The posts boast of uncovering an incident of kid abuse in southern Germany and the seemingly suspicious use of army plane within the north and west of the nation. Others element a conspiracy to control important climate occasions.
Impressively, all that was required to disclose this malign exercise was some inventive pondering and entry to open supply investigative instruments corresponding to satellite tv for pc mapping providers and flight monitoring websites.
However a better look begins to disclose some elementary issues.
The instruments had been misused and the findings, eye-catching although they’re, fail to face as much as even probably the most primary scrutiny.
It’s a well-known theme when analysing “analysis” from the QAnon neighborhood.
Whereas it initially attracted adherents within the US and centered on outlandish conspiracies surrounding American politics, QAnon has since developed and unfold to different international locations all over the world.
One nation the place QAnon has had a major influence is Germany, as extensively reported by local and international media. The black and white, good versus evil, template of the conspiracy has made it notably supple, say specialists. In keeping with a 2020 report on QAnon in Germany by the Antonio Amadeu Stiftung — a Berlin-based NGO which works to fight racism and far-right extremism — the conspiracy has resonated with different fringe teams in German society such because the Reichsbürger (a far-right motion which denies the legitimacy of the German state) and the Querdenker (Covid-19 sceptics and denialists).
Bellingcat delved into the German-language QAnon ecosystem as a part of a wider mission that goals to trace the unfold of the conspiracy idea all through Europe.
The analysis — which gathered thousands and thousands of posts from Telegram channels that frequently shared QAnon-related content material— discovered that most of the identical conspiracies, in addition to mantras encouraging self learning and independent online discovery standard in English language QAnon communities, had been additionally obvious in German language QAnon channels.
Some English language QAnon fans have arrange on-line depositories that listing a spread of databases, data, pointers and instruments for fans all over the world to become involved within the crowdsourced conspiracy and perform their very own investigations – often to deceptive impact.
Similar trends were observed in German language QAnon Telegram channels.
Here, open source investigative tools appeared to be influential in creating a host of new, potentially harmful theories off the back of prominent news events in Germany, Switzerland and Austria.
Although this pattern of behaviour is highly unlikely to be unique to Q followers in these countries, analysis of how the tools had been used offered an interesting insight into the regional evolution of QAnon and how it has been adapted for German language audiences.
It also offers some textbook examples of how not to conduct open source research or investigations. Google Maps, for instance, was used to falsely bolster an online claim that a 2020 shooting within the Austrian capital, Vienna, was faked. It was additionally seen being utilized by Q fans to advertise panicked claims of kid abuse for which there was no proof.
While Google Maps has myriad non investigative uses – such as providing directions – it can also be used to aid practices such as geolocation.
In Bellingcat’s dataset, the key phrase “Google Maps,” was discovered 427 occasions throughout the interval between April 2019 and October 2021.
This will seem insignificant within the grand scheme of issues. However it is very important notice that not each Q follower captured within the dataset talked about the precise title of this device in posts when utilizing it. Others might be seen utilizing extra imprecise language corresponding to “satellite tv for pc imagery” and even simply posting screenshots from on-line mapping providers.
Different instruments to be often talked about and utilized by German language Q followers included flight monitoring websites, patent databases and enterprise registries. Some posts selling theories devolved from the mis-use of those instruments had racked up tens of 1000’s of views.
Regardless of that, most German language Q fans noticed by Bellingcat didn’t seem to contemplate themselves open supply researchers within the conventional sense, and even pay attention to the sphere.
The time period “open supply investigations” just isn’t frequent within the German language and lots of Q fans merely referred to their very own “analysis” (recherche), with that phrase showing tens of 1000’s of occasions in posts.
That is additionally an everyday chorus in English language QAnon communities in addition to in different conspiracy actions corresponding to these related to anti-vaxxers, Covid-19 truthers or 5G theories.
To be clear, not the entire theories discovered throughout Bellingcat’s German language analysis had been borne from poorly carried out open supply analysis.
However a few of the hottest and far-spreading had been.
Google Maps and the White Rabbit
For instance, one Telegram person who posted to a channel with 25,000 subscribers in March 2021 falsely described uncovering an alleged incident of kid abuse through the use of Google Maps to analyze a seemingly harmless story that had appeared in a German tabloid. The article detailed how a baby within the Bavarian city of Aschaffenburg had misplaced his toy rabbit whereas at a grocery store.
In QAnon communities, rabbits are seen to signify clues to hidden truths. “Comply with the white rabbit” is a widely-used slogan, tailored from Lewis Carroll’s well-known story “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”
The Telegram user posted that they had located the supermarket detailed in the newspaper story on Google Maps. Nearby, they found a restaurant called Tadsch Mahal, as well as a pizzeria. Tadsch Mahal, the German spelling of Taj Mahal, was interpreted as a connection to Donald Trump (since Trump previously owned a casino called Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, New Jersey). The pizzeria, meanwhile, was taken as a reference to the debunked Pizzagate conspiracy which posited that US Democratic Celebration officers had been concerned in a trafficking ring that operated out of the basement of a pizza restaurant in Washington DC.
