I first stumbled upon the collective delusion we now refer to as QAnon in November 2017, just a few weeks after it began as a series of conspiratorial posts on one of the internet’s more untamed bulletin boards.
In a sprawling discussion thread on 4chan titled “Calm Before the Storm”—a reference to a quote from the prior month by then-President Donald Trump—an anonymous commenter claiming to be a government insider with top-secret clearance posted cryptic messages about Trump’s top-secret plans to stage a countercoup against members of the deep state. What later became a movement didn’t even have a name at that time or much of a unified message, and it had almost completely eluded mainstream media coverage.
Still, something about the messages unnerved me. At the time, I was writing about internet culture for New York Magazine’s now-defunct tech blog, Select All, and part of my nightly routine involved scanning some of the most unsavory corners of the internet to see what folks on the fringes were up to. (I don’t recommend doing this if you want to have a healthy relationship with sleep.)