We should probably talk about the QAnon problem at Trump’s Michigan rally

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    President Donald Trump loves to trash the “fake media,” but there was no shortage of coverage of his 2020 campaign rally in Grand Rapids this week.

    Reporters lined up to preserve the wisdom of Trump supporters and assorted figures from Trumpworld, like cable news talking head fave Kayleigh McEnany.

    But the prevalence of folks supporting the bizarre death cult QAnon — flagged by our reporter covering the event, Nick Manes, and a few others, didn’t get nearly as much attention.

    QAnon gear has been banned at some events. NBC News reporter Ben Collins, who describes himself as being on the “dystopia beat,” also pointed out the number of “Q” adherents in a series of tweets:

    What’s QAnon? Here’s this explainer from ThinkProgress, which did cover the group in Grand Rapids:

    QAnon is a theory which, in a nutshell, claims prominent members of the Democratic Party, the media, and George Soros are all part of a secret cabal of global elites who indulge in Satanic worship and pedophilia. At some unspecified point in the future, the conspiracy claims, Trump, along with Mueller, will unleash the “Storm” by delivering thousands of sealed indictments against his political enemies, and promptly execute them or ship them off to Guantanamo Bay.

    “Q” is the shadowy figure at the center of the conspiracy who claims to have high level security clearance inside the Trump administration, but who is widely regarded as an extremely dedicated troll.

    The theory has been circulating on the internet since October 2017, but only started to gain mainstream traction in August 2018 after QAnon supporters were seen at a Trump rally in Tampa, Florida. In response, more mainstream pro-Trump figures like right-wing pundit Kurt Schlichter and former press secretary Sean Spicer, disavowed Q. More recently, in January, former White House adviser Sebastian Gorka tweeted that “Q IS GARBAGE,” drawing the ire of Q supporters.

    Since then, Q conspiracy theorists have doubled down.

    And plenty of folks were proudly wearing “Q” gear to Trump’s rally in Grand Rapids.

    Donald Trump | Gage Skidmore, Flickr

    It’s also worth noting, as the Advance did on Thursday, that political scientists writing for the Washington Post have found in their research that counties which hosted a 2016 Trump campaign rally “saw a 226 percent increase in reported hate crimes over comparable counties that did not host such a rally.”

    Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has opened up a hate crimes unit. She said that she believes hate crimes have increased in the state since 2016 because Trump is “a huge factor.”

    The underbelly of the internet is a disturbing place — 4chan, 8chan, Reddit, YouTube conspiracy theory sites and beyond. That’s one I’m personally not fond of visiting — I’m not big on pro-rape Men’s Rights Activist propaganda or dank memes about how Nazis are cool, or at least not as annoying as libs.

    Crowds lining up for blocks to see President Trump in Grand Rapids, March 28, 2019 | Nick Manes

    But it can’t be ignored. These sites and the hate and fear they spread were a factor in the 2016 election. And it had a disturbing impact, with a supporter of the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory storming the Washington restaurant with an assault rifle.

    This all will most certainly will play a role in in 2020, too. And while there are crazy people on all sides of the political spectrum, Trump has attracted some very violent supporters like the Proud Boys and plenty of folks who are passionate adherents to violent conspiracy theories.

    Collins reports on QAnon frequently and he thought the number of supporters at the Trump Grand Rapids rally was “shocking.” That’s a pretty big eye-opener. He also called it a “widespread systemic failure” — and it’s hard to argue with that.

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    Susan J. Demas is a 17-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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