A week after the FBI designated internet conspiracy theories like QAnon a potential domestic terror threat, the Trump campaign put out an ad featuring signs that supported the theory. The ad has since been deleted, but its impact on the conspiracy theory cannot be reversed.
The “Women for Trump!” ad was released sometime last week and featured multiple Trump supporters holding signs that referred to QAnon. One was a sign that said “WQMEN FQR TRUMP,” while another said “Keep America Great” with a large “Q” added to it.
While it’s true that QAnon believers gather regularly at Trump rallies and can easily be seen among other supporters, the inclusion of two different images focused on Q signs seems hard to excuse as an oversight. The campaign issued no comment about the video or its eventual removal from YouTube.
QAnon, an extension of the PizzaGate conspiracy that motivated a gunman to fire shots in a Washington, D.C., pizzeria, is the unfounded belief that President Donald Trump and other Washington insiders are secretly working to take down a cabal of Democrats that traffic children across the world. It’s fueled not only by anonymous 4chan poster “Q,” but also by Trump himself through retweets of QAnon accounts on Twitter — not to mention any number of turns of phrase the conspiracy theorists interpret as validation.
A campaign ad that directly cites two Q references is a massive cue to believers that they’re onto something, whether inclusion of the signs was intentional or not.
The FBI warned that the internet allows conspiracy theories to easily spread to large audiences, which could reach “extremist-minded individuals” and motivate them to “possibly carry out criminal or violent actions as a result.” While the QAnon conspiracy does not overtly espouse violence, it has nevertheless been responsible for inspiring numerous violent acts, including two QAnon believers who have been charged with murder.
As the Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg noted, QAnon is like a live-action video game: While its tenets are easily dismissed, the zealousness of its adherents cannot so easily be ignored.