After winning over the United States in the most tense presidential campaign the country has seen in decades, the QAnon phenomenon has surfaced in France – prompting President Emmanuel Macron’s government to order a multi-agency investigation into conspiratorial movements that were to report at the end of February.
The French state agency responsible for combating sectarian movements, MIVILUDES, has received around fifteen reports in recent weeks, sounding the alarm on 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.
Having ordered an investigation by the police and MIVILUDES, the Minister of Citizenship Marlène Schiappa expressed the same feelings: The development of “new conspiratorial groups” on French soil is “very worrying”, she declared. France 3 in January – stressing that the government “has an eye on” QAnon.
The QAnon phenomenon includes “a few hundred thousand” of members, told Le Figaro Tristan Mendès France, an expert in conspiratorial movements at the University of Paris-Diderot.
The DéQodeurs site is one of the great French doors to its world. The centerpiece of the site is a large screen at the top of the homepage showing a video titled “We are the people” – which has also garnered over 57,000 views on YouTube since its publication on January 27, although the site removed the dedicated DeQodeurs channel in October.
‘Nothing on this earth can stop us’
The video opens with a martial drumbeat playing to a black and white image of the U.S. Capitol, with dark clouds towering over the sky. “You see, my son, I was your age; I was not yet 15 ”, begins the voiceover. “The world was a crazy place.” An image follows of St. Peter’s Square threatened by storm clouds. “But that was just the beginning of the story,” the voice continues as the music gets slower and softer.
“Some people got it right from the start and they didn’t mess around,” he continues. “And here and there you can hear them singing.” One 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 DeQodeurs site has links to “news,” including articles relaying fake news based on QAnon’s tropes – such as the baseless claim that in 2016 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was about to publish documents proving the existence of a massive pedophile ring in Washington DC. A section titled “Armory” features videos – including a two-hour segment declaring lies purporting to provide “absolute proof” that voter fraud deprived Donald Trump of victory in the November US presidential election, using a French translation awkwardly superimposed on an American voice.
The idea of Trump as the hero waging a secret war against a cabal of cannibalistic, Satan-worshiping pedophiles is at the heart of QAnon’s fantasy – none of this is true.
The main character behind DéQodeurs is Léonard Sojili, an Albanian national who first appeared on the French internet in 2011, promoting the 9/11 conspiracies. Sojili also propagates the QAnon theories via the Thinkerview YouTube channel. On this platform, he mixes support for conspiracy theory with interviews with eminent French personalities from all political backgrounds. Thinkerview has some 773,000 subscribers.
A more surprisingly stimulating QAnon title is France-Soir. This publication was one of the country’s most august news broadcasts during the economic and cultural flourishing of post-war France. Thirty Glorious Years, publishing articles by Jean-Paul Sartre and novelist Joseph Kessel. The newspaper closed its doors in 2012 after a market descent.
But France-Soir was relaunched four years later as a populist website sometimes peddling conspiracy theories, with its last journalists sacked in 2019. Over the past year, the post has shifted from posting disinformation on coronaviruses to publishing fake news to promoting QAnon theories.
Many QAnon supporters have incorporated Covid-19 pseudoscience into their fancy. France-Soir’s QAnon material “matches” the publication’s “skepticism of the government’s Covid policy,” said Emily St Denny, a French policy expert at the University of Copenhagen.
“The emergence of QAnon in France is a recent development,” she noted, “having largely emerged in the second half of 2020, alongside the pandemic and the public health restrictions put in place to curb it.
A “ unifying voice ”
The popularity of the pseudo-documentary Hold on shows that Covid disinformation has a large following in France: it got more than 2.5 million views after its release in November, with several famous faces including iconic actress Sophie Marceau sharing the video. The film propagates an array of debunked claims, including the notion that an elite global cabal is using the pandemic to create a totalitarian new world order – a trope similar to QAnon’s belief in a conspiracy of Satan-worshiping pedophiles.
Although he tends to avoid such sinister rhetoric, anti-vaccine sentiment is relatively widespread in France. An Ipsos poll released in November found that 46% of French adults said they would refuse to receive a Covid-19 vaccine – up from 21% in the UK. A 2019 Gallup poll found that one in three French people believe all vaccines are dangerous – the highest proportion of respondents to say so in 144 countries surveyed.
“We have had suspicions about lockdowns, curfews and medical practices activating traditional French phenomena such as anti-vax sentiment 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 sort of unifying voice for a number of things that challenge scientific and political authority – a voice that tells people, ‘What do you think? ? Did someone ask you the question? while presenting them with a conspiracy theory through the concept of gamification, a sort of puzzle-solving that becomes intoxicating for many ”.
These factors mean that French QAnon sympathizers are much more ideologically heterogeneous than those in the United States, observed St Denny: “QAnon in France is certainly not the monopoly of far-right sympathizers as it might be in the United States. United States. Its anti-government underpinnings have made conspiracy theory attractive to a very disparate set of groups and individuals, including established conspiracy theorists, some fringes of the Yellow Vest movement, and some of the more conspiracy-oriented movements among the alternative health movement.
“The stakes are high” in France given the “disruptive potential of QAnon in terms of giving a broad coalition the ideological cement to act together in a way that threatens democratic or social processes,” continued St Denny.
“What strikes me is that in the United States, it took three years after its inception for QAnon to break into the mainstream,” Smith said. “In France, I don’t think it’s a political danger right now – I don’t think the guy behind the DéQodeurs site is going to run for president.
“But the rise of QAnon represents part of an erosion of socio-cultural norms, including faith 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 tendency that denies universalism.