting their blood.
It sounds ludicrous, but not if you believe in QAnon. And once you believe you start to see the signs everywhere.
DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: Maybe it's the calm before the storm.
REPORTER: Where's the storm?
TRUMP: Could be, the calm before the storm.
REPORTER: What storm, Mr. President?
TRUMP: You will find out.
COOPER (voice-over): Those vague words about the storm spoken by then President Trump at the White House in October 5, 2017 are often cited as the beginning what we now know is QAnon.
TRUMP: Could be, the calm before the storm.
REPORTER: What storm, Mr. President?
TRUMP: You will find out.
ADRIENNE LAFRANCE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC (voice-over): This was at a time when Iran was in the news.
TRUMP: Thank you everybody.
LAFRANCE: There was a lot of tension around relations between the United States and Iran, so a lot of focus on that. And the President said something that was cryptic and strange about a coming storm and how this moment was the calm before the storm. And the reporters in the room sort of seized on that with Iran in mind and asked, sort of, "What storm Mr. President?" "What are you talking about?" And he was very, sort of, "You'll see. Wait and see."
KEVIN ROOSE, TECHNOLOGY COLUMNIST, NEW YORK TIMES: Q really took off after this remark that President Trump made. They interpreted that as a coded signal that something called the storm was coming and the storm in their minds was this day of reckoning.
LAFRANCE: And that became one of the foundational bits of lore for Q, which started posting on an image message board a couple of weeks later.
COOPER (voice-over): On October 28th, someone who'd later called themselves Q Clearance Patriot, wrote on an online forum called 4chan, which was known for anonymous or anon post. Q Clearance Patriot claimed to have a high level security clearance called Q clearance, which come from the Department of Energy.
ROOSE: This was not the first anon that had claimed to be a high ranking government insider on 4chan. But Q Clearance Patriot said basically, I am a member of the Trump Administration, I have this Q clearance, this high level intelligence clearance and I am providing you with secret information about what's really happening behind the scenes in Washington.
COOPER (voice-over): Q claimed Hillary Clinton would soon be arrested and the military and National Guard would be activated to quell mass riots. The posts incorporated other conspiracy theories that had been online for years. Claims that global elites, high level Democratic leaders and celebrities were all working to sex traffic children.
ROOSE: They kidnap and traffic and torture and kill children for fun as part of a satanic ritual, but also in order to harvest a life extending chemical called adrenochrome from their blood.
And the President Trump was recruited by the military in order to bring this cabal down and bring its members to justice. And that he has been secretly working to eliminate the deep state and to find and arrest and punish the members of this global cabal.
COOPER (voice-over): Elizabeth Neumann served in the Department of Homeland Security when QAnon first emerged. She said the claims being made were so preposterous, it was hard to take them seriously.
ELIZABETH NEUMANN, FORMER DHS COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: I think most of us, you know, just on its face dismissed it, because, first of all, a Q clearance has nothing to do with the things that he was talking about.
And second of all, having been serving in multiple administration's holding very high security clearances, working in White House and Department of Homeland Security, none of those conspiracies, whether it's Q or any of those other things have any merit. There's - they're completely baseless. None of us foresaw this catching fire the way that it did.
COOPER (voice-over): The false sex trafficking claims targeting Hillary Clinton actually dated back to 2016. The conspiracy theory that came to be known as Pizzagate.
LAFRANCE: After the WikiLeaks e-mail hack in 2016, there was a searchable database where people could just look through all of these e-mails that WikiLeaks had dropped on the internet, among them John Podesta, then Hillary Clinton's campaign Chairs' e-mails. And among them you could find references to Comet Ping Pong, this pizza shop. They started this rumor that Comet was secretly a front for child abuse, and that these e-mails that were sort of like what - what sort of pizza should be ordered. These conspiracy theorists started saying that pizza and cheese and pasta were code words referring, in fact to child sex abuse. Of course, there's no evidence of that.
