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False QAnon Conspiracies in Politics: Trump Embraces QAnon at Rally

a truck with a trailer filled with multiple flags supporting donald trump and qanon
Q is back. 
Getty Images

What's happening

QAnon beliefs continue to poison politics. Now Donald Trump seems to be making open use of the fringe movement.

Why it matters

The debunked conspiracy theory will be in play during the midterm elections, but that doesn't mean you have to fall for it.

QAnon is the conspiracy theory that falsely claims former President Donald Trump fought a hidden war against a cabal of Satanist pedophiles in Hollywood and the Democratic Party while he was in the White House. It appears that Trump -- who said in 2020 he didn't know much about QAnon -- has now adopted the movement. 

On Truth Social, the social media platform that he owns, Trump regularly promotes content from QAnon believers including a post from Sept. 12 showing a graphic of him wearing a Q lapel pin. The image also includes a phrase commonly used by believers in the conspiracy theory -- "The storm is coming" -- and the abbreviation "WWG1WGA," which refers to the Q slogan "Where we go one, we go all."

a graphic of donald trump wearing a Q lapel pin on his suit with the word the storm is coming displayed over the image

A post on Truth Social promoted by Trump.

Truth Social.

Belief in the conspiracy theory's ridiculous claims, which originated back in 2017, continue to infect politics, and that could have serious ramifications in the midterm elections. The nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute, a nonprofit that researches the intersection of religion, culture and public policy, released a study in February showing that nearly 16% of Americans believe the core QAnon conspiracy theory

"QAnon has evolved from a movement centered around Trump leading a secret military intelligence operation to save the world, into a movement that not only doesn't need Trump but doesn't even need the iconography it developed over the past four years," said Mike Rothschild, conspiracy researcher and author of The Storm Is Upon Us, which provides a history of the QAnon conspiracy theory.

Conspiracy theories can be dangerous and even deadly, as seen during the COVID-19 pandemic as vaccine misinformation led to some people succumbing to the virus. Despite being repeatedly debunked, belief in the QAnon conspiracy theory continues to infect areas of politics beyond Trump. So far this year, aspects of the QAnon have seeped into protests, a Supreme Court hearing and legislation.

"Its mythology of secret pedophile rings, suppressed cures and technology, massive corruption and fraud propelling a [purportedly] decrepit Joe Biden into office and COVID being a hoax, have infected every aspect of mainstream conservative politics and culture," Rothschild added.

It doesn't help that the mysterious figure Q broke 18 months of silence and reemerged on June 24. With the midterm elections approaching in November, the conspiracy theory is likely to continue popping up in campaigns and on social media feeds. Being able to recognize its influence may make it easier to spot, and avoid, in the future. 

Here are some of the current events that QAnon has latched onto, some obvious and others less so. 

Trump embraces QAnon 

Along with promoting QAnon posts on Truth Social, Trump began using a song at his rallies that is very similar to a song used in QAnon videos. As the music played at his Ohio rally on Saturday, those in attendance began holding up one finger in what appears to be a salute to Trump. 

Trump's representatives didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.  

Truth Social becomes a hub for QAnon

In late 2021, Trump said he would start a new social media platform called Truth Social. It launched in early 2022, and while the former president didn't post on it for months, he has made heavy use of it especially since the FBI search on his estate, Mar-a-Lago, on Aug. 8. 

The promotion of QAnon appears to be part of the stategy for Truth Social. A researcher tweeted in August how the Q account on the platform was created a day before Trump's account. 

Newsguard, a media watchdog, found that Truth Social verified 47 users accounts that promoted QAnon content. A total of 88 who made Q posts had more than 10,000 followers, and 32 of those accounts were previously banned on Twitter. 

Midterm elections

In 2020, almost 100 candidates who expressed support for QAnon ran for office. The two most prominent candidates who won their races were Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Republican from Colorado, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican from Georgia. 

