How QAnon Crept Into the Mind of Donald TrumpRoundup
tags: conspiracy theories, Republican Party, conservatism, Donald Trump, QAnon
Jeff Sharlet is the author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power and a Professor of English at Dartmouth College.
She saw shadows. She always had. She was spiritual, not Christian—she’d left that behind when she’d left Waco, in her early 20s. She got into Wicca, “super witchy,” says a friend. “She was fun, happy, a little wild. Just a normal girl.” I’ll call her Evelyn, because she’s in a sense a hostage now, a captive of her beliefs. There are Evelyns everywhere. This Evelyn was in Austin. She worked when she could, sometimes she danced, stripped. She had a boyfriend who took care of her. She’d never had much luck holding on to a job. She’d bounce back and forth between her family in Waco and her friends in the city, right to left, red to blue. She was bright—a good listener, says one friend, a liberal lawyer whom Evelyn called “freedom fighter.” She was gullible, says another friend, the one who introduced Evelyn to QAnon not long into the pandemic, “for shits and giggles.”
Which is how Evelyn came to believe that the shadows she’d seen within Wicca as the nuances of life were actually the satanic forces that Q—thought by devotees to be a government insider “dropping” cryptic clues via chat forums about Donald Trump’s decades-old plan to destroy the deep state—believes control the Democratic Party. She “followed the white rabbit,” as QAnon believers put it, she “went down the rabbit hole.” She came to believe that the darkness to which she’d always been sensitive was not part of the light but at war with it. That the shadows had become flesh and that the flesh had become politics and that the love of Trump she’d embraced because she loved her family, abandoning her once-liberal views, required the hatred of his enemies: the “cabal.” Child-sacrificing Democratic elites, a monstrous network not just of pedophiles but of cannibals, harvesters of children’s adrenal glands (all the better to stay youthful), for an evil concoction one part Botox and two parts blood libel, the old idea that Jews make matzo from the blood of Christian babies.
Do I need to say none of this is true? I do. But the delusion is every bit as dangerous as if it were.
There are no turning points when the world is spinning out of control, so the Trump interview with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham that aired August 31—displaced by the time you read this by a dozen more distractions and disasters—did not so much mark a new low as erase altogether the meaning of pre-Trump terms such as “new low.” Now there is only the abyss. We’re all in it together, and Trump is down here too. Which is why it’s worth pausing, as we rush toward November and the certain violence that will follow any outcome, to consider Trump’s words to Ingraham.
“Biden,” he says, slumped in a chair, “Biden is, I don’t even like to mention Biden”—(fact check: he does)—“because he’s not controlling anything.” This is Trump boilerplate—he’s been calling Biden a puppet since at least last fall.
Ingraham attempts to normalize. The media of which Trump approves doesn’t just parrot his words, it launders them. Ingraham asks who’s “pulling the strings.” She proposes “Obama’s people,” which is triple-ply: simultaneously a plausible suggestion of continuity; a racist dog whistle; and a bone for QAnon, followers of which know that “Obama’s people” means “pedophiliac cannibals.” It’s the kind of yes, and message that’d usually elicit a smirk from Trump, an insult comic at heart.
Not this time. He tilts forward, his hands uncharacteristically clasped between his knees, and breaks eye contact, glancing away. His voice gathers texture. “People that you’ve never heard of, people that are in the dark shadows, people—”
“Dark shadows,” says Ingraham. “What is that?” It’s not a question, it’s a redirect.
“No,” Trump says, as if he knows how he sounds. “People that you haven’t heard of,” he repeats. In the past when Trump spoke of Biden’s puppeteers, he wanted you to think you knew whom he meant. “Reasonable” Republicans understood it was Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer—just as many Democrats say Mitch McConnell controls Trump. Racists heard him calling out AOC and the Squad, impertinent women of color. And the deeper read was George Soros, maybe the Rothschilds.