After emerging in the United States during the ugliest presidential campaign the country has seen in decades, the QAnon phenomenon has erupted in France – prompting President Emmanuel Macron’s government to order a multinational inquiry into conspiracy movements scheduled to report back in late February.
The French government agency responsible for tackling sectarian movements, MIVILUDES, has received about 15 reports in recent weeks that have raised alarms about the rise of QAnon in France, Le Figaro reported. The agency described the development of the movement as “very worrying” in an internal communication seen by the French newspaper.
When ordering an investigation by the police and MIVILUDES, Citizens’ Minister Marlène Schiappa expressed the same sentiments: The development of “new conspiracy groups” on French soil is “very worrying”, she told France 3 in January – stressing that the government “has its eye on” QAnon .
The QAnon phenomenon involves “a few hundred thousand” followers, Tristan Mendès France, an expert on conspiracy movements at the University of Paris-Diderot, told Le Figaro.
The DéQodeurs website is an important French gateway to its world. The centerpiece of the site is a large screen at the top of the website that broadcasts a video titled “We Are the People” – which has also received more than 57,000 views on YouTube since its release on January 27, although the site removed DéQodeur’s dedicated channel in October.
‘Nothing on earth can stop us’
The video opens with a battle drum team playing over an image of the US Capitol in black and white, with dark clouds dominating the sky. “You see, my son, I was your age; I was not yet 15, voiceover begins. “The world was a crazy place.” A picture follows of St. Peter’s Square threatened by storm clouds. “But this was just the beginning of the story,” the voice continues as the music slows down and softens.
“Some people understood things since the beginning and they did not move,” it continues. “And here and there you can hear them sing.” A photo shows a group of people putting their hands together. A song breaks out with a chorus saying “we are the people, we are united, nothing on this planet can stop us”.
The DéQodeurs website has links to “information” including articles conveying fake news based on QAnon tropes – such as the baseless claim that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2016 was about to release documents proving the existence of a massive pedophile ring in Washington DC . A section entitled “armory” offers videos – including a two-hour segment stating falsities that are alleged to provide “absolute evidence” that election fraud deprived Donald Trump of victory in the November US presidential election, speaking with French translation clumsily on top of a US voice.
The idea of Trump as a hero waging a secret war against a cabal of cannibalistic, satan-worshiping pedophiles is at the heart of QAnon’s imagination – none of them are true.
The main character behind DéQodeurs is Léonard Sojili, an Albanian citizen who first appeared on the French internet in 2011 and promoted 9/11 conspiracies. Sojili also spreads QAnon theories through the YouTube channel Thinkerview. On this platform, he mixes support for the conspiracy theory with interviews with prominent French figures from across the political spectrum. Thinkerview has approximately 773,000 subscribers.
A more surprising title that increases QAnon is France-Soir. This publication was one of the country’s most August-wide papers during the economic and cultural flowering of France’s Trentes Glorieuses after the war, and published articles by Jean-Paul Sartre and novelist Joseph Kessel. The newspaper was closed in 2012 after moving the down market.
But France-Soir resumed four years later as a populist website that sometimes deals with conspiracy theories, with the last remaining journalists fired in 2019. Over the past year, the publication went from publishing coronavirus disinfection to publishing fake news to promoting QAnon theories.
Many QAnon advocates have woven Covid-19 pseudoscience into their imagination. France-Soir’s QAnon material “fits in with” the publication’s’ skepticism of the government’s Covid policy, “said Emily St Denny, an expert on French politics at the University of Copenhagen.
“The emergence of QAnon in France is a new development,” she noted, “after emerging largely in the second half of 2020, in parallel with the pandemic and public health restrictions imposed to curb it.”
A ‘unifying voice’
The popularity of the pseudo-documentary Hold-Up shows that Covid disinformation has a large audience in France: It received more than 2.5 million views after its release in November, with several famous faces including the iconic actress Sophie Marceau who shared the video. The film spreads a number of debunked claims, including the notion that a global elite caller is using the pandemic to create a totalitarian new world order – a similar belief to QAnon’s belief in a conspiracy of satan-worshiping pedophiles.
Although it tends to avoid such lurking stories, anti-vaccine sentiment is relatively widespread in France. An Ipsos survey published in November showed that 46 percent of French adults said they would refuse to receive a Covid-19 vaccine – compared to 21 percent in the UK. A Gallup survey from 2019 showed that one in three French people thought that all vaccines were dangerous – the highest proportion of respondents who say so in 144 countries surveyed.
“We have had suspicions of opportunities, curfews and medical practices that activate traditional French phenomena such as anti-wax feelings and newer ones such as the alternative health movement,” said Andrew Smith, professor of French politics at the University of Chichester.
QAnon is dangerous in this context, he noted, because it “offers a kind of unifying voice for a number of things that challenge scientific and political authority – one that tells people” What do you think? Has anyone asked you? ‘at the same time as they present a conspiracy theory through the concept of gamification, a kind of puzzle solution that becomes intoxicating for many’.
These factors mean that QAnon’s French sympathizers are much more ideologically heterogeneous than those in the United States, St Denny stated: “QAnon in France is definitely not the monopoly of right-wing sympathizers as it may be in the United States. Its anti-government base has made conspiracy theory attractive to a very diverse group of groups and individuals, including established conspiracy theorists, some edges of the Yellow West movement and some of the more conspiracy-oriented among the alternative health movement. ”
“The stakes are high” in France, given QAnon’s “disruptive potential in giving a broad coalition the ideological glue to act together in ways that could threaten democratic or social processes,” St Denny continued.
“What strikes me is that in the United States, it took three years after it was created for QAnon to enter the mainstream,” Smith said. “In France, I do not think it is a political danger in the immediate sense – I do not think the captain behind DéQodeur’s website will go to the presidency.”
“But QAnon’s rise represents part of an erosion of socio-cultural standards, including belief in parliamentary democracy as a system of government,” he concluded. “It is an alarming threat to the values of the French Republic, as a counter-Enlightenment trend that denies universalism.”