Politics

The Point: This is one of the most dangerous things Trump has done as president

Asked by a reporter about QAnon, a conspiracy group that has been labeled a potential domestic terrorism threat by the FBI, Trump said this:
“Well, I don’t know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate. But I don’t know much about the movement. I have heard that it is gaining in popularity and from what I hear it’s — these are people that — they watch the streets of Portland — when they watch what happened in New York City in just the last six or seven months, but this was starting even four years ago when I came here. Almost four years, can you believe it?
“These are people that don’t like seeing what’s going on in places like Portland, and places like Chicago, and New York and other cities and states. And I’ve heard these are people that love our country and they just don’t like seeing it.”
Trump’s comments come just days after he tweeted praise of Laura Loomer, a far-right extremist who has proudly embraced being called an “Islamophobe,” for her victory in a Republican primary in Florida’s 21st district. And just a week after Trump lauded — again via Twitter — a runoff win by Marjorie Taylor Greene in Georgia’s 14th district. Greene has been openly supportive of QAnon — and has, among, other things, warned of an “Islamic invasion” in the wake of the 2018 election.
What, specifically, is Trump associating himself with when he says nice things about QAnon, you ask?
A baseless conspiracy theory organized around the idea that “Q,” a supposed high-level government official that some believe is Trump himself, is sprinkling clues on internet message boards about a series of massive “deep state” conspiracies at work in the country. Q followers believe, among other things, that Trump was recruited by the military to run for president in 2016 because he alone wasn’t beholden to the secret power brokers of the world, and could break the hold that they have on American society. And that the likes of Hillary Clinton will be rounded up in a mass arrest for alleged crimes against society. (While QAnon is not responsible for the Pizzagate conspiracy — the appalling and incorrect idea that Clinton and her cronies were involved in a pedophilia ring at a pizza shop in Northwest Washington — there’s considerable overlap among the two belief groups.)
Those beliefs — and the online threats of violence common among QAnon supporters — led Facebook on Wednesday to put a series of strictures on thousands of pages and Instagram accounts with ties to the conspiracy group.
QAnon is also much more than a harmless group of Internet trolls playing their own version of political “Dungeons and Dragons.” In June 2018, a man armed with a rifle blocked traffic at the Hoover Dam demanding the release of a supposed “secret” report from the Office of the Inspector General that would break open the “deep state” cabal in the government. That was a theory heavily promoted on QAnon message boards.
Trump has been flirting with QAnon for some time, although he had not offered such a public endorsement prior to Wednesday night. He has retweeted LOTS of QAnon-linked accounts — and supporters of the movement are forever sifting through his tweets and public pronouncements for evidence that he is sending signals to them.
The simplest explanation for Trump’s willingness to embrace a group like QAnon? He likes anyone who likes him. He said as much on Wednesday: “Well, I don’t know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate.”
Trump has a long history of being willing to support anyone who supports him no matter how controversial the individual or group’s view. Heck, Trump even waffled on flatly rejecting the endorsement of KKK leader David Duke during the 2016 campaign.
“I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists,” Trump said initially when asked whether he would disavow Duke’s support. “So I don’t know. I don’t know — did he endorse me, or what’s going on? Because I know nothing about David Duke; I know nothing about white supremacists.” Trump later blamed a bad earpiece for not being able to hear the question properly. Uh huh.
Even if you accept that Trump really has no clue, then, about QAnon and what it believes and is simply saying nice things about people who say nice things about him — and that is, BY FAR, the most charitable explanation here — that still doesn’t forgive what he is doing here or lessen the danger of his words.
The presidency is the most powerful office in the country — and maybe in the world. The words of a president can move markets. The words of a president can change the course of an election. And the words of a president, in this case, can provide not just cover for but encouragement of a group that, again, has been designated as a potential domestic terrorism threat by none other than the FBI.
The President of the United States has now said that he thinks a group of violent conspiracy theorists are “people who love our country” and are a sort of antidote to the protests and violence in major cities in the country.
It’s stunning — even for Trump. And it’s extremely dangerous because it emboldens people who have already shown a willingness to act on their wild conspiracy theories in violent ways. Extremely dangerous.