Experts who have been following QAnon since its inception said that even they were surprised by the number of people who showed up Tuesday in Dallas.
“Frankly, I’m kind of shocked at how many people turned out for this,” said Jared Holt, a resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab who researches domestic extremism. “This wasn’t a widespread belief, even among QAnon followers.”
The QAnon conspiracy theory centers on fealty to Trump, who adherents believe will dismantle a shadowy “Deep State,” which they believe comprises leftist politicians and celebrities who are pedophiles.
Law enforcement groups, including the FBI, have warned of the dangers of real-world violence by followers of the movement. QAnon believers were well-represented during the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
In 2019, a supporter of the movement allegedly gunned down a reputed underboss of the Gambino crime family ― an act The New York Times described as “the most high-profile mob killing in decades.” Earlier this year, a California man said the conspiracy theory led him to kill his two children, NPR reported.
QAnon is an umbrella group, in which different segments don’t always agree on ideologies, Holt said. He believes Tuesday’s event grew out of chat channels that are obsessed with numerology.
Posts in those channels indicated JFK Jr. would reveal himself Tuesday, but Holt said he was uncertain why believers decided he would pick Dallas, the site of his father’s death, of all places, to reveal himself.
“Frankly, I'm kind of shocked at how many people turned out for this ... If they're willing to show up to the Grassy Knoll thinking JFK Jr. is coming back, it scares me to think of what happens when they get real power."
- Jared Holt of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab
While it may be hard not to laugh at some of the theory’s more outlandish claims, Holt said the fact that such a large group was able to mobilize in person is concerning.
“If they’re willing to show up to the Grassy Knoll thinking JFK Jr. is coming back, it scares me to think of what happens when they get real power,” he said.
JFK Jr. has been a popular figure among QAnon conspiracy theorists. In 2019, some members believed he would return on July 4 as Trump’s vice president, Forbes reported. Another theory posits that JFK Jr. is “Q,” the group’s anonymous leader, according to Forbes.
After a few hours of standing on the Grassy Knoll, waving at passing cars and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, the crowd retreated from heavy rains. Some said they expected a revelation Tuesday night at the Rolling Stones concert in Dallas. Others vowed to return at midnight to the Grassy Knoll, where they believe JFK Jr. will appear.
Micki Larson-Olson, who wore a QAnon-themed Captain America costume Tuesday, said she not only believes JFK Jr. is alive — she also believes that his father was never assassinated and that the 104-year-old former president will appear to help usher in a Trump-JFK Jr. administration.
How will she react when the former president and his dead son do not show up?
“We’ll figure that something happened in the plan that made it not safe to do it,” she said. “If it doesn’t go down how I believe it will, that’s OK. We’ll figure it just wasn’t the right time.”