That’s just what they want you to think! The conspiracy-theory collective known as QAnon has gotten a lot of attention from the news media of late, thanks to random appearances at Donald Trump rallies. They make a good foil for media outlets looking for the outliers of sanity among Trump’s supporters and the far Right. “It’s gone mainstream,” Vice News’ Evan McMorris-Santoro told HBO viewers late last week, even though most of us haven’t the foggiest idea what or who Q is:

Needless to say, it hasn’t “gone mainstream” at all. The QAnon movement, such as it is, might be able to buy t-shirts and peddle conspiracy theories, but that’s hardly indicative of “mainstream” at all. Antifa does much more than that, and one would be hard-pressed to find a major media outlet claiming that they represent the “mainstream” of the progressive movement (which would still be unfair, by the way).

And it might turn out that QAnon and Antifa have more in common than not. Buzzfeed’s Ryan Broderick digs deeper into QAnon and concludes that it’s most likely a prank by Leftists on the alt-Right. Its inspiration, an Italian novel called Q, also inspired the riots against the WTO and the violent movement that later became Antifa:

In 1999, Roberto Bui, Giovanni Cattabriga, Federico Guglielmi, and Luca Di Meo, writing under the name “Luther Blissett,” published an Italian novel called Q.

Luther Blissett was a name regularly adopted in the ’90s by leftists, anarchists, and general troublemakers in Italy. It was used for staging all kinds of pranks. The Luther Blissetts in different cities would occasionally communicate by phone, but for the most part the project just spread organically. Think of it like an analogue Guy Fawkes Anonymous mask.

It’s not hard to think of it that way. Hollywood amplified the Guy Fawkes angle in the film V for Vendetta at the time the proto-Antifa was picking up momentum in 2006. That also posited dark conspiracies of fascist control of government and violence as the answer to it. That flowed from the original Q and was entirely in keeping with its leftist-anarchist context:

Q was published in Italian a few months before the 1999 protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle, and then in several other languages in the 2000–2001 period.

“It became a sort of night-table book for that generation of activists, the one that would be savagely beaten up by an army of cops during the G8 summit in Genoa, July 2001,” they said. “It was successful all across Europe and in the English-speaking world with the exception of the US, where it got bad reviews, sold poorly and circulated almost exclusively in activist circles.”

So how did it get picked up by the alt-Right? It’s not entirely clear, but the authors believe that leftists used it as a playbook to bait the alt-Right, and that it worked on enough of them to matter:

“Coincidences are hard to ignore,” Bui, Cattabriga, and Guglielmi said. “Dispatches signed ‘Q’ allegedly coming from some dark meanders of top state power, exactly like in our book.”

They also pointed to the fact that the Q from the QAnon community is described almost exactly like Luther Blissett used to be described, “an entity of about 10 people that have high security clearance.”

The problem with conspiracy-theory societies, however, is that they tend to be self-perpetuating. Evidence debunking their assumptions simply becomes more evidence of the conspiracy. No one likes to admit getting punked, at the very least, which means even a “ha ha look what we did” public admission by the prank’s authors would be unlikely to get accepted by the people in the QAnon universe.

That’s why we can be thankful that they’re few in number and almost entirely peaceful, at least for now. Unlike their Antifa brethren, that is.