REPORTER: Pizzagate is a conspiracy theory. You don't believe it's a conspiracy theory?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, it's definitely not. Pizza is a code word for child pornography. Cheese pizza, child pornography.
EDGAR MADDISON WELCH, SCREENWRITER: I love you all more than anything in this world.
COOPER (voice-over): Believing those false claims, a man named Edgar Welch showed up at Comet Ping Pong armed with an AR-15. He claimed he'd come to rescue children, he believed were locked in the basement as part of a sex trafficking ring.
NEUMANN: It ended up being handled where the police were able to subdue the suspect. He did have weapons on him. It could have turned violent. But the irony of that whole story was there - that pizza parlor didn't even have a basement.
LAFRANCE: This to me is emblematic just of how much real world danger this conspiracy theory did cause. But at that moment, people sort of backing away from Pizzagate, which sort of sets the stage for a new conspiracy theory to take its place and borrow heavily from its story, and that's where we get Q.
COOPER (voice-over): Some of Q's conspiracy claims go much farther back than Pizzagate. They're actually based on age old racist and anti-Semitic beliefs. The idea of elites harvesting the blood of children was a notion that Nazis pushed. They accused Jews of doing the same thing.
LAFRANCE: There are elements of this narrative that you can find in like crusades era conspiracy theorizing. Even during the Black Death in Europe centuries ago, you had conspiracy theories then that said that the Jews were spiking the water with poison, frogs and lizards. And you get a same sense of that anti-Semitism very much within Q.
And so, in some ways, this is a very modern conspiracy theory because it is enabled by the social web. In other ways, it goes to some of the most ancient and dark biases and bigotry in human history.
COOPER (voice-over): Over the months and years, Q continued posting vague clues, often in the form of questions and riddles. That became known as Q-drops. Followers would then spend days and weeks trying to decipher the meaning of them. And certain catchphrases became commonly used among believers.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where we go one, we go all.
LAFRANCE: There's sort of a rallying cry that is "Where we go one, we go all," which is an expression of solidarity.
ROOSE: They call each other patriots, almost universally.
LAFRANCE: There's this reference to the calm before the storm. This idea that the storm is this moment when a mass number of arrests will take place.
ROOSE: And everything is sort of in this like militaryesque code. So POTUS it is always used instead of calling him President Trump or Hillary Clinton in the QAnon drops is never Hillary Clinton, she's always HRC.
LAFRANCE: There's the Great Awakening, which refers to this period after the storm when Q believers believe they'll be sort of a society wide spiritual awakening.
ROOSE: There are also things like - yes, "Enjoy, the show!" would be sort of like watch for fireworks in the coming days.
LAFRANCE: Similarly is, "Trust the plan."
ROOSE: Trusting the plan is an important part of QAnon belief, because there are some times that the predictions don't pan out and the things that Q has said would happen, don't.
COOPER (voice-over): It's not clear if anything Q had predicted has come true. The first post said that Hillary Clinton was about to be arrested. Q also predicted other dates when there's non-existing global cabal would be exposed. There were supposed to be mass arrests of deep state actors and martial law - all fantasy.
But it didn't seem to matter to Q followers. They either ignored the inconsistencies or explain them away.
ROOSE: Q had made reference to D5, and that had been interpreted as a sign that something big was going to happen on December 5. Some report was going to be unveiled that unmasked the deep state conspiracy. And then that turned out to be the day of George H.W. Bush's funeral.
And so QAnon unbelievers convinced themselves that D5 was a reference to the fact that on December 5th, at this funeral, when all these world leaders, including former presidents and people who are allegedly part of this cabal would be in attendance in the same building, that that was going to be when the mass arrests happened.
And, obviously, that didn't happen. There were no mass arrests. And so instead of admitting like, we were wrong, maybe this D5 thing didn't happen. They sort of reimagined the claim. They said maybe its December 7th, actually. So therefore, the date - the real date is sometime in the future, and that's constantly happening with QAnon.
