WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin joined a group of Democratic colleagues, led by Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Intelligence Committee Member Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM), to write to FBI Director Christopher Wray and Principal Deputy General Counsel at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Joseph Maher requesting a written assessment to Congress on the threat posed by QAnon, in the United States and abroad. The Senators also request information on the role of foreign influence operations in the inception and amplification of QAnon conspiracy theories.
QAnon has been active in attacking America’s democratic institutions by disseminating false and dangerous conspiracy theories, including about the November 2020 presidential election. Baldwin and colleagues note that, according to the FBI, the House of Representatives, and multiple organizations and researchers, QAnon conspiracy theories have inspired acts of domestic extremism and violence and have contributed to hatred in the United States and overseas in an effort to undermine our democratic norms. Recent reports also indicate that foreign influence operations have contributed to the amplification of QAnon conspiracy theories resulting in dangerous misinformation campaigns. The Senators request that this analysis on the threat posed by QAnon in the United States and abroad, as well as intelligence on the role of foreign influence actors in nurturing this threat be made public, with any classified matters provided separately to Congress.
In addition to Baldwin, Schumer and Heinrich, the letter was signed by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jack Reed (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Gary Peters (D-MI) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).
See the full text of the letter below. A PDF of the letter is available here.
December 8, 2020
The Honorable Christopher Wray
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Washington, D.C. 20035
Mr. Joseph B. Maher
Principal Deputy General Counsel
Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Undersecretary
Office of Intelligence and Analysis
Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20593
Dear Director Wray and Mr. Maher,
We write to request a written assessment on the threat posed by QAnon. As the FBI, the U.S. House of Representatives, and multiple organizations and researchers have detailed, QAnon conspiracy theories have inspired acts of domestic extremism and violence, sought to undermine democratic institutions, and contributed to hatred in the United States and overseas. There is also reporting indicating that foreign influence operations have contributed to the dissemination of QAnon conspiracy theories.
As the FBI has confirmed, QAnon poses a direct threat of violence. In congressional testimony on September 17, 2020, Director Wray described QAnon as a “complex set of conspiracy theories,” noting “certainly we have had cases, properly predicated investigations involving violence where people have been motivated by some of those conspiracy theories.” On October 2, 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H. Res. 1154 condemning QAnon and rejecting the conspiracy theories it promotes. The resolution, which passed by a vote of 371-18, described multiple cases in which QAnon inspired acts of violence.
QAnon has also been active in attacking U.S. democratic institutions, including disseminating false conspiracy theories about the November 2020 U.S. election. While these conspiracy theories have been debunked by the Department of Homeland Security, they contribute to the spread of disinformation that poses a threat to U.S. democracy.
Multiple organizations and scholars have warned of the threat posed by QAnon. A study published by the Combating Terrorism Center at the United States Military Academy at West Point concluded that “QAnon is arguably no longer simply a fringe conspiracy theory but an ideology that has demonstrated its capacity to radicalize to violence individuals at an alarming speed.” Another study, by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, described “belief in certain conspiracy theories, such as QAnon” as part of the threat of far-right terrorism. The Anti-Defamation League has characterized QAnon as “an extremist movement that fuels antisemitism and promotes misinformation and hate in an effort to undermine our democratic process.” The Southern Poverty Law Center has described it as a “sprawling spiderweb of right-wing internet conspiracy theories with anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ elements…”
The threat posed by QAnon is not limited to the United States. QAnon has also gained a foothold in Europe, in particular in Germany where its adherents overlap with the country’s far right and anti-Semitic fringe. These developments present a danger to U.S. interests by contributing to a terrorist threat and undermining the democratic institutions of U.S. allies.
In addition to requesting analysis on the threat posed by QAnon in the United States and abroad, we ask that you provide intelligence on the role of foreign influence actors in nurturing and amplifying QAnon. According to an independent analysis of Twitter archives, an account that retweeted obscure Russian officials appeared to be the first account to use the term “Q Anon” on social media, on November 2, 2017. The same analysis found that “Russian accounts began amplifying the [QAnon] movement as it started,” and that “[f]rom November 2017 on, QAnon was the single most frequent hashtag tweeted by accounts that Twitter has since identified as Russian-backed.” As H. Res. 1154 stressed, the Intelligence Community should seek to “uncover any foreign support, assistance, or online amplification QAnon receives, as well as any QAnon affiliations, coordination, and contacts with foreign extremist organizations or groups espousing violence.”
Given this and other reporting, we request that you provide to Congress a written assessment of the threat posed by QAnon, in the United States and abroad, and on the role of foreign influence operations in the inception and amplification of QAnon conspiracy theories. We further request that this assessment be made public, with any classified matters provided separately to Congress through appropriate channels.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter.
An online version of this release is available here.