This year, so far, there are 78 candidates running for office in 28 states who believe in QAnon, according to Grid News. As more primaries take place, the number of Q candidates dropped off with 15, so far, victorious in their primaries

One primary race had an interesting candidate who just happens to be the person allegedly responsible for posting as the mysterious figure. Ron Watkins is the former site administrator for the anonymous board 8chan and, as laid out in the Q: Into the Storm documentary series, the person purportedly responsible for many of the Q drops (he denies it). Watkins gained prominence among Republicans following the 2020 presidential election, when he repeated claims of election fraud, which have since been debunked. He confirmed that he received a subpoena in early June to testify in front of the Jan. 6 committee. He has yet to make an appearance. 

Watkins' campaign in the Republican primary for Arizona's 2nd congressional district seat ended Tuesday when he came in last place, with 1,952 votes, according to Ballotpedia

Another candidate who has in the past supported QAnon, Doug Mastriano, is running to be governor of Pennsylvania. Mastriano won the Republican nomination on May 17. He tweeted multiple times in 2018 with QAnon hashtags and slogans. He'll go up against Democrat candidate Josh Shapiro in November. 

On July 20, Maryland State Delegate Dan Cox won the GOP nomination for the governor's race. Outgoing Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan referred to Cox last year as a "QAnon whack job." 

Cox's running mate for lieutenant governor is Gordana Schifanelli. She also posted on social media showing her support for QAnon

A QAnon influencer who goes by the name Juan O. Savin -- an alias intended to sound similar to James Bond's codename "007" --  is working on a coalition to get Q faithful candidates into the secretary of state offices in South Carolina, Colorado and Nevada, according to a report from Media Matters. The 2020 presidential elections and false claims of voter fraud made Americans more aware of the responsibilities of the position of secretary of state. In many states, this is the official who helps determine whether an election had voter fraud issues. 

Durham investigation

In May 2019, Attorney General Bill Barr ordered an investigation into the 2016 presidential election and tapped US Attorney John Durham to lead it. Many QAnon followers viewed this investigation as part of the "storm" that would lead to arrests of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others within the Democratic National Committee. One of the last messages from Q in 2020 had only one word: Durham

Michael Sussmann, a cybersecurity lawyer who worked with Clinton's campaign in 2016, was indicted by Durham in September 2021 for allegedly lying to the FBI. A jury acquitted him of the charge on May 31.

Both Trump and Q followers shared their dismay at the US legal system after the acquittal was announced. Some also began to spin the decision to support the false conspiracy.  

Durham's investigation appears to be nearing an end, according a report from the New York Times on Sept. 14. A grand jury for hearing evidence has expired and there appear to be no plans to convene another. 

Jan. 6 committee hearing reveals Trump's QAnon inner circle 

The House select committee investigating the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol began holding public hearings in June, looking at Trump's actions leading up to the day of the riot. A July 12 hearing focused on a fiery meeting Trump had at the White House on Dec. 18, 2020. In attendance along with White House staff were former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne, former National Security Adviser Gen. Mike Flynn and former federal prosecutor Sidney Powell. The three are associated with the Q movement.  

Byrne was a Trump supporter, and weeks after the 2020 presidential election, he appeared on various QAnon shows claiming he had proof of the election being stolen. Flynn also showed his support for the conspiracy theory in 2020 when he uploaded a video of himself and his family reciting an oath created by Q. Powell was an attorney for Flynn in his criminal case and had given subtle hints of her support for QAnon

The three, along with former Trump attorney Rudy Guiliani, advised Trump to call a national emergency and seize voting machines, which they falsely claimed had been compromised. Their suggestions countered those of former White House officials who had little reason to doubt the election was conducted fairly, leading to a screaming match between the two groups. 

The return of Q

On Dec. 8, 2020, Q made what many people thought would be a final post. But on June 24 the account began posting again on 8kun, formerly known as 8chan

The three posts made by the Q account consisted of the same sort of cryptic verbiage used previously. Another post was made on June 28 referencing Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to then White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Hutchinson testified in front of the Jan. 6 committee the same day

War in Ukraine 

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, Russia has been using misinformation to try to justify Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to go to war. Both Facebook and Twitter have called out Russia for its disinformation efforts. One false narrative touted by Russia early in the invasion was that Ukraine had supposedly been developing bioweapons, a conspiracy theory that was floated by QAnon believers months earlier. 

