As the Republican National Convention gets underway this week, we look at how the party has openly embraced the far-right conspiracy theory known as QAnon, which claims, among other things, that President Trump is secretly at war with a deep state cabal of Satan-worshiping elites who run a child sex trafficking operation. Trump has retweeted messages from supporters of the conspiracy theory and recently spoke publicly about it for the first time, describing QAnon believers as “people that love our country.” “At this point, it’s reached full spread, that we really can’t ignore it anymore,” says Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters, who notes 20 “full QAnon adherents” are on the ballot in November.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! We’re breaking with convention. I’m Amy Goodman.
As the Republican National Convention begins tonight in Charlotte, North Carolina, questions are mounting over President Trump’s decision to openly embrace the far-right conspiracy theory known as QAnon. The theory claims, among other things, that Trump is secretly at war with a deep state cabal of Satan-worshiping elites who run a child sex trafficking operation. Over the years, Trump has repeatedly retweeted messages from supporters of the conspiracy theory, but last week Trump talked publicly about the movement for the first time, when asked.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, I don’t know much about the movement, other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate. … 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. So, I don’t know really anything about it, other than they do, supposedly, like me.
REPORTER: At the crux of the theory is this belief that you are secretly saving the world from this satanic cult of pedophiles and cannibals. Does that sound like something you are behind?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, I haven’t — I haven’t heard that, but is that supposed to be a bad thing or a good thing? I mean, you know, if I can help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do it.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s President Trump being questioned by an NBC reporter at the White House. Trump’s remarks came just a week after a supporter of QAnon, Marjorie Taylor Greene, won the Republican primary in Georgia’s heavily Republican 14th Congressional District. Last year, the FBI warned QAnon and other conspiracy theories pose a domestic terror threat.
We’re joined now by Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters, the media watch group monitoring right-wing misinformation in the U.S. media.
Wow! Angelo, lay this out for us. I mean, it goes beyond what I said, this idea — bring in the pizzeria, Hillary Clinton, etc.
ANGELO CARUSONE: Yeah, sure. So, QAnon is sort of like phase two of a conspiracy theory that I think a lot of people would be familiar with, which started during the 2016 presidential campaign, called “Pizzagate.” And that theory was that Hillary Clinton, among others, were running a child sex trafficking ring out of a basement of a pizza parlor in Washington, D.C. And one of the individuals who believed in this conspiracy theory actually went to investigate it himself and, you know, brought a gun, fired some shots. The pizza parlor doesn’t even have a basement. Thankfully, nobody was hurt. But that person was arrested. And what happened from then, though, was that people still believed in that theory. They still believed that there was actually a child sex trafficking ring being run by Hillary Clinton; it’s just that they had the wrong pizza place.
And so, when Trump took office, shortly after, one of the things that happened is, this entity, this individual, named Q, identified as Q, started dropping these secret clues onto 4chan and 8chan, these message boards, that members, you know, readers, would consume and try to decipher and decode. And that basically has metastasized into the domestic terror threat that you referenced earlier, which is that now you have a fairly widespread belief, amongst largely conservatives, that Democrats, the media and parts of the government are operating together, in cahoots, to take down Donald Trump, and that the reason they want to take down Donald Trump is because he is the only person that is trying to stop their child sex trafficking ring.
And the reason why they run this child sex trafficking ring, according to these believers, is that they’re either sadists, psychic vampires or interdimensional demons. There’s a lot of disagreement within the movement as to what is actually driving this need for child sex trafficking, but a big piece of it believes that they’re either interdimensional demons or psychic vampires.
And at the center is this belief in this entity called Q, which is supposedly somebody in the government that is working with Donald Trump, secretly leaking all of these documents.
AMY GOODMAN: I even hesitated to do this today —
ANGELO CARUSONE: I know.
AMY GOODMAN: — because whether or not you’re critiquing it, you become a superspreader. It keeps getting — a superspreader of misinformation, because it keeps getting repeated. But you now have the recent Georgia primary, where the Russian — sorry, where the Republican winner of the primary actually openly embraces the QAnon theory. Explain what happened there.