LAFRANCE: So this has been one of the more mind melting aspects of reporting on Q for me that you talk to people who are true believers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are Q.
LAFRANCE: And you can confront them with reality, evidence of here's what happened. We both saw this with our own eyes. Why do you still believe? And there's just an utter rejection of reality and total faith and Q with no sort of attention to empiricism or regard for the facts.
COOPER (voice-over): Jitarth Jadeja says he was a true believer in QAnon until about a year and a half ago. He explains the passion many Q followers still have.
JITARTH JADEJA, FORMER QANON BELIEVER: This is to them, they believe this. And they don't - this is not like a battle between Marxists and capitalists, between authoritarians and libertarians, between nations. This is a battle between good and evil for them.
The cabal are just evil. They don't just want to control you, they want - they don't just want to kill you. They want to take your soul. They want your soul, your family's soul, your daughter's soul, your son's soul, your brother's, your mother's, whatever. They want - they want it for all eternity.
Like the stakes for them could literally not be more existential. Well, imagine if someone believed that. Imagine if you believe that, what would you do? What wouldn't you do?
COOPER (voice-over): At the center of that belief is Donald Trump. To QAnon he's a savior. They believe he supports them through hidden signals and signs when he's out in public. The former president seemingly did all he could to keep their beliefs in him a lot.
TRUMP: I do know they are very much against pedophilia, they find it very hard.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, CNN ANCHOR: Let me ask you about QAnon. It is this theory that Democrats are a satanic pedophile ring and that you are the savior of that. Now can you just once and for all state that that is completely not true and disavow QAnon in its entirety?
TRUMP: So I know - yes. I know nothing about QAnon.
GUTHRIE: I just told you.
TRUMP: I know every little. You told me, but what you're telling me doesn't necessarily make it fact, I hate to say it. I know nothing about it. I do know they are very much against pedophilia. They fight it very hard. COOPER (voice-over): This was President Trump on NBC News this past
October. He repeatedly claimed he didn't know anything about QAnon, but he also praised them, giving Q followers encouragement.
These Q supporters at a QAnon conference in Arizona cheered on Trump's words to NBC. Many Q followers believed Trump is on their side and signals his support for them in public with hidden messages and signs.
ROOSE: So Q believers they study all of Trump's public appearances with this kind of extreme rigor, looking for these tiny little details, these signs that he supports them, that he's listening to them that he's sending them coded signals.
So, for example, every time he says the number 17, or uses it in any way, they take that as a sign that he's talking to them, because Q is the 17th letter of the alphabet.
TRUMP: 17 - 17-- 17.
ROOSE: I've heard QAnon believer saying that, Trump makes these signs with his hand when he talks that kind of look like he's doing a Q. Or the look at a tie that he's wearing, like a pink tie, and they'll say, oh, pink is hospital code for a child being abducted. So clearly he's sending a signal about this global cabal of pedophiles and sex traffickers.
COOPER (voice-over): This former QAnon follower says many believers' faith in Trump is limitless.
COOPER (on camera): Did you really believe that that President Trump was working to attack this global cabal of Satan worshipping pedophiles? I mean, do you believe he was actually deeply involved?
JADEJA: Yes, of course, I believed that. I believed that he had been chosen by military intelligence. That he was a avatar, right? There are people out there who believe he's a time traveler. There's people out there who believe he's Jesus. So, yes, yes. 100 percent.
COOPER (voice-over): President Trump clearly knew QAnon followers supported him. He said as much in August of 2020, when asked about them by a reporter.
TRUMP: I understand they liked me very much, which I appreciate.
NEUMANN: It's hard for me to envision that nobody at any point briefed him, probably something FBI director would normally brief a president on. And here's the key, especially sense in their movement, he is a messianic figure for them.
