But Trump’s response to a question from moderator Savannah Guthrie offered a shot of validation from the central figure in QAnon cosmology, who portrays the president as a savior waging a secret war against a cabal of satanic pedophiles, allegedly including prominent Democrats and Hollywood celebrities.
When Guthrie asked the president to reject the conspiracy theory as “completely untrue,” Trump replied, “I know nothing about it. I know they are very much against pedophilia. They are fighting very hard, but I know nothing about it.”
A QAnon supporter at 8kun, another fringe site, approved: “I thought he had the perfect answer.”
Another 8un user said of Trump’s response, “masterfully performed by POTUS” – using an acronym for President of the United States.
Trump’s comments – and the reaction they generated on the far right – reiterated his call in last month’s debate that the Proud Boys, another far-right group, should “stand back and stand.” This line, from which Trump later sought to distance himself, started celebrations across social media among supporters of the male fringe group, who often engage in street violence.
QAnon, born in October 2017, has grown strongly in recent months, fueled by conspiracies related to vaccines and the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the movement’s sharpening focus on Trump’s re-election campaign. The upcoming election has increasingly become the focal point of the movement, which had seen its popularity skyrocket on the encrypted messaging app Telegram and on Facebook, according to studies by the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks political extremism.
“It is beyond words how much Donald Trump has lifted the domestic threat that is QAnon,” said Rita Katz, CEO of SITE. “I have never been more concerned about American democracy than I am now, and it is disturbing how much of this fear comes from the President himself.”
Although Facebook announced restrictions on QAnon in August, SITE’s research documented a sharp increase in the number of groups devoted to the conspiracy theory on Facebook and the number of members of those groups. Facebook tightened its restrictions on October 6 and introduced an almost total ban that would make it much harder for QAnon to organize and recruit on the site.
QAnon’s response to Trump’s comments could also be found on Instagram, the photo sharing company for Facebook, after the NBC event. A very circular meme, accompanied by hashtags associated with the conspiracy theory, showed an image of Guthrie altered to appear demonic with red eyes and called her a “Practicing Satanic Witch.”
The Coalition for a Safer Web, a nonprofit group that advocates technologies and policies to remove extremist content from social media, found that and other QAnon social media posts celebrating Trump’s comments.
“They love it,” said coalition president, former US ambassador to Morocco Marc Ginsberg. “There’s ricocheting everywhere.”
Much of the QAnon celebration of Trump’s comments was on Telegram channels based in Germany, one of several nations where the conspiracy theory born in the United States has increasingly taken root.
Trump’s comment in prime time was in line with rising offline signals about the conspiracy theory’s growing grip among his supporters. Liberal watchdog group Media Matters said Trump has amplified tweets from accounts linked to QAnon 258 times, most of which come since the coronavirus pandemic reached the United States this year, and that 80 Republican candidates for Congress have expressed support for some elements of the conspiracy theory. .
In August, the president’s re-election campaign accepted more than $ 1 million from a couple whose planned fundraiser in September – which they were scheduled to host Vice President Pence – was canceled after the Associated Press reported that they were vocal supporters of QAnon.
The contributions of Caryn and Michael Borland of Southern California are reflected in the campaign funding announcement released Thursday. Each of the retirees contributed about half a million dollars, and their son, who lists his profession as a “student,” contributed a similar amount, the filings show. The couple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Isaac Stanley-Becker contributed to this report.