The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Even if they haven’t heard of QAnon, most Trump voters believe its wild allegations

A supporter of President Trump in Adairsville, Ga., on Sept. 5. (Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters)

To President Trump, there is no higher compliment to be paid to someone than that they support him. When the hosts of “Fox and Friends” pressed him on the important issues of the campaign on Tuesday morning — how he felt about an endorsement from actress Kirstie Alley — Trump was effusive about how successful she’d been in Hollywood and how great her hair was.

I am not making this up.

So, when Trump has been occasionally asked to weigh in on QAnon — a sprawling, bizarre web of conspiracy theories centered dually on the existence of a massive sex-trafficking ring and on Trump as national savior — he has generally declined to be critical of its adherents. In August, he was asked whether he would disavow the theory, given that federal law enforcement is concerned about its followers engaging in violent crimes because of their delusional beliefs. Trump shrugged at the idea: “I don’t know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate.”

The overlap of QAnon and Trumpism has been obvious for some time. The group came to national attention in 2018 after an effort to recruit new followers by displaying Q signs and slogans at Trump rallies. But its roots go back further, to the 2016 release of material stolen from Hillary Clinton’s campaign by Russian hackers. Emails discussing pizza were reinterpreted near the end of that election as referring to child sex trafficking, a theory that spun up into what was then called Pizzagate. After Trump was inaugurated, an anonymous online commenter called Q began to claim that the government was engaged in an effort to uproot a massive sex-trafficking ring — an effort led by Trump. QAnon was born.

Interestingly, Trump supporters are less likely than supporters of former vice president Joe Biden to say that they are familiar with the theory itself, according to Yahoo-YouGov polling released Tuesday.

It’s important to note as frequently as possible that the various theories that circle around QAnon are uniformly ridiculous and false. One hesitates to even elevate them for don’t-think-about-an-elephant reasons: Even introducing the idea that some people believe this false thing might spur more people to think maybe there’s a grain of truth at play.

The good news from the Yahoo-YouGov poll is that, among those who had heard of QAnon, most reject it as untrue or — as is the case with a plurality of Trump supporters — don’t have a firm opinion of it. About 4 in 10 Republicans and Trump supporters, though, think either that it is true or that some parts of it are, though it goes too far.

The problem, though, is that Trump supporters and Republicans are also more likely to say that they ascribe to one of the more toxic parts of the QAnon theory, independent of whether they’re familiar with QAnon itself.

Republicans and Trump supporters indicated that they were more likely to have seen information on Facebook or in their email centered on sex trafficking.

A quarter of Trump supporters and slightly more Republicans said they saw such information “very often.” Those groups (which obviously overlap to a large degree) are also much more likely to say that child sex trafficking is at least somewhat of a problem in the United States. (The number of children abused in this way each year probably numbers in the thousands.)

Asked whether top Democrats were involved in sex-trafficking rings, a majority of Republicans and Trump supporters said that they were.

It’s worth noting that this question preceded questions about QAnon. So while it’s a question about a QAnon tenet, it was introduced to the respondents outside of that context.

As was a question about whether Trump was trying to dismantle the aforementioned rings. More than half of Trump supporters indicated that they believed the president was involved in such an effort.

It’s likely the case that some of this stems from partisan hostility, that Republicans, asked whether Democrats are engaged in one of the worst crimes imaginable, are more likely to level such an accusation. It may also be the case that the focus on QAnon in the media has spurred more interest in the group — and that rejections of its bonkers allegations as bonkers have prompted a sort of enemy-of-my-enemy response. Trump supporters are highly critical of the media, after all; if The Washington Post says QAnon is dangerous gibberish, maybe there’s something to it?

Then there’s the aspect of it that was shared with me by a QAnon supporter at a rally in Pennsylvania two summers ago.

“I view it as hope,” a 26-year-old who declined to give his full name told me. “It’s like there’s a larger design. Despite all the chaos the country is going through, there is a backbone of what’s taking place behind the scenes.”

QAnon is a plate of conspiratorial Legos, but it’s one from which adherents are encouraged to build out their own structures. If you assume that Trump’s presidency is like an iceberg and that the bulk of what’s happening is occurring out of sight, it offers some stability.

All of this is beside the point for Trump. If people want to revere him as a super crime fighter, to praise him and come to his rallies and — most importantly — vote for him, fine by him.

Maybe there were better actors on “Cheers” than Kirstie Alley, but were there better people?