Trump wanders back and forth across the same line: He gives credence both to the mainstream claims of the ubiquity of sex trafficking and the sex trafficking conspiracy theories. A regular QAnon talking point, for example, is that Trump is the toughest president ever on sex trafficking. Never mind that the Trump administration abandoning victims of trafficking—QAnon adherents aren’t judging him by that (and indeed, only a vocal minority in the anti-trafficking community have criticized him for this). When Trump himself sends approving signals to the Q movement, that is enough to validate his “toughness” on trafficking. He has amplified QAnon accounts from his Twitter account at least 185 times, according to Media Matters researcher Alex Kaplan, and uses hashtags which originate with such accounts, like #Obamagate or #OpenAmericaNow. These are some of the same networks which helped drive the Wayfair conspiracy theory.
QAnon has similarly become integrated with the conservative movement as a whole. Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn recently posted a video featuring what’s become a kind of pledge of allegiance to QAnon and the movement tagline, “Where we go one, we go all.” A Washington Post analysis of 59 Q-sympathetic Republican congressional candidates revealed that together they had amassed nearly 600,000 votes as of July 1. Some of these figures just used a Q-related hashtag, but most, The Post reported, “engaged with Q supporters to a greater degree, including promoting the movement or wearing Q-branded clothing.” One, Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Green, has been supported by Representative Jim Jordan and received backing from establishment Republican PACs.
“I think increasingly at least some Republicans see QAnon and its supporters as a kind of political constituency that they can appeal to to get some kind of political benefit,” Kaplan told Business Insider. “There is already something of a QAnon infrastructure that these candidates can tap into, whether it be QAnon hashtags or QAnon shows on YouTube.”
QAnon’s reach and power means that debunking the individual conspiracy theories spread by the movement is not sufficient. QAnon is, if nothing else, a shared story, told and re-told by its followers. What animates that story also demands a response.
Sharlet and The Atlantic’s Adrienne LaFrance have both written about QAnon’s overlap with some strands of Christianity, including those which have for decades found a home on the right. QAnon, writes LaFrance, “may be propelled by paranoia and populism, but it is also propelled by religious faith. The language of evangelical Christianity has come to define the Q movement. QAnon marries an appetite for the conspiratorial with positive beliefs about a radically different and better future, one that is preordained.” The American Christian right, Sharlet recently told Bill Moyers, was already undergoing a transformation under Trump. “Evangelicalism might have an authoritarian streak,” said Sharlet. Their reverence for supernatural god was, he believed, “this sort of circuit breaker that prevented them from going full fascist.” But now, “they’re willing to put their money entirely on an actual person, Trump, and to build it around his personality, and to build it around this man and his capability for violence and revenge.”
Q may not be a “political” movement, but it is a movement useful to politicians. It doesn’t need a coherent politics for that; its base is there for the taking, if a candidate can graft their campaign to its story. Even if these Q-adjacent conservatives don’t really believe in Q, all they need to get a boost from the movement is a willingness to look as detached from the truth as the president. They’ll get adoration from Q followers, so long as they appear to return it.
Trump, too, does not need to be a Q believer to share in their paranoid style of sex trafficking politics. At his rallies, he regularly invokes sexual violence to animate the crowd. “This obsession with what is done to the bodies of children by Democrats is, like the rape fantasies with which Trump has taken to lacing his rally speeches, grossly sexualized,” observed Sharlet after Trump’s Tulsa rally. “It allows his followers to wallow in the most grotesquely taboo thoughts and to relish the revenge they’ll take on those whom they imagine actually committing such horrors.” While it’s important to fact-check such things, you can’t deflate the power of a fantasy with the truth.