QAnon followers read the tea leaves in Donald Trump's CPAC speech

The QAnon netherworld was abuzz with excitement after former President Donald Trump spoke Sunday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida. The movement devoted to a variety of conspiracy theories is spreading the notion that Trump will be reinstated as president on March 4 -- this Thursday. CBSN technology reporter Dan Patterson joins "CBSN AM" to talk about the latest from the increasingly mainstream QAnon universe.

Video Transcript

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: A former congressional candidate seemed to support an investigation into a QAnon conspiracy theory on stage at CPAC in Florida yesterday. During a panel discussion, Angela Stanton-King cited QAnon's claims that liberal elites are pedophiles. It was a rare public endorsement of a phenomenon that is usually found in the dark shadows of the internet.

And later that day, Q adherents in online forums and chat rooms keenly bored over and picked apart former President Trump's speech. So let us talk more about this, talk about the CPAC and QAnon and all of that stuff. I want to bring in Dan Patterson. Dan is a CBSN technology reporter, and he's been following this story for us.

And Dan, I mean, one of the things that you have sort of been keeping an ear to, if you will, is, you know, the conversations that happen online. And what I've learned from you in our previous conversations is, you know, whether these people are overt QAnon adherents or just people who maybe not even aware that some of the things that they're picking up on, have come from QAnon conspiracy theories, they have been watching the president all along for any hints of what their next move should be. Looking for instructions, if you will.

And so, of course, I imagine they were really tuning in to the president's first speech, first public speech since he left office, the former president. First of all, how did the QAnon online community sort of react when former President Trump gave his speech?

DAN PATTERSON: Yeah, good to see you, Anne-Marie. And you make an incredibly important point. Many of the baseless theories that are at the heart of QAnon are filtered out to more mainstream social networks by using softer language that then pulls people further into the conspiracy.

Watching QAnon chat rooms, and I was primarily in Telegram rooms, but I was also in the dark web and a few other channels, in one word, the reaction was gleeful. But another word is violent. And I don't mean that the reactions were alluded to violence.

Let me read one meme that was shared across a Telegram chat room that had close to 90,000 followers. If the BS doesn't come to a halt, you will see 83 million gun owners walk out of their homes like this. And it features a gentleman in fatigues with an automatic rifle.

So the QAnon reaction to Trump was the same that we saw throughout the Trump presidency. He is the center of this conspiracy, and he amplifies this conspiracy. They worship him in ways that are not Democratic but resemble cultish types of behavior.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: You know, often, QAnon believers look for specific phrases or hand gestures or just hints, sort of tidbits that they often breathe-- interpret in a way that is perhaps much more than what they actually are. Did you hear anything or see anything in Donald Trump's speech that you thought, well, that's, like, directly something that QAnon would grab on to?

DAN PATTERSON: Well, you know, a lot like numerology, QAnon kind of looks for these symbols and they use gestures and specific keywords to kind of validate their beliefs, whether they are intentional or not. And we have seen former President Trump dog whistle and signal to QAnon kind of overtly in the past. During Mr. Trump's speech, we didn't see anything overt.

Although, again, the QAnon chat rooms certainly saw all sorts of symbols. And they used these to kind of further the dates which the conspiracy will come true. And to kind of, again, amplify a lot of the baseless things that they use as tenets of this conspiracy.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: So listen, March 4 has come up recently over and over again with QAnon adherents. There's this feeling that sort of a misinterpretation of history, I think, or maybe it's not a misinterpretation, that March 4 is kind of the true inauguration date. But, you know, what can you tell us about what QAnon adherents may be thinking about March 4 based on what they heard coming from the president?

DAN PATTERSON: Well, I don't want to amplify a lot of the, again, baseless details that go into March 4, that it surrounds a whole bunch of different conspiracies about the US being in corporations instead of a democracy. But get it, March 4, march forward, March 4. But the media has, and many who cover-- like myself, who cover disinformation, have kind of picked up and reported on this March 4 date.

And then QAnon sees, in their chat rooms, they see that the media is talking about this. And they say, hey, the media, the evil media is talking about this date, so let's shift it again. So you remember a moment ago where I talked about the ability of this group to kind of change definitions and move their particular dates into the future, this is something that we see all sorts of different groups due to kind of justify-- at least historically, a lot of religious groups would use this to kind of justify when the rapture was coming or some dates that ended up not happening. QAnon does the same thing.

And the important thing here is to remember that these keep the conspiracy alive until Mr. Trump, in their feeling, announces his second run. At that point, they'll abandon all of these. Or it seems as though they'll abandon all of these days and just get back on the Trump train. The important thing to remember is that all of these dates and the different symbols, they just keep this movement alive.

And there's a lot of people who benefit, financially benefit, from keeping this movement alive. I point you to the various vendors at CPAC this past weekend selling all sorts of pro Trump and QAnon stuff. Look, there's just a gray market or a secondary market of people who do make a lot of cash on QAnon.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: That is a great reminder, Dan. Thank you very much. People got to be getting something out of it, right?

DAN PATTERSON: It's great to see you. Yeah.