Former Trump strategist Steve Bannon had a message for his podcast listeners on Tuesday, and for adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory it wasn’t very subtle.
“It’s gonna be a storm,” Bannon said. He was speaking of the closing weeks of the election but using the very same imagery QAnon believers use to describe their dream of Trump arresting and executing his political foes. “The storm clouds are around the Biden camp. The storm clouds are around the Biden camp. A gathering storm.”
For those who may have thought it was just a slip of the tongue, Bannon dispelled any doubt the next day. Speaking once more on his podcast, he claimed that at least parts of QAnon, which posits that Satanic cannibal-pedophile elites in the Democratic Party who drink children’s blood will soon be executed at Trump’s orders, are true.
“How are they not at least, at least an aspect of their argument, at least appears, directionally to be correct?” Bannon asked, while pushing unverified claims that a laptop that supposedly belonged to Hunter Biden was filled with illegal images. The tenets of QAnon, he posited, were “the elephant in the room.”
With less than two weeks before Election Day and Trump lagging in the polls, some of the president’s most prominent allies are going all in on QAnon, while Trump and other top supporters refuse to denounce the conspiracy theory. It is, at its most innocent, a crass political calculation designed to keep a relatively modest though loud and influential chunk of the party’s base engaged. At its worst, critics warn, it’s a green light of acceptance to dangerous conspiracy theorists and a normalization of their beliefs.
And it’s coming from the top. At his NBC town hall last week, Trump refused to disavow QAnon, which the FBI considers a potential source of domestic terrorism. On Sunday, Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel sidestepped a question from ABC host George Stephanopoulos on whether she would denounce QAnon, saying only that it was “not part of our party” and a “fringe group.”
In the Georgia special election Senate race, two Republican candidates are competing for their own QAnon endorsements. Sen. Kelly Loefler (R-GA) touted the backing of Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican and outspoken QAnon supporter who’s set to win a House seat in Congress in November.
Loefler’s challenger, Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), meanwhile rushed out his endorsement from former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, a hero to QAnon believers, who recently took the QAnon oath with members of his family.
The courtship of Q has, at times, been covert. In September, House Republicans’ campaign arm launched an ad falsely accusing Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) of supporting pedophiles, in what was seen as a wink and a nod to Q followers. While Trumpworld has not condemned the movement, they also haven’t wanted to be tied to them publicly. NBC video from a Trump rally in North Carolina on Wednesday showed a Trump campaign worker listing off the types of clothing at the event, including “no QAnon attire.”
But the ties have grown stronger as the election has neared. And nothing has proven to be more of a nexus for the GOP’s QAnon conspiracy-mongering than Hunter Biden’s supposed laptops. After initially focusing on emails about the younger Biden’s business ties, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani has recently begun claiming that the laptop contains images of lurid, illegal pictures of underage women.
“I was very uncomfortable with this, and I’m very uncomfortable with the fact that these underaged girls were not protected,” Giuliani said.
The unverified claims about Biden’s laptop are a near-identical echo of an earlier conspiracy theory embraced by QAnon and Pizzagate supporters about former Rep. Anthony Weiner's (D-NY) laptop. In that story, Weiner's laptop featured a video of Hillary Clinton and aide Huma Abedin abusing children, in scenes so gruesome that NYPD officers who viewed it eventually killed themselves.
The information on Hunter Biden’s laptop was so damaging, Giuliani claimed, he turned the data over the Delaware State Police. But the state police said they had passed the issue over to the FBI, citing “ongoing questions about the credibility of these claims.”
Undeterred, Trump allies have even tried to suggest that Hunter Biden associates who have since criticized him might be murdered, focusing on the case of former Hunter Biden business partner Bevan Cooney.
Cooney, who’s currently in a federal prison in Oregon, reportedly gave Bannon associate Peter Schweizer access to his email account so Schweizer could access emails about Hunter Biden’s business dealings. On Tuesday night, Schweizer claimed that Cooney had been removed from his prison cell—with the implication being that he wasn’t safe there.
One America News personality Emerald Robinson went further, claiming on Twitter that Cooney had been moved “for his own protection by federal authorities.”
“For his own personal safety and security, they’re going to move him to another location,” former NYPD chief and Giuliani associate Bernie Kerik said Wednesday on Bannon’s podcast.
But no request has been made by either the government or Cooney’s attorney to move him for his safety, a move that would be required before he would be moved into protective custody, according to a person familiar with Cooney’s legal defense. If Cooney had been moved, according to that person, it would have been because of a COVID-19 quarantine, not because a Breitbart-reading fellow prisoner threatened Cooney’s safety.
Still, Giuliani and his allies have kept up their conspiratorial musings about the Bidens, even as other conservatives beg them to focus the president on issues that are more relevant to voters. On Wednesday morning, Giuliani appeared on Bannon’s podcast for more dark insinuations about what Bannon has dubbed the “hard drive from hell.”
A few hours after his podcast appearance, Giuliani was faced with a sex scandal of his own, after reports that the new Borat movie featuring comedian Sacha Baron Cohen showed Giuliani with his hands down in his pants in front of a woman posing as a conservative journalist.
Giuliani later claimed he was only tucking his shirt in. Later, he tried to reprogram the news by insisting more lurid Hunter Biden material was coming.