President Donald Trump on Wednesday tentatively praised adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory movement, thrilling followers of a violent group the FBI has described as a domestic terror threat with what they saw as new encouragement from the White House.
The remarks came just hours after Facebook deleted hundreds of QAnon groups from its platform—where the conspiracy has long thrived—because it had “demonstrated significant risks to public safety.”
When a reporter pressed the president about the movement’s false belief that he is “secretly saving the world from this satanic cult of pedophiles and cannibals,” Trump instead played coy and even seemed to affirm the bogus QAnon belief that he’s leading a shadowy war against his child-molesting enemies.
“Well, I haven’t heard that,” Trump said. "But is that supposed to be a bad thing or a good thing? You know, if I can help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do it. I’m willing to put myself out there. And we are, actually.”
QAnon supporters have long hoped someone would ask Trump in detail about their beliefs at a White House briefing. His response came nowhere near clarifying that the conspiracy theory with him at its center is fake, and in a statement, Joe Biden campaign spokesperson Andrew Bates slammed the president for “again giving voice to violence.”
“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,” he said.
Meanwhile, QAnon chatter on social media platforms like Twitter exploded with excitement.
QAnon supporter Roy Davis, who co-authored a successful book promoting the conspiracy theory, told The Daily Beast that Trump’s remarks would be seen as validation for QAnon believers—and as potent evidence to win more converts.
“It’s going to gain more followers,” Davis said. "QAnon lives to fight another day.”
Rather than refute the ludicrous QAnon worldview, Trump described the movement as “gaining in popularity.”
“I don’t know much about the movement, other than that I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate,” Trump said.
He also said, of QAnon followers: “These are people that love our country.”
QAnon is premised on the idea that Trump will someday order mass arrests and executions of his political opponents, in a much-awaited mass purge QAnon believers call “The Storm.”
But QAnon believers’ dreams of violence aren’t confined to their message boards: Adherents have been linked to kidnapping and other violent crimes, including a terrorist incident at the Hoover Dam, and two murders.
At the same time, QAnon believers have gained some respectability within the GOP. Trump has invited QAnon believers to the White House and retweeted them, while former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn filmed himself taking the “QAnon oath.”
Last week, Trump readily embraced QAnon believer Marjorie Taylor Greene’s victory in a congressional primary runoff election in Georgia, which set the stage for a QAnon believer to win a seat in Congress.
With reporting by Sam Stein