This report seeks to understand how conspiracy theories and extreme ideologies impact one another, introducing a new method analysis of conspiracy and politically motivated groups named the SHIFT analysis.

Eruptions of violence during the events of January 6th 2021 exemplified the need to understand how conspiracy theories and extremism interact to create security threats. Social media presents as a key player in this exchange, and this project sought to respond to that dynamic by exploring and seeking to understand the intra-actions in groups which discuss both conspiracy beliefs and extreme ideas. To achieve this, it synthesises techniques from computer science and social science to analyse data from platforms which enable and promote unguarded speech.

QANON CASE STUDY: QAnon - on the path to January 6th on Parler – Applying frame analysis to the QAnon dataset on Parler revealed the coalescing of intra-actions between QAnon users around three master frames. Central was a belief in a hidden truth, an ever-present grievance of unfair treatment, and an impending sense of doom. Rumours and religious references were found to be the currency of group interaction, fuelling belief and mainstream view intolerance. This also made users highly vulnerable to manipulation by political or external actors. Many demonstrated levels of psychological vulnerability, particularly social isolation from others, exacerbated by echo chamber social media. In the aftermath of the insurrection, several fissures appeared between QAnon adherents over whether to stoke up violent intentions or back down and turn away from the movement. While an exploitable vulnerability, it may also be a pathway to treatment interventions and social responses.

Key Findings:

  • SHIFT analysis provides a research framework for understanding the online journey of conspiracy and politically extreme groups overtime by framing the distinguishing elements of member motivation, beliefs, grievances as the bedrock for their interpretation of events and world view. These elements can be tracked over time to chart a movements evolution.
  • Intra-actions are organised around three key master frames which fulfil three key roles. These frames were tracked over the wider dataset from the 1st of November 2020 to January 11th 2021.
    1. Isolator frame: Hidden truth – which remained salient in all contexts studied, however was more influential in intra-actions than interactions as it served to isolate adherents from the broader mainstream.
    2. Bridging frames: Unfair treatment – was particularly salient around the 2020 US election. It unified the social in-group and positioned them in opposition to out-groups.
    3. Motivational frames: Impending doom –this motivated and legitimised extreme responses and was particularly influential around the 2020 US election.

In parallel to this report, a second report  builds on the findings set out herein, to extend the analysis of interactions between conspiracy theory communities and far right groups that do not all meet the threshold of extremism. The interactions case study includes the results of a case study of the interaction between several conspiracy and far right groups on the Telegram platform and how they influenced one another in the context of the coronavirus pandemic. The figurehead case study takes a deeper dive into this data to examine the role of figureheads within the group dynamics of conspiracy and far right movements.


Conceptual Terminology

  • Extremism - a political term which determines activities that are not in accordance with norms, are intolerant toward others, reject democracy and reject the existing social order (Sotlar, 2004).
  • Far Right – an umbrella term used to refer to those to the ideological right of mainstream politics (see Lee, 2015). In this report, Far Right includes both those who are on the extreme right and those who do not meet that threshold yet remain on the 'radical right' of mainstream political beliefs.
  • Conspiracy Theory - a belief that there are hidden mechanisms for events that are controlled by elites with a sinister goal(s) (Pigden, 2006).


Technical Terminology

  • Frame Analysis – Frame analysis aims to interpret and discover “the ‘social frameworks’, that provide meaning, determine what is relevant and irrelevant when considering certain actors, issues, or events, and suggest appropriate behaviour” (Vliegenthart & Van Zoonen, 2011)
  • Netnography – Netnography is a methodology designed to mimic ethnographic techniques but in an online space (Kozinets, 1999).
  • Abductive – in abduction we pass from the observation of certain facts to the supposition of a general principle to account for the facts (Fann, 1970).
Read more

Acks, A. (2018). The Bubble of confirmation bias. Enslow Publishing, LLC.

Aliapoulios, M., Bevensee, E., Blackburn, J., Bradlyn, B., De Cristofaro, E., Stringhini, G., & Zannettou, S. (2021). An early look at the Parler online social network. arXiv preprint arXiv:2101.03820.

Amarasingam, A., & Argentino, M. A. (2020). The QAnon conspiracy theory: A security threat in the making. CTC Sentinel, 13(7), 37-44.

Argentino, M. A., Crawford, B., Keen, F., & Rose, H. (2021). Far From Gone: The Evolution of Extremism in the First 100 Days of the Biden Administration. International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation.

Bartlett, J., & Miller, C. (2010). The power of unreason: Conspiracy theories, extremism, and counterterrorism. London: Demos.

BBC. How the US power grid is a target for far-right groups (2023). BBC. Available at: (Accessed: March 10, 2023).

BBC, (2022) Trending, Russian QAnon and the Ukraine dilemma BBC World Service. BBC. Available at: (Accessed: February 17, 2023).

