At President Donald Trump’s Florida rally, it was business as usual until it wasn’t. Since taking office, Trump’s MAGA rallies have been peppered with accusations that his opponents are guilty of something, tirades against witch hunts, and railing against fake news. As time has passed, these rallies have been cited as becoming darker and more dangerous due to a pair of factors which are creating what some are calling a perfect storm for discord. One factor is that Trump has become more forceful in expressing certain views regarding those he views as enemies, be it the press, the Clintons, the DNC, or even his own appointees such as Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The other factor, which is the wildcard, is the rise of QAnon going mainstream.
Fast Company reported that at Trump’s Florida MAGA rally, people could be seen holding up signs that read “We are Q,” in reference to QAnon. For anyone unfamiliar with QAnon, it is an online conspiracy theory that sprung forth from the ashes of #pizzagate on 4chan, 8chan, Reddit, and later all over the internet. QAnon eventually became mainstream enough that it developed a large presence on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, with personalities such as Roseanne Barr and Curt Schilling holding it up as fact.
No one knows who the “Q” is that posts the morsels of information that shape the conspiracy theory, or if “Q” is one person or several different people, hence the name, QAnon. The only bit of information anyone has about Q is that Q claims to be a high-ranking government official with a “Q security clearance.” The conspiracy theory states that Trump has directed the DOJ, military, and depending on which platform you get information from, ICE, or even a private army, to round up all the people he believes have done harm to the country and world to stand trial for their crimes. These “bad people” feature the Clintons, the Obamas, actor Tom Hanks, John McCain, and the rich and powerful in Hollywood, sports, the mainstream media, or any field that clearly do not identify with Trump’s political ideologies.
In the theory, as reported by Rolling Stone, Mueller is cited as secretly working for Trump, and his investigation is really about rounding up liberal elites to stand trial. In QAnon world, this reckoning is known as “The Storm.” The part about the mainstream media is what has many people that do not adhere to QAnon philosophy worried.
Will Sommers at The Daily Beast offers another view of QAnon, as interpretation of the conspiracy theory as a whole can be markedly varied.
“The general story. . . is that every president before Trump was a ‘criminal president’ in league with all the nefarious groups of conspiracy theories past: the global banking elite, death squads operating on orders from Hillary Clinton, deep-state intelligence operatives, and Pizzagate-style pedophile rings. In an effort to break this cabal’s grip, according to Q, the military convinced Trump to run for president.”
People like to call Qanon "Pizzagate on steroids," but it's really both emotionally and socioeconomically Pizzagate on bath salts.— Ben Collins (@oneunderscore__) July 31, 2018
When QAnon was something that you had to dig to get information on, it was considered harmless. Now that you can purchase QAnon hats, shirts, mugs, and dozens of other products online and in some brick and mortar retailers, the impact of QAnon has escalated. The reason QAnon is cited as resonating with so many Trump supporters is because it feeds what many of them want to believe. They want to believe that Trump will make the “bad people” pay for their crimes.
Rolling Stone reported that QAnon is embraced by Trump followers because they have been conditioned to receive it through years of Trump trying to drive a wedge between the press and citizenry. It’s a continuation of alternate facts. It’s more rhetoric like Trump insisting Obama was born in Kenya. They want to have someone tell them it is okay to hate certain people and wish bad things upon them, and QAnon does that. University of Miami professor Joseph Uscinski told The Daily Beast why he sees QAnon as having taken such a strong hold over Republicans.
“QAnon is unusual, because it offers Republicans an alternate view of the world when they already control nearly the entire government. Usually, conspiracy theories are for losers.'”
The signs of this creeping acceptance of QAnon can be seen in the raucous behavior and extreme aggression present at Trump MAGA rallies now, as reported by the Washington Post. They cite the last Florida MAGA rally as the “coming out” party of QAnon, based on the prevalence of QAnon signs, clothing, and attitude. Rather than calming the waters and dismissing the QAnon crowd, or outright debunking it as he is the central figure of it, Trump is instead tacitly encouraging it. The allusions to a “Deep State,” “fake media,” citing the press as “the enemy of the people,” all go toward encouraging the continuation of what is considered by many followers the QAnon prophecy coming to fruition.
It is stunning to me how many ppl in this #TRUMPTAMPA crowd have QAnon signs or t-shirts. That is not a healthy sign for GOP or for America.— Adam Smith (@adamsmithtimes) July 31, 2018
The Washington Post further posited that much of the danger in allowing the QAnon theory to continue is that the people that have been identified as the most ardent adherents of it are people who have a “love for armed conflict and quasi-military associations.” Eric Trump and Sean Hannity are cited as megaphones for spreading the rhetoric that the free press is an enemy of the state. New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger clashed with Trump telling him that his anti-press rhetoric has gone “from divisive to increasingly dangerous.”
Jim Acosta of CNN got a firsthand view of what Trump’s MAGA rallies are evolving into, as people screamed at him “CNN sucks,” “tell the truth,” and several things unfit to print. They did this because right now, Acosta is the face of the “fake media” for Trump rallies. In the video below, the signs being held up by people yelling at Acosta include a QAnon sign.
Just a sample of the sad scene we faced at the Trump rally in Tampa. I’m very worried that the hostility whipped up by Trump and some in conservative media will result in somebody getting hurt. We should not treat our fellow Americans this way. The press is not the enemy. pic.twitter.com/IhSRw5Ui3R— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) August 1, 2018
What most news outlets seem to be in agreement on is that QAnon is the extreme right of the Trump base, and their becoming mainstream is dangerous — dangerous because they are a group that is waiting on prophecy that is about violence, and who may take matters into their own hands to speed things up. Shouts can become fists, and fists can become guns, or bombs. Rolling Stone summed up their examination of the relationship between QAnon and Trump as something dangerous, and something that is now a part of our everyday reality.
“Trump is propagating these lies for no other reason than to protect himself and his administration, but the real-life effects of his war against reality — QAnon being the most extreme example — are now part of the fabric of the United States, and will persist long after Trump is out of office.”