Their movement is entirely built around this idea that he is the Savior, he will fix things. He is going to hold Hillary Clinton accountable and make sure that the children are saved. So I'm looking at this and saying, we need to make sure he's aware so that he's a little careful with his speech, so that it doesn't unnecessarily rile them up.
COOPER (voice-over): How did a conspiracy cult based on lies and bizarre accusations spread so fast? It wouldn't have happened without the help of social media.
LAFRANCE: In earlier times, the main place you would find conspiracy theories would be in letters to the editors of newspapers. You'll see people arguing that the weather is secretly controlled by the government or that aliens have already arrived and are living among us.
And now just because of the mega scale of platforms like Facebook, and to a lesser extent, Twitter, the degree to which this was able to spread on a global scale, it would not have happened without the social web.
NEUMANN: And the way in which it went mainstream is they turned these concepts into memes and things that were very shareable on sites like Facebook and Twitter that captured people's interest. There's a reason they call it rabbit hole, right? So the cause, in particular, "save the children."
They took that slogan and coopted it and made it feel comfortable for a mainstream person to be like, yes, I want to help save the children. They take one click and then they learn some things and they click another and they may do some searches. And all of a sudden, they've spent hours and they have gone down this rabbit hole to a place where they've now been exposed to some darker theories that are not as simple as the meme they may have initially found.
COOPER (voice-over): Experts say the "savethechildren" hashtag proved to be a powerful recruitment tool for QAnon. Save the Children rallies have been seen all over the country.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The fact that you guys are attacking us and making us look like we're crazy when we're just trying to save some (beep) children, pisses me off.
COOPER (voice-over): QAnon spread was also made possible because of the cryptic nature of the so called Q-drops. They're vague, seemingly presented as puzzles that loyal followers could solve or decode.
ROOSE: Once a new Q post appears, there are these apps, these Q-drops apps that people use to get alerted every time. And immediately they'll take screenshots and post them in Facebook groups and chat rooms and they'll start trying to kind of decipher it and make sense of it all to figure out how it connects to the larger QAnon narrative.
LAFRANCE: These clues that Q leaves are written in really ambiguous and cryptic terms, very riddle like, which is part of what people are drawn to, right? Like people want to sort of do the research and hear this again, and again. People want to do their own research and pour over these clues and interpret them.
COOPER (voice-over): This is an example of a Q-drop from September 2018. ROOSE: It starts with an all caps line that says "panic in DC." Then it says "LL talking equals truth revealed tarmac BC."
So this is basically a reference to Loretta Lynch, the former attorney general under President Obama, in some sort of truth that Q was saying was revealed in a conversation with BC, which is Bill Clinton on tarmac.
And it continues, LL talking equals truth revealed Comey, HRC e-mail case. Comey is, of course, James Comey, the former FBI director. LL talking truth equals truth reveal, Hussein, instruction, re: HRC email case. LL talking equals truth to reveal Brennan, no name coord to frame POTUS?
FISA equals start. FISA brings down the House. When do birds sing? Q.
ROOSE: So as with most Q-drops, this one doesn't have a clear hint or narrative. It's coded. It's written in this cryptic language. But basically, the message that people take from this is there was some nefarious link between Loretta Lynch, the former attorney general, this Clinton e-mail case, John Brennan, the former CIA Director, and a plot against President Trump.
When do birds sing is sort of a cryptic reference to like, when do people confess to their crimes? When does this storm happen and this house of cards that this cabal has erected come crashing down?
So when you're part of QAnon, you are not just absorbing things that people tell you. You are out there, you are digging, you are trying to put together pieces of this puzzle. And then you are congratulated for finding stuff. It's almost like a video game.
COOPER (voice-over): A video game based on lies, played by potentially hundreds of thousands of followers around the world.
ROOSE: One of the things I learned when I starting spending a lot of time in QAnon chat rooms and forums and Facebook groups is that this is really social for them. This is a kind of collaborative, truth seeking effort, and it's a community.
