At a rally in Ohio on Saturday for U.S. Senate candidate J.D. Vance, former president Donald Trump continued his recent public embrace of the QAnon conspiracy movement by using a song that has been linked to the conspiracy.
It was just the most recent example of Trump’s apparent efforts to broadcast his affinity for the QAnon movement. QAnon clothing and paraphernalia, long banned from his rallies, are reportedly welcome again. On his struggling social media platform, Truth Social, Trump and his associates have reshared and promoted QAnon-related content — most of which is still banned from mainstream platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
Trump’s flirtation with QAnon “has gone from a game of footsie to what appears to be an open embrace,” Rolling Stone reported recently.
With weeks to go before a consequential midterm, Trump’s choice to bear-hug an extreme, conspiracy-rich, violence-tinged movement stands in contrast with political conventional wisdom, which argues for embracing more moderate messages that hold appeal for undecided and independent voters.
QAnon is hardly obscure. Roughly 15 percent of Americans reportedly embrace three central beliefs of the QAnon movement: that the government, media, and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by Satan-worshiping pedophiles; that there’s a “storm coming” to sweep away elites; and that violence may be necessary to save the country.
The conspiracy movement has become a force in American politics. Scores of candidates in the 2022 election cycle have linked themselves to the movement — including more than a dozen who will be on the general election ballot for Congressional or statewide offices in November.
Even so, it’s a clear minority of voters. Even Q-friendly candidates have earnestly moderated their tone as Election Day approaches. Baseless theories about Satan-worshiping elites aren’t showing up in any candidate’s closing ad campaigns, much less QAnon slogans such as, “Where We Go One, We Go All.”
To understand Trump’s evolving relationship with QAnon, Grid spoke with Alex Kaplan, senior researcher at the left-leaning watchdog group Media Matters. Kaplan has tracked QAnon-linked political figures for years, and is one of the top experts on how QAnon has moved from obscure internet message boards into mainstream political discourse.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Grid: How has former president Trump’s relationship with the QAnon movement evolved over the past few months?
Alex Kaplan: Trump and some of his orbit have, at least since 2020, been friendly with the QAnon movement in some ways. Trump has repeatedly amplified QAnon-promoting accounts, at least since 2019 when I was starting to track it.
But what is notable now is that we have seen some more explicit amplifications of QAnon-related figures or content in recent months. We’ve seen him sometimes amplifying accounts that have a “Q” in the profile image. He even amplified an account called “Where We Go 1 We Go All” multiple times.
It’s important to note that his platform [Truth Social] has actively appealed to QAnon supporters. I don’t think you can separate that from this. Truth Social’s leadership has openly pandered to QAnon supporters. It has openly said that QAnon supporters are a part of its business model. Kash Patel, who had been on its board, said that on a QAnon-supporting show. QAnon content, and QAnon figures, are a significant part of what Truth Social is — and what they appeal to, essentially.
I also have to mention the QAnon song [that was played while Trump spoke at the rally Saturday in Ohio]. Last month, Trump posted this video on Truth Social and Rumble that uses this song that had been labeled in the past by an artist online as “Where We Go 1 We Go All.” Trumpworld has claimed that it’s another song, called “Mirrors.” The fact is that the songs are pretty much exactly the same. There were other signals of QAnon in the song, like something about a storm.
G: How has the QAnon movement reacted to Trump’s QAnon references?
AK: I think they take it as validation of the conspiracy theory. There’s this one influencer who I follow. I can read you a post that he just shared yesterday that I think is worth noting: “Realities we have to address. Trump is sharing Q memes and memes depicting him as being part of Q team. Trump has repeatedly played the WWG1WGA ‘storm’ song at his rallies, even after it was widely reported that it was affiliated with Q — meaning it’s not an accident. Trump’s narratives coincide with Q narratives: Durham, Russia, FBI, corrupt media, drug tech, drug trafficking, human trafficking, death, penalties, etc. And still nobody has asked him the question.”
Some of them are excited about this. I saw multiple accounts on Saturday night hyping, again, that that song was played.
G: What’s motivating Trump to publicly embrace QAnon? Why now?
AK: So, from my experience doing this over time since 2018, I have generally gotten the sense that there’s a correlation between Trump amplifying more QAnon-promoting accounts in times where he’s under stress or when he’s angry. I can’t say this for sure because I can’t read his mind. But it just seems like a correlation between certain things being reported about him in the news and him doing stuff like this.
We obviously know that last month there was the FBI search at Mar-a-Lago. And he’s been dealing with some potential legal issues with that. I think what the QAnon accounts do, at least on the Truth Social amplification part of it, is that they provide him validation, reassurance, good feelings. They’re giving him praise. I think he’s looking for that. He’s like the hero of the story of the QAnon conspiracy theory.
G: What does it mean to have the standard-bearer of a major political party leaning into open support of a conspiracy movement like this?
AK: It’s obviously concerning. I mean, the QAnon conspiracy theory has been tied to multiple acts of violence. We saw a murder in Michigan that appears to have been tied to Q, most recently, but there have been others. There were multiple QAnon supporters involved in the insurrection. Multiple government agencies have issued, at some point, some type of warning about QAnon. I’m also going to note that it’s a categorically false conspiracy theory. Its tenets are inherently violent. It’s not exactly democratic.
I should also note that the QAnon community has also in the past been positive about authoritarian countries and authoritarian events. They openly praised the coup in Myanmar last year. When the Russian invasion [of Ukraine] started, they sided with Russia and praised Putin.
G: What else is important to understand about QAnon’s influence on American politics?
AK: It’s not just Trump. The QAnon movement is becoming increasingly intertwined with our political system and society — and certain parts of the Republican Party — in ways I just don’t think have been fundamentally as well understood. Even without Q, it’s continued to be a cohesive and influential movement.
Thanks to Dave Tepps for copy editing this article.