Basit, A. (2021). Conspiracy Theories and Violent Extremism. Counter Terrorist Trends and Analyses, 13(3), 1-9.

Baines, A., Ittefaq, M., & Abwao, M. (2021). # Scamdemic, # Plandemic, or# Scaredemic: what Parler social media platform tells us about COVID-19 vaccine. Vaccines, 9(5), 421.

Belk, R., 2007. Handbook of Qualitative Research Methods in Marketing. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Pub.

Biesecker, M. (2022) Suspect in assault at Pelosi Home had posted about QAnon, AP NEWS. Associated Press. Available at: (Accessed: November 11, 2022).

Bleakley, P. (2021). Panic, pizza and mainstreaming the alt-right: A social media analysis of Pizza gate and the rise of the QAnon conspiracy. Current Sociology, 00113921211034896.

Bond, B. E., & Neville-Shepard, R. (2021). The rise of presidential eschatology: Conspiracy theories, religion, and the January 6th insurrection. American Behavioural Scientist, 00027642211046557.

Butters, A. M. (2022). QAnon, 2020 US Presidential Election, Trump, hermeneutics, conspiracy theory, conspirituality, conspiracism, post-truth.

Centre on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism (CTEC) (2022) The Weaponization of Conspiracy Theories: A Growing National Security Threat. rep. Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

Cichocka, A., Marchlewska, M., Golec de Zavala, A., & Olechowski, M. (2016). ‘They will not control us’: Ingroup positivity and belief in intergroup conspiracies. British journal of psychology, 107(3), 556-576.

Cleland, J. (2020). Charismatic leadership in a far-right movement: an analysis of an English defence league message board following the resignation of Tommy Robinson. Social Identities, 26(1), 48-60.

Committee on the Judiciary et al. (2019) [bill], To authorize dedicated domestic terrorism offices within the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to analyse and monitor domestic terrorist activity and require the Federal Government to take steps to prevent domestic terrorism. 116th. 1st Session. (S. 894).

Conner, C. T., & MacMurray, N. (2022). The perfect storm: A subcultural analysis of the QAnon movement. Critical Sociology, 48(6), 1049-1071.

Douglas, K. M., Sutton, R. M., & Cichocka, A. (2017). The psychology of conspiracy theories. Current directions in psychological science, 26(6), 538-542.

Druckman, J. N., & McGrath, M. C. (2019). The evidence for motivated reasoning in climate change preference formation. Nature Climate Change, 9(2), 111-119.

Fann, K. T. (1970). Peirce’s theory of abduction. Springer Science & Business Media.

Fitzgerald, J. (2022). Conspiracy, anxiety, ontology: theorising QAnon. First Monday, 27(5).

Floridi, L. (2021). Trump, Parler, and regulating the infosphere as our commons. Philosophy & Technology, 34(1), 1-5.

Garry, A., Walther, S., Rukaya, R., & Mohammed, A. (2021). QAnon conspiracy theory: examining its evolution and mechanisms of radicalization. Journal for Deradicalization, (26), 152-216.

Goertzel, T., (1994). Belief in Conspiracy Theories. Political Psychology, 15(4), p.731.

Goffman, E. (1974). Frame analysis: An essay on the organization of experience. Harvard University Press.

Hall, M., Gould, S., Harrington, R., Shamsian, J., Haroun, A., Ardrey, T., & Snodgrass, E. (2022). At least 928 people have been charged in the capitol insurrection so far. this searchable table shows them all. INSIDER. Retrieved November 2, 2022, from

Henderson, A. (2022). Republican QAnon supporter praises Putin’s decisions. Salon. Accessed on May 9, 2022

Israeli, A., & Tsur, O. (2022). Free speech or Free Hate Speech? Analyzing the Proliferation of Hate Speech in Parler. In Proceedings of the Sixth Workshop on Online Abuse and Harms (WOAH) (pp. 109-121).

Jackman, T. (2021). Police Union says 140 officers injured in Capitol Riot. Retrieved November 2, 2022, from

Juergensmeyer, M. (2022). QAnon as Religious Terrorism. Journal of Religion and Violence.

Kavrakis, K. (2022). Identity and Ideology through the Frames of al-Qaeda and Islamic State. Terrorism and Political Violence, 1-18.

Klapsis, A. (2014). Economic crisis and political extremism in Europe: from the 1930s to the present. European View, 13(2), 189-198.

Kor-Sins, R. (2021). The alt-right digital migration: A heterogeneous engineering approach to social media platform branding. New Media & Society, 14614448211038810.

Kozinets, R. V. (1999). E-tribalized marketing?: The strategic implications of virtual communities of consumption. European management journal, 17(3), 252-264.

Kozinets, R. V. (2010). Netnography: Doing ethnographic research online. Sage publications.

