For most of his misbegotten tenure in the Oval Office, Donald Trump danced a three-step tango with right-wing extremists: Apparently embracing them, then stepping back with official (and unconvincing) disavowal, then swinging them back into his arms. He had perfected this tango in the case of the QAnon movement, pretending at first to know nothing about them—despite having winked and nudged in their direction for years—but telling reporters: “I heard that these are people that love our country.”
Now Trump has simply dropped the façade of plausible deniability altogether. On his Truth Social chat platform—an unwieldy and pale imitation of Twitter—Trump has, over the last two months, amplified QAnon accounts over 70 times. He went completely over the cliff on Tuesday morning, pouring out a stream of over 60 QAnon memes, reposts from QAnon accounts, and tangentially amplifying an original “Q drop” (a 4chan post written by the still-anonymous “Q” who originated the conspiracist cult).
The meltdown on Tuesday was notable both for its unhinged nature and its unmistakably eliminationist targeting of his Democratic enemies—though scripted violence (or stochastic terrorism, if you will) has in fact been part of Trump’s playbook for a long time.
One of the memes he reposted on Truth Social features a stylized photo of Vice President Kamala Harris, President Joe Biden, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with words covering their eyes: “Your enemy is not in Russia.”
Another meme was an artist’s portrait of Trump at his desk in the Oval Office, looking stolid while severe winds and rain blow through. “The Deep State whispered to President Trump, ‘You cannot withstand the storm,” it read. “The President whispered back, ‘I am the storm.’”
As NBC News’ Ben Collins observed: “This is not a guy who sounds like he's running a political campaign. It's a guy who is pointing his followers toward political enemies to target.”
Trump’s Truth Social “retruths” mainly revolved around QAnon-loving accounts like “Patriotic American Alpha Sauce” and “ULTRA-MAGA 4LIFE.” One of them, from “snazzyburrito,” was simply a post featuring an original “Q” post suggesting that Trump would use military intelligence to replace the CIA and FBI.
Another set of posts reupped by Trump featured a discussion of the false conspiracist claims that “Antifa,” working in conjunction with the FBI, was actually responsible for the Jan. 6 insurrection.
On Monday, Trump had posted a wild rant demanding a new election: “So now it comes out, conclusively, that the FBI BURIED THE HUNTER BIDEN LAPTOP STORY BEFORE THE ELECTION knowing that if they didn’t, ‘Trump would have easily won the 2020 election.’ This is MASSIVE FRAUD AND INTERFERENCE at a level never seen before in our Country. REMEDY: Declare the rightful winner or, and this would be the minimal solution, declare the 2020 election irreparably compromised and have a new Election, immediately!”
The QAnon phenomenon has grown massively since its early days in 2017 as a fringe meta-conspiracy theory postulating that Trump was leading a secret war against a “Deep State” that abducted and trafficked in children globally, imprisoning them in tunnels and harvesting their blood for life-extending adrenochrome consumed by evil “globalists.” In the two years, it has overwhelmed the Republican Party from within with a tide of reality-denying extremism, culminating in its key role in inspiring the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol and the continuing radicalization of the American right subsequently.
Trump barely attempted to maintain even a credible distance between his administration and the conspiracy cult, constantly retweeting their hashtags and posts. When reporters finally cornered him about his relationship to QAnon in 2020, he was as disingenuous as ever.
“I don’t know much about the movement besides that they like me very much,” Trump said at a White House press briefing. “These are people that don’t like seeing what’s going on in places like Portland and Chicago,” adding: “I heard these are people that love our country.”
When a reporter followed up by asking him whether he believed their core doctrine—namely, the belief that he is “secretly saving the world from this satanic cult of pedophiles and cannibals”—he performed his familiar tango.
“I hadn’t heard that,” he replied, “but is that supposed to be a bad thing? If I can help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do it, I’m willing to put myself out there. And we are actually, we are saving the world from a radical left philosophy that will destroy this country.”
As Collins reported on Twitter, Trump’s reposts were received with wild and bloodthirsty enthusiasm at QAnon-focused forums. “Wipe them out sir,” responded one fan to his “I am the storm” meme. Another added: “Plenty of people will be surprised, but we are all ready. ‘Which storm Mr. President? You’ll find out.’”
“Sir, please finish them off and we’re done playing with them like a cat to a mouse,” responded another QAnon forum participant to the meme. “Nuke them from orbit,” chimed in one.
Collins noted that these forums “had been relatively dead in the last few months, with users headed over to general Trump forums and militia/Q influencer Telegrams. Not anymore.”
The New York Times recently explored just how deeply Truth Social has become a hub of QAnon activity. A recent report from media watchdog NewsGuard found the platform hosted 88 users, each with more than 10,000 followers, promoting QAnon theories on Truth Social. Over 30 of these accounts had been previously banned by Twitter.
“He’s not simply President Trump the political leader here—he’s the proprietor of a platform,” Newsguard CEO Steven Brill told the Times. “That would be the equivalent of Mark Zuckerberg reposting content from supporters of QAnon.”
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