The poster failed to provide any evidence that actually connected these locations beyond their proximity to one another on Google Maps and some unhinged themes that have become prominent in the Q conspiracy. They also shared no actual evidence of any child abuse, just stating that the child had a toy rabbit.
Despite these clear logical leaps, the post obtained a not insignificant reach. At time of publication, it had been viewed just under 13,000 times.
For an open source researcher of even mild competence, such basic fallacies and logical inconsistencies would be clear.
Chemtrails, Flight-tracking Sites
Another clear observation from Bellingcat’s German language Telegram analysis was Q followers’ interest in flight tracking tools. These platforms have been used by competent open source researchers to track the final moments of downed passenger aircraft like Flight PS752 over Tehran in 2020 in addition to small planes allegedly concerned in drug trafficking.
However German talking QAnon followers primarily confirmed a bent to make use of flight monitoring websites self-selectively, so as to hunt proof of ideas corresponding to “chemtrails”. That is one more unsupported idea that claims condensation trails left by plane encompass chemical substances which are sprayed on human populations with a view to manipulate them bodily and psychologically.
Bellingcat even discovered a German language flight monitoring tutorial produced by a conspiracy theorist for fellow believers in chemtrails.
Despite appearing to use these tools extensively, QAnon followers often seemed unsure as to how they should apply them to support their claims. Some focused on the shapes created by the flight paths planes take. One German conspiracy theorist shared the below picture depicting the shape of a rabbit which was captured on Flightradar24.
This flight took place when a pilot flew over Berlin to create a rabbit shape simply earlier than Easter in April 2020. Regardless of acknowledging that this was “most likely an Easter gag”, the uploader who famous it started their put up with the slogan: “Comply with the white rabbit.” In keeping with this poster, the rabbit form was “not less than a synchronicity”.
Bellingcat’s Investigative Tech Group additionally discovered a devoted German-language conspiracy theorist neighborhood which focuses on decoding what they name “parallel flights” or “ring flights,” named after the form of seen routes detailed on flight monitoring websites. Usually, the neighborhood tries to ascertain a connection between these flights and youngster abuse, once more for causes which are unclear and that appear missing in clear logic past their existence in Q mythology.
Bellingcat came across this community after noticing an increasing number of posts in the Telegram database had been referring to the flight-tracking website globe.adsbexchange.com since the beginning of 2021.
At that time, a group of German conspiracy theorists appeared to be using the site to try and to keep track of the US Doomsday plane, speculating whether or not President Trump was on board.
From March 2021 onwards, however, the site appeared to be used primarily in a German context. Users shared screenshots of flights they noticed taking place close to where they lived or in regions familiar to them. One Telegram channel, which had more than 15,000 followers at time of publication, regularly shared screenshots of “parallel” or “ring” flights that had been seen on globe.adsbexchange.com, a well-liked flight tracking web site.
The channel owner mainly focused on sharing screenshots upon which they rarely commented. They also linked to a comments section where they asked followers to write down their thoughts about the observed flights.
Screenshot of the comments section of the German “flight spotter” community on Telegram.This forum offered an interesting example of a space where conspiracy theorists and genuine aviation enthusiasts appeared to unwittingly meet. This is likely due to the channel’s seemingly benign name, attracting flight hobbyists as well as those from the conspiracy community with a newfound interest in flight tracking. It is not entirely clear whether the channel owner is a Q conspiracist or flight enthusiast, although they do not seem bothered by the fact that QAnon enthusiasts are eager followers and commenters.
One user, for instance, wondered whether “ring” and “parallel flights” close to the locations of newly found World War II bombs in Germany could have something to do with a search for “DUMBS”. QAnon followers believe that “Dumbs” (in the German conspiracy world sometimes also called “dumps”) are “deep underground military bases” in which the “deep state” hides and mistreats children.
In the same comments section, however, another user refutes these conspiracy theories, arguing that aircrafts flying in parallel lines close to World War II bomb sites are likely supporting the work of bomb disposal units. “Ring flights,” according to this commenter, are most probably test flights taken by recently repaired aircraft. Several other users in the comments section also tried to disprove the QAnon conspiracies.
While these interactions may just appear eccentric, they raise more serious questions as to whether individuals unfamiliar with the conspiracy could be unwittingly drawn into them.
Members of German QAnon Telegram channels also complained that planes or helicopters seen in the sky were not visible on tools like Flightradar24. Conclusions, usually misinformed, were then drawn from these observations. In one example found by Bellingcat, a QAnon follower posted that they had observed military helicopters flying over a town near Aachen, close to Germany’s borders with Belgium and the Netherlands. These helicopters were apparently not visible on Flightradar24, so the poster asked whether they may be part of “hidden operations.” As is customary for many posts in Q communities, no evidence was provided for the claim that helicopters were indeed flying at the time specified. Meanwhile, as noted in the “how it works” section of the FlightRadar24 web site, not all helicopters do have ADS-B transponders (although some more modern ones do). It’s also the case that flight monitoring platforms basically don’t have excellent protection, that means that they don’t show 100% of the plane which are within the air at any given second. It’s due to this fact very potential that these highlighted wouldn’t present up on the platform. Regardless of this much less dramatic rationalization for these flights’ absence, the put up had been considered greater than 12,000 occasions.
