QAnon Followers Celebrate Putin's 'Purge' of Ukraine
The Russian President's actions have been criticized across the world, including by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg who condemned the invasion "in the strongest possible terms."
But the views of Western leaders are not shared by QAnon influencers and their followers who Newsweek has found readily repeat Putin's justification for the invasion.
QAnon influencers have cast Putin in a positive light and believe he is now engaged in a fight against an international cabal of satanic pedophiles and "deep state" members who have interests in Ukraine.
Mike Rothschild, author of The Storm Is Upon Us: How QAnon Became a Movement, Cult and Everything explained why QAnon followers view Ukraine's government as an enemy and support Putin.
He told Newsweek: "It's not so much about Ukraine, though they definitely believe the country is corrupt and deeply enmeshed with the '[Joe] Biden crime family.' It's more about their aspiration for the US to have a leader who takes whatever he wants and pays lip service to their values.
He went on to explain that the conspiracy movement has always had authoritarian leanings.
"Q [conspiracy movement] was always an authoritarian movement, based around the illegal use of military tribunals to kill citizens who had done nothing wrong," Rothschild said. "What Russia is doing is simply a more organized version of using the military to satisfy a dictator's whims."
In a series of posts on the social media platform Telegram, followers of the online conspiracy shared messages that support their worldview that Putin is a savior figure.
A QAnon influencer account shared a post with its 249,000 followers that read: "I had the opportunity to spend a few months in Odesa, Ukraine a few years ago. I feel for the Ukrainian people, but their government is clearly corrupt and controlled by the deep state.
"The Ukrainians suffered mightily under communist Russia and during WW2. They are good people. Pray for the people. Pray this conflict will be over quickly. Pray that their corrupt government will be purged."
Another QAnon account with 44,940 subscribers shared an unsupported claim that Russian flags were being flown "around Ukraine" in support of Putin's invasion.
The post read: "As suspected, Ukraine has been waiting for this for eight years and locals are greeting the Russian army as liberators.
"Meanwhile MSM [mainstream media] and the Western powers will still portray Putin and Russia as the bad guys. Remember that the truth tends to always be the opposite of [what] they tell you. Is Putin carrying out a clean-up operation?"
John Sabal, who recently used the moniker QAnon John, told his more than 80,000 Telegram followers: "I don't see this 'invasion' of Ukraine as a 'bad' thing. I see it as a clearing out of a very corrupt center of operations for the Cabal.
"There is a reason that Putin said 'special military operation and not 'war'…because it is not a war. It's a proper and necessary deep cleaning of Cabal operations and military assets, not an attack on innocent civilians."
Sabal and other QAnon influencers have used their position within the online conspiracy movement to court Republican lawmakers, some of whom have previously appeared on their shows and events.
Other QAnon influencers repeated Donald Trump's comment about Putin, when the former President recently called the Russian government's recognition of two rebel regions in Ukraine as "genius."
One Telegram account with 120,720 followers said late on Wednesday: "If Putin was about to start WW3 and kill a bunch of civilians in Ukraine (as the fake news is telling you), do you think President Trump and [Mike] Pompeo would be out there saying Putin is a genius? They know exactly what they are doing. The media takes the bait every time."
Newsweek found Trump's comments about Putin were widely shared across dozens of QAnon-related accounts.
While Trump's comments were swiftly condemned by some Republicans, including by Mike Pence's former advisor Olivia Troye who called them "despicable," other conservative figures have defended Putin or downplayed his aggression towards Ukraine.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson on Tuesday called on his viewers to question whether Putin should be considered dangerous in a segment of his show when he asked how many problems Americans faced could be blamed on the Russian leader.
Steve Bannon, a former advisor to Trump, said hours before the invasion that Americans should support "anti-woke" Putin because of his history against the LGBTQ community in Russia.
Their comments, as well as those of QAnon followers, reflect a change among how a section of the American right views Russia and other authoritarian regimes.
Rothschild told Newsweek that he saw little that separated the ideology of QAnon followers and a large segment of the American right.
He said: "I would say there's no real difference anymore. Q's mythology of Trump as a super-genius who led a godly battle against the deep state has become adopted by the entire conservative movement, regardless of whether they know anything about Q.
"They see authoritarians like Trump and Putin as standing up against godless liberalism and 'woke' ideology, and for traditional values and the accumulation of wealth earned through shrewd power moves."
But James Beverley, a research professor at Tyndale University in Toronto and author of The QAnon Deception, said the conspiracy movement's praise of Putin was not reflective of conservatism in America.
Beverley told Newsweek: "The QAnon adulation of Putin is evidence of how deep QAnon leaders despise Joe Biden and the Democratic establishment. In reading QAnon posts about Ukraine, I am struck most by the ways in which Biden's alleged weakness and failure on Ukraine is contrasted with Trump's alleged power and wisdom in handling Putin when he was president.
"The pro-Putin views in some QAnon circles are, thankfully, not widespread in conservative America. Most Americans, whether liberal or conservative, would regard QAnon praise for the invasion of Ukraine as morally bankrupt and idiotic. While some QAnon views are widely held (e.g. Trump is a great leader), the theory that Putin is a 'white hat' fighting an international cabal of pedophiles is a fringe view.
"Since QAnon has become a large movement and is now rather divided, with varying levels of sanity, it is unfair to target Republican lawmakers simply because of an interview on a QAnon platform. A link with QAnon should not be used as a tool to bludgeon others."
Newsweek has contacted a Trump spokesperson for comment.