‘It’s like a parasite’: How a dangerous virtual cult is going global

In a small town in northern Germany, the local yacht club isn’t what it used to be. Many of the members — mostly middle-aged men — have been sucked into the conspiracy theories of the QAnon movement: that the coronavirus is a hoax perpetrated by secret elites and that President Donald Trump will save the world from the machinations of the “deep state.”

They’ve also embraced other themes that circulate among QAnon followers in Germany: displaying the flag of the pre-war German Reich, which is popular among neo-Nazis, and the false belief that German Chancellor Angela Merkel used to be a spy for the East German security service and will soon be arrested.

These conspiracy theories and many more, which have spread across social media rapidly this year, led Facebook to take drastic action to curb the impact of QAnon on its platforms. On Tuesday the social media giant announced it would “remove any Facebook Pages, Groups and Instagram accounts representing QAnon, even if they contain no violent content.”

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