We Tried to Solve the Mystery of the QAnon Postcards Flooding American Mailboxes

We Tried to Solve the Mystery of the QAnon Postcards Flooding American Mailboxes

In the last week of March and the first week of April, residents in and around Boston and across New Hampshire received a strange postcard in the mail.

The postcard featured a grid of images of famous figures including Taylor Swift, Donald Trump, Mark Zuckerberg, Barack Obama, Mel Gibson, Dave Chappelle, and Elon Musk.

At the center of the grid was the phrase “The True Story of QAnon” alongside a QR code that linked to a website containing an unhinged conspiratorial diatribe filled with references to hundreds of Hollywood celebrities, lawmakers, and figures from Silicon Valley.

On the other side of the card, the sender claimed they were “a child victim of the Cabal spoken of in QAnon.”

“They invented the whole saga of QAnon and planned all news and entertainment events 20 years ago,” the postcard read. “They planned 9/11, the 7/7 bombing, the Ukraine war, and Covid-19 and they told me that Luvox cures Covid-19.” The message ends by telling recipients that ”on Good Friday this world will end, possibly by nukes, or MY world will end.”

The postcard was not signed and contained no identifying information beyond an anonymous email address and a return address of a post office box in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Several reports covered the phenomenon, and many posted about it on social media. The United States Postal Service even issued a statement to say that while the contents of the postcard may be controversial, there was nothing illegal about them.

Soon after, however, online chatter slowed down and the trail went cold, with no one knowing where the postcards came from, who sent them, or why.

A VICE News investigation has uncovered new details about the size and scale of the campaign as well as where some of the cards were printed and the huge cost associated with printing and mailing them—a cost that experts claim could reach seven figures. We found that the person who sent the postcards likely did not in fact write the unhinged manifesto, but rather took it from a post on the anonymous message board 8kun, which is also where QAnon flourished.

A review of social media posts from people who received the cards shows that the distribution was widespread across New Hampshire and Massachusetts: People in Concord, Salem, Keene, Richmond, Nashua, Henniker, and Seacoast as well as residents of over half a dozen communities in the greater Boston area all reported receiving the same postcard.

Thousands of recipients were left with many questions about who had sent this strange message directly to their houses. “Just got a QAnon junk mail postcard in my mailbox, because apparently things in this country weren’t already batshit crazy enough,” one Twitter user wrote in early April.

Some assumed or claimed that the postcard mailer was unwell and possibly suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. Others flagged that the card had an impact on the mental health of those who received it: “My mom got the QAnon postcard that was going around [New Hampshire] and it set her mental health back by a huge amount,” a Twitter user wrote. “Spent all that time making sure she never went on Facebook and it didn’t matter.”

A similar mailer popped up in Phoenix, Arizona as well: In January 2022, in what appears to be a smaller-scale but similar campaign to the New England postcard mailer, one Reddit user who posted a picture of the card online in January told VICE News that they had found the card tucked into the window of a car. They also saw the same cards on other cars as well.

When contacted by VICE News via the email address on the postcard, the person behind the most recent campaign in New Hampshire and Massachusetts would not reveal any information about themselves or whether they were also involved in the Phoenix campaign.

They would not reveal how many postcards they sent out, and when asked why they picked neighborhoods in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, they said: “There’s nothing special about any of the recipients.” They also dismissed the conspiracies about this being a data-gathering campaign run by the CIA which had surfaced in QAnon communities online.

They did, however, confirm that they were not the author of the text linked through the QR code on their postcard. And though the author of the text is unknown, an online tool that detects the possibility that artificial intelligence is used to create text showed a high probability that this website was written by a machine—though, to be certain, the results are not always 100% accurate.

It’s difficult to put an exact figure on the number of houses the postcard was sent to, but there is one clue on the postcard that suggests the cards were sent to a lot of houses: The postcards don’t have individual names and addresses on them but instead use a service provided by the US Postal Service called “Every Door Direct Mail” or EDDM.

