President Donald Trump’s rally in Michigan on Thursday night featured many of his classic hits. He mocked asylum seekers, insulted the media, accused Democrats of defrauding the public with “ridiculous bullshit,” insulted the size of Rep. Adam Schiff’s (D-CA) neck and claimed (incorrectly) that Attorney General William Barr’s four-page summary of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report completely vindicated him.
Perhaps an even more depressing note than all those things, however, was the prevalence of QAnon-related merchandise in the audience — proving no amount of failed predictions can convince the supporters of one of America’s most prominent conspiracy theories that they just might be on the wrong track.
QAnon is a theory which, in a nutshell, claims prominent members of the Democratic Party, the media, and George Soros are all part of a secret cabal of global elites who indulge in Satanic worship and pedophilia. At some unspecified point in the future, the conspiracy claims, Trump, along with Mueller, will unleash the “Storm” by delivering thousands of sealed indictments against his political enemies, and promptly execute them or ship them off to Guantanamo Bay.
“Q” is the shadowy figure at the center of the conspiracy who claims to have high level security clearance inside the Trump administration, but who is widely regarded as an extremely dedicated troll.
The theory has been circulating on the internet since October 2017, but only started to gain mainstream traction in August 2018 after QAnon supporters were seen at a Trump rally in Tampa, Florida. In response, more mainstream pro-Trump figures like right-wing pundit Kurt Schlichter and former press secretary Sean Spicer, disavowed Q. More recently, in January, former White House adviser Sebastian Gorka tweeted that “Q IS GARBAGE,” drawing the ire of Q supporters.
Since then, Q conspiracy theorists have doubled down.
The number of QAnon supporters and related merchandise at Trump’s Michigan rally this week proved the disavowals have clearly not worked. Travis View, a researcher who specializes in following QAnon, tweeted that the gathering “may have [been] the largest QAnon presence since” the Tampa rally.
NBC also noted a large number of pro-QAnon Trump supporters in the crowd outside the rally. A QAnon sign was clearly visible in one of the rally photos that Trump tweeted later.
Trump himself notably tweeted a video last week that originated from a pro-QAnon account called “Deep State Exposed.”
I've been covering Qanon for a year, and the amount of pro-Q people in this video from yesterday's Trump rally line in Grand Rapids is absolutely shocking. This is just a portion of it. pic.twitter.com/hTDGEnPsEi
— Ben Collins (@oneunderscore__) March 29, 2019
According to The Daily Beast, QAnon merchandise was banned from Trump rallies by Secret Service after their mainstream exposure in Tampa. The agency did not respond to ThinkProgress’ inquiry about why such material was present at the Michigan rally.
“Q’s” predictions, of course, have been repeatedly turned out to be false. In February, QAnon supporters claimed Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was dead. She isn’t. “Q” also claimed that George H. W. Bush’s funeral on December 5 would be the cover for mass arrests. It wasn’t.
The constant delay in mass arrests has left some prominent QAnoners irate, with supporter Liz Cronkin saying in January that she’ll have to “bow out” of the movement if there aren’t mass arrests this year.
None of this seems to matter to QAnon supporters, who continue to make their presence felt over the internet in bizarre ways. In March, a QAnon book on Amazon climbed its way into the top ten list on Amazon. As Mother Jones noted, QAnon fans have created several petitions for the White House — including one demanding the Marines occupy the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, where the Deep State is supposedly indulging in child sacrifice.
The prevalence of the theory might be darkly amusing if it weren’t for the fact that it indulges in the same paranoia and fetishization of violence that has previously boiled over into real world violence.
In July 2016, a man armed with an AR-15 entered Comet Ping Pong Pizza in Washington, D.C., looking for evidence of human trafficking. He had been inspired by the Pizzagate theory, a precursor to QAnon, which claimed high-ranking officials in the Democratic Party were using the restaurant as cover for a child sex ring. The man was eventually arrested, but only after he had fired three rounds inside the building. (No one was hurt in the incident.)
In June 2018, an armed QAnon supporter engaged in a standoff with police on the Hoover Damn. The 30-year-old man reportedly drove his self-made armored vehicle onto the dam and parked it, blocking traffic trying to cross the bridge, before holding up a sign referencing a popular QAnon theory. Police later took him into custody without incident.
QAnon “research” is now mostly concentrated on 8chan — the same site the alleged gunman in the New Zealand shooting used to livestream his attack earlier this month.
Trump’s continued rhetoric, which stops just short of advocating the same type of violence QAnon supporters are hoping for, has done little to temper the situation.
During Thursday’s rally in Michigan, Trump named a laundry list of people who had slighted him over the Mueller probe. The crowd began chanting, “Lock them up” — and Trump appeared to egg them on.