Russian government-backed social media accounts began amplifying the QAnon conspiracy theory earlier than previously reported.
That’s according to a Reuters analysis of Twitter archives from suspended accounts and interviews with current and former employees.
QAnon, the unfounded conspiracy theory that President Donald Trump is secretly fighting a global cabal of child-sex predators, launched in 2017 with anonymous web postings from “Q” and was amplified by YouTube videos.
Researchers said in August that Twitter archives showed Russian accounts had helped spread QAnon in volume beginning in December 2017.
A more granular review by Reuters shows Russian accounts began amplifying the movement as it started, early in the previous month.
The FBI has listed the movement as a domestic terrorism threat, but it has gained traction among some Trump supporters.
Some QAnon backers were among the thousands at an open-air Trump rally in western Pennsylvania on Saturday, like Lori Duncan, a 58-year-old retired volleyball coach.
"It's a global agenda. It's a one world order. It's, 'bring the United States in on that.' And we're the last, we're the last obstacle to that one world order. So the president is the man who's standing in the way of that. You know, it's not as if these people hate Trump. They hate that he's the last obstacle standing in the way to do what they want to do."
From November 2017 on, QAnon was the single most frequent hashtag tweeted by accounts that Twitter has since identified as Russian-backed, with the term used some 17,000 times.
The archives contain more than 4,000 accounts that Twitter suspended for spreading Russian government disinformation in 2018 and 2019 but preserved for researchers.
A current Twitter executive said Russian accounts are not driving the present iteration of QAnon, which has expanded to include baseless claims about COVID-19 and other issues.
Last month The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to condemn the online conspiracy theory. Seventeen Republicans voted not to.