GRAND FORKS — As a new online conspiracy theory saturates national news media, local officials and others say it’s just new twist on an old phenomenon.
With QAnon, several theories have coalesced, including allegations of Democrat-run pedophile rings, the suggestion special counsel Robert Mueller and President Donald Trump are working together to arrest high-profile Democrats, and claims the Russia investigation, along with several Republican congressional losses, are all just fronts to cover Trump’s war with a “deep state.”
“Q,” named for a classification of high-level security clearance, is an anonymous government agent working alongside the president who also posts clues through a 4Chan online message board regarding crimes against children and corruption, according to followers.
Numerous media organizations have printed recent analyses and explainer pieces on the trend -- more than necessary, said Joseph Uscinski, a conspiracy theory professor at the University of Miami.
“You know, I think there have been more articles written about it than people who believe it,” said Uscinski, who will soon be the first expert to conduct a poll counting followers. “There are true believers out there, and they’re sizable, but it’s nothing compared to -- as far as I can tell -- the recent JFK theories, or the birther theories.”
In general, for anyone to follow any conspiracy theory, Uscinski said, the theory has to match an existing set of worldviews.
“So in order for someone to buy into these Q theories, one, they have to be a Republican. They have to be a Trump supporter. They have to have a very strong conspiratorial world view, one in which conspiracies determine events and circumstances. They probably have to be evangelical, too. Because much of what Q talks about is this battle between good and evil, and the bad being Satanists.”
In North Dakota, the NDGOP declined to comment after multiple requests.
Bruce Gjovig, District 18 Chair for the NDGOP in Grand Forks, said the topic doesn’t come up for him or other Republicans.
“I am quite politically involved,” Gjovig said. “I do fundraisers for candidates, I was very active in building a crowd for when Vice President Pence was here, and I have never run across a single person who has mentioned it,” Gjovig said of QAnon. “All my exposure to it has been in the national media.”
According to what he’s read, Gjovig said he assumes followers are “wondering why all the investigations are on President Trump.”
“And why aren’t there investigations on Hillary Clinton’s campaign,” he went on, “into the Clinton foundation? ... And all they’re doing is investigating President Trump, when there’s known corruption. Why isn’t there any investigation in the Clinton Foundation when they’ve taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from Russia?”
Former North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer said he’s pretty sure there’s a conspiracy theory for everything at this point.
“You know, it’s interesting,” Schafer said. “I was talking to a guy the other day who is convinced all the great big Menards stores are connected with underground tunnels to the world. And then when the takeover happens, when those anonymous people find out, then they’re going to incarcerate people in the Menards store, and move back and forth with all these tunnels.” Laughing, Schafer said some theories are just nuts.
“Which is my point,” he said. “Especially at times when people are all jumbled up, and we don’t like what’s going on and we’re all wondering how things are going to unfold, it’s pretty easy to say ‘Oh, yeah, there’s some anonymous guy that’s running the president, that’s going to take over the country.’ It’s craziness.”
QAnon is just one of many attempts to analyze current events and find an answer, Uscinski said.
“We shouldn’t treat people like zoo animals. I mean, everyone does the best that they can to come up with the best answer that they can, in a very complicated world.”
One vocal follower
While many QAnon supporters declined to speak with the Herald regarding their experiences with QAnon, Timothy Holmseth of East Grand Forks proudly ends most online posts with a #Q hashtag, and he drives with Qs drawn on his car windows.
“I guess it isn’t much different than when things happen in our country and you see people feel compelled to buy an American flag, and they put it in their car window or something,” he said.
Holmseth said he’s not an activist, and he likely won’t attend a Trump rally wearing a Q shirt in the near future. A self-described investigative reporter, Holmseth ran his own website long before learning about Q, yet most his content has been reminiscent of the theory’s most central trends -- deep states and sex trafficking. Holmseth has accused many local government officials and law enforcement of crimes against children.
East Grand Forks City Administrator Dave Murphy said he is the only city official Holmseth is allowed to talk to.
“Mr. Holmseth, in my opinion, wastes a lot of the city’s time and energy in sending in Freedom of Information requests and calls,” Murphy said, adding Holmseth uses a lot of the city’s records to support “baseless accusations” against city officials and police.
“Quite frankly, I find it disgusting because these are hard-working state officers,” Murphy said. “To have someone baselessly accusing them of being child sex traffickers is sick.”