Whenever Donald Trump speaks for an extended period of time, it’s all but inevitable his audience will hear some odd conspiracy theories. At an NBC News town-hall event last night, for example, the president suggested several governors are only taking steps to curtail the coronavirus pandemic in order to undermine his re-election campaign.
That’s ridiculous, of course, but it was also rather routine. More alarming was the Republican’s approach to more dangerous and insidious conspiracy theories.
This week, the president apparently thought it’d be responsible to promote a series of bizarre ideas about Osama bin Laden and SEAL Team 6, which in turn has sparked some aggressive pushback. When Savannah Guthrie asked for some kind of explanation, Trump initially said he didn’t know anything about the conspiracy theory he brought to the public.
Pressed further, he added, “That was an opinion of somebody…. I’ll put it out there. People can decide for themselves.” It fell to Guthrie to remind the incumbent leader of the free world, “You’re the president,” Guthrie responded. “You’re not someone’s crazy uncle who can retweet whatever.”
And then things got quite a bit worse.
“I know nothing about QAnon,” he said. “I do know that they are very much against pedophilia, and I agree with that.” An FBI field office recently warned that “fringe political conspiracy theories” like QAnon “very likely motivate some domestic extremists” (it already has motivated some acts of violence), and social media giants have clamped down on QAnon.
For those who may need a refresher, the basic idea behind the crackpot nonsense is that Donald Trump is secretly at war with nefarious forces of evil, including Democrats, Hollywood celebrities, the “deep state,” cannibals, and an underground ring of Satanic pedophiles that only adherents of the conspiracy theory are aware of.
As we recently discussed, this isn’t just the usual conspiratorial nonsense bubbling up from the right. It’s vastly weirder and more radical. Last year, the FBI went so far as to classify QAnon as a domestic-terror threat in an internal memo.
With this in mind, for the president to say he doesn’t know anything about QAnon is plainly false: Trump, as recently as August, stood at the White House podium and expressed his appreciation for the adherents’ support. Referring to the radicals, he added at the time, “I’ve heard these are people who love our country.”
It was around this same time that the president expressed his support for QAnon cult members running for Congress, while routinely promoting online content from QAnon followers.
But last night, Trump made matters vastly worse by insisting that adherents of the delusional theory “are very much against pedophilia.” The practical effects of this are obvious: QAnon cultists will see this as presidential validation of their ridiculous efforts.
It would’ve been easy for the president to do the right thing. He might have even earned plaudits by denouncing the dangerous conspiracy theory and telling the public that it’s not true.
But Trump didn’t want to. Instead he feigned ignorance, offered tacit support for one of the cult’s central tenets, and tried to change the subject. Even by 2020 standards, it was a shameful display.