Roy “Captain Roy D” Davis has devoted much of the last three years to the QAnon conspiracy theory, writing books pitching the concept to new fans and getting his car repainted with an enormous “Q” on the hood. Through it all, he’s been utterly convinced that former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn—a central figure to much of the Q community—was the victim of an anti-Trump cabal orchestrated by the leaders of the deep state. He corresponded with other Flynn supporters following his legal case, and donated proceeds from one of his books to Flynn’s legal fund.
So when Davis saw on Thursday that the Justice Department would drop its charges against Flynn for lying to the FBI, Davis was euphoric.
“He’s a hero of mine,” Davis said. “I wouldn’t do all of these things just out of the blue.”
Davis isn’t alone. The decision Thursday to drop charges against Flynn has sparked concerns about the politicization of the Justice Department among Trump critics, not least because the former general had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his talks with Russian officials. But it also prompted a celebration on the right, with the reaction especially intense for believers in QAnon, the bizarre pro-Trump conspiracy that regularly inspires violent plots in the real world.
For QAnon believers, the latest development in the Flynn case isn’t just a win for a Trump ally, it’s proof that the ludicrous world they’ve created in their heads—in which Barack Obama is poised to be imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay and Donald Trump is rescuing children from dungeons with the help of a mysterious cluemaster named “Q”—is, in fact, real.
“It’s vindication — he’s exonerated, it’s proof that Q is real and Trump and Q are in control,” said Mike Rothschild, a journalist who tracks the evolution of QAnon. “It’s all part of this mythology that they’ve cooked up.”
QAnon believers have long been fascinated by Flynn, who’s positioned as exactly the kind of hard-charging operative beloved by their community. They’ve adorned their Twitter handles with three star emojis, in a nod to Flynn’s rank as a retired three-star general. They took a throwaway reference Flynn once made about United States cyberwarfare teams as “digital soldiers” as a reference to QAnon. And they’ve adopted the “digital soldiers” identity to describe QAnon fans who sit at their computers reading conspiracy theories.
In QAnon-world, Flynn didn’t plead guilty to lying to the FBI and then choose to cooperate with then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller to avoid additional charges and a longer prison term. Instead, he did it to spy on Mueller.
“Flynn is kind of like this undercover hero,” said Rothschild. “The whole idea there is that he pleaded guilty, so that he could get inside the Mueller investigation, so he could seed it with lies and misdirection. He could do the work of the Q team from the inside.”
The DOJ’s decision to drop its charges against Flynn occasioned a post from “Q,” the anonymous person or group of people whose internet clues have riled up so many QAnon believers. The post, illustrated with an American flag and encouragement to “LET FREEDOM RING!”, kicked off a day of celebration for QAnon fans who were convinced that the development was the ultimate “QProof”—QAnon slang for evidence that the ridiculous claims made by QAnon are real.
That could be a problem, given that the conspiracy theory has inspired multiple QAnon believers to allegedly commit violent crimes, including two murders, a terrorist incident near the Hoover Dam, two child kidnapping plots, and, most recently, a plot to murder former Vice President Joe Biden.
Like Trump and Vincent Fusca, the Trump supporter many QAnon believers have convinced themselves is secretly the late John F. Kennedy Jr., Flynn is one of the few people QAnon has fixated on for a non-malevolent reason. But Flynn has a complicated relationship with his place in the QAnon mythos.
He’s never publicly addressed his starring role in the QAnon narrative, or the faction of QAnon believers who think he is the mysterious “Q.” Flynn was set to headline at a “Digital Soldiers” QAnon conference last year, but pulled out after his appearance was publicized.
Flynn’s own family has been divided over the conspiracy theory, with his brother and sister tweeting QAnon references while his son, Michael Flynn Jr., has denounced QAnon after having once promoted the Pizzagate conspiracy theory that Democrats ran a child sex dungeon in the basement of a Washington pizzeria.
“Stop with the conspiracy theories,” the younger Flynn implored his followers on Twitter.
Whatever comes next for Flynn, Rothschild expects that QAnon supporters will continue to idolize him.
“He’s the wronged hero,” Rothschild said.