What’s Italian for QAnon? The famed internet community, which encompasses some of the most bizarre – and potentially dangerous – conspiratorial narratives, has a sizable following outside of the US, where it originated. As elsewhere in Europe, Italy is no exception.
- The Italian-language Q-ecosystem has matured, with some disinformation-spreading channels on Telegram reaching tens of thousands of followers. Cross-channel contamination also amplifies their reach substantially.
QAnon: a very brief recap. The core tenet of this loose, sprawling network of conspiracies involves former US President Donald Trump fighting against a Satanist, paedophile, blood-drinking “cabal” operating within the American “Deep State.” The latter relates to the “New World Order,” an umbrella term indicating the supposed hidden rulers of Western societies.
- This worldview often intersects with far-right, reactionary, hyper-nationalistic, ultra-conservative, antisemitic, anti-progressive, anti-establishment, and ultimately anti-democratic ideologies.
The Russian connection. Even before he invaded Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin was idolised by most in the QAnon community as an ally of Mr Trump and the embodiment of the fight against Western corruption. His own propaganda is a natural fit for Q-thought, and often overlaps with it.
From Covid to Ukraine. The spread of QAnon theories in Italy experienced massive growth during the pandemic. Vaccine hesitancy drove many to look for information online, increasing the exposure to such mis- and disinformation. That community has since expanded and incorporated more pro-Putin narratives as the Russian invasion of Ukraine became a flashpoint in current affairs.
- Data analysis by Il Manifesto and Lighthouse (with Bellingcat) shows that “alternative” narratives around Covid were the predominant content in Q-circles. Over the past months, the volume of conspiratorial posts about the Russian invasion of Ukraine slowly replaced vaccine-related content.
Who are Italy’s Q-influencers? Some of the most prolific content creators were either born together with the surge of Q-content in Italy or were pre-existing spreaders of disinformation, all too happy to incorporate the new stream of highly-engaging content into their output.
- The report found that the Italian QAnon ecosystem relies heavily on a single channel: a website run by well-known conspiracy theorist Cesare Sacchetti, once a blogger with Il Fatto Quotidiano – a national Italian paper frequently pushing anti-Atlanticist, Kremlin-adjacent talking points – and later classified by NewsGuard as a “Covid-19 disinformation superspreader”.
- “He is in the top ten of the most reposted channels, according to the analysis of a sample of major Italian Q channels, while it is by far the most shared on the subject of the war in Ukraine,” notes Il Manifesto. His 63,000-strong audience makes him one of the most influential disinformation channels.
- Rossella Fidanza follows with a 42,000+ strong channel (the second-most shared Q-influencer, according to the analysis). A galaxy of smaller anti-vax, QAnon-themed channels makes up the rest of that infosphere, along with even bigger (albeit more generic) conspiratorially-minded outlets such as ByoBlu (97.000+).
Where do they get the content? URL analysis indicated these channels gather most of their material from far-right American disinformation sites, such as The Gateway Pundit, and Russian propaganda spread through the likes of RT and Sputnik.
- The only Telegram channel Cesare Sacchetti occasionally reposts is Intel Slava Z, a pro-Russian (and probably Russian-based) disinformation group with over 400,000 followers. Among other things, this channel blamed the Ukrainian Armed Forces for the Bucha massacre.
- Decode39 identified several Italian-language channels – such as War Real Time – that repackage and spread Russian propaganda straight from the source, be it Sputnik or even the Russian Ministry of Defence. This kind of content enjoys a great deal of cross-posting.
Meloni: an inspiration… For instance, Italy’s prospective PM is appreciated within the US QAnon community. The hyper-conservative positions she expressed in the past – along with nods to the “Great Replacement” theory – converge with the beliefs of QAnon supporters across the pond, including Q-pilled congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene.
…or a false ally? And yet, Italian QAnon supporters now shun Ms Meloni, once seen as a defender of Q-adjacent values and fighter against the “cabal” that supposedly runs the show, as she has morphed her once far-right party into a moderate, mainstream and Atlanticist political force.
- Her Atlanticism and support of Ukraine have tarnished her image in the eyes of QAnon supporters, with many decrying her alignment with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and her affiliation to the Aspen Institute as proof of her corruption.
Sifting through Italian-language Q-content, Decode39 noted that examples of the ongoing transition of power between PM Draghi (the quintessential expression of the “cabal”) and Ms Meloni are interpreted as further proof of her being in on the conspiracy – a fake “patriot” who really belongs to the “corrupt élites” she supposedly fought against.