On Thursday night, Fox News’ highest-rated host, Tucker Carlson, alluded to a nine-month-old QAnon conspiracy theory that claims President Joe Biden is not in fact in charge of the country and is filming his addresses to the nation from a Hollywood film set.
In the days after Biden was inaugurated, as all hope that former President Donald Trump would somehow overturn the election results had evaporated, QAnon supporters came up with a theory to allow them to perpetuate the myth that Trump was still somehow in charge.
The claim was as follows: Biden was simply acting as the president, filming his addresses to the nation in a Hollywood studio set dressed to look like the Oval Office. This, the conspiracy theory claimed, was all being controlled by Trump and the military, who had in fact arrested Biden but were maintaining the lie that he was president in order to lure the rest of the traitors into their trap.
The basis for these claims were pictures of some of Biden’s early speeches from the Oval Office. QAnon followers cited new wallpaper, strange views from the windows, and claims that Trump himself could be seen in the background of some of the pictures. All of these claims have been thoroughly debunked, but they’ve persisted anyway.
Even by QAnon standards, this conspiracy was so unmoored from reality that some adherents to the movements pushed back, saying there was no evidence to back it up.
As months have passed and Biden has remained the president, the conspiracy’s hold has waned, though some staunch believers resurrect it now and then when some new “evidence” appears.
And that’s what happened this week, when pictures emerged of Biden speaking from a virtual set in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, located just west of the White House.
The South Court Auditorium set, which features a digital window pane mocked up to look like the Rose garden, is frequently used for news events and photo ops, but for some QAnon followers, this was the proof they had been waiting for.
“In case you needed any more proof you are definitely watching a movie with a fake president,” John Sabal, known online as QAnon John, told his 70,000 followers on messaging app Telegram. Sabal is the person behind the large Patriots Roundup QAnon conference that is set to take place in Las Vegas later this month, featuring not only a who’s who of QAnon stars, but also at least five sitting GOP lawmakers.
“Look no further,” Sabal continued. “I challenge you to find me one picture like this while Trump was at the White House...I'll wait.”
Of course Sabal could have simply searched online and he would have found an array of pictures of Trump using the very same set. Like this one:
But the fact that Trump used the set during his tenure did stop Carlson from alluding to the QAnon conspiracy about Biden during his highly-rated show on Thursday night, and asking: “If he’s not running the government, then who is?”
As part of this claim that Biden was not in charge, Carlson quoted a tweet from Stephen Miller, a former White House aide to Trump, who had claimed that Biden was using the office so he would use a “face-on monitor.”
But as White House correspondent Andrew Feinberg pointed out, that’s something Trump has also used:
The claim that Biden is a fake or illegitimate president began life as a QAnon conspiracy theory, but it has seeped into mainstream Republican orthodoxy in recent months, with lawmakers across the country openly claiming, without any concrete evidence, that the election was rigged and that Trump should be reinstated.
And in some cases, even the full, unvarnished QAnon conspiracy has been repeated by Republicans.
Like Patricia Silva, a Republican candidate for the local assembly in Fairbanks, Alaska, who recently said: “Of course, we’ve heard about Castle Rock, the studio where Hollywood stars do a lot of their productions. If you’re not aware they have a scene, a set that is the White House, And inside there are rooms that are set up like the Oval Office and such. It’s my opinion that’s where he filmed his inauguration.”
Of course, Silva’s premise ignores the fact that the Hollywood set would have to be large enough to recreate the entirety of downtown Washington D.C., which was seen in sweeping TV shots of the event, and the thousands of people who actually attended the real inauguration that actually took place, in real life.