They make friends with other QAnon believers. They congratulate each other on their birthdays and they wish each other happy holidays and talk about how their grandkids were coming to visit next week. And for a lot of believers this has become their primary social life. And so they get more out of it than just politics. They get affirmation. They get friendships. They get meaningful, sort of, missions that they feel they can be part of.
LAFRANCE: What surprised me was the number of people I met who, yes, they were pro-Trump, but more than that, they were driving a sense of spiritual satisfaction from Q. There was a lot of - I heard from people, they felt a sense of peace or serenity in their lives that they didn't have before they started getting into Q. And that's what really led me to understand this isn't a political movement. It isn't only a conspiracy theory, but really it takes on the contours of a baby religion born on the Internet. It raises questions sort of about, like, what's a religion versus what's a cult, versus what's a conspiracy theory, versus what's a mass delusion? And I think you see pieces of all of those things in Q.
COOPER (voice-over): Jitarth Jadeja says he was a QAnon follower for nearly two years, but he says after watching Q's predictions repeatedly fail and realizing Trump's so-called signals to QAnon weren't signals at all, he's now realized it was all made up.
JADEJA: I would say that Q is kind of like Jesus, and Trump is kind of like the god figure, right? For me personally, the path I was really observed in sad kind of way, this kind of gave me some joy and a sense of optimism. I was looking at the world and it was just so chaotic, and so - everything was so negative, and there were just bad things happening all the time.
And I just - the idea that we could somehow make the world a better place for all of humanity, just really gave me a sense of optimism. So that was the irony of the situation that my life was so sad and I was so sad that I was looking to Q for joy, as well as a sense of belonging, just like any cult, you know? They prey on the vulnerable and the disaffected. That's exactly what happened.
COOPER (voice-over): Considering some believed they were fighting to save children, it's no surprise this online conspiracy could result in real world violence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Q is a real thing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bill Clinton is a pedophile.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They are killing our children and using their blood and stuff and using their blood sacrifices in Hollywood.
COOPER (voice over): The bizarre and false theory that a global cabal of Satan worshipping Democratic leaders and celebrities are trafficking in children and harvesting their blood is at the core of the QAnon conspiracy theory. But there are many other far out claims made by Q followers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is branched in many different directions and now you'll find QAnon unbelievers talking about everything from the Illuminati to aliens in Area 51 to control of the banking system by George Soros and others shadowy mostly Jewish financiers they believe are in power. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've heard everything from the idea that John F.
Kennedy, Jr. is still alive and secretly supports Trump to John F. Kennedy Jr. was assassinated by Hillary Clinton.
JACOB CHANSLEY, QANON SHAMAN: Okay, well, when it comes to Hillary Clinton, all you have to do is look into the e-mails and the way that she is involved in spirit cooking with Marina Abramovic who is a known satanic witch. Hillary Clinton is a satanic witch. Okay.
COOPER (voice over): You may recognize this guy, so-called QAnon Shaman. This is him at a rally in Arizona two days after the election.
His name is Jacob Chansley. He's been seen at other Trump rallies as well.
COOPER (voice over): On January 6th, he was front and center in the attack on the Capitol. Chansley has been arrested and charge for his alleged role in the riots.
COOPER (voice over): Prosecutors say among other things, he obstructed a police officer. They also say he told the F.B.I. that Vice President Mike Pence was a child trafficking traitor. Chansley's lawyer says he wasn't violent and didn't cross police lines.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have evidence that this is a dangerous conspiracy theory. Most recently on January 6th when we saw people brandishing Q signs and perpetrating Q's message as they stormed the U.S. Capitol. I mean, there was evidence before that that Q was dangerous, but it is abundantly clear now that this is a dangerous and violent movement.
COOPER (voice over): This man running after a Capitol Hill police officer is named Doug Jensen. He was also arrested and charged for his alleged role in the attack. He is wearing a Q shirt with the motto "Trust the plan."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've seen lots of incidents of violence and law breaking related to QAnon and inspired by QAnon. There have been murders, there have been kidnappings. There have been threats against lawmakers in the name of Q.