Langer, R. and Beckman, S.C., (2005). Sensitive research topics: netnography revisited. Qualitative market research: An international journal.

Lee, B., (2015) CREST GUIDE: UNDERSTANDING THE FAR-RIGHT LANDSCAPE, Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats.

Lubbers, M., & Coenders, M. (2017). Nationalistic attitudes and voting for the radical right in Europe. European Union Politics, 18(1), 98-118.

Miller, V. (2008). New media, networking, and phatic culture. Convergence, 14(4), 387-400

Miller, J. M., Saunders, K. L., & Farhart, C. E. (2016). Conspiracy endorsement as motivated reasoning: The moderating roles of political knowledge and trust. American Journal of Political Science, 60(4), 824-844.

Murphy, J., Vallières, F., Bentall, R. P., Shevlin, M., McBride, O., Hartman, T. K., ... & Hyland, P. (2021). Psychological characteristics associated with COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and resistance in Ireland and the United Kingdom. Nature communications, 12(1), 29.

Papasavva, A., Aliapoulios, M., Ballard, C., De Cristofaro, E., Stringhini, G., Zannettou, S., & Blackburn, J. (2022). The gospel according to Q: Understanding the QAnon conspiracy from the perspective of canonical information. In Proceedings of the International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media (Vol. 16, pp. 735-746).

Pembroke, M. (2021). Who Is" Q?" A Glimpse into QAnon and Social Media's Use of Censorship as a Means to Combat Them. Rutgers JL & Religion, 22, 552.

Pieroni, E., Jachim, P., Jachim, N., & Sharevski, F. (2021). Parlermonium: A data-driven UX design evaluation of the Parler platform. arXiv preprint arXiv:2106.00163.

Pigden, C. (2006). “Complots of Mischief.” In D. Coady (ed.), Conspiracy Theories: The Philosophical Debate, pp. 139–66. Aldershot: Ashgate

Porter, A. J., & Hellsten, I. (2014). Investigating participatory dynamics through social media using a multideterminant “frame” approach: The case of Climategate on YouTube. Journal of Computer‐Mediated Communication, 19(4), 1024-1041.

Rasmussen, S. (2006). The Case of the “Traitors”: An Essay on Freedom of Speech in Politics. By François Gendron; translated by Jelena Holland. Montreal: Wilson & Lafleur Ltd., 2005. Pp. 74. ISBN 2-89127-744-9. C $19.95. International Journal of Legal Information, 34(2), 454-456.

Rubin, O., Mallin, A., & Steakin, W. (2022). 7 hours, 700 arrests, 1 year later: The Jan. 6 Capitol Attack, by the numbers. Eyewitness News ABC 7. Retrieved November 2, 2022, from

Shibutani, T. (1966). Improvised news. Ardent Media.

Snow, D. A. (2013). Framing and social movements. The Wiley‐Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Social and Political Movements.

Sorice, M. (2023). Far Right Extremism on Social Network: An analysis of the phenomenon. LUISS, Corso di laurea in Politics, Philosophy and Economics

Sotlar, A. (2004). Some Problems with a Definition and Perception of Extremism within a Society. Policing in central and Eastern Europe: Dilemmas of contemporary criminal justice, 703-707.

Spring, M. (2020) “QAnon: TikTok blocks QAnon conspiracy theory hashtags,” BBC News, 24 July.

Spring, M. (2020) “Facebook bans QAnon conspiracy theory accounts across all platforms,” BBC News, 6 October.

Törnberg, P., & Törnberg, A. (2022). Inside a White Power echo chamber: Why fringe digital spaces are polarizing politics. new media & society, 14614448221122915.

Uscinski, J. E., & Parent, J. M. (2014). American conspiracy theories. Oxford University Press.

van Prooijen, J. W. (Ed.). (2021). The psychology of political polarization. Routledge.

Van Prooijen, J. W., & Douglas, K. M. (2017). Conspiracy theories as part of history: The role of societal crisis situations. Memory studies, 10(3), 323-333.

Van Prooijen, J. W., Krouwel, A. P., & Pollet, T. V. (2015). Political extremism predicts belief in conspiracy theories. Social psychological and personality science, 6(5), 570-578.

Vegetti, F., & Littvay, L. (2022). Belief in conspiracy theories and attitudes toward political violence. Italian Political Science Review/Rivista Italiana di Scienza Politica, 52(1), 18-32.

Vliegenthart, R., & Van Zoonen, L. (2011). Power to the frame: Bringing sociology back to frame analysis. European journal of communication, 26(2), 101-115.

Walters, J. and Chang, A. (2021) Far-right terror poses bigger threat to us than Islamist extremism post-9/11, The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. Available at: (Accessed: November 15, 2022).

Young, K. K., & Nathanson, P. (2010). Sanctifying misandry: Goddess ideology and the fall of man. McGill-Queen's Press-MQUP.