When Trump tweeted the image on Sunday night, he said that while he appreciated the sentiment of the meme he was sharing from White House social media director Dan Scavino, he did not exactly understand the meaning behind it.
“Who knows what this means, but it sounds good to me!” Trump tweeted.
The symbolism of the image and language, however, was enough for many to form their own conclusions surrounding recent events. Trump sharing the image was looked at by critics as an allusion to the legend of Roman emperor Nero who fiddled as Rome burned around him. Others pointed out that the line, “Nothing can stop what’s coming,” is a popular phrase linked to the far-right online conspiracy theory QAnon, whose followers have made their fringe presence known at the president’s rallies and have had their content promoted by Trump.
The meme came as the number of coronavirus cases in the United States topped 500 over the weekend, with the Dow expected to open down by as much as 1,200 points on Monday morning thanks to a new oil war sparked by the outbreak.
Trump sharing the meme capped off a full Sunday on social media for the president in which his platform of choice pushed back on an edited video he had shared of one of his Democratic rivals. Earlier in the day, Twitter applied its new “manipulated media” label for the first time to a deceptively edited video of former vice president Joe Biden appearing to inadvertently endorse Trump for reelection. The video was posted by Scavino and later retweeted by Trump, garnering millions of views.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Monday.
The image reminiscent of Nero trended on Twitter into early Monday, and only intensified when people learned that the president played golf at his club in West Palm Beach, Fla., with members of the Washington Nationals on Sunday.
“It means Rome is burning and you’re fiddling around a golf course, Nero,” replied Walter Shaub, a Trump critic and former director of the Office of Government Ethics.
Bill Kristol, the longtime conservative commentator and “Never Trumper,” agreed with the Nero allusion, describing the meme from Scavino as an “impressively subversive esoteric tweet.” Joanne Freeman, a history professor at Yale University, noted how references to the Roman legend have recently popped up more frequently.
“Nero is being recognized more and more these days,” she said. “Except by him.”
The language recognized as a QAnon phrase was considered by some to be a subtle nod to the conspiracy theory, while the use of the line was celebrated by the conspiracy theory’s followers. QAnon conspiracy theory asserts that Trump’s position as president serves primarily as a vehicle for him to carry out a global battle against pedophilia.
As The Washington Post’s Devlin Barrett noted, the QAnon slogan promoted by the president and Scavino on Sunday is “often used to suggest looming arrests of Trump’s critics, or similar vengeance.” Barrett added that T-shirts featuring “Q” and the phrase remain available for purchase on several websites.
The Sunday night tweet is the latest example of the president sharing content linked to the sprawling conspiracy theory. In March 2019, Trump retweeted a QAnon conspiracy theorist, via comedian Larry the Cable Guy, to slam the Transportation Security Administration. Last July, he promoted two Twitter accounts linked to the conspiracy theory while talking about election security and accusing the Democrats of voter fraud.
QAnon language has also found its way to the president’s rallies. Hours after an FBI warning was published last August calling the fringe conspiracy theory a domestic terrorist threat, a QAnon follower took the stage to warm up the crowd before a Trump rally in Cincinnati. He said a line that’s also been referred to as another rallying cry: “Where we go one, we go all.”