QAnon has ricocheted through the darkest corners of the internet since late 2017, but has increasingly slipped into mainstream politics. The baseless theory centers on an alleged anonymous, high-ranking government official known as “Q” who shares information about an anti-Trump “deep state” often linked to Satanism and child sex trafficking.
Trump insisted he hadn’t heard much about the movement, “other than I understand they like me a lot” and “it’s gaining popularity.”
Trump has retweeted accounts promoting QAnon, and shirts and hats with QAnon symbols and slogans are not uncommon at his rallies.
An FBI bulletin last May warned that extremists motivated by conspiracy theory have become a national terrorist threat. The bulletin specifically mentioned QAnon. Earlier last year, the Southern Poverty Law Center warned that the movement was becoming increasingly popular with anti-government extremists.
Trump’s comments have been condemned by the campaign of his Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.
“After calling the neo-Nazis and white supremacists of Charlottesville ‘good people’ and tweeting peaceful protesters after the murder of George Floyd, Donald Trump simply sought to legitimize a conspiracy theory that the FBI identified as a threat of domestic terrorism, ”Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said. “Our country needs leadership that will bring us together more than ever to form a more perfect union. We must win this battle for the soul of our nation. ”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who challenged Trump for the GOP nomination in 2016, also slammed the president, tweeting: “Why on earth wouldn’t the president kick the butt of Q supporters? ‘anon? in either Party. ”
Pressed by QAnon’s theories that Trump is saving the nation from a satanic cult of child sex traffickers, Trump claimed ignorance, but asked, “Is this supposed to be a bad thing? ”
“If I can help save the world from trouble, I’m ready to do it,” Trump said.
Supporters of Qanon were quick to celebrate Trump’s comments on social media, with many calling them validation of their views. Many have long claimed that he is sending them coded messages of support, and on Twitter, one user claimed that Trump’s choice of a pink tie on Wednesday was another signal of support.
Within minutes, dozens of Instagram users began celebrating Trump’s recognition of the conspiracy theory from the White House podium, by uploading videos of him.
“Well, we’ve been waiting for this for a while, to say it kindly thank you ΓåòrealDonaldTrump,” one Instagram user wrote to his 19,000 followers in a post on the Trump exchange. The video has been viewed over 1,000 times in just 30 minutes.
“Holy Smokin Q,” another tweeted. “We asked our president 2 questions about the Qanon movement TODAY !! We love you President Trump. ”
On Speak, a right-wing platform popular with some Trump supporters, a Qanon supporter posted a photo of Trump and a bald eagle.
Trump’s comments came a week after endorsing Marjorie Taylor Greene, who won her second round of the GOP House primary in Georgia last week. Greene called QAnon’s conspiracy theory “something worth listening to and paying attention to” and called Q “patriot”. Trump praised her as a “future Republican star.”
Trump has a long history of advancing bogus and sometimes racist plots, including last week when he gave credence to a much-criticized editorial that questioned Democrat Kamala Harris’s eligibility to be even vice president if she was born in Oakland, California. .
When asked about the matter, Trump told reporters he had “heard” rumors that Harris, a black woman and U.S.-born citizen whose parents were immigrants, did not meet the requirement to serve in the United States. White House. The president said he considered the rumors “very serious”, but later he and his campaign said they didn’t make the claim a problem. constitutional lawyers dismissed it as nonsense.
Facebook announced just hours before Trump’s statements that it was banning certain Facebook groups and accounts from QAnon.
But social media had already been used for years to fuel the rise of conspiracy theory, with private and top-secret Facebook groups where members sometimes post hundreds of times a day. QAnon believers often peddle a number of conspiracy theories, starting from claims that John F. Kennedy Jr. isn’t really dead and arranging a public return to baseless speculation about celebrities who have been secretly arrested for trafficking in children for sexual purposes.
Mentions of hashtags from social media users promoting the QAnon conspiracy theory have increased on public Facebook pages and groups since July, generating millions of interactions, according to Associated Press analysis of data from CrowdTangle owned to Facebook.
The conspiracy theory has gained greater success online in recent weeks, when prominent social media accounts QAnon pushed forward a bizarre and baseless conspiracy theory that online retail giant Wayfair was trafficking children in expensive storage cabinets that are for sale on his site. Some social media users have shared the names and photos of missing children across the country as evidence of the scheme, although many children have since been found.
Last month, researchers at online disinformation firm NewsGuard found that the QAnon conspiracy theory was gaining traction in Europe, with Facebook users pushing it on Facebook and Twitter as well.
Seitz reported from Chicago. AP writer David Klepper in Providence, Rhode Island contributed.