COOPER (voice over): In March 2019, this man allegedly shot and killed a reputed mafia member in New York City. He told his lawyer that the victim was a member of the Deep State working to bring down President Trump.
At his arraignment, he flashed a cue symbol that he drew on his hand. He's been charged with murder and has pleaded not guilty.
Another Q follower caused an armed standoff near the Hoover Dam in June of 2018 demanding the release of government report on Hillary Clinton's e-mails. He pleaded guilty to a terrorism charge. Though some in the Republican Party have spoken out against QAnon,
others seem to be trying to appeal to its followers. In August, the Texas G.O.P. started using the slogan, "We are the storm." The same term is used by Q followers.
The Texas G.O.P. denies any connection to QAnon but have continued to use the term even after the attack on the Capitol.
Nearly two dozen Republicans across the country who have engaged with the QAnon conspiracy ran for office in the 2020 election.
Marjorie Taylor Greene is from Georgia.
REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): On August 11th, vote Marjorie Taylor Greene for Congress.
Now, Q is a patriot. He is someone that very much loves his country, and he is on the same page as us and he is very pro-Trump. Okay. Now he appears to have connections at the highest levels, all right. He has posted many things that seem to verify that he is the real deal.
COOPER (voice over): Lauren Boebert is from Colorado.
REP. LAUREN BOEBERT (R-CO): Everything that I've heard of Q, I hope that -- I hope that this is real.
COOPER (voice over): Both women are now serving in Congress. Boebert has since said she is not a follower of QAnon, and Greene has tried to distance herself from the group.
KEVIN ROOSE, TECHNOLOGY COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": We've had conspiracy theorists in government before, like, including former President Trump. But I think QAnon is really different in that it's a movement that has now become violent and insurrectionist and that has shown that it can cause real offline damage.
We know that many of them don't accept that Joe Biden is the legitimate President. We know that, you know, many of them may never accept that. And so to have millions of people out there, following an ideology like that, including elected officials, who are taking their cues, you know, not from their constituents or from, you know, the general public, but from random people posting conspiracy theories on internet message boards is pretty worrisome.
COOPER (voice over): And Q still is, at this point, an anonymous message board poster. It is not known who he or she is or even if it is a single person, or a foreign government attempting to sow division.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Q is everybody. We don't know who particularly Q is. Q is a movement, okay, it says speak for yourself. It doesn't tell you the follow one leader. You can think about what you want with Q. But I follow the facts and I follow information. And I think for myself and as an American.
ROOSE: The really interesting thing for me is that I've talked to a lot of QAnon believers who say, it doesn't matter to me who Q is, the identity of this person, or even whether it is the same person all along, seems to have become secondary in this case.
It is sort of like they're curious who it is, but they would almost rather not know because it allows them to preserve the illusion.
ADRIENNE LAFRANCE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE ATLANTIC": The people I talk to who really deeply believed in, it just didn't care because it was sort of like, well, what if you find out tomorrow that it's a hoax, and the person who is Q admits it was all made up? And I heard it again and again and again from people who just said, it doesn't matter who Q is. This is so much bigger than Q.
COOPER (voice over): What's it like to be named by Q? Find out what happened after Q posted this question, who is A. Cooper?
COOPER (on camera): You actually you actually believe that I was drinking the blood of children?
DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN BUSINESS REPORTER: What's going on with Tom Hanks?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you guys just want me to explain everything today, huh? Dude, it's all suspicion. That's -- that's suspicion.
O'SULLIVAN: How do you know Tom Hanks is --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you not know? You're reporting a non-fact.
COOPER (voice over): Tom Hanks is just one of dozens of celebrities that Q supporters have accused of being part of the so-called Global Cabal. There's no evidence, of course, no reason at all to believe these sick claims. That doesn't matter to believers in the cult of QAnon.
