The pandemic has seen a proliferation of conspiracy theories related to Covid-19 vaccines, 5G cellphone towers, and furniture companies promoting human trafficking. But the conspiracy theory that has perhaps gotten the biggest boost from the commander-in-chief is QAnon, the far-right belief that prominent left-wing Democratic politicians and sundry celebrities are involved in a child trafficking ring, and that President Trump is lying in wait to arrest them all. (JFK Jr., who has been dead for more than 20 years, and Beyoncé are also, somehow, involved.) The “Q” in question is an anonymous poster on the fringe message board 8kun who purports to have insider knowledge of the Trump administration — leaving breadcrumbs, or supposed clues, for the benefit of so-called “bakers” who follow the conspiracy theory — even though his “predictions” have continuously failed to come true.
The theory is utterly and completely baseless. But that hasn’t stopped it from exploding in popularity during the pandemic and resulted in real-world violence, including a 2018 incident where a man in an armored truck stopped traffic at the Hoover Dam, and the 2019 murder of a Staten Island mob boss. QAnon and QAnon-adjacent theories have promulgated thanks in no small part to Trump, who has retweeted QAnon posts an estimated 216 times as of August 20th, according to an analysis by Media Matters.
Such tacit endorsement has done much to fuel the theory, as one of the primary goals of QAnon supporters is to attract Trump’s attention; QAnon’s belief is that Trump is regularly dropping “breadcrumbs” acknowledging them and nodding to the theory. But as QAnon has become more and more mainstream, with multiple Congressional candidates in both the house and the Senate espousing QAnon and QAnon-adjacent conspiracy theories, Trump’s nods have become a lot more explicit and terrifying. Indeed, in the weeks leading up to the election, he has explicitly refused to disavow them when asked, despite the movement’s demonstrated history of inciting violence. Below, a timeline for Trump and the Trump administration’s promotion of QAnon.
October 28th, 2017
An anonymous poster claiming to have “Q” clearance, a high level of military clearance, starts posting about “the storm,” a “countercoup against members of the deep state” orchestrated by President Trump. The poster claims, among other things, that Robert Mueller is working with Trump to bring down so-called deep state operatives like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Podesta; and that the then-recent Las Vegas mass shooting was an inside job orchestrated by the Clintons. Q’s theories quickly spread on platforms like Twitter and YouTube, where Q explainer videos rack up millions of views.
November 25th, 2017
Trump quote-tweets a list of his administration’s accomplishments by @MAGAPill, a pro-Trump account that regularly promotes QAnon and uses the vernacular associated with the conspiracy theory, as well as a link to the MAGAPill website. “Wow, even I didn’t realize we did so much. Wish the Fake News would report! Thank you,” he says in his tweet. He will retweet or quote-tweet QAnon-promoting accounts twice in the following year.
July 31st, 2018
Several Trump supporters show up at a rally in Tampa with “Q” T-shirts and signs. In one shot on Fox News, the president is partially blocked by a sign that reads, “We Are Q.” Another sign that aired on Fox News alludes to the debunked conspiracy theory about the death of DNC staffer Seth Rich, along with the hashtags “#WWG1WGA” (“where we go one, we go all”) and “#QAnon.”
The signs effectively act as free promotion for the movement. “We’re no longer talking about an exposure of a million people,” Benjamin Decker, a fellow for Harvard’s Shorenstein Center, told ABC News. “If a rally is broadcast on a major news network, we’re talking tens of millions of people are now exposed to this whole concept of ‘Q.'” When asked about the presence of Q supporters at the rally, then-press secretary Sarah Sanders says, “The president condemns and denounces any group that would incite violence against another individual, and certainly doesn’t support groups that would promote that type of behavior,” but does not directly denounce the group.
August 24th, 2018
Michael LeBron, a.k.a. “Lionel,” a self-described “conspiracy analyst” on the far-right website InfoWars who had been regularly promoting QAnon theories, tweets photos of himself in the White House with QAnon hashtags #TrustThePlan and #WWG1WGA. He also posts a photo of himself with a grinning President Trump. Then-press secretary Sarah Sanders dismisses the tweets, saying, “”A large group came through the White House for a brief tour and a photo.”
March 28th, 2019
At a rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Q supporters show up in full force; QAnon researcher and host of QAnon Anonymous podcast Travis View tweets that the gathering “may have [been] the largest QAnon presence since” the Tampa rally last July. Trump later tweets a photo of the crowd at the rally, where a “Q” sign is highly visible.
