Paul Burton, left, who is a believer in the QAnon conspiracy theory, with his father, Tom Burton. (Provided by Paul Burton) by Isaac Stanley-Becker August 3 at 5:55 AM Email the author After I wrote about QAnon, an online conspiracy theory that leaped on Tuesday from the far reaches of the Internet to the audience at President Trump’s rally in Tampa, an email arrived in my inbox from a man named Paul Burton. He described a colleague and me as “Bezos’ boys,” referring to Jeffrey P. Bezos, the owner of The Washington Post, and asked, “How’s your fishbowl?” meaning, I presumed, a place open to public view and subject to critique. “LOL!” he added. I responded, asking if he would be interested in speaking with me about his belief in QAnon. Much about the philosophy remains mysterious, even contradictory. But the central idea, which has no basis in observable reality, is that “Q” is the government insider, or cadre of insiders, leaving clues on digital message boards about a countercoup underway to vanquish deep-state saboteurs and their ring of elite allies, including Hillary Clinton and George Soros. (You can read more about the origins and meaning of QAnon here and here.) Less clear to me, given the anonymity that shrouds the threads on which the theory has spread, was the nature of the people who find it credible. How did they come across Q’s “crumbs” of information? What made the tenets of QAnon — tinged with racism and anti-Semitism — convincing to them? What were their day jobs? We had a short back-and-forth in which Burton suggested several resources to expand my understanding of Q and its mission, which I read. He said they would convince me that the theory had merit, which they did not; QAnon is a hodgepodge of outlandish ideas. Then he called me. We spoke for 45 minutes early Friday morning. Burton, 55, doesn’t claim to be representative of QAnon’s following. He lives outside of Atlanta and works in real estate. He hasn’t met any other believers in person but estimated they number more than 1 million. (Based on activity on message boards and membership in Facebook groups, this appears to be an exaggeration.) But Burton is one example of the flesh-and-blood Americans who have bought into a theory whose growth online has had actual consequences, including inspiring an armed man to descend on the Hoover Dam in June, demanding the release of a
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