President Donald Trump for the first time embraced the growing conspiracy movement QAnon, despite its followers having been identified as a potential domestic terrorism threat by the FBI and linked to numerous acts of violence.
In a White House press briefing on Wednesday, Trump told a reporter, “I don’t know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate.”
Born in 2017 on the internet forum 4Chan, QAnon is a collection of blatantly false conspiracy theories that push the idea that a group of Satan-worshiping pedophiles secretly run the world, including a “deep state” of officials within the US government who are said to be plotting against Trump.
In the past few weeks, QAnon has been accelerating its years-long shift into the political mainstream. Last week, congressional candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene won the Republican nomination for Georgia’s 14th Congressional District, making her the first open QAnon supporter to likely be elected into the House of Representatives this fall. Several other QAnon supporters are also running as Republican candidates across the US. Now, Trump’s comments — whether they were a serious signal of his potential belief in QAnon or just his usual pandering to any enthusiastic base of supporters — are lending the troubling group more legitimacy.
When the reporter followed up to ask Trump if he backs QAnon’s conspiracy theory that he is “secretly saving the world from this satanic cult of pedophiles,” Trump replied:
“Well, I haven’t heard that, but is that supposed to be a bad thing or a good thing?” He continued, “If I help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do it, and I will put myself out there.”
In May 2019, the FBI identified QAnon as a potential domestic terrorism threat. Some QAnon followers have committed acts of violence inspired by their beliefs, including attempted arson and blocking a bridge with a homemade armored vehicle full of weapons. Although it appears that only a minority of QAnon believers so far have engaged in violence in support of the movement, many experts have expressed concern about how its conspiracy theories can quickly radicalize its followers.
In the past few years, QAnon has gained significant traction on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, where its claims have been shared with millions of people, according to an internal Facebook investigation. Although some of these major social media platforms have recently tried to limit QAnon’s spread (on Wednesday, Facebook said it took down nearly 800 Facebook QAnon Groups), the conspiracy theory has already amassed influence in the political and cultural sphere.
While Trump has promoted posts from QAnon followers in the past on social media, his remarks on Wednesday were the first time he has directly said something positive about the group. Rather than denouncing QAnon’s links to senseless violence, Trump seemed to welcome his role as the messiah of a movement. His comments demonstrate how QAnon has expanded beyond being a fringe conspiracy theory promoted in dark corners of the internet to become part of mainstream political discourse.
While a few Republican senators have openly denounced QAnon, they’ve been the exception so far in their party. Most Republican political leaders have either stayed quiet or showed support for Greene and other QAnon-supporting political candidates.
Trump’s comments on Wednesday have extended a more official welcome to QAnon’s followers into the Republican Party.