ANGELO CARUSONE: Sure. And so, Marjorie Taylor Greene won her primary and then a runoff. It’s in a very conservative district. She’s almost certain to win in the general election. And essentially, she is somebody who fully believes, one in Q, in that entity — she believes it’s a real entity. The second thing, though, is that she’s actively evangelized for it. She has repeatedly told people, if they don’t subscribe to this or they’re uncertain about it, not to feel bad, but to reach out to her privately, and she will help walk them through the importance of Q. She has repeatedly called Q a patriot.
That’s why I think it’s important to realize that when Trump said the thing that he said, it’s not just that he didn’t condemn it, but that when he reinforced the fact that the people in QAnon love their country, that they’re patriots, that is a central tenet of what QAnon believers sort of tell themselves, and also what they use to help bring others into the movement, is that they’re actually the true patriots that are out there really trying to save the country and the world from this sort of interdimensional psychic fight.
And I would just point out that Marjorie Taylor Greene is not the only QAnon believer that’s on the ballot in November. There are 20 QAnon — full QAnon adherents on the ballot in November. Seventy-five were running in the primaries for Congress and Senate, but 20 made their way to the ballot in November. So, that’s another thing. I think at this point it’s reached full spread, that we really can’t ignore it anymore.
AMY GOODMAN: And you have the new slogan adopted by the Texas Republican Party, “We are the storm,” which is a nod to QAnon, is that right?
ANGELO CARUSONE: It is. Before, one of the — that sort of transition period in the early days of Q, when they were sort of going from Pizzagate to full Qanon, there was a period where they kept believing that the storm was coming, which is a reference to a massive crackdown from Donald Trump, where he was going to expose the deep state and expose this ring of psychic vampires or demons. And they kept referring to this as this sort of prophecy that was about to unfold.
And in fact, there was an incident in 2018, where a man, an armed man, took over the Hoover Dam, and there was a standoff with law enforcement. And one of the things that he was screaming was “Release the OIG” — Office of Inspector General — “report!” He was a full QAnon believer. Thankfully, nobody was hurt in that. But the reason he took it over was actually to help speed along the timeline, because a lot of QAnon believers were under the impression that the Office of Inspector General report would have exposed the deep state at the time, that it was part of this storm.
And so, “release the storm” is one of the big things you hear. The other one is “Where we go one, we go all,” which is a codeword that a lot of QAnon users use to sort of identify each other and also help evangelize. We saw that a lot this summer.
AMY GOODMAN: In fact —
ANGELO CARUSONE: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: — Michael Flynn, right?
ANGELO CARUSONE: That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: July 4th, with his entire family.
ANGELO CARUSONE: That’s exactly it. When he took the oath, which is, I think, part of the reason why QAnon is so different than — you know, a lot of people believe conspiracy theories. And a lot of them are harmful, and most of them are just harmless and ridiculous. But what’s different about QAnon is that it’s so inherently linked to violence, that you really believe, in order to become a believer, that you have to stand and fight, that this is sort of the existential threat of our time, and that, basically, the ends justify the means.
So, when Michael Flynn took that oath, which is was what he was doing — him and his family and all these other believers were taking the oath — they were taking the oath to defend the Constitution, to put their lives on the line, if need be, and at the end they signed it off with that slogan as sort of a way to get others to do the same thing. And it took hold, right around the Fourth of July.
AMY GOODMAN: Angelo, we have 10 seconds. What are you looking for at the Republican National Convention this week?
ANGELO CARUSONE: I think a lot of it is going to be a wink and a nod to what we’re seeing in the fever swamps of the right wing. I would just note that power right now is really being organized on what we would have once sort of considered the fringes. And I think being able to draw those dots is something that I’m going to be paying much, much close attention to.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you for being with us, Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters, which monitors right-wing misinformation in the U.S. media.
That does it for our show. We’ll be with you all week covering the Republican National Convention, from Charlotte to the White House. Tune in to our “Breaking with Convention” series. I’m Amy Goodman. Wear a mask. Stay safe.