Trump and QAnon: One degree of separation

A man holds up a "Q" sign while waiting to see President Trump at a 2018 rally. (Photo: Rick Loomis/Getty Images)

As Yahoo News reported Thursday, an internal FBI memo has identified the fringe conspiracy theory group QAnon as a domestic terrorist threat. Just two days earlier, President Trump posted messages on Twitter promoting two accounts linked to the shadowy network.

On Tuesday, Trump tagged the user @Voteridplease, whose account often promotes QAnon conspiracy theories when promoting stricter voter ID laws.

Later that same day, the president retweeted a post from another QAnon supporter identified as Lynn Thomas, who posted a graphic that called Democrats “THE TRUE ENEMIES OF AMERICA!”

A Twitter account linking itself to QAnon celebrated the president’s attention.

But hours after Trump’s retweet, Twitter suspended the account purported to belong to Thomas, saying the user had violated the site’s terms of service. In the past week, the account had pushed a QAnon conspiracy theory claiming that Democrats murdered and ate children.

Trump himself was mentioned in an FBI Intelligence Bulletin obtained by Yahoo News that explains the origins of the QAnon phenomenon. According to the memo, the group’s mythical founder, purportedly a former U.S. government official known as Q, “posts classified information online to reveal a covert effort, led by President Trump, to dismantle a conspiracy involving ‘deep state’ actors and global elites allegedly engaged in an international child sex trafficking ring.”

In a 2018 interview with the Yahoo News podcast “Bots & Ballots,” Washington Post senior editor Marc Fisher further explained the crossover between Trump and QAnon.

Trump supporters displaying QAnon posters at a 2018 rally. (Photo: Thomas O'Neill/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

“You see an uptick in these kinds of conspiracy theories and a willingness in people to believe that the system is rigged against them,” Fisher said. “This was at the core of Trump’s message in the 2016 campaign.”

To be clear, Trump has never publicly praised Q or the group of people drawn to the conspiracy theories shared on the site, but at virtually every Trump rally since the 2016 election, attendees have been seen with QAnon signage and branded clothing.

In addition to promoting Twitter accounts linked to the group, Trump invited what might be called Q-curious members of the right-wing media to the White House in June for a social media summit, including radio host Bill Mitchell.

Last August, Michael Lebron, one of the promoters of QAnon on YouTube, posted a photo of himself in the Oval Office with Trump. While it is unclear whether Trump knew of Lebron’s affinity for QAnon, or of the group’s cavalcade of conspiracy theories, in a video he posted to YouTube about the White House visit, Lebron said, “I think we all know he knows about it.”

Reached for comment by CNN, former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said that Lebron was part of “a large group [that] came through the White House for a brief tour and a photo."

Like QAnon supporters, Trump has routinely railed against what he calls the “deep state” plot to overturn his presidency, as he did in July when celebrating a court victory in a case challenging his business practices since taking office.

As the FBI’s Intelligence Bulletin explains, conspiracy theories like the ones circulated by QAnon “attempt to explain events or circumstances as the result of a group of actors working in secret to benefit themselves at the expense of others.”

For a president who has stoked the belief that former President Barack Obama was not born in the United States and that climate change is actually a Chinese hoax, that description rings all too true.

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