Recent cases in which former US President Donald Trump appears to embrace the QAnon conspiracy theory are causing concern among some lawmakers, law enforcement veterans and cult experts.
Trump shared a photo of himself wearing a Q pin, covered with the QAnon phrases “The Storm is Coming” and “WWG1WGA” (an acronym for “Where We Go One, We Go All) to his Truth Social account on September 12.
Trump has amplified at least 50 separate accounts promoting QAnon since joining and actively using his Truth Social online platform, according to Alex Kaplan, senior researcher at Media Matters for America, a media watchdog in left.
“Just in case it’s not quite CLEAR at this point, President Trump himself is making it UNDENIABLE that he is 100% aligned with Operation Q,” said John Sabal, a conference organizer focused on QAnon, on its Telegram channel. Sabal has previously said the US military is obligated to remove President Joe Biden, whom the conspiracy theorist called a “red actor”.
QAnon debuted five years ago on a fringe online platform. Cryptic and false statements were repeatedly posted by an anonymous commenter known as “Q”, who claimed to be a US government insider. Many followers of the movement, based on these posts, came to believe that Trump was engaged in a covert war against “deep state” enemies, including former Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, which Trump defeated in 2016. According to the strange conspiracy, Clinton and other Democrats are part of a cabal of devil worshipers who abduct children to abuse and even eat them.
The former president, while not openly repeating this belief, frequently espouses without credible evidence other related conspiracy theories, including that the 2020 presidential election results were altered to deny him a second term.
“A despicable group of corrupt, power-hungry globalists, socialists and liberal extremists in Washington have waged war on the hardworking people of Ohio,” Trump said at a Sept. 17 rally in Youngstown. “Our greatest threat remains the sick, sinister and evil people of our country.”
A tune played at the Ohio event that was nearly identical to a QAnon anthem titled “Wwg1wga” (an acronym for “where we go one, we all go”). The same song has previously been heard at a Trump rally in neighboring Pennsylvania and in a recent video linked to the former president.
As the music played at the Youngstown event, many onlookers pointed a forefinger in the air, which some observers believe points to the “one” in QAnon’s tagline. Some online commentators, including Walter Shaub, former director of the US Office of Government Ethics, compared the images to fascist rallies in the 1930s and 1940s.
Others on social media argued that the gesture, which had never been seen before at Trump rallies, was too vague to be definitively linked to the QAnon movement, noting that it could have been a reference to the theme ” America First” that Trump has invoked since running for president. in 2015. Salvation is also identified with the apolitical Salvation Army, a Christian movement founded in the mid-19th century.
“Fake news, in a pathetic attempt to create controversy and divide America, is plotting yet another conspiracy over a royalty-free song from a popular audio library platform,” Taylor Budowich said. spokesperson for Trump’s post-presidential office, to VOA in response to a query attempting to clarify questions about music and the salute at the rally.
“Last Breath of a Dying Sect”
The Ohio event “was a QAnon festival,” according to former Republican congresswoman Barbara Comstock. On CNN, she noted the rally’s “strange QAnon music” and haunting gesture while downplaying Trump’s apparent endorsement of the controversial movement.
Noting that the event was sparsely attended compared to the former president’s previous rallies, Comstock called the gathering “the last gasp of a dying cult.”
Frank Figliuzzi, former deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, says Trump is embracing the QAnon movement out of desperation, and the former president is aware of how dangerous it is.
“Not only do I think he knows that, but I think that’s what attracts him. It’s like a moth on the flame,” Figliuzzi said on MSNBC.
With Trump facing trouble on multiple legal fronts, his attraction to QAnon can be compared to “the last act of a desperate man,” Figliuzzi added.
The former FBI official also expressed concern that Trump, seen as the cult’s political boss, is in his desperation advocating violence.
“The members are stepping forward and forcing an end – whatever that may be,” Figliuzzi said. “That’s what worries me, and we’ve learned since January 6 that it only takes a small number of people to do that.”
On January 6, 2021, thousands of Trump supporters stormed the grounds of the US Capitol in an attempt to stop lawmakers from counting the votes formalizing Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election. More than 900 people have been arrested and charged with crimes related to the attack.
As president in 2020, Trump said he didn’t know much about QAnon, adding he couldn’t refute his conspiracy theory.
“If I can help save the world from trouble, I’m ready to do it,” Trump replied when asked if he, in line with QAnon belief, was saving the country from a satanic cult of sex traffickers. of children.
According to a study published in February, around 16% of Americans believe in QAnon, while this year around 80 candidates who believe in QAnon have been on the ballot for political office in 26 states, including the Republican candidate for office. Governor of Maryland, according to online news site Grid News.
QAnon is “a delusional and weaponized terrorist movement,” according to Harvard Law School professor emeritus Laurence Tribe, who on Twitter called Trump’s overt endorsement “a terrifying sign that he is desperate. , and realizing that he will be indicted, prepares to wage open war against the United States of America. It is a testament to our tolerance that he is not under arrest.
Trump “realizes that the population is tired of him. Many Republicans view it as more dangerous and it escalates into violence,” said Steven Hassan, a licensed mental health counselor who predicted in his 2019 book The Cult of Trump: A Leading Expert Explains How the President Uses Mind Control that Trump would resort to calls for violence if he is not re-elected in 2020.
Hassan told VOA he sees Trump as a figurehead who leaders of fringe groups try to manipulate rather than lead conspiracy movements, with QAnon prominent.
QAnon was specifically named by the FBI in a 2019 intelligence bulletin among fringe political movements highly likely to motivate some domestic extremists to engage in criminal and sometimes violent activity.
Since then, QAnon has been linked to violent incidents.
There is a sordid history of conspiracy theories and prejudice to sway the American electorate – including anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic movements.
“Conspiracy thinking is an American disease. It’s in our bloodstream,” according to Richard Shenkman, author of the book. Political Animals: How Our Stone Age Brain Obstructs Smart Politics.
“He’s been there from the start. Even the founding fathers were likely to think of the conspiracy. They thought they were the victims of a European plot, particularly in England, to contain them,” Shenkman said.
Terrible disclosures, an anti-Catholic book, was widely read in 19th-century America, although it was soon denounced as a hoax. In the book, a Canadian nun told stories of evil priests and barbaric penances imposed on captive young women.
A Catholic was not elected President of the United States until John Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon in the 1960 election.
Conspiracy theories often target religions, races, and other minority or vulnerable groups as scapegoats for economic problems in a society.
“Most American presidents have just come to the edge of conspiratorial thinking and seeding the public square with nonsense ideas, but they’ve been very careful not to get the mud on themselves,” said Shenkman at VOA. “The difference between Donald Trump and every other president we’ve had is his willingness to cross that line and do the dirty work himself. It’s phenomenal that he seems to have no qualms about it.
Even if Trump and QAnon fade, conspiracy theories are unlikely to disappear from American politics, Shenkman said.
“During times of worry, like our present time, people find [conspiracy theories] appealing because they want easy answers” to complex economic and social questions. “We want certainty, and conspiracy theories are good for that. They give you a nice, simple answer,” he said.