PolitiFact: QAnon hoax has been linked to violence. Fox News’ Greg Gutfeld falsely claimed it hasn’t

QAnon is a baseless conspiracy theory. The FBI has identified it as a potential domestic terrorist threat, and it has been linked to multiple instances of violence.
In this Aug. 2, 2018, photo, a protester holds a Q sign waits in line with others to enter a campaign rally with President Donald Trump in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
In this Aug. 2, 2018, photo, a protester holds a Q sign waits in line with others to enter a campaign rally with President Donald Trump in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. [ MATT ROURKE | AP ]
Published Aug. 26, 2020

QAnon, the sprawling and baseless internet conspiracy theory labeled by the FBI as a potential domestic terrorist threat, has on several occasions been linked to real-world violence. Fox News host Greg Gutfeld falsely claimed in a recent episode of The Five that it had not. 

“QAnon violence! There is none,” Gutfeld said, while laughing and clapping, during an Aug. 20 exchange with co-host Juan Williams. “That’s funny. You are hilarious.”

In reality, the QAnon hoax has been connected to several incidents of violence or threatened violence. Gutfeld is wrong to say that "there is none."

Gutfeld’s comment came one day after President Donald Trump demurred when he was asked for his thoughts about the conspiracy theory, telling a reporter who asked about the movement during a press conference that he had heard QAnon followers “are people that love our country” and “like me very much.”

The once-fringe conspiracy theory has expanded its influence since the start of the coronavirus pandemic by pushing miracle cures and misinformation. Supporters of QAnon believe or promote the belief that a cabal of Democrats and celebrities are Satan-worshipping pedophiles operating a global child sex-trafficking ring, and that Trump is leading a covert effort to stop them.

The QAnon hoax takes its name from a user on the online forum 4chan, known as “Q,” who claims to be an anonymous government official. Q’s cryptic posts beginning in 2017 set in motion a wide-ranging conspiracy theory embraced by Trump supporters. 

Since then, QAnon symbols and paraphernalia have been spotted at Trump rallies and events. Trump has also amplified QAnon Twitter accounts and lent support to QAnon followers running for Congress, including Republican House candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene in Georgia. 

On some occasions, the hoax has helped spur its followers to violence. Kathryn Olmsted, a history professor at the University of California, Davis, and the author of a book on conspiracy theories in American politics, said Gutfeld’s QAnon claim has “no foundation.”

“It’s a theory about a deep-state coup against the president,” Olmsted said. “If its adherents truly believe the theory, it’s not surprising that they might turn to violence to stop the conspirators.”

Fox News did not respond to requests for comment.

The FBI and other groups have linked QAnon to violence

The FBI named QAnon specifically in a May 2019 intelligence bulletin produced for distribution among intelligence and law enforcement agencies that described “conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists” as a growing threat in the United States. The document was obtained by Yahoo! News.

The memo detailed multiple cases in which violent incidents or the threat of violence inspired by QAnon and other conspiratorial beliefs led to arrests.

"The FBI assesses these conspiracy theories very likely will emerge, spread, and evolve in the modern information marketplace, occasionally driving both groups and individual extremists to carry out criminal or violent acts," the memo said.

West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, an academic institute within the United States Military Academy, also cited a number of examples of violence related to QAnon in a July report

"QAnon has contributed to the radicalization of several people to notable criminal acts or acts of violence," the report said.

Facebook, which recently joined other social media platforms working to crack down on QAnon content when it removed hundreds of groups that had promoted the conspiracy theory, cited the discussion of potential violence among those groups as reason for their removal. 

"We have seen growing movements that, while not directly organizing violence, have celebrated violent acts, shown that they have weapons and suggest they will use them, or have individual followers with patterns of violent behavior," Facebook said in the statement.

Examples of QAnon-linked violence

The FBI memo and the Combating Terrorism Center report both logged multiple instances where QAnon beliefs were connected to real-world crime, as have news outlets and activist groups such as the liberal research organization Media Matters for America

Those incidents of violence, potential violence or criminal activity include:

  • In June, a Massachusetts man led police on a chase through Massachusetts and New Hampshire with his five children in the car. In a live-stream Facebook video of the event, the man discussed QAnon conspiracies.
  • In April, an Illinois woman was arrested in New York City for driving onto a pier with a car full of knives in an apparent attempt to reach a Navy hospital ship housing COVID-19 patients. In a live stream of her travels, the woman threatened to kill Joe Biden over claims of sex trafficking. She also posted about QAnon on Facebook before the incident.
  • In March 2019, a New York man killed Francisco Cali, a member of the prominent Gambino crime family. The man said the CIA had infiltrated the Mafia. The incident came after the man requested the arrest of several high-profile Democrats. He supported QAnon and during one court appearance scrawled "Q" on the palm of his hand. 
  • In January 2019, a Seattle man was arrested for allegedly killing his brother with a sword. The man posted about QAnon on social media, the Daily Beast reported.
  • In June 2018, a Nevada man in an armored truck blocked traffic on a bridge near the Hoover Dam, demanding the release of a government document and fleeing after a standoff with police. Law enforcement found weapons in his car. The man discussed QAnon beliefs after his arrest and cited them in letters he wrote from jail.
  • In May 2018, the leader of an unofficial local veterans aid group falsely claimed that he had discovered a child sex trafficking ring at a homeless camp in Tucson, Ariz. He referenced QAnon as he and armed group members searched for other camps. He was later arrested for stealing and damaging water tanks belonging to a humanitarian group.

QAnon has also been associated with various threats and other crimes, including vandalism.

There have also been violent incidents related to the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, which has been largely subsumed into QAnon. Supporters of the Pizzagate theory also believe a child sex trafficking ring is being run by Hillary Clinton and other Democratic officials. 

One armed man entered a Washington pizzeria in 2016 to investigate the baseless theory; another man motivated by conspiracy theories started a fire at the same pizza joint in 2019. 

People may question whether QAnon caused the acts or was offered as a rationale after the fact, said Mark Fenster, a University of Florida law professor and the author of a book on American conspiracy theories. But it’s wrong to say that there’s been no violence related to QAnon, he said.

Our ruling

Gutfeld said, "QAnon violence! There is none."

In fact, there have been a handful of examples.

The FBI identified QAnon as a potential terrorist threat in a May 2019 memo that listed some incidents of violence or threatened violence associated with the hoax and others like it. News reports, activist groups and an academic institute have also highlighted examples of violence. 

And two experts on American conspiracy theories said Gutfeld’s claim is wrong.

We rate this statement False.