When former President Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election, it seemed like QAnon was finished.
But two years on, QAnon, the conspiracy movement that posits that Trump is waging a secret war against the deep state to unmask a global pedophile ring run by Democrats and Hollywood elite, is still alive, and recently refreshed. They now have a new leader in Trump: The former president has spent the last few months re-energizing the community and giving them hope once more that all their wildest fantasies will come true.
For years, Trump has hinted at support for the movement, refusing to condemn their violence-inflected conspiracies when asked by the media and boosting QAnon accounts on his Twitter account. But recently, Trump has been using his rallies, speeches, and posts on his own social media platform, Truth Social, to not just hint at his support for QAnon but to openly endorse it.
This comes just weeks before November’s midterm elections, where a slate of far-right candidates who’ve espoused QAnon conspiracies and boosted stolen-election lies, are seeking election to crucial positions across the country.
Since April, Trump has shared over 130 posts from QAnon-affiliated accounts on Truth Social. In some of these posts, he has shared images of himself wearing a Q lapel pin and explicit QAnon phrases like WWG1WGA (which stands for ‘Where We Go One, We Go All’). On Tuesday, Trump shared a post featuring a fiery Q symbol. His team has also shared a campaign-style video featuring a song QAnon followers incorrectly believed was called “WWG1WGA”—and even after Trump’s team knew the QAnon crowd had embraced the song as their own, they continued to use it at rallies.
The former president is indulging in increasingly explicit endorsement of the conspiracy theory, and QAnon followers are now convinced they were right all along.
After Trump's latest batch of Truth Social posts on Tuesday, one QAnon influencer wrote on Telegram, “He doesn't care about being accused of aligning with ‘those crazy Q people.’ In the replies, QAnon followers made it clear that they believe Trump’s actions are confirmation. “I can smell sweet victory and vindication coming,” one user wrote.
Another user posted an increasingly common refrain among QAnon supporters in recent weeks: “Waiting for ‘the question.’ How much goading will it take for [them] to ask it?”
This comment refers to the media asking Trump for his view on QAnon, which many supporters believe will result in Trump confirming the conspiracies were true all along.
However, when VICE News asked “the question” to Trump’s spokespeople, there was no response.
Trump’s recent QAnon activity could result in more violence in the weeks and months to come. Since Trump’s QAnon posting spree began, there has been an uptick in QAnon-linked violence. Earlier this month, a man in Michigan shot and killed his wife and shot and injured his daughter after being radicalized by QAnon conspiracies. In Pennsylvania, an armed man who had shared QAnon videos on Facebook entered a Dairy Queen shop and threatened to “kill all Democrats.” And now Trump’s supporters online are now making similar violent threats.
“I hope you all are right, that something is actually going to happen,” one Telegram user wrote. “I feel like I've been chasing a carrot for the last 2 years. Starting to feel like civil war is the only way.”
Casual observers predicted that QAnon, which began on 4chan in late 2017, would fade away after Trump lost the 2020 presidential election and Q fell silent in December 2020. When much of the QAnon community was de-platformed from Twitter and Facebook in the wake of the Capitol riot, the movement was written off as doomed.
But, in the almost two years since Trump’s defeat, QAnon has persisted. Various offshoots, such as the QAnon Queen of Canada cult; the Negative 48 group, who believe Trump is JFK in disguise; and the Save the Children campaign, which brought so many people into the movement in 2020, have continued. While they are not as strong as the original QAnon, the offshoots have latched onto other conspiracies in order to maintain relevance.
“They're certainly not as big and networked as they once were, but they are still there,” Jared Holt, senior research manager at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue focusing on U.S. extremism, told VICE News. “And a lot of them, in the absence of Q after Biden's inauguration, pivoted towards election denialism, along with the rest of the conspiratorial GOP.”
And the move to Trump’s Truth Social, as the former president has seemingly embraced the Q universe, should come as no surprise: That’s exactly what the platform was designed to do from the very beginning.
A fake @q account on Truth Social was set up even before Trump’s own account was created, and all the major QAnon influencers were given verified accounts the moment they joined the platform.
“What is happening now with Trump's Truth Social account was inevitable,” Mike Rains, a researcher who hosts the QAnon-focused podcast Adventures in HellwQrld, told VICE News. “The people who made Truth Social worked relentlessly to recruit QAnon. Once on the platform, QAnon followers were endlessly going to promote Trump and Trump was going to start reposting their praise of him, which would get the mainstream media to cover his embrace of QAnon and give him attention.”
Just this week, Kash Patel, a Trump official who was chief of staff to the acting secretary of defense during Trump's presidency and who now serves on the board of Truth Social, said the former president was in awe of the research skills of QAnon followers.
“I've seen on Truth Social how good these researchers are, and I kind of wish I’d had some of them when I was doing Russiagate,” Patel said in an interview with a conspiracy channel. “I talk with the president all the time and we're just blown away at the amount of acumen some of these people have.”
Truth Social has not released figures for how many people are using the platform, but if you take Trump as the main—possibly only—draw for the platform, he has 4.1 million followers.
“He's using his platform as a former president to, at the very least, legitimize QAnon material, if not actively lend some credence to it, which is incredibly dangerous,” Holt said. "There are still millions of people getting this kind of imagery, watching Trump as he plays footsies in a more apparent and accelerating way with QAnon, so it's implausible for me to imagine that there aren't people in that crowd that haven't been exposed to QAnon before that are maybe seeing it now because the [ex-]president is sharing it.”
This behavior isn’t new for Trump. When he was active on Twitter with 80 million followers, the former president shared hundreds of tweets from QAnon accounts. What’s different this time is that the messages and imagery he is sharing are explicitly QAnon-focused, whether that’s a picture of Trump with a Q lapel pin or a video featuring multiple QAnon phrases and logos.
The explicit nature of the content makes it much harder for Trump or his team to claim they simply didn’t know what QAnon is.
“I have no reason to think that he doesn't know what he's doing,” Holt said. “The guy was the President of the United States. I don't think he's a smart man, but he's not completely braindead. Even if we're gonna pretend that Trump has no idea what he's looking at, his aides do, the people around him do and nobody is making an apparent effort to stop him from doing this.”
Trump may be the most powerful voice in the Republican Party pushing QAnon conspiracies, but he is far from alone. A coalition of candidates for governor and secretary of state in crucial swing states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Nevada was formed under the guidance of a QAnon influencer known as Juan O’Savin. And some QAnon-linked candidates have won their primaries, including Mark Finchem, who is running for Arizona’s secretary of state. John Gibbs, who won his primary for a House seat in Michigan, has claimed that Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman participated in Satanic rituals.
It’s unclear why Trump has decided to embrace QAnon so openly now, but the timing is strange, as the former president faces multiple lawsuits and criminal investigations following the FBI’s search of his Mar-a-Lago home.
“I think he's really feeling like he is actually at some risk, and when you feel like you're at risk and your back is against the wall, you turn to the people who've always been in your corner,” Mike Rothschild, author of the book The Storm Is Upon Us: How QAnon Became a Movement, Cult, and Conspiracy Theory of Everything, told VICE News. "He doesn't want the fair-weather MAGA people who are willing to walk away from him; he wants the hardcore believers, and that's the Q people.”
Trump’s continued pushing of the conspiracy and his apparent endorsement of its wild fantasies could push his supporters to carry out even more violent acts when their predictions fail to come true.
“There is a feeling in that community that something big is about to happen, but because it's so vague, and because it's just how this movement works, it could be anything,” Rothschild said. “I think one of the really scary things is that the people who are most prone to potentially committing a violent act on Trump's behalf are getting really excited. And I don't think that's good.”