Pro-Trump media personalities are scrambling to prevent the QAnon conspiracy theory from catching on with the GOP grassroots, after a Trump rally last week brought the bizarre movement to mainstream attention.
The pundits are starting to worry that QAnon supporters — who believe in outlandish claims outlined in anonymous internet posts that Trump is engaged in a good-versus-evil struggle against a global pedophile cabal — will be used by Democrats and the media to make all Trump voters look crazy. Already, QAnon supporters are showing up at Trump rallies.
Lee Stranahan, a former Breitbart reporter who now hosts a radio show at Russian-owned Sputnik, said he has struggled to convince QAnon believers that their theory is fake.
“It’s not just dumb, it’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen,” Stranahan told The Daily Beast. “It’s unprecedentedly dumb in the history of American politics.”
So far, though, it’s not clear that the pushback from the various pro-Trump personalities will dissuade anyone. Their tweets attacking QAnon are often besieged with replies from fans who believe in QAnon and are now shocked to see that their political heroes don’t.
Further complicating the effort, the pro-Trump figures now trying to fight QAnon have often embraced equally outlandish conspiracy theories themselves. And everyone involved supports Trump, who built his political career pushing the conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was actually born in Kenya.
The QAnon pushback kicked off in earnest over the weekend, with various prominent Trump supporters attacking the conspiracy theory. Jacob Wohl, a young Trump supporter who has built a following on Twitter, declared that QAnon was “complete and utter nonsense.” Conservative columnist Kurt Schlichter called the theory “vaguely entertaining nonsense.” In a Reddit post, former White House press secretary Sean Spicer shot down a question about whether QAnon was “legit” with a one-word reply: “no.”
Scott Adams, the Dilbert creator who positioned himself as a pro-Trump thought leader, said in a video Sunday that QAnon believers were making all Trump supporters look “like a bunch of idiots.”
“Maybe do it a little quieter, because it’s not helping the brand,” Adams said.
QAnon supporters often posit that former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who is cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, is somehow involved in Q. But on Monday, Flynn’s son joined in the chorus of pro-Trump figures slamming QAnon.
“While I’ve been mentioned alongside the #QAnon hashtag before, I’ve never taken it seriously,” Michael Flynn Jr. tweeted. “And you shouldn’t either.”
Flynn was soon deluged with angry QAnon fans. “I will hold my tongue, out of respect for your father,” wrote one Twitter user.
The internal GOP pushback even included an attempt to debunk Q. Jack Posobiec, a reporter for the conservative One American News Network, claimed without much evidence that he had found the originator of QAnon and was working on a piece “debunking” the whole conspiracy theory. Like Flynn, Posobiec was soon awash in hundreds of disappointed QAnon believers accusing him of being part of a deep-state plot.
The QAnon pushback from the right appears to have been sparked less by concern about the conspiracy theory itself and more by mainstream media stories that exposed the bizarre beliefs of QAnon believers.
Posobiec, for example, has previously been more sympathetic to QAnon fans, tweeting the group’s slogan, “Where we go one, we go all,” and referencing “the original Q.” Posobiec has since deleted those tweets.
But many of the pro-Trump figures now attacking QAnon have pushed conspiracy theories themselves. Both Flynn and Posobiec promoted Pizzagate, the conspiracy theory about a pedophile ring in a Washington, D.C. pizzeria that climaxed with an armed man storming the restaurant. Now that Pizzagate, like many other conspiracy theories, has been folded into QAnon, they’re struggling to stop it.
Stranahan, who has sparred with QAnon believers over Twitter for months, said QAnon is the latest example of Trump supporters falling for a Pizzagate-style conspiracy theory.
“I view this as the next rung on the ladder to hell,” Stranahan said.