Former U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held in the Hyatt Regency on February 28, 2021 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Over the past few weeks, the GOP has been accused of embracing its extremist fringes, amplifying disinformation campaigns, and encouraging the QAnon conspiracy that believes Donald Trump is waging war on a secret global pedophile ring. Many have been quick to reject these accusations. “QAnon is not a part of the Republican Party,” Rep. Jim Banks from Indiana said on Saturday while attending the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) that took place over the weekend. But maybe he should have been paying more attention to what was happening around him.
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Over the course of the three-day conference in Orlando, Florida, multiple QAnon-supporting lawmakers and conservative personalities spoke, one actively promoted the conspiracy theory directly from the stage, and the presence of the former president was enough to send conspiracy message boards into a frenzy. Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert spoke to the crowd at CPAC, and has previously said she hopes “Q is real.” So did Rep. Burgess Owens from Utah, who fundraised on a QAnon show last May. And MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who is currently facing a $1.3 billion lawsuit for spreading election conspiracy theories that emerged from the QAnon fever swamp, was also there.Angela Stanton-King, a former congressional candidate who has long boosted the QAnon conspiracy, spoke at CPAC on Sunday, and openly called for the authorities to investigate baseless allegations that Democrats are running a cannibalistic, pedophile ring.“Let’s address it,” King told the audience. “So we know in this election, there were some things going on in regards to the conspiracy theories with Q, right? And I think, me as a person, before I ever got into the conservative movement, I’ve always been an advocate even if it’s for abused children or it’s for those people that are incarcerated. So I think that any allegations coming forward in regards to any type of abuse when it comes to children deserves to be investigated, it deserves to be made aware of.”
Her comments were met with cheers from the audience, especially when she said that the mainstream media had tried to “cancel” her for “addressing allegations of child abuse.”Stanton-King’s speech is just the latest example of the mainstreaming of extremist conspiracy beliefs inside the Republican Party, a trend that was first set in motion by former president Donald Trump. Within the QAnon conspiracy theories, Trump is seen as a savior who is secretly waging a war against the “deep state” who are working to protect the Democrats and Hollywood elite who they claim are running a satanic, cannibalistic, child sex trafficking ring.Trump repeatedly refused to disavow QAnon ahead of November’s election and instead praised them as people “who like me very much.”Trump’s election loss, and his subsequent ban from mainstream social media platforms, have left a gaping hole in the conspiracy movement, where his every utterance was dissected and interpreted to find hidden meanings that would be fitted into the QAnon mythos — even when they contradicted previous claims.So Sunday’s speech, Trump’s first since President Joe Biden was inaugurated, was highly anticipated by QAnon believers — and their idol didn’t disappoint. Trump’s lie-filled 90-minute address hit on some of his (and QAnon’s) favorite topics, including widely-debunked claims about election fraud, misinformation about the vaccine rollout, and Biden’s actions since taking office.
As usual, Trump’s speech didn’t contain any overt references to QAnon, but in a livestream immediately after Trump left the stage, QAnon influencer Jordan Sather said the speech was “loaded with double meaning and messages” that he believed were directed at the QAnon community. “It was clear,” he added.
Trump’s CPAC appearance was also received enthusiastically by members of QAnon-linked groups online. Some QAnon supporters highlighted specific aspects of the speech in order to make it fit with previous conspiracies. One poster on the Great Awakenings, a QAnon-focused message board, highlighted that flags flanking the CPAC stage while Trump was speaking were topped with golden eagles. The poster claimed these emblems were used “for the use of the President of the United States only, and only in the time of war.”
Of course, this is not true, but it helps perpetuate the myth that Trump is still the legitimate president of the U.S. who continues to have the backing of the military.Another user on Great Awakenings flagged an old message from QAnon’s anonymous leader, known only as Q, who posted in July 2019 a photo of a wristwatch displaying the time 4:49 — which coincided with the delayed start of Trump’s speech on Sunday. Some within QAnon predict that Trump may return to the White House as soon as this Thursday, March 4 — although major figures within the movement are trying to dissuade people from promoting this theory.But after Sunday’s speech, during which Trump laid out aspects of the election process he sees as broken, supporters immediately used this as “evidence” that the former president was going to somehow re-run last year’s vote and conduct something they called a “military election.”“I know what he's doing,” one Great Awakenings member posted. “He just announced his candidacy for president for the 2021 military election.”
Others enthusiastically agreed, with one adding: “Yeah. I’ve long thought we’d see a re-run of the election, with oversight from the military. My prediction record is not impeccable, but his speech truly seemed to confirm that path, that part of the plan.”