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By Melissa Ryan

Donald Trump loves conspiracy theories. He owes a lot of his political rise to amplifying birther conspiracies about Barack Obama. As a candidate for President, Trump appeared on Alex Jones’ Infowars. And Business Insider reports that Trump has amplified 21 separate conspiracy theories on Twitter. 

One conspiracy theory that Trump has yet to endorse directly? QAnon, the right’s favorite mega conspiracy theory. Which is interesting when you consider that Trump is the hero of QAnon. Followers believe Trump is working to bring about “The Storm” where his many enemies will be arrested for being “murderous child-eating pedophiles.” QAnon is both ridiculous and the kind of content that you’d think Trump would be all over. 

While Trump hasn’t endorsed QAnon he continually plays footsie with key figures and amplifiers of the conspiracy. Alex Kaplan writing for Media Matters reports that Trump “has amplified tweets from supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory more than 25 times, and members of his family, his personal attorney, current and former campaign staffers, and even some former administration officials have also repeatedly amplified QAnon supporters and their content.” Kaplan also reminds us that “Supporters of QAnon have been linked to murder and other acts of violence, and the FBI has warned about the conspiracy theory as a potential domestic terrorism threat.”

The Trump operation seems to have made a strategic decision that endorsing QAnon is a line they won’t cross but that they also can’t afford to alienate Q’s supporters. Amplifying known supporters of QAnon while remaining silent on the conspiracy itself allows them to signal QAnon while still giving Trump and his administration plausible deniability.

Conspiracy believers are part of Trump’s coalition and both the reelection campaign and the Republican party put effort into reaching out. I should point out that multiple Republican members of Congress, like Trump, clearly believe conspiracy theories and/or use their elected office to amplify them. 

You might be tempted to dismiss conspiracy-mongering as a political tactic and assume that those who subscribe to conspiracy theories are just idiots who probably won’t even vote, but doing so would be a grave mistake. A new paper from political scientists, Michael BangPetersen, Mathias Osmundsen and Kevin Arceneaux, A “Need for Chaos” and the Sharing of Hostile Political Rumors in Advanced Democracies makes the case that motivations to share disinformation and conspiracy theories “are associated with ‘chaotic’ motivations to “burn down” the entire established democratic ‘cosmos’. We show that this extreme discontent is associated with motivations to share hostile political rumors, not because such rumors are viewed to be true but because they are believed to mobilize the audience against disliked elites.” 

Republicans need conspiracy theorists to win, just as they need white supremacists to win. (Yes, there’s a lot of overlap.) More than likely there are Republican operatives out there right now formulating plans to turn out the crucial QAnon vote.



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