Having winked at QAnon for years, Donald Trump is openly embracing the unsubstantiated conspiracy theory, even as the number of scary real-world events connected with it grows.
Using his Truth Social platform on Tuesday, the former Republican president reposted an image of himself wearing a Q pin superimposed with the words “The Storm is Coming.” In QAnon lore, the “storm” refers to Trump’s ultimate victory, when he allegedly regains power and his opponents will be tried and potentially executed on live television.
As Trump contemplates another race for the presidency and has become increasingly assertive in the Republican primary process during the mid-term elections, his actions show that, far from distancing himself from the political fringe, he is welcoming it.
He posted dozens of recent Q-related posts, as opposed to 2020, when he claimed that while he didn’t know much about QAnon, he couldn’t refute his conspiracy theory.
Pressed by QAnon’s theories that Trump is saving the nation from a satanic cult of pedophile traffickers, he claimed ignorance but asked, “Should that be a bad thing?”
“If I can help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do it,” Trump said.
Trump’s recent posts have included images referring to himself as a martyr battling criminals, psychopaths, and the so-called deep state. In a now-deleted post in late August, he re-posted a “q drop,” one of the cryptic bulletin board messages QAnon supporters claim came from an anonymous government employee with top secret clearance.
A Trump spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Even when his posts didn’t directly refer to the conspiracy theory, Trump amped up users who do. An Associated Press analysis found that out of nearly 75 accounts Trump reposted on his Truth Social profile in the past month, more than a third of them promoted QAnon by sharing slogans, videos, or motion pictures. About 1 in 10 include the language or QAnon links in their profile bios.
Earlier this month, Trump chose a QAnon song to close a rally in Pennsylvania. The same song appears in one of his recent campaign videos and is titled “WWG1WGA”, an acronym used as a rallying cry for Q’s followers which stands for “Where one go, we all go”.
Online, Q supporters have basked in Trump’s attention.
“Yes, haters!” wrote a commentator on an anonymous QAnon bulletin board. “Trump has rebuilt the Q memes. And he will do it again, over and over, over and over, until (asterisk) everyone (asterisk) finally gets it. Make fun of us as much as you want, whatever! Soon Q will be everywhere! “
“Trump sends Patriots a clear message,” wrote a QAnon account linked on Truth Social. “He re-verified this for a reason.”
The former president may seek solidarity with his staunchest supporters at a time when he faces increasing investigations and potential challengers within his own party, according to Mia Bloom, a Georgia State University professor who studied QAnon and recently wrote a book about the group.
“These are people who have elevated Trump to messiah status, where only he can stop this cabal,” Bloom told the AP on Thursday. “That’s why you see so many images (in QAnon online spaces) of Trump as Jesus.”
On Truth Social, accounts not affiliated with QA hail Trump as a hero and savior and slander President Joe Biden by likening him to Adolf Hitler or the devil. When Trump shares the content, they congratulate each other. Some reports proudly show how many times Trump has “re-checked” them in their bios.
Using their own language to address QAnon supporters directly, Trump is telling them that they have always been right and that he shares their secret mission, according to Janet McIntosh, a Brandeis University anthropologist who has studied the use of language and symbols from QAnon.
It also allows Trump to back up their beliefs and their hopes for a violent uprising without expressly saying so, he said, citing his recent “storm” post as a particularly frightening example.
“The ‘storm is coming’ is an abbreviation for something really dark that’s not saying out loud,” McIntosh said. “This is a way for him to indicate violence without explicitly calling it. He is the prince of plausible denial.”
Bloom predicted that Trump might later attempt to market Q-related products or perhaps ask QAnon followers to donate to his legal defense.
Regardless of the reason, Bloom said, it’s a reckless move fueling a dangerous move.
A growing list of criminal incidents has been linked to people who had voiced support for the conspiracy theory, which US intelligence officials have warned could spark more violence.
QAnon supporters were among those who violently stormed the Capitol during the failed uprising of January 6, 2021.
In November 2020, two men traveled to a vote-counting location in Philadelphia in a Hummer decorated with QAnon stickers and loaded with a shotgun, 100 rounds of ammunition, and other weapons. Prosecutors said they were trying to interfere with the election.
Last year, a California man who told authorities he was enlightened by QAnon was accused of killing his two sons because he believed they had snake DNA.
Last month, a Colorado woman was found guilty of attempting to kidnap her son from foster care after her daughter said she started dating QAnon supporters. Other adherents have been charged with environmental vandalism, shooting paintballs at military reservists, kidnapping a child in France and even killing a New York City mob boss.
On Sunday, police shot to death a Michigan man who, according to them, had killed his wife and seriously injured his daughter. A surviving daughter told The Detroit News that she believes her father was motivated by QAnon.
“I think he was always prone to (mental problems), but it really knocked him down when he read all that weird stuff on the internet,” he told the newspaper.
That same weekend, a Pennsylvania man who reposted QAnon’s content on Facebook was arrested after allegedly accusing a Dairy Queen with a gun, saying he wanted to kill all Democrats and bring Trump back to power.
Major social media platforms including YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter have banned content associated with QAnon and suspended or blocked accounts trying to spread it. This has forced much of the group’s activities onto platforms that have less restraint, including Telegram, Gab, and Trump’s troubled platform, Truth Social.