‘F–k If I Know’: Trump’s Embrace of QAnon Baffles Allies

·7 min read
trumps-q-turn trumps-q-turn.jpg Former President Trump Campaigns With House Candidate Sarah Palin And Senate Candidate Kelly Tshibaka In Anchorage, Alaska - Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
trumps-q-turn trumps-q-turn.jpg Former President Trump Campaigns With House Candidate Sarah Palin And Senate Candidate Kelly Tshibaka In Anchorage, Alaska - Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

This summer, Donald Trump is taking something that began during his presidency to a whole new level. His dalliance with content connected to QAnon — the deranged pro-Trump conspiracy theory that features tales of powerful Democrats running a pedophilic secret society — has gone from a game of footsie to what appears to be an open embrace. But if you ask members of the ex-president’s inner orbit why this is happening now, you get a mix of responses, including abject confusion.

“Fuck if I know,” one Trump ally replied to Rolling Stone when asked this month why the most powerful figure in the Republican Party has been so publicly promoting Q symbols and messages, particularly on his own social media app, Truth Social. Others close to the ex-president (most of whom just like to pretend this isn’t happening) say that conversations with Trump that have touched on this topic in recent months paint a clearer picture — one of a Boomer internet troll who just loves to be liked. And one thing that QAnon adherents really, really like is their supposed god-emperor Trump.

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“He’s said that he thinks some of their memes and images are ‘funny,’” says another person close to Trump, who has heard the former president privately weigh in on Q-boosting Trump fans since leaving the White House. “He also sometimes mentions that it’s hilarious to make people like you [in the media] so mad when you see him touch the Q shit … But to be fair, he says that they’re some of his biggest fans, which, you know, is his thing.”

Another source intimately familiar with this matter relays that Trump has claimed to some people, as recently as this summer, that he thinks many of these conspiracy theorists and online posters are simply misunderstood, and that the news media enjoys lumping them in with “wacky” types just because — in Trump’s words — “they love Trump!”

A fourth source, a former White House official, recalls that during his presidency, Trump would sometimes compliment his Q-pilled followers for having “the right idea” when it came to adoring Trump and the MAGA movement, and loathing the “Deep State” and his “corrupt” nemeses like Hillary Clinton and James Comey. This former official says they mentioned to Trump that QAnon was nuttier than merely being pro-MAGA, and that it featured tall tales of a pedo-controlled Hollywood and Democratic Party. According to this source, “I do not remember his exact words, but [Trump’s response] was along the lines of: There are plenty of bad and sick people in Hollywood” and among the liberal elite.

Donald Trump didn’t bring up QAnon when I was around him, but he would spout [other] conspiracy theories all the time during his time in the White House,” says Stephanie Grisham, Trump’s former White House press secretary who very publicly fell out with Trump and his family. “He would pick and choose specific details from them, always to comport with what he wanted reality to be. There were times when he would see Obama was on the news — times when we were being forced to watch TV with him in the dining room off the Oval [Office] — and Trump would ask out-loud to the room: ‘Why isn’t the fake news asking where his birth certificate is?’”

Trump has been giving nods to the QAnon community — intentionally or unwittingly — since he was president, amplifying accounts associated with the conspiracy hundreds of times before being booted off Twitter. The signals have become more abundant, however, in recent months. The latest came during the final minutes of Trump’s rally in Youngstown, Ohio, last Saturday, when “Mirrors,” a song by composer Will Van De Crommert that has become popular in the QAnon community, was played as the former president delivered a diatribe about how America is going to hell under President Joe Biden.

As Trump was speaking, many in the crowd held their index fingers toward the sky. Will Sommer, an extremism reporter for The Daily Beast, noted on Twitter that some are saying the salute pertains to QAnon, and that if this is the case it’s “new.” The single finger in the air could be a reference to QAnon’s slogan, “Where We Go One, We Go All,” typically shortened to “WWG1WGA.” Much more conspicuous was the fact that Trump was rallying in Ohio in part to support J.R. Majewski, an Ohio House candidate with deep ties to the QAnon movement.

Majewski is one of several candidates Trump has endorsed ahead of the midterms with connections to the conspiracy theory, which is no longer just nipping at the fringes of the Republican Party. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green (R-Ga.) and other sitting lawmakers have cavorted with QAnon figures or spouted QAnon talking points, such as likening their political opponents to pedophiles. A Public Religion Research Institute poll conducted earlier this year found that a quarter of Republicans believe in the central tenets of the QAnon movement.

Trump teasing his awareness of the conspiracy theory has only fueled its growth, and he and his team now seem acutely aware of how they may be able to exploit the movement. Media Matters Senior Researcher Alex Kaplan last month detailed how Truth Social CEO Devin Nunes and former board member Kash Patel appeared to intentionally court QAnon figures and followers in order to build out the user base of Trump’s personal social media platform.

According to Kaplan’s research, Patel regularly interacted with “@Q” one of the of the first accounts created on the platform, reportedly by the admins themselves, and scoured QAnon podcasts in order to recruit new users for the social media site. Nunes also amplified the “@Q” account, and amplified QAnon content from message boards such as 8kun to Truth Social.

An August analysis by NewsGuard found that Truth Social had verified “47 QAnon-promoting accounts, all with more than 10,000 followers,” and identified “ 88 users (unverified and verified) on Truth Social with more than 10,000 followers each, who have promoted QAnon slogans, graphics, and ideas.” 32 of the accounts identified by NewsGuard had been previously banned from Twitter.

QAnon undergirding Trump’s beleaguered social media platform underscores the recent, jarring slate of acknowledgements the former president has given the conspiracy theory. Since joining Truth Social, Kaplan has calculated that Trump has amplified at least 50 Qanon affiliated accounts. In early August, Trump shared a video on his Truth Social account featuring “Mirrors,” the QAnon song that scored his rally on Saturday. Weeks later he embarked on an extended spree of Truth Social posting that featured multiple callouts and promotions of QAnon accounts.

“QAnon forums are obviously ecstatic and bloodthirsty after Trump’s Q-endorsing tweetstorm this morning,” NBC News extremism reporter Ben Collins tweeted after Trump posted a slew of QAnon-connected messages. “They had been relatively dead in the last few months, with users headed over to general Trump forums and militia/Q influencer Telegrams. Not anymore.”

Trump may think the memes he’s sharing are “funny,” but it’s impossible to overstate how dangerous it is for the former president to egg on a cult movement that has been repeatedly linked to violence, including the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Kidnapping plots have been connected to QAnon, as have murders, including a man killing his two children in 2021 before explaining to investigators they had inherited “serpent DNA” from their mother and needed to be killed in order to “save the world.” Earlier this month, a man whose daughter says became increasingly erratic after falling in with the conspiracy shot her and his wife, killing the latter.

Nevertheless, Trump has steadfastly refused to disavow or distance himself from the conspiracy theory. “Is that supposed to be a bad thing?” he wondered while still in office in 2020 after a reporter asked him about the cult’s belief that he is saving the world from a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles. “If I can help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do it. We are, actually. We’re saving the world.”

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