Posts from conspiracy theorists in 2021 claimed falsely that Biden and his son, Hunter, were part of a plot to develop bioweapons in foreign countries, according to Media Matters. One of the countries mentioned was Ukraine. 

Days before Russia began spreading misinformation about biolabs, a conspiracy theory Twitter account shared the false claim about the labs in Ukraine. It began circulating in QAnon circles, and then quickly spread to other right-wing forums and was amplified by conservative media including Fox News' Tucker Carlson. Eventually, both Russia and China began running with the narrative of the Ukraine biolabs. 

Claims of bioweapons being made in Ukraine have been proven false. The US and Ukraine do have a treaty to prevent the development of bioweapons in labs that were created when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. 

Trump's potential return to Twitter 

In April, Elon Musk agreed to buy Twitter for $44 billion. (In July, though, the Tesla CEO said he wants out of the deal -- prompting a lawsuit from Twitter.) Earlier, Musk had said that if he did acquire Twitter, he'd remove the platform's ban on Trump. The former president's account was banned by Twitter days after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot

This news sent some QAnon believers into a fervor on various social media platforms where they congregate, such as Gab and Telegram. 

They suggested Trump's possible return to Twitter was predicted by Q in 2017 and would be a sign the former president was about to confirm a crackdown on the fictional cabal. Like the entire QAnon conspiracy, this is completely false.

It's unclear if Trump would return to Twitter if allowed. The former president would reportedly be obligated to post first to his own social media platform before sharing things on other sites. 

Supreme Court hearing

The US Senate in June confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for the Supreme Court by a vote of 53-47. She'll replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, who stepped down on June 30 at the end of the judicial term. 

Jackson's confirmation hearing was expected to be a political circus. Some Republican senators questioned her judicial decisions, while also appearing to make subtle references to QAnon.

Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, attempted to portray Jackson as having a soft record in cases involving sexual offenders who targeted children. His attacks were considered misleading. Other Republican senators -- including Lindsey Graham from South Carolina, Tom Cotton from Arkansas and Ted Cruz from Texas -- followed suit in declaring Jackson was lenient to pedophiles. In reality, her record is on par with other judges who tried similar cases

QAnon believers took to social media platforms such as Telegram and Truth Social, posting messages supporting the Republican senators pursuing these attacks and denouncing Jackson. The Q faithful viewed these senators to be in support of their conspiracy that Democrats were part of a pedophile cabal and turned a blind eye to child sex crimes. 

Trucker convoy/anti-vax

At the start of the year, a group of anti-vaxxers in Canada formed a movement to occupy the country's capital over vaccine requirements, using semi-trucks. The trucker convoy lasted weeks as trucks camped out in Ottawa before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made use of emergency powers to force the removal of the protestors. 

In March, a similar protest happened in the US with the goal of reaching Washington, DC. This version got much less attention and support, in part due to the beginning of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. 

QAnon believers played a role in both the protests. COVID vaccine misinformation runs rampant in the Q communities, and that misinformation begins infecting other right-wing groups. Trucks and other vehicles in both the US and Canada were adorned with QAnon logos and slogans. 

Disney protest

Florida's Parental Rights in Education bill, also referred to by opponents as the "Don't Say Gay Bill," was signed into state law in March. Disney employees protested the company's lack of action on the bill's passage, which in turn led the company to say it'll work to repeal the law

This drew the ire of Republican state legislators who passed a bill to remove Disney's special tax status in April. The Mickey Mouse company also became the target of QAnon believers. 

Protests at the entrance of Disney World in Orlando, Florida, started in April. Those protesting chanted and carried signs referring to Disney World as "Pedo World" and the slogan "OK, groomer," which is a take on the "OK, boomer" meme. 

QAnon believers not only supported these protests but also began spreading misinformation about the company and its CEO, Bob Chapek. This included exaggerating losses the company experienced due to the protests and false claims that Chapek was arrested for human trafficking and child pornography. The claims about Chapek and his arrest are completely bogus