By Donie O’Sullivan, Gabby Orr and Kristen Holmes, CNN
Supporters of QAnon on former President Donald Trump’s social media platform have celebrated what they see as his renewed embrace of the conspiracy theory over the past week after he shared a meme that was viewed as one of his most brazen nods to QAnon yet.
The meme Trump shared on Truth Social included an illustration of him wearing a “Q” on his lapel and two QAnon slogans — “The storm is coming” and “WWG1WGA” (Where we go one, we go all). A few days later, he held a rally in Youngstown, Ohio, where he delivered some of his speech to music that sounded almost exactly like a song associated with QAnon. As he did that, a group of his supporters in the crowd began pointing in unison toward the sky.
“Once we saw that, we realized we might have a problem,” a Trump aide told CNN. The former President’s team spent hours online after the rally trying to understand what the salute meant and where it might have come from, sources said.
Some thought the crowd pointing one finger (their index finger) toward the sky was in reference to Trump’s “America First” platform, said one Trump aide who spoke to CNN on the condition of anonymity. Another said they believed it referred to “God first,” while others thought it might be an allusion to the QAnon slogan, “where we go one, we go all.”
Even among academics and experts who track QAnon and other disinformation online, the answer to what this all means remains unclear; they had not seen this one-finger salute before.
But the post was welcomed on Truth Social by followers of the conspiracy theory, who believe in the existence of an evil cabal and view Trump as their hero.
“At this point, anyone denying that Q was a legit operation affiliated with the Trump administration is in major denial,” read a post on one QAnon-supporting Truth Social account that has 120,000 followers.
Trump has appeared to associate with QAnon themes in the past. However some aides, who were not authorized to speak publicly, have dismissed concerns about their boss’ behavior, chalking it up to the mindless social media re-posts of a “boomer.”
His team has also continued to use a song at recent rallies after some of his aides became aware it had QAnon connections in early August.
Trump aides believe the former President had re-posted the meme not because it referenced QAnon, but because it was fashioned like a “Game of Thrones” poster, pointing out it resembled a poster Trump had brought to a Cabinet meeting as president.
Mindless or not, some experts say what Trump is doing is dangerous. “What we have is a former President, a potential candidate for the presidency of the United States, legitimizing what is in essence a cult,” Greg Ehrie, a former FBI special agent who now works with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), told CNN Tuesday.
The FBI warned last year of the potential for QAnon to stoke violence, and some people who took part in the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol were wearing or carrying QAnon paraphernalia.
Trump has previously shared QAnon-adjacent memes — often retweeting conspiracy theorists while president before he was removed from Twitter. Asked about QAnon in 2020, Trump responded, “Well I don’t know much about the movement, other than they like me very much.”
The former President has been known to rapid-fire post to his Truth Social account, often without looking closely at the accounts he’s elevating or the content, according to a person close to Trump. “The QAnon stuff is way over his head,” claimed one Trump adviser describing a generally held view in his orbit.
Another person who spoke to Trump recently told CNN, “I’ve never heard him speak of Q and I can’t imagine he’s an adherent or even knows much about it.” Nevertheless, the person said, Trump’s aides have “nudged him away from that kind of stuff.” Trump’s team has a policy of asking supporters at his rallies to remove QAnon-themed shirts and posters once they are inside the venue.
Still, Trump has refused to outright disavow the movement that the FBI has warned is dangerous.
And while major social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have had policies in place since 2020 that prohibit explicit QAnon content, the Trump-era conspiracy theory is thriving on Truth Social.
“I think the onus is on him to avoid this kind of crap,” said another Trump ally.
A song with echoes of QAnon
As for the song Trump played at his rally last Saturday night that has been linked to QAnon, Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich publicly dismissed concerns about the music as “a pathetic attempt to create controversy and divide America.”
But privately over the weekend Trump’s team wanted to know its origin.
There appears to be two versions online of all but identical songs. One, named after the QAnon slogan “WWG1WGA” and available on Spotify, is by an artist named Richard Feelgood. Another, entitled “Mirrors,” is by a reputable composer. Trump’s team says they sourced the song from the latter, using a stock music software.
The song was first used by the Trump team in a walkup video at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas in early August. The video’s score had been lifted from a music service called Storyblocks by an aide looking for “dark” and “epic” tunes, a person familiar with the music choice told CNN. Another source said it was chosen after hours of listening to royalty-free songs for the right fit, adding that the song never went through any sort of vetting process before being used in the video.
Some Trump aides became aware of the QAnon connection in early August, after seeing an article by The Daily Beast that identified the connection to Feelgood’s version.
Still, they kept using it. Trump shared a video to Truth Social where the music accompanied campaign-style footage, and then played it at a Pennsylvania rally earlier this month for dramatic emphasis during his final remarks.
While one aide noted that a small group of supporters raised their fingers during that Pennsylvania rally, the team did not think much of it. Trump was enthusiastic about the effect of the music under his speech and the song made its next appearance in Ohio, where the crowd reaction went viral last Saturday.
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