Kephir/Wikimedia (Public Domain) Remix by Jason Reed

Everyone wants to know.

In October, an anonymous 4chan account began making cryptic posts about earth-changing political and judicial events to come. Ever since then, conspiracy theorists, journalists, and amused observers have speculated about who was behind the account that has come to be known as QAnon.

q anon 4chan who is q anon 4chan

But even with over six months of posts, nobody has been able to figure out whether or not they’re actually a government insider as they’ve claimed to be, or simply a figure in a live action roleplaying game having a laugh at the expense of its followers.

q anon @gasbaggrant/Twitter

As it turns out, there hasn’t been much of an effort made to unmask Q. Perhaps because the identity won’t be as interesting as the conspiracy theory.

A previous example can be found in the saga of John Titor, a supposed time traveler from 2036 who claimed to have been sent to prevent the Y2K bug and revealed himself via fax to Art Bell in November 1998. Over the next three years, Titor’s story—revealed only via faxes and message board posts—became more and more complex. He shared the secrets of his time travel device, dropped clues about the future of the humanity (it was bad), and amassed a cadre of followers and copycats claiming to be the “real” John Titor.  

Finally, Titor stopped posting in May 2001. After years of guessing about who Titor “really” was, a documentary crew tracked the Titor posts not to a time traveler from decades hence, but an entertainment lawyer in Florida named Larry Haber.

It seems likely that QAnon’s real identity is just as mundane as John Titor’s. But that hasn’t stopped anons and observers from making their best guesses. Here are some of the internet’s best guesses and conspiracy theories about Q Anon posts. 

Who is Q Anon?

1) Q is an anonymous high-level Trump official

This is the most common guess by anons and conspiracy theorists. It would fit with the account’s initial identity, “Q Clearance Patriot,” and with various bits of circumstantial evidence, such as photographs supposedly out of Air Force One’s window, and evidence of the plane’s flight path coinciding with pictures the account dropped online.

There is also some language used in Q posts and Trump tweets that appears to overlap, and an anon asking that Q insert the phrase “tip top” into a Trump speech, which Trump himself did, describing the “tippy top” shape of the White House on Easter.

As evidence, this is pretty thin. “Q Clearance” is actually a Department of Energy term, and has no relation to security clearance in the White House. Beyond that, Air Force One’s flight path isn’t hard to find using the Twitter account @CivMilAir. And the supposed fulfillment of the “tip top” request came months after it was made, using a phrase that Trump has used before, including in October 2017 to describe his wish for a “tip top” nuclear arsenal.

Finally, there’s really nothing in the information QAnon has dropped that would necessitate top secret clearance or access to the president. Most of it is standard conspiracy theory chatter, along with endless rolls of rhetorical questions, Call of Duty-level military catchphrases and patriotic hubbub.  

Anyone could put this stuff together, and Trump tweets enough that eventually some of it is going to coincide.

2) Q isn’t one person, but a group of people close to Trump

This is an alternate theory that takes into account the fact that Q often refers to itself in the third person as “we” and appears to go through changes in posting style, syntax, and sentence structure.

This theory still doesn’t actually prove that any of them have high-level clearance or access to the president.

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3) Q is a shadowy military intelligence figure who recruited Trump for the presidency

This is a theory from Jerome Corsi, an outsider journalist best known for mainstreaming the conspiracy theory that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States. According to Corsi, “a group of generals” approached him about launching a coup against Obama. They then “reconsidered” after recruiting Trump to run for president and execute his own coup against the deep state.

q anon posts @fred_flintwater/Twitter

As Corsi explained to Alex Jones on April 11:

“Trump had agreed he would run, and they agreed that if he would run, they would conduct their coup d’etat as a legitimate process, rooting out the traitors within the government. And that pact between the military and Donald Trump has held, as we have been interpreting and watching, and Alex has been following QAnon.”

Of course, there’s no evidence this is true. But Q followers seized on the fact that on April 10, the day before Corsi’s “revelation,” Trump tweeted a picture of himself surrounded by military officers, including Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

4) Q is Trump

There is some speculation that Q wasn’t someone close to Trump, but the president himself. Given that Trump is the hero of the world QAnon has created, this isn’t a crazy guess. One particular picture has given this some credence, that of Trump during a town hall with gun violence survivors and holding a card of notes, with the fifth reading “I hear you,” and Q making a reference right around then to “5:5.”

But this doesn’t take Trump’s notorious computer illiteracy into account—he reportedly doesn’t use email and has his staff send notes by hand. The Q posts also don’t resemble Trump’s tweeting style, full of misspellings, grammar misfires, and typos.

qanon @omnicentrist/Twitter

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5) Q is an NSA whistleblower named Thomas Drake

A decorated veteran and NSA executive turned whistleblower, Drake was prosecuted for revealing what he perceived to be abusive and excessive spying on the American public to the Baltimore Sun. The charges were dropped, and Drake became an outspoken foe of the agency.

In January, Nikki Colombo, a “spiritual consultant” and “lightworker” driven by what she calls a “starseed awakening” posited Drake as the real identity of one of the people behind the QAnon account. She cites that “the info has been on target every time and the motives are good ol’ truth and justice.”

Drake, or at least a Twitter account claiming to be him, has denied this.

q anon @Thomas_Drake1/Twitter

6) Q is an Alternative Reality Game or Live Action Roleplaying Game

The “QAnon is a LARP” theory is the one most cited by skeptics—the whole thing is a game, and its followers are merely playing along. If that’s true, then there might be clues in the posts themselves that are intentionally hidden in plain sight. 

The internet puzzle group Cicada 3301 has gained a bit of notoriety for their complex alternate reality games, mysteries, and codes. Cicada 3301 has been accused of recruiting for the NSA and it’s been linked with QAnon. In January, one of the members of Cicada 3301 named “Defango” reportedly claimed in a YouTube video to be behind QAnon. Defango (born Manuel Chavez) later denied it and claimed that Jerome Corsi is actually Q.

Q has often been accused of being a live action roleplaying game (LARP). The Cicada 3301 theory would fit with that. However, Cicada’s puzzles are rooted in literature and art and have discernable solutions. QAnon, in contrast, just seems to keep going without a conclusion.

7) Q is not the same person he/she/they used to be and has been hijacked

Just a month after Corsi declared that Q was a high-level military intelligence figure who prevented a coup by recruiting Trump to the White House, he was singing a different tune.

Corsi claimed that a Q-posted picture of a Montblanc pen “proves nothing,” then wrote the whole thing off as an NSA or CIA psychological operation. Alex Jones agreed, claiming he’d been talking to people claiming to be involved with QAnon, and that “they are saying QAnon is no longer QAnon.”

Naturally, a high-profile defector turning against QAnon made waves in the community, with accusations that Corsi himself had been making the QAnon posts, and is a CIA or NSA agent trying to turn people away from the truth.

The reality of QAnon’s identity might never be known. If it is discovered, it will probably be disappointing. But there will likely always be a few people who insist that the conspiracy theory explanation is the true one.

Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance. 

Mike Rothschild

Mike Rothschild

Mike Rothschild is a writer who specializes in researching and debunking conspiracy theories and fringe beliefs. He also writes about politics, history, and breaking news.