Random lines as fake “evidence” for the causes of climate change
QAnon followers in Bellingcat’s dataset appeared to make use of several other types of open source tools to pursue their theories.
In one example, a post shared widely in QAnon themed Telegram channels combined data from the weather website windy.com and the patent search engine, Google Patents. In doing so, the uploader sought to disprove the existence of local weather change.
As with the overwhelming majority of theories that emanate from the QAnon motion, nonetheless, the evaluation once more lacked logical consistency or proof that stood as much as primary scrutiny.
The person offered plans discovered on Google Patents for a “hurricane and twister management system” as proof that climate patterns had been being manipulated.
They even produced a video which at one stage zoomed into a picture of a storm, drawing the viewers’s consideration to seemingly random line formations seen on the fringe of the image. These traces are described as frequencies, a time period used within the patent.
The uploader then implies that because the patent describes how weather could theoretically be manipulated, the device is secretly being used to create meteorological events. The video ends with the narrator asking: “Who or what is climate change? Is it real? Would it also be there without those frequencies that influence weather systems?”
As with the earlier example of the toy rabbit, the poster provides no evidence as to why their conclusions make sense. Nor do they address why the information contained within the patent is correct, verified or to be trusted.
It seems they have come to the conclusion — or perhaps rationalised a conviction they already held — that climate change is manipulated purely because they found a defunct patent online then extrapolated from there.
Do QAnon followers consider themselves open source investigators?
The Telegram posts detailed in this article clearly show that Q enthusiasts are far from experts at understanding or employing open source research methods.
Yet they also seem to be adopting more than just the technical tools used by more competent and trustworthy investigators.
Some Q followers were observed encouraging others to work together. As Bellingcat has previously explored, the collaborative and crowdsourced nature of QAnon is a key cause for the conspiracy’s success. Collaboration can also be a key side of open supply investigations, with teams of individuals filtering by way of giant numbers of social media posts or geolocating a number of movies directly. Crowdsourcing can also be frequent to supply additional scale and sift by way of much more information, movies or evaluation at a faster tempo.
One German QAnon channel with roughly 150,000 subscribers begins with a put up that claims: “We’re an open supply workforce, which consists of largely nameless, voluntary helpers, the place everybody contributes a small half.”
Another German language Telegram channel defined QAnon as a “peaceful, worldwide open source intelligence service movement which is anchored in intellectual sovereignty, research, love of our countries, of humanity and — for most — of God.”
Overall, however, the German language QAnon community does not extensively use the term “open source investigations.” This is not surprising since it is an English language term not widely known in German-speaking countries. The term has also not yet found a common German translation (Bellingcat uses “Open-Source-Recherchen” in German).
When the phrase open source does show up in Bellingcat’s dataset (447 times), it often refers to German translations of Q drops in which the word “open source” has been kept untranslated. For instance, a German language post about the disgraced socialite Ghislaine Maxwell contains the term “open source” with readers encouraged to “follow the family” — likely a reference encouraging readers to further look into the Maxwells.
More frequently, though, the German-speaking QAnon community simply refers to the verb or noun “research” (which are two separate words in German) to describe what they think they are doing. These terms showed up 11,815 and 2,988 times respectively in Bellingcat’s Telegram database from early 2019 to October 2021. The use of the term “research” is common in English language Q communities as well. “Do your own research” or “I do my own research” have also become phrases used by those in the anti-vaxx or 5G conspiracy movements.
In a post with the title “What is Q?” one follower described QAnon’s aim as “to create a reason which justifies that you opt for online research and not for the TV broadcast” after a long working day. The poster hoped that through QAnon followers would be “motivated to find out, to learn and to investigate further.”
Other Telegram posts describe “research” as simply consuming what other QAnon posters produce. For example, a QAnon Telegram poster suggested: “Go to my or one of the other Anon’s Facebook pages, read and digest the things that we say and write. Then you look at the topics you are interested in. That’s how you research and learn.”
As with all the examples in this article, however, such advice is not a sound basis for research or investigation, open source or otherwise.
Satellite Maps, flight tracking websites and publicly available weather monitoring systems can all be harnessed by individuals and researchers for both simple and complex tasks. But they cannot prevent people from a movement known for its baseless conspiracies misinterpreting the information such tools can provide, or employing them to try and support clearly false premises.
The tools, employed in this way, only appear to push Q enthusiasts further down rabbit holes of their own creation. The result is more convoluted, misleading and potentially harmful conspiracies.
In the German context, it has also helped further localise the Q conspiracy.
Editor’s note: Bellingcat has removed some of the links in this article to prevent their spread online. If individual researchers would like to access the posts detailed in this story, please contact the Bellingcat Investigative Tech Team here.
Bellingcat’s Investigative Tech Team develops instruments for open supply investigations and explores tech-focused analysis strategies. Do you’ve gotten a query about making use of these strategies or instruments to your individual analysis, or an curiosity in collaborating? Contact us here.
Logan Williams contributed to this story.