Future Tense

How the QAnon Conspiracy Theory Went From the Fringes to T-Shirts for Sale on Amazon

Photo illustration of various QAnon-related T-shirts currently for sale.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos via Amazon.

Merchandise branded with references to the QAnon conspiracy theory is flooding online marketplaces. Searching for QAnon yields hundreds of results on Etsy and more than 1,000 on Amazon. Custom clothing services Redbubble and Teespring also boast extensive QAnon collections. The fashion statement serves both as a shibboleth for identifying other adherents of the theory and as a way to spread the word about “Q.”

QAnon is an elaborate and extensive conspiracy theory that began on the notorious message board 4chan when an anonymous user (or users) who goes by the name “Q” began posting what were supposedly clues about top-secret government information. The main arc of the baseless theory, which Q has been laying out in bits and pieces, follows President Trump’s covert war against an elite criminal organization that includes every president before him, Hillary Clinton, the deep state, pedophile ringleaders, and other stock villains from 4chan mythology.

It is not uncommon nowadays to see supporters at Trump rallies sporting shirts emblazoned with the letter Q. The trend began this summer and became especially prominent after a mass of QAnon acolytes showed up at a Trump rally in Tampa, Florida, on July 31. The Daily Beast’s Will Sommer, who is one of the foremost chroniclers of the QAnon phenomenon, points out that Q has been tipping its hat to people who wear shirts referencing the theory, which is likely encouraging more Trump supporters to do the same.

Though T-shirts with the letter Q printed across the front look to be the most popular at Trump rallies, the variety of QAnon-themed merchandise available through a quick Google search includes hats, mugs, stickers, headphones, backpacks, flags, and other paraphernalia. The designs don’t share a unifying aesthetic, though people seem to be quite fond of fire and American flag color schemes. QAnon iconography like white rabbits, which are meant to encourage people to go down the rabbit hole of the conspiracy theory, and lightning, presumably referencing the “storm” in which Trump will arrest Clinton and other powerful political figures, is also often incorporated into the designs.

According to an Etsy vendor who uses the handle EPD, Q’s cryptic, lyrical clues are perfect fodder for clothing designs. “QAnon is pretty good at dropping usable t-shirt slogans like ‘Where we go one we go all’ or ‘Trust The Plan,’ ” EPD told Slate. “So I typically begin with the QANON slogan I want to use and then make my design based on that.”

None of the eight Etsy vendors that Slate reached out to were willing to divulge their names for fear of retribution. They were hesitant to discuss their businesses in the first place, with some noting that Slate used to share an owner with the Washington Post, a mainstay of the mainstream media.

Online vendors claim their QAnon merchandise has been flying off the shelves. “In the t-shirt designing business we look for ‘niches’ to work in. … Qanon has been my most popular niche so far outside of holidays like Halloween or Christmas,” EPD said, claiming he sold 30 to 40 products per month on Etsy and about 300 products per month on Amazon. Another Etsy vendor who goes by JJ and sells jewelry claims that she has sold more than 500 QAnon-themed necklaces and more than 200 charm bracelets. She’s also made 75 custom pieces for customers.

There is some debate in the QAnon community as to whether people should try to make a profit off of the movement. As the Daily Dot reported, Q has accused other conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones of trying to make QAnon into a “profit-vehicle.” This has led some Q followers on Reddit and other social media sites to attack the developers of the “Q App” and people who sell QAnon merchandise.

Neither Amazon nor Etsy responded to requests for comment about the sales of the QAnon merchandise on their platforms.

Etsy retailers Slate spoke with indicated that there was a grander purpose to their work than making a quick buck. “It wasn’t based solely on making money,” one said. “It was based on the ‘need’ that existed for more people to learn about QAnon.”

Based on brief conversations with EPD and JJ using Etsy’s messaging service, they too seem to be true believers of QAnon. JJ wrote, “I have watched people over the years who have taken the ‘news’ as fact, discovered Qanon and now do their own research and have come to their own conclusions instead of relying on what they see on their tv’s.” EPD claimed that corruption in the government inspired him to follow Q.

JJ also mentioned that wearing QAnon merchandise has helped with identifying other followers of the theory in real life. “I wear one [piece of jewelry] that I made for myself (not listed) and you would be surprised how many recognize the meaning right away,” JJ claimed. “Qanon is much bigger than most think.”