“That’s when QAnon Germany first started taking off,” Mr. Holnburger said.
Two weeks later, in the middle of the lockdown, the German pop star Xavier Naidoo, a former judge on Germany’s equivalent of “American Idol,” joined a QAnon group and posted a tearful YouTube video in which he told his followers about children being liberated from underground prisons. A far-right influencer, Oliver Janich, reposted it to his tens of thousands of Telegram followers.
Since then, the biggest German-language QAnon channel on Telegram, Qlobal Change, has quadrupled its followers to 123,000. On YouTube, it has more than 18 million views. Overall, the number of followers of QAnon-related accounts on all platforms has risen to more than 200,000, estimates Mr. Dittrich of the Amadeu-Antonio Foundation.
On Tuesday, Facebook said it would remove any group, page or Instagram account that openly identified with QAnon.
In the country of the Holocaust, promoting Nazi propaganda or inciting hatred is punishable by up to five years in jail, and two years ago the government passed strict legislation designed to enforce its laws online.
But conspiracy theories and lies are not illegal unless they veer into hate speech and extremist content, and officials admit they have found QAnon’s spread hard to police.
Some QAnon followers are well-known extremists, like Marko Gross, a former police sniper and the leader of a far-right group that hoarded weapons and ammunition.
“Trump is fighting the deep state,” he told The New York Times in June. Merkel is part of the deep state, he said. “The deep state is global.”