This is a service that “allows customers to reach out to an entire ZIP Code, Three Digit ZIP Area or Region without printing an address on each individual piece of mail. They’re simply addressed to residents or postal customers. The cost of the mailing is based, in part, on volume and area covered,” USPS spokesperson Stephen Doherty, who also received one of the postcards, told VICE News.

The cost of using this service can be estimated using the USPS’ own online portal. For example, in Somerville, MA, one of the towns where residents received the postcard, the cost of delivering postcards to all residents on just seven of the dozens of routes in the town would be $1,000.

One USPS employee in Boston, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told VICE News that he delivered the postcards throughout his route of almost 800 stops. He estimated that just in his district alone there could have been over 40,000 postcards delivered.

“Definitely one of the strangest things I’ve had to deliver,” the USPS employee said.

“A card this size in color with postage is likely getting close to, if not already over, $1 a unit,” Nick Levasseur, a former specialist in mail marketing for a telecoms marketing company in New Hampshire, told VICE News. “It seems to have gone out to a substantial number of households in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. At $1 a pop, you’re looking at hundreds of thousands, at least, maybe into seven figures if the audience was large enough.”

When asked how much they spent on the campaign, the person responding to the email told VICE News they “spent a lot of money. More money than a crazy person has.”

Another clue to the origin of this campaign on the postcards is the permit number printed in the top right-hand corner. In all of the images shared online of the postcards sent in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, two permit numbers were used: permit 25 and permit 4.

The identity of the permit holders is not public information, but a source who has access to the Post Office’s business customer gateway, which mail-service providers use to do mailings for customers and which allows businesses to look up the details of a permit holder, was able to confirm to VICE News the registered owners of permit 25 and permit 4.

The holders of permit 25 are a printing company in New Hampshire. The owner of the company agreed to speak to VICE News on the condition of anonymity over fears about blowback for their role in printing the cards.

He confirmed his company did print and mail some of the postcards, but added that he was aware of at least one other local printing company who also was printing the cards, and that the customer “wanted to print more than either we or any other small shop could accommodate.”

The owner said that they dealt with the customer in person as well as speaking to them on the phone and through email. When asked to describe the person they dealt with, the owner of the print shop said: “I’d say the person we dealt with was kind; seemed like a local resident; seemed to know enough about printing and mailing, but not an expert.”

The owner said the postcard had already been designed by the time they got involved, and they only mailed cards to Massachusetts addresses.

The owner, who works closely with the local post office, said that angry residents who had received the postcard in their letterboxes had gone to the post office to scream at employees.

Doherty, the USPS spokesperson, confirmed that carriers had also been harassed by customers asking them why these cards had been delivered at all.

“What some people don’t realize is that our staff only looks at the address line and postage on your mail so that we can facilitate delivery,” Doherty said. “We’re not in the habit of reading the contents.”

An employee at another print shop, who spoke to VICE News on the condition of anonymity, said that they had also been requested to print the postcards. The order was for 15,000 copies of the card, the source said, but they rejected the order because they thought it may be a scam. Part of the reason for this was that the person seeking to get the cards printed was looking to send them to addresses in New York City.

The person inquiring about the order was also seeking a price for using the print shop’s mailing permit which was not valid for mail in New York.

The other permit used in the mass mail campaign, permit 4, is registered to an individual in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

VICE News has been unable to contact this individual or anyone who lives at their address to confirm that they are the person who orchestrated the postcard campaign. A phone number linked to the person behind the account went unanswered.

And that’s where the QAnon postcard mystery ends. Based on social media reports, the campaign has now ceased. But many questions remain, including why someone would spend all this time and money to send out these postcards to thousands of random strangers across two states.

The person responding to the email address on the card stopped responding to emails from VICE News weeks ago, but, before they went silent, they claimed that a few hundred recipients had contacted them in response to the postcard.

While they claimed some people sent messages of support, the respondent also said the most frequent response was: “Hey man, got your card. You good?”

The post We Tried to Solve the Mystery of the QAnon Postcards Flooding American Mailboxes appeared first on VICE.

Last Update: Thu, 02 Jun 22 09:17:38