At a press conference, Donald Trump crossed a line that even the norm-breaking president has refused to do until today, praising the sprawling and baseless QAnon conspiracy theory, which the FBI labeled a domestic terrorism threat last year. In response to a question from NBC reporter Shannon Pettypiece, Trump said, “I don’t know much about the movement other than I understand that they like me very much, which I appreciate.”
This is the first time the US president has openly acknowledged the far-right conspiracy theory that has spread among some of his followers, though he has previously retweeted content from at least 200 QAnon-affiliated accounts and dodged a question on the subject on Friday.
“It’s this belief that you are secretly saving the world from this Satanic cult of pedophiles and cannibals,” Pettypiece said. “Does that sound like something you are behind?”
“Is that supposed to be a bad thing or a good thing?” Trump responded. “If I can help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do it, I’m willing to put myself out there.”
Trump also said he is “saving the world from a radical left” and that those who believe in the theory are “people who love our country.”
One QAnon Group on Facebook that has over 12,000 members reacted with excitement at the president's words. One person posted a GIF of Chris Pratt being excited. Several others said, “the world is about to change.”
QAnon is an online conspiracy that grew out of Pizzagate, an online narrative that falsely claimed that prominent Democrats were participating in a child sex ring in the basement of a Washington, DC, pizzeria. (There is no basement in the restaurant.) In 2017, a North Carolina man was sentenced to four years in prison after firing an AR-15 rifle in that restaurant under the delusion that he was "investigating" the claim.
The conspiracy theory claims that a secret government source, known as Q, is anonymously providing clues to an intricate and sprawling narrative in which Trump is secretly fighting Satanic forces that control the United States. In 2018, NBC News traced the early spread of the conspiracy to YouTubers who promoted it for money.
QAnon has been popular on online messaging boards and social media sites, leading to attempts by social media companies to limit its spread. In June, Twitter said it had banned accounts associated with the conspiracy because its supporters frequently engaged in targeted harassment. Facebook followed suit on Wednesday, saying it had removed groups, pages, and accounts associated with the group.
“While we will allow people to post content that supports QAnon, so long as they do not otherwise violate our content policies, the policy update we made today means we’ll restrict QAnon’s ability to organize on our platform through Facebook Groups, Pages and Instagram accounts,” a Facebook spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.
Andrew Bates, a spokesperson for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, said that these remarks come "in a moment of dire crisis that Trump has severely mismanaged."
"After calling neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville 'fine people' and tear gassing peaceful protesters following the murder of George Floyd, Donald Trump just sought to legitimize a conspiracy theory that the FBI has identified as a domestic terrorism threat," Bates said. "Our country needs leadership that will bring us together more than ever to form a more perfect union."
Last week the Anti-Defamation League warned that some people who believed in the conspiracy theory had engaged in violence.
“While ADL does not believe that all QAnon adherents are inherently extremists, the public proliferation of these conspiracy theories is dangerous,” the group wrote in an Aug. 13 blog post. “To date, QAnon followers have been linked to multiple instances of real-world criminality in the name of the conspiracy, including murder, vandalism, arson, kidnapping, terrorism, and assault with a dangerous weapon (firearms).”
Trump's praise of the hoax is the culmination of years of growing support within the GOP. Those who believe in the conspiracy theory have increasingly made themselves known at the president's rallies. In June, the president's son Eric Trump posted a QAnon graphic on Instagram, before deleting it. And Republican candidates other than the president have also embraced the conspiracy theory, including Marjorie Taylor Greene, who recently won a primary runoff in Georgia.