Women play an important part in radical and violent extremist movements; however, since men carry out the majority of violent attacks, women as extremist actors are often overlooked. Women do not simply follow the men into an extremist group; nor are their roles limited to raising children according to a violent ideology. Women also take part in violent operational activities, as well as actively radicalising others into movements by using their influence.
Although, there has begun to be an increased focus on research into the role of women in violent extremist movements, large gaps in knowledge still remain. As Seyward Darby wrote in her book Sisters in Hate, “the gaps in knowledge mean that journalists, politicians, and concerned observers too often rely on flawed assumptions—for instance, that white nationalism is the province of “angry white men” intent on being seen and heard.” Thus, while, as Darby notes, “men are the far right’s most recognizable evangelists, and bombings, shootings, and rallies are the most obvious manifestations of the movement’s strength,” to fully understand any extremist movement, the role of women must also be explored.
This gap in knowledge is also true for QAnon. Beyond the large amount of coverage received by Congresswoman Greene for her support of QAnon and other conspiracy theories, female supporters have seldom been the focus of analysis; while the journalistic coverage of male supporters has been, by turns, fair, glib, or naïve. There has been a shortage of in-depth reporting—good or bad—on the women of QAnon, comparatively to the role of men.
This is despite the fact that women have played an important role in QAnon since the movement’s early days when Tracy Diaz brought QAnon off more obscure sites like 4chan and 8chan, and onto her YouTube channel. Similarly, Liz Crokin played an important role in disseminating QAnon content to the MAGA alt-right crowd early on. Some women have also become authoritative influencers and decoders of “Q drops”, alongside their male counterparts, leading others down various radicalisation pipelines. Others like DeAnna Lorraine or Amazing Polly played key roles in spreading viral disinformation campaigns during the COVID-19 pandemic, while Sidney Powell, played a critical role in spreading voter fraud disinformation and amplified the #StopTheSteal campaign. The most popular and influential QAnon documentary “Fall Cabal” was created by a woman – Janet Ossebaard. Additionally, 97 candidates running for office in the 2020 US election supported or gave credence to QAnon, and of these candidates 37 were female. Of this subset, the only individuals to win congressional seats – Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert – were both women. Finally, according to a recent publication by START, of the 56 QAnon followers who have perpetrated ideologically motivated crimes in the United States, 12 of them were women.
Not only have women in QAnon played roles as influencers and leaders, but women in the rank and file of QAnon also play an important role in creating various QAnon communities with distinct radicalisation pipelines, across multiple platforms and creating unique threat vectors. In light of the significant and complex nature of the role played by women in QAnon, these important threat vectors will be examined in a four-part series:
- Pastel QAnon: the softening of the QAnon ideology by influencers on Instagram who have used their aesthetic and branding to reach out to new populations unfamiliar with QAnon.
- The women of QAnon and political campaigning: the role of women who ran for US congress while also promoting or endorsing the QAnon ideology on social media.
- Women and ideologically motivated violent extremism in QAnon: how they radicalised online and the violence they committed.
- The women of QAnon as influencers and leaders: how women in QAnon have leveraged digital technologies to become key players in the movement and radicalising figures.
The hope is that this series will shed light on a research gap on the role of women in QAnon, and also highlight that researching extremism through a gendered lens is an important gap that needs to be filled writ large. This is important not only when determining potential threat vectors from new and emerging extremist movements, but also plays a crucial role in the type of policies that are developed by governments and platforms. Though men may be the major actors in many ideologically motivated extremist movements, policies need to take into consideration the role of women in these movements, not only to ensure they do not overlook potential threats, but also fill policy gaps that exist regarding ideologically motivated extremist women.