Donald Trump, who’s recently claimed not to know much about QAnon but is keenly aware that believers like him, is now officially dropping unfounded deep state conspiracies on television, one of which seems to have been lifted from a viral Facebook post.
In a wild interview with Fox’s Laura Ingraham (part 1, part 2, part 3), which aired last night, he stated that Joe Biden is a figurehead for “people that are in the dark shadows” who are bankrolling protests in a scheme to overthrow America. He added an even more bizarre conspiracy about a planeload of people dressed in black, coming from an unspecified destination, who’d plotted to attack the Republican National Convention. While he didn’t say the people are Satanic pedophiles, it was enough red meat to sustain QAnon through November and beyond.
He also portrayed Black Lives Matter as being a cop-hunting militia since its founding, and added that the police officer who shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back simply “choked,” as one does in golf.
The interview — heavily coached by Ingraham — hammered on law and order, a topic which Trump is largely staking his campaign on (“every time I put ‘law and order’ up on social media, it gets such an incredible, positive response,” he gloated.) The conversation revolved mainly around protests in Portland, Oregon, where a member of the right-wing group Patriot Prayer, whose leader was charged with rioting at a protest last year, was killed on Saturday. “Portland’s been burning for many years, for decades, it’s been burning,” Trump said, right out the gate. This is not even figuratively accurate. He added that protesters are being paid for by “stupid foolish people that made a lot of money,” an accusation he’s leveled at his detractors for years.
Ingraham seemed to nod in agreement, citing “the corporations.” But things started going so far off the rails when Trump added that Biden is “controlled like a puppet” that even Ingraham gently pumped the brakes:
Ingraham: “Who do you think is pulling Bidens’ strings, is it former Obama officials?”
Trump: “People that you’ve never heard of, people that are in the dark shadows — ”
Ingraham: “What does that mean? It sounds like a conspiracy theory, dark shadows.”
Trump: “No, people that you haven’t heard of, they’re people that are on the streets, they’re people that are controlling the streets.”
They are in the shadows, controlling the streets, from the streets…the shadows that are the streets.
Trump then threw in a suspiciously vague reference to a seemingly thwarted, and possibly imaginary attack on the RNC, by a planeload of people dressed in black:
Trump: “We had somebody get on a plane from a certain city this weekend. And in the plane it was almost completely loaded with thugs, wearing these dark uniforms, black uniforms, with gear and this and that- they’re on a plane.”
NBC News reporter Ben Collins pointed out that this rings eerily close to a now-deleted viral Facebook rumour warning people that “at least a dozen males got off the plane in Boise from Seattle, dressed head to toe in black.” The post attempted to tie these likely fictional individuals to Antifa, and encouraged those reading the post to “carry heavy,” i.e. arm themselves. By June, the rumour had morphed to the extent that the Payette County, Idaho, Sheriff’s Office had to reassure citizens that they had not, in fact, warned people to lock their doors and their guns to protect against incoming plane and busloads of Antifa invaders. (For now, sending unidentified jackbooted troops into cities to kidnap people in unmarked vans is safely reserved for Trump)
Ingraham asked Trump where, precisely, this alleged plane was, resulting in the following exchange:
Trump: “I’ll tell you sometime, but it’s under investigation right now. But they came from a certain city. And this person was coming to the Republican National Convention. And there were like seven people on the plane like this person and then there were a lot of people on the plane to do big damage.”
Ingraham: “Planning for Washington.”
Trump: “Yeah this was all happening.”
Ingraham: “But the money is coming from somewhere, how can it be tracked?”
Trump: “The money is coming from some very stupid rich people who have no idea that if their thing succeeded, which it won’t, they would be thrown to the wolves like you’ve never seen before.”
Naturally, Trump has since been asked to further clarify what the hell this means and where he’s getting his intel from. Speaking to reporters on his way to Kenosha, Wisconsin, he said that the information comes from a “person you know”:
I could probably refer you to the person, and they could do it. I’d like to ask that person if it was ok, but a person was on a plane said that there were about six people like that person more or less, and what happens is the entire plane filled up with the looters, the anarchists, the rioters, people that obviously were looking for trouble. And the person felt very uncomfortable on the plane. And this would be a person you know, so I’ll see if I can get that person, and I’ll let them know. I’ll see whether or not I can get that person to speak to you. But this was a firsthand account of a plane going from Washington to wherever, and I’ll see if I can get that information for you, maybe they’ll speak to you and maybe they won’t.
(Did anyone else notice that the number of people on the plane seemed to diminish every time he told the story? A 747 can hold 366 passengers, but maybe this plane is just a very, very small?)
This will sound like nonsense to most people, but it’s incredibly reckless nonsense to share with people who fully believe, based on internet rumours, that Trump is here to defeat a cabal of elites who molest and eat children. QAnon adherents have rammed a stranger’s car, blocked the Hoover Dam with an armoured truck, killed a mob boss, set off to “take out” Joe Biden. One even killed his own brother with a sword, among numerous other instances of violence.
The QAnon conspiracy theory has been on Trump’s radar and Twitter feed. Whether or not he adheres to the dogma as openly as Eric Trump, he has, for years, retweeted and quote-tweeted the endorsements, memes, and — as of this weekend — false covid-19 claims made by the movement’s believers.
When asked in an August 19th press conference whether he condones QAnon, he said that he knew that “they like me very much, which I appreciate.” He added that QAnon seem to be the kind of people who don’t like “what’s going on in places like Portland.”
There’s no way to know if Trump honesty believes in the broader narrative the Qanon has attempted to cobble together. It could be that Trump just likes reaffirming his personal belief that he’s a saviour. Ultimately it doesn’t matter, because no matter the context, he’s encouraging his supporters to view protesters as a threat — and he’s goading those that already do into lashing out with violent, deadly force.