O'SULLIVAN: But you have him on your sign. You're calling him a pedophile.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
O'SULLIVAN: But you don't know that for a fact?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How did they get to that position of power?
COOPER (voice over): Some of the celebrities who have been attacked by QAnon have been critical of President Trump in some way. Others were simply thought to be Democrats.
ROOSE: They will turn these people into enemies and they will viciously harass people. Once they fixate on a target, then they all go on social media. They swarm that target. I've been the target of it. It's happened to a lot of reporters,
political pundit, celebrities and it's very unpleasant to be on the receiving end of that.
COOPER (voice over): Q first posted about me November 5, 2017, asking the question, "Who is A. Cooper?"
This came two days after I was on the air reporting about indictments in the Russia investigation. Once mentioned by Q, the followers of this conspiracy cult went to work, inventing a bizarre and crazy full story about my life.
According to Q followers, my mom, Gloria Vanderbilt was a Satanist. They pointed to this photo taken when I was about six years old. That Mexican folk art on the wall behind us is the Virgin Mary with Christ, but they said it was satanic. The Christ figure was a child being sacrificed.
They also claimed I'd been molested, likely in this empty pool in an old mansion in what Q follower said was my mom's house. It's actually an old Vanderbilt Estate in Asheville, North Carolina that neither I or as far as I know, my mom had ever been to.
Q followers posted this illustration they said was me as a child being abused in that pool. The C.I.A. allegedly trained me as a Super Secret C.I.A. agent, infiltrating the media as part of a 1960s era C.I.A. program, allegedly called Operation Mockingbird.
The confirmation: according to Q supporters, the necklace my mom wore in that old photo looked like it could be from Guatemala. The C.I.A. had supported a coup in Guatemala in 1954.
I was also called a pedophile, phony flight logs purported to be from convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein's airplane, appeared online with my name and dozens of other well-known people.
It's all made up of course, but QAnon supporters seem to believe it, or at least use it to try to harass me.
Jitarth Jadeja was a believer until June 2019.
COOPER (on camera): Did you at the time believe that Democrat -- high level Democrats and celebrities were worshipping Satan and drinking the blood of children?
JITARTHA JADEJA, FORMER QANON BELIEVER: Anderson, I thought you did that and I would like to apologize for that right now. So, I apologize for thinking that you ate babies. But yes, hundred percent.
COOPER: But you actually -- you actually believe that I was drinking the blood of children?
JADEJA: Yes, I did.
COOPER: Was it something about me that made you think that?
JADEJA: Because Q specifically mentioned you and he mentioned you very early on. He mentioned you by name, and from there, he also talked about, like, for example, like your family yes, and I've got to be honest, like, people still talk about that to this day.
There were posts about that just four days ago. So some people thought you're a robot.
COOPER: You really believed this.
JADEJA: I didn't just believe that, I at one stage believed that QAnon was part of military intelligence, which is what he says. But on top of that that the people behind them were actually a group of fifth dimensional, interdimensional extraterrestrial bipedal bird aliens called Blue Avians.
I was so far down in this conspiracy black hole that I was essentially picking and choosing whatever narrative that I wanted to believe in,
COOPER: I've tried to engage sometimes with people who, you know, contact me, and there's no rational way to, you know, to prove you haven't committed a crime.
JADEJA: There's nothing you can say -- whatever you do or don't do will be more proof of your guilt. Right? But the thing is, this is not really about you in their mind. This is about them. This is about their internal fears and their internal projections and their internal lack of control over their own lives.
COOPER (voice over): Jitarth Jadeja says he no longer believes in QAnon, but there are hundreds of thousands, some even suggest millions of others who are still trusting the plan.
ROOSE: I've met QAnon believers who are young, who are old, who are male, who are female, who are white, who are non-white, who are, you know, former Democrats, and you know, lifelong Republicans, rich, poor. I mean, this is not some fringe movement anymore. This is -- this is a mass movement of people from every walk of life.
