Trump's public embrace of QAnon was the culmination of years of waiting, and will likely drive the conspiracy movement to new extremes
- President Donald Trump's public embrace of the QAnon conspiracy theory movement on Wednesday surprised many.
- It was in fact a long time coming — Trump has dabbled with the movement hundreds of times before, though never so explicitly.
- QAnon advocates have already been implicated in terrorist schemes, arson attacks, and kidnapping plots. Trump's praise will likely embolden them further.
When President Trump praised QAnon followers as "people that love our country" on Wednesday, it was the end of years of waiting for the conspiracy movement, which considers him the savior of humanity.
They've long fantasized about a reporter directly asking Trump about QAnon — to "Ask the Q" as they put it.
They typically imagined that the question would lead to Trump confirming their theory once for all and unleashing the long-awaited "storm" of mass arrests of celebrities, politicians, and media figures.
It didn't quite play out like that, but Trump's answer inspired elation from the QAnon community nonetheless.
When asked to react to the broad outline of the theory, described by a reporter as the idea that the President "is secretly saving the world from this satanic cult of pedophiles and cannibals," Trump said: "Well, I haven't heard that, but is that supposed to be a bad thing or a good thing?"
The QAnon community mostly overlooked how Trump pleaded ignorance about the content of the theory itself, instead focusing on his praise and the implication that it would be good to fight satanic cannibals if the theory were true.
—Evan McMurry (@evanmcmurry) August 19, 2020
The response from Trump was good enough to be considered an endorsement, cementing the idea that their years of spreading the most deranged misinformation was worthwhile.
Some expressed shock that Trump would lend credence to a movement that has already inspired followers to commit terrorism, arson, and to plot to kidnap people.
It was not surprising to those who have followed the growth of the QAnon community for years.
The president has constantly given validation to QAnon, most notably by retweeting its followers. Trump has amplified QAnon Twitter accounts at least 216 times, starting in November of 2017.
Last year, a Trump campaign ad featured QAnon signs. A QAnon follower was even a co-chair of the Trump campaign's "Women For Trump" initiative.
Some were also surprised to see that QAnon-promoting congressional candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene clear a path to the House of Representatives. But the popularity of QAnon with some politicians has also been clear for a long time.
In 2018, the San Juan Capistrano councilwoman Pam Patterson read a "Q drop" — a cryptic message that QAnon followers believe contain clues — at a meeting with lawmakers.
Trump's comments on QAnon will almost certainly embolden a movement that is becoming more volatile and dangerous as it grows in size.
While there hasn't yet been a reliable estimate of the size of the QAnon community, it appears vast. Analysis by The Guardian counted more than three million aggregate followers and members of Facebook pages, groups and accounts, though there is likely significant overlap.
Trump's tacit endorsement may push more into the ranks of QAnon, despite the fact that social media companies are beginning to crack down on QAnon groups on their platforms.
If the recent past is any guide, some of the danger from QAnon will emerge from organized followers. For example, The Daily Beast recently reported on a QAnon network that encourages members to commit kidnappings, and harbors fugitives from the law.
One member of this network, Cynthia Abcug, was arrested for conspiracy to commit kidnapping after plotting an armed raid on a foster home with fellow QAnon followers.
There is also a threat of "lone wolf" style attacks. In one case a QAnon follower named Alpalus Slyman led police on a hundred-mile-an-hour chase with his five children in the vehicle, while pleading with Q to save him via a Facebook livestream. It's only through extraordinary luck that the car was stopped without any deaths or injuries.
In another case, a QAnon follower named Cecilia Fulbright attacked random vehicles with the intent to "[save] a child" from "pedophiles." According to a former roommate of Fulbright's, this attack came after she went on a "three-day bender on this QAnon stuff."
Another mostly unrecognized threat comes from the popularity of QAnon within the ranks of the police officers.
The first known QAnon-promoting officer is Sgt. Matt Patten of the Broward County Sheriff's Office, who wore a "Q" patch in a photograph with Vice President Mike Pence.
The exact consequences of police departments employing officers who believe an imageboard anon is sending secret codes about a secret war of good versus evil are unknown. But we'll find out soon enough.
While it's possible to observe the trajectory of trends, the exact manifestation of QAnon threats can't be predicted.
However, a recent article published by the Combatting Terrorism Center at West point observes that QAnon has the potential to "become a more impactful domestic terror threat."
Barring some serious intervention from social media companies, political leaders, and ideally Trump himself, it's hard to see how that potential won't be realized.
As with Trump's praise of QAnon and the rise of QAnon as a political force, no one should act surprised when QAnon incidents become more frequent and damaging. The danger has been evident for years.
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