President Donald Trump rode political conspiracy theories all the way to the White House, and now he now finds himself at the center of one.
By now, you’ve probably heard about QAnon, the online conspiracy theory figure whose following makes the Illuminati look like the burglars from Home Alone. Supporters of the conspiracy showed up at Trump’s rally in Tampa on Tuesday and have even targeted Tom Hanks on YouTube, making their presence known in the mainstream.Â
Trump has helped feed the beast, whether he knows it or not. The followers of “Q” are always on the lookout for clues anywhere, anything that reinforces their absurdly detailed, multi-layered mega-conspiracy â an umbrella that connects everything from the Mueller probe to Pizzagate to the 1999 death of John F. Kennedy, Jr.Â
Even as the White House has tried to condemn these conspiracies, Trump’s own words and actions have only hardened the resolve of the #QAnon crowd.
Okay, what the hell is QAnon?Â
While the QAnon conspiracy has been growing larger and larger, getting boosts from far-right celebs like Roseanne Barr and former MLB pitcher Curt Schilling, it didn’t really hit the spotlight until Tuesday night.
Since then, you can take your pick of explainers of the vast web of theories and how “EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED.” It’s such an incredibly, ever-evolving mess that, just like snowflakes, no two explainers are alike. You could delve into any number of them, from Vox to the New York Times to the Washington Post to Buzzfeed, and still not fully grasp the breadth of QAnon.Â
At its core, the QAnon crowd believe a person with high intelligence clearance, named “Q,” has been posting clues (or “drops” or “bread crumbs”) about how Trump is actually working to flush out enemies of the state on the anonymous image boards 4chan and 8chan.Â
For instance, according to QAnon, the Mueller probe is actually Trump and Robert Mueller working together to bring down Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama who were actually the ones compromised by Vladimir Putin.Â
And, along the way, Trump has, inadvertently or not, helped give the QAnon followers what they’ve been looking for: a “storm” that will cleanse the federal government for all good patriots.
“The calm before the storm”
Trump himself kicked off this whole mess with what, at the time, seemed like innocuous Trump bluster, violent bravado that was very much in line with previous comments he had made. During an October 2017 photo op with military staff, Trump said, âYou guys know what this represents? Maybe itâs the calm before the storm.â
Trump being Trump, he refused to elaborate on the comment, leading to speculation it could be a hint at forthcoming military operations. But the phrase “the storm” came to be the central point of a growing conspiracy that Trump was actually that major agent of change who had ascended to the White House to flush out members of the Deep State, Obama loyalists, and other “enemies of the state.”
It had conspiracy theorists already primed for when, three weeks later, the first “drop” from the mysterious “Q” was made on 4chan.Â
The number 17
Perhaps the biggest QAnon clue that Trump repeatedly references, whether he knows it or not, is the number 17. Q is the 17th letter in the alphabet so it goes to follow that the number 17 holds a lot of significance for the QAnon believers.Â
And those following the developments from this week raised a collective eyebrow when, on Wednesday morning following the rally where the QAnon supporters were spotted, Trump dashed out a tweet with the number 17 in it.Â
..This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further. Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!
â Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 1, 2018
Now, Trump has tweeted the number 17 plenty of times before and had even explained his changing of his “13 Angry Democrats” phrase to “17 Angry Democrats” on Sunday, a fairly reasonable explanation, right?
It even cropped up after Trump’s call on Wednesday to Rush Limbaugh’s show, he got flagged by the Reddit QAnon followers for saying he’d visited Washington 17 times before his election, echoing what he said at his Tuesday rally in Tampa. They believe Trump was sending them a message.
And, if you want one more example of how deep the belief in “17” goes, consider that when Trump was given a jersey by the University of Alabama college football championship team that had the number 17 on it, the QAnon crowd went nuts (via the New York Times).Â
Of course, the number could refer to the fact that Alabama was champion of the 2017 season or that it was, according to Alabama, their 17th national championship. This seems pretty easy to explain away. But not to QAnon.Â
To them, all of these were secret messages from the president, little winks to let them know he knows they know.Â
Looking for anything
And that’s the thing about the QAnon crowd: the messages are often so cryptic and vague, you could warp just about anything to make it seem like it’s connected, a benchmark of many conspiracy theories.
When Trump dropped a few tweets with typos in them on Wednesday â again, a very normal Trump thing to do â QAnon followers went deep looking for hidden messages from Trump, noting his misspelling of “smoking” as “smocking” had a conspiratorial meaning and that multiple typos added up to a hidden message about, of course, Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation.
Another example of grasping for straws: an otherwise harmless tweet from Trump promoting “Small Business Saturday.” From The Washington Post:
Q once postedÂ in entirety:
Nonsense? Probably, but later that same afternoon in November, Trump tweeted, âHappy #SmallBusinessSaturdayâ Small and small. To devotees, itâs proof that Trump really is working with Q.
It’s either a very, very deep and complex conspiracy Trump is working here or it’s just one big game of Calvinball, where the rules and connections are made up as we go along.Â
Everything Trump says and does can be twisted to meet QAnon’s needs, a dangerous possibility considering Trump has never been one to reflect and choose his words carefully.
Trump’s conspiracy history
Finally, the reason so many people are willing to embrace Trump as being at the center of such a sprawling conspiracy is because the president has himself embraced several baseless conspiracies.Â
Whether it was the Obama “birther” theory that he helped spread, questioning Vince Foster’s suicide, or suggesting Supreme Court justice Anton Scalia was murdered, Trump has been the poster child for conspiracy theorists.Â
By even giving these theories (and more) a mere public nod, he’s legitimized them in the minds of those who believe them, making it easier for them to believe he’s at the center of QAnon’s fantastical web.
Where does it end?
It’s become serious enough that White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about it on Wednesday during a press briefing. Sanders distanced the White House from QAnon by saying the president “condemns and denounces any group that would incite violence against another individual.”Â
Whether QAnon leads to more violence remains to be seen.