During the televised town hall last Thursday on NBC, President Trump was asked if he would disavow the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory and its followers who believe, among other things, that elite Democratic pedophiles worship Satan, traffic children, and drink blood. Trump pleaded ignorance, of course, then equivocated. “I know nothing about QAnon,” he said. When pressed by NBC News’ Savannah Guthrie, Trump responded, “I do know they are very much against pedophilia … they are very strongly against pedophilia.”
Media outlets have since published a spate of articles on QAnon and Trump’s failure to outright reject the movement. In the New York Times, one writer detailed his experience being targeted by QAnon, and the Washington Post’s Philip Bump thinks that while some Trump voters do not support the conspiracy theory, they still believe its allegations. Axios reported on a poll that suggests one-third of Americans are open to the idea that elites in Hollywood, government, and media traffic children on a large scale. Most telling, CNN recently sent a reporter to a small QAnon rally in Hollywood to interview participants.
Despite the heavy-handed QAnon coverage in some of the largest media outlets in the country, only 47 percent of American adults are aware of the conspiracy theory, according to a Pew Research report. Of American adults who are aware of QAnon, 74 percent think it is a bad thing for the country. Four-in-ten Republicans who are aware of QAnon think it is a good thing, though that figure might not illuminate much. As to what this 40 percent thinks is good about the conspiracy theory is anyone’s guess. Perhaps unwitting respondents, not familiar with the theory’s most outlandish elements, believe child sex-trafficking is an underreported issue in America. In which case a movement like QAnon, which spotlights sex-trafficking, would be, in part, a “good thing.”
This is not to say that QAnon is normal; it is not. Taken as whole, it is lunacy. But the very same media outlets who panic over QAnon’s normalization are the ones that have given the conspiracy theory, once relegated to eccentric Facebook groups and the dark corners of internet chat-boards, its mainstream platform. The Atlantic, for example, has taken an acute interest in QAnon. They have published in-depth pieces titled “QAnon Is More Important Than You Think,” “How Instagram Aesthetics Repackage QAnon,” and most recently, “The Right’s Disinformation Machine Is Hedging Its Bets.”
Expect the phrase “QAnon conspiracy theorist” to become yet another brush with which to smear Republicans, whether it applies or not. A moderate independent might ask himself: How could I vote for this candidate, some of whose supporters believe that the world is run an evil cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles? Ahead of the election, The New York Times has already published a piece with the headline, “How Republican Voters Took QAnon Mainstream.”
Granted, there are Trump voters and Republican congressional candidates who believe the QAnon conspiracy theory. There are also members of Antifa – surely including those participating in this past summer’s mayhem – who will vote for Biden. But ordinary Americans on both sides either explicitly condemn their fringes or simply do not care if Q has published another prophecy. Unfortunately, political opponents are all too often smeared and found guilty by association. The tactic sows more political division on the eve of what could be the most divisive election in our lifetime.