August 1st, 2019
Yahoo News reports that the FBI officially cited QAnon as a potential domestic terrorism threat in an internal bulletin from the bureau’s Phoenix field office. “The FBI assesses these conspiracy theories very likely will emerge, spread, and evolve in the modern information marketplace, occasionally driving both groups and individual extremists to carry out criminal or violent acts,” the document states. The FBI declines to comment on the bulletin, but says the agency “routinely shares information with our law enforcement partners in order to assist in protecting the communities they serve.”
August 7th, 2019
The Trump campaign puts out a “Women for Trump” ad on YouTube in which several “Q” signs and slogans are highly visible. It later deletes the ad.
November 7th, 2019
White House deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino tweets a GIF of a ticking clock, an apparent reference to QAnon iconography signifying the countdown to the moment when Trump vanquishes his detractors. Scavino will also post ticking-clock memes without any context or commentary in May and June 2020.
December 7th, 2019
Trump retweets Tracy Beanz, a prominent YouTuber and QAnon influencer. The tweet includes a link to U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes’ defamation lawsuit against CNN and claims the network is “#fakenews.” Beanz was instrumental in helping spread the theory in 2017 and organized a QAnon march in Washington, D.C., in 2018.
February 22th, 2020
Trump retweets a link to an AP News story about the San Diego police department from Praying Medic, a prominent QAnon influencer with hundreds of thousands of followers.
February 24th, 2020
At a Trump rally, Trump campaign spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany interviews a supporter wearing a QAnon motto T-shirt. “If you could say one thing to the president, what would you say?” she asks. The supporter replies, “Who is Q.” “All right, I will pass all of this along [to the president],” McEnany responds. The QAnon community is elated, and the QAnon supporter subsequently becomes a minor celebrity within it.
February 27th, 2020
The Trump campaign releases an ad using footage from a Las Vegas campaign rally featuring a shot of a woman wearing a “Q” T-shirt. Another ad featuring footage from an Arizona rally also features a shot of a man in a “Q” shirt.
April 12th, 2020
Trump retweets a call to fire Anthony Fauci from DeAnna Lorraine, a congressional candidate who has openly espoused QAnon beliefs. He will later retweet three other QAnon-supporting candidates for the House and the Senate.
July 4th, 2020
Trump retweets QAnon-related accounts 14 times in one day.
July 5th, 2020
Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn posts a 53-second clip on Twitter in which he is seen taking an oath. At the end of the clip, he says, “Where we go one, we go all,” a QAnon slogan. The tweet is hashtagged #TakeTheOath, also a QAnon reference. (Flynn’s bio on Twitter also includes the hashtag #TakeTheOath.) Through his lawyer, Flynn has denied that the video had any relation to the conspiracy theory.
August 6th, 2020
Trump twice retweets Angela Stanton-King, a candidate for Georgia’s 5th congressional district and prominent far-right influencer who has confirmed her belief in a debunked conspiracy theory alleging that Wayfair is part of a child sex-trafficking ring. Though she has denied her belief in the QAnon conspiracy theory, following the retweets an elated Stanton-King tweets, “The storm is here,” a QAnon catchphrase.
August 12th, 2020
On Twitter, Trump congratulates Marjorie Taylor Greene, a congressional candidate from Georgia who won the GOP primary and has openly espoused QAnon beliefs. At a press conference, a reporter asks Trump if he agrees with her promotion of QAnon. “Well, she did very well in the election. She won by a lot. She was very popular. She comes from a great state and she had a tremendous victory. So, absolutely, I did congratulate her,” he says. He does not answer a follow-up question as to whether or not he agrees with her about QAnon.
August 19th, 2020
During a White House press conference, a reporter once again directly asks Trump about QAnon. “I’ve heard these are people that love our country,” Trump responds. “So I don’t know really anything about it other than they do supposedly like me.” When asked whether he could produce evidence to support the primary tenets of the theory, Trump responds, “If I can help save the world from problems, I am willing to do it. I’m willing to put myself out there.” QAnon supporters on social media are thrilled.
September 9th, 2020
The Associated Press reports that Mike Pence is set to attend a fundraiser hosted by a prominent QAnon-supporting couple. He later backs out of the event.
October 14th, 2020
Trump retweets a post from a QAnon account propagating the baseless claim that Obama and Joe Biden had SEAL Team 6 killed in an effort to cover up an elaborate plot about Osama bin Laden’s staged murder.
In a town hall on NBC News, Savannah Guthrie presses Trump to denounce QAnon. “I know nothing about it. I do know they are very much against pedophilia. They fight it very hard. But I know nothing about it,” Trump initially claims before going on to say, “What I do hear about it is that they are very strongly against pedophilia, and I agree with that. I mean, I agree with that. And I do agree with that very strongly.” He refuses to denounce the movement.