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At those Trump campaign rallies this week, a conspiracy theory group called QAnon made itself known through T-shirts and signs. Q is an anonymous person or group that leaves cryptic posts critical of Democrats and often supporting President Trump. NPR's Jeff Brady was at a rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., last night to speak with Q followers.
JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: In the crowd outside the arena, there were at least a few dozen people like Belkis Dimaren. She wore a We Are Q T-shirt and says the online posts helped her make sense of the world.
BELKIS DIMAREN: He's saying all these things about how they lead, how they - these rich people using their money to kind of, like, manipulate the masses.
BRADY: Dimaren says Q led her to believe these elites have infiltrated the U.S. government, and President Trump is fighting them. Tiffany Silfies, another QAnon follower, says the media is part of the conspiracy.
TIFFANY SILFIES: I'm a recent college graduate. I've always loved to do research, to read and never - to come to my own conclusions about everything.
BRADY: Silfies says that's how Q operates. Clues or breadcrumbs are left in posts, and then the public is invited to continue their own research, usually with the help of other followers. One thing they take on faith - that Q is acting in their best interest. That's difficult to determine in part because this person or group remains anonymous. As you might expect, there are theories about Q's identity.
RACHEL YOUNG: My guess is it's someone very close to Trump if not Trump himself.
BRADY: Rachel Young believes Trump has confirmed Q's veracity in public speeches.
YOUNG: He will act out references to the QAnon posts that you know he's aware of what is being posted and is supporting it.
BRADY: What's an example of that that you've seen?
YOUNG: I can't remember.
BRADY: This happened repeatedly as I asked follow-up questions of QAnon supporters. They say the answers are in the posts, and everyone has to figure it out for themselves. It's clear the Q phenomenon isn't just one conspiracy theory. It's many, including the debunked Pizzagate conspiracy that a D.C. pizzeria is at the center of a child sex ring involving top Democrats. Matt Dragon says he learned about Q last year from right-wing websites.
MATT DRAGON: You're finding out how bad and how corrupt this world really is. I mean, you knew things were bad and things were corrupt, but you really didn't know. I mean, hearing about pedophiles and everything else that's going on, I mean, it's, like - it's scary.
BRADY: At Dartmouth College, professor of government Brendan Nyhan researches conspiracy theories. He says some people find comfort in them.
BRENDAN NYHAN: It's psychologically less terrifying to think that there are specific individuals or groups controlling things as opposed to thinking of life as random and chaotic and dangerous in unpredictable ways.
BRADY: Nyhan says it can be difficult to convince a believer their theory is wrong. He says the key to debunking is hearing evidence from someone they trust.
NYHAN: If QAnon conspiracy theorists are Trump supporters and another Trump supporter who is a friend or family member can reach out to them, that's going to be a more credible source than someone who doesn't share their same political point of view.
BRADY: He says the same goes for conspiracy theories on the left. And he says early intervention is important now when the Internet helps conspiracies spread quickly. Jeff Brady, NPR News.
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