Report Exposes QAnon’s Exploitation of U.S. Military’s Reputation

WASHINGTON D.C. –  Human Rights First today released “Digital Soldiers:” QAnon Extremists Exploit U.S. Military, Threaten Democracy, a report that examines how the extremist QAnon movement is working to exploit the United States military to undermine American democracy.

Digital Soldiers focuses on QAnon-associated influencers centering the U.S. military in their social media narratives and propaganda, and investigates how those narratives recruit new followers, including members of the military community. These narratives create an impression that the movement is allied with the military, providing the QAnon movement credibility that allows it to expand its reach.

“With its masquerade of a partnership with the military, QAnon and its adherents encourage public acceptance of military intervention in domestic politics and other authoritarian actions,” said Elizabeth Yates, Senior Researcher on Antisemitism at Human Rights First. “Their repeated calls for military intervention as a solution to claims of voter fraud, as they did in the recent midterm elections, attacks the very bedrock of American democracy.”

This research identifies 25 influential veterans who spread disinformation and build support for the QAnon movement. The report analyzes QAnon social media channels and reveals how QAnon-influencers – including veterans – portray the U.S. military as a heroic protagonist of extremists’ efforts and exploit military veterans to both legitimate those claims and recruit new members.

The research shows that the QAnon movement’s effort to create the perception that it is allied with the U.S. military has some stark consequences:

  • It strengthens the QAnon movement by facilitating recruitment from both military and civilian communities and encourages active participation among adherents;
  • Lends legitimacy to discriminatory and anti-democratic conspiracies that are integrated into the Q movement, such as antisemitism and election denial;
  • Distorts the public’s understanding of the primary responsibilities of the military and, importantly, the legal boundaries of domestic military intervention;
  • Undermines public faith in democratic institutions by regularly encouraging the acceptance of authoritarian actions; and
  • Threatens the communities the movement targets with its conspiracies and tarnishes the reputation of U.S. service members, veterans, and their families.

The report shows how QAnon-associated influencers co-opt military language and symbolism to suggest the U.S. military’s involvement in their conspiracy theories. The research also reveals that veterans are over-represented in the movement. These self-described “digital soldiers” are highly engaged in the movement and play a major role in validating conspiracy theories.

Addressing this threat needs to be an urgent priority for both government and civil society, and the report includes several recommendations including:  supporting efforts by the Department of Defense to address extremism in the military; increasing veteran awareness of QAnon’s recruitment tactics and narratives; improving digital literacy and increasing public awareness of QAnon disinformation; demanding that elected leaders denounce extremist conspiracies; and both supporting targeted communities and holding accountable perpetrators of extremism.

To speak with Yates or other experts on extremism at Human Rights First about the report and its findings, please contact Shamari White, [email protected], (202) 714-4129.

Press

Published on December 12, 2022

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