By Michelle Goldberg of The New York Times
The title of the Reddit post this month seemed almost too shocking to be true: “My Qdad snapped and killed my family this morning.”
The post — by Rebecca Lanis, a 21-year-old from Michigan — was on a forum dedicated to people who’ve lost loved ones to QAnon, the sprawling conspiracy cult that imagines that Donald Trump is waging a secret war against blood-drinking pedophiles who run Hollywood and the Democratic Party. As The Detroit News would soon report, Lanis’ father, 53-year-old Igor Lanis, had indeed gone on a murderous rampage.
Lanis described how her father had fallen down the QAnon rabbit hole after the 2020 election. He wasn’t violent, however, until the morning of Sept. 11, when he shot her mother, her sister and their dog, and was then killed in a shootout with the police. Lanis’ sister, despite being shot in the back and legs, