President Trump spoke at a rally in Tampa, FL this evening, supporting Florida Representative Ron DeSantis, who is running for governor. Trump’s speech hit many familiar talking points: he defended his increased tariffs, spoke about the need for voter ID laws, and bragged about bringing “Merry Christmas” back to department stores.
But viewers who knew what to look for may have noticed a common theme in the audience (apart from their age and skin color). Quite a few attendees carried signs reading “We are Q.” Others wore t-shirts emblazoned with a large Q surrounding the YouTube logo. One held a sign advertising the Instagram account @hisnamewasSethRich.
Daily Beast senior editor Andrew Kirell posted screenshots of these signs on Twitter, along with a link to a Daily Beast story about the absolutely bonkers right wing conspiracy theory known as QAnon.
If this is your first time hearing about QAnon, you’ve been exceptionally lucky. The conspiracy theory began coalescing last October, after an anonymous commenter on 4Chan known as “Q” began posting a series of cryptic messages. These confusing messages were then “interpreted” by Q fans, who began spreading his gospel around the internet, through the human centipede of right wing media, and even more terrifyingly, in real life.
Here’s the basic outline of the theory: high level Democratic operatives, including John Podesta and Huma Abedin, alongside Hollywood celebrities, are secretly involved in an incredibly complex crime network involving human trafficking, child sexual abuse, and murder (thus the reference to Seth Rich), in an effort to undermine Trump.
So far, this sounds a lot like Pizzagate, the proto-QAnon conspiracy theory that imagined a politician-run child sex cult in the basement of a DC pizza restaurant (a restaurant that didn’t even have a basement).
But unlike Pizzagate, which was in vogue during the waning days of the Obama presidency, QAnon has to explain why these people are walking free, despite the fact that the defender of all things good and holy, Donald Trump, is in the White House. To deal with this dissonance, Q disciples believe that all of these supposed child rapists and murderers have actually already been arrested by Trump. They are being secretly charged with heinous crimes in a kind of underground court. As they await judgement (which many believers think will involve Guantanamo Bay) they may still walk around freely. The only condition is that they wear ankle monitors. That’s why a lot of Q theories focus on photos of the ankles of politicians like Hillary Clinton, examining pant legs for any bumps that might indicate a hidden ankle bracelet.
A quote from the Daily Beast article about QAnon gets to the heart of the its irony:
QAnon is unusual, according to University of Miami professor Joseph Uscinski, because it offers Republicans an alternate view of the world when they already control nearly the entire government. Usually, “conspiracy theories are for losers,” Uscinski said,
“Normally you don’t expect the winning party to use them, except when they’re in trouble,” Uscinski said.
This rally isn’t by any means the first time QAnon has breached the realm of the internet and entered the real world. In April, there was a protest in Washington dedicated to the conspiracy theory, and celebrities like Roseanne Barr are adherents. One man used an armored vehicle to block the road to the Hoover Dam in June, citing the conspiracy theory. He’s facing terrorism charges.
You could drive yourself crazy (as many have) trying to decipher the intricacies of the QAnon theory. But the reason why people believe in it is clear. Their guy won. Republicans control both houses of Congress and most state houses. Yet the boogeymen the right has taught their constituents to fear—illegal immigrants, Islam, and social progress, to name a few—seem as present as ever. There’s only one way to explain this: Donald Trump is an undercover superhero saving the world from a massive conspiracy that no one but them understands. That, or he’s an incompetent moron backed by a party that has no interest in materially improving the lives of their base.