COOPER (voice over): But will people continue to believe in Q now that President Trump is gone from the White House, and nothing Q had promised has come to pass? That's next.
QUESTION: Do you have any regrets about your presidency?
COOPER (voice over): When President Trump left the White House on January 20th, many QAnon believers were stunned. Nothing they've been promised had come to pass.
"We were promised arrest, exposures, military regime, classified documents. Where is it?" One online message read. Another wrote, "I'm scared feeling sick in my stomach, but I'm holding the line still."
ELIZABETH NEUMANN, FORMER D.H.S. COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: It was phenomenal to watch what was happening online. There was a complete meltdown of QAnon followers. There was this belief that while they weren't able to stop the election from being certified by the Congress, what was going to happen next was President Trump was going to declare Martial Law at the last minute. He was going to issue a national emergency broadcast alert that electricity was likely to go down, water was likely to go down, so everybody needed to stockpile food and water and be able to survive in the winter for a couple of weeks.
And then President Trump would rightly take his place for his second term as President and there would be no President Biden.
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. do solemnly swear.
COOPER (voice over): But as we've seen with many QAnon followers in the past, false predictions don't deter them. The conspiracy cult's beliefs simply evolved. Now some QAnon adherents claim Trump is still secretly running the government. One 4chan user wrote, "Anything that happens in the next four years is actually President Trump's doing."
Others are suggesting President Biden might actually be working for Q.
ROOSE: A lot of them will maintain that they've just misinterpreted the signals that, you know, the real inauguration is going to happen in March instead of January or that, you know, Joe Biden is actually one of the good guys like, do Trump use Biden to help take down the Global Cabal? They're already looking for all these symbols like Joe Biden's first day in office, he signed 17 executive orders; 17 is the magic Q number. And so some of them interpreted that as a sign that he was secretly on their side.
COOPER (on camera); There are some people who actually believe Joe Biden is now part of the plan. He's actually working ...
COOPER: ... with Q.
JADEJA: Yes. And that was the plan all along.
COOPER (voice over): Former QAnon believers, Jitarth Jadeja says he has seen other followers give up their online postings, and now social media companies have decided to crack down.
Twitter says it has banned more than 70,000 account for promoting QAnon. Facebook said since August, they've removed more than 18,000 profiles and more than 27,000 Instagram accounts for violating its policies against QAnon.
But QAnon is still out there, still a conspiracy cult with diehard followers looking for a sense of belonging and a way to take action.
Some experts believe Q followers may migrate to other fringe extremist groups.
NEUMANN: Here's the dangerous part. Then the white supremacist and the anti-government extremist started to realize that this was likely to happen after January 6th. They weren't able to stop Biden from being approved by the Congress, and so there was this disheartening moment for many of Trump supporters as well as QAnon supporters, so you started to see the white supremacists come up with recruitment techniques and they started posting on their sites to educate other white supremacist on how to approach a disheartened QAnon adherent. How to approach a disheartened Trump supporter.
They have to feed their grievance, make sure that they stay angry, make sure that they put blame on the system, on the government, on Trump itself, so they are looking to recruit.
ROOSE: The hard part about leaving QAnon though is once you've started to see the world in the way that QAnon followers see the world, as a series of, you know, lies being told by elites, it becomes very hard for them to trust in sort of mainstream authorities ever again.
They sort of have this idea that the knowledge that they're being fed is not real and that they have to go looking for their own sources of truth.
COOPER (voice over): There have always been conspiracy theories, but never before have they been able to spread so quickly. Just a few clicks can take you down a rabbit hole of deranged fantasies and dangerous beliefs.
What QAnon shows us is that even the most ludicrous and disturbing ideas can find an audience online, and in the real world, the results can be tragic.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to die for my country, my family and my friends. There ain't nothing else. You don't want none of this.