It’s easy to laugh at and dismiss conspiracy theories as relatively harmless cranks: the idea that the earth is flat, or that aliens live on a military base in Nevada, or that JFK Jr. is still alive and disguising himself as an Italian guy from Pittsburgh, are so ludicrous on their face that it’s hard to engage with them seriously. That arguably changes, however, when kids start getting involved, as was demonstrated last night.
The baby in question appeared at the Trump rally in Greenville, North Carolina last night. The rally itself was primarily noteworthy for the crowd breaking out into racist “send her back” chants in response to the President’s attacks on Rep. Ilhan Omar. (Trump later disavowed the chants, despite spending days spewing racist rhetoric against Omar and other female lawmakers of color prior to the rally, as well as instigating the chant by attacking Omar at the rally in the first place.) But in one particularly absurdist moment, Trump spotted the baby on her mother’s shoulders, who was wearing a onesie that said “Trump” on the front and “Q” on the back.
“Look at that beautiful baby, look at that beautiful baby,” Trump said, pointing at the baby as the crowd erupted into cheers. “Wow, what a baby. What a baby! That is a beautiful baby! That’s like from an advertisement, perfect! Look how happy that baby is! So beautiful, thank you, darling. That’s really nice.” (To be fair, the baby was, indeed, extremely cute.)
— Roel Elzinga 🇺🇸⛈🇺🇸 ~ 🇳🇱 ~ 🍿🍿🍿 (@Roelzinga) July 18, 2019
For the uninitiated, the “Q” on the baby’s onesie refers to “QAnon,” a wide-ranging conspiracy theory asserting that leading Democratic party figures, such as Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Podesta, and (for some reason) Tom Hanks, are part of a child sex trafficking ring and larger “deep state” conspiracy intent on targeting President Trump. The conspiracy theory originated on 4chan, when a poster identified only as “Q” started claiming that he was a high-ranking government official who had intimate knowledge of this deep state conspiracy. Q believers also believe that Trump will one day arrest all of the figures associated with the ring and send them to Guantanamo Bay, a day that they refer to as “the Storm.” (While we really hate that we have to actually say this, for the record, there is absolutely zero evidence that any of this is true.)
In a phone interview with Rolling Stone, the baby’s parents, Roman Riselvato, 24, an employee of a subcontracting company, and Cassidy Bailes, 21, a stay-at-home mom and aspiring vlogger, tell Rolling Stone they first became aware of QAnon after Trump was elected. “We find the Q movement empowering because it’s a lot of patriots that are following Trump when a lot of media is bashing our president, and it’s exciting to know there’s someone out there fighting for us and trying to bring the darkness to light,” Riselvato says, referring to Q. (Bailes largely remained quiet on the call, wrangling their daughter in the background.) They decided to bring their daughter to the rally in a Q onesie as a nod to the significance of the date, the 17th of July, which is Q Day (because Q is the 17th letter of the alphabet, as Riselvato explains).
Adherents of the QAnon theory also believe that Trump drops hints to his followers that the Storm is coming, a practice they refer to as “breadcrumbing.” For this reason, Trump’s gushing acknowledgment of Bailes’ and Riselvato’s daughter was viewed among the Q contingent as one of the biggest breadcrumbs of all, with many tweeting about the significance of Trump addressing the #QBaby as a symbol of his endorsement of the movement and the dawn of a new era. The moment gained so much traction on Twitter that at one point it became a trending topic, and was used in more than 38,000 tweets. (The hashtag later disappeared from the trending topics list, presumably due to the flak Twitter and other social media platforms have gotten for elevating conspiracy theory-related content.) At no point did anyone mention one minor problem with the theory: because the “Q” was on the back of the baby’s onesie, Trump likely didn’t even see it in the first place.
This is the most pivotal time in human history & our trajectory on this planet is about to change. The #QBaby is a symbol of Good prevailing over Evil – as more news hits the public re: Satanism, child sacrifice, & sex trafficking, the baby represents the dawn of new era. #Qanon pic.twitter.com/uu7WgnenZL
— Palace Leavitt (@Palace_Leavitt) July 18, 2019
— Jennifer Mac (@TheJenniferMac) July 18, 2019
While the fact that #QBaby gained so much traction so quickly is terrifying, it’s also not super surprising. The most ardent supporters of the theory extremely adept at using social media to propagate it, which has led to an increasing number of people becoming exposed to it: according to one recent YouGov/Economist poll, 11% of respondents said they believed the Pizzagate conspiracy theory (a precursor to QAnon which suggests that Hillary Clinton was involved in a child sex trafficking ring and ritual satanic sacrifice) was “definitely true,” while 24% said it was “probably true.”
Further, QAnon has also been emboldened by the arrest of Jeffrey Epstein, a prominent hedge fund manager who was charged earlier this month with sex trafficking and sex trafficking conspiracy, and is alleged to have sexually abused “dozens” of teenage girls as young as 14. Epstein had ties to such powerful figures as former President Bill Clinton, which has added fuel to the fire of many conspiracy theorists on the far right, who at the same time have aggressively downplayed Epstein’s association with President Trump. And while it’s easy to dismiss QAnon believers as mere cranks, there is overlap between the movement and a more violent strain of far-right extremism: earlier this year, for instance, a 22-year-old man reposted a QAnon YouTube video before attempting to burn down the pizzeria associated with the Pizzagate theory, while Reddit banned the QAnon subreddit last year after months of users making public violent threats.
For what it’s worth, Bailes and Riselvato appear to be leaning heavily into the #qbaby brand, though they said using their daughter to promote their online presence was “not the intention,” says Bailes. But Bailes posted a vlog about the interaction with Trump this morning, and also used the hashtag on Twitter and Instagram. (Also of note: Bailes recently launched an “anti aging hair care” business that she promotes on Instagram, though she did not want to discuss the details of her business and denied that she was using #qbaby to promote it.)
The couple was also dismissive of the idea that they had exploited their daughter to promote their own conspiratorial views. “I don’t think we’re necessarily propagandering [sic] our daughter, more just showing we support the cause and that President Trump supports babies,” says Riselvato, though he followed this up by saying he was happy their daughter was “able to bring a spotlight to the conservative movement.”
— mommy tribe//cassidy (@BailesCassidy) July 18, 2019
And what of the #QBaby herself? Well, while she is pretty adorable, she probably isn’t going to singlehandedly dismantle the Democratic establishment anytime soon. No word on whether she, Riselvalto, or Bailes are actually JFK, Jr. in disguise.
— Sweet Meteor O'Death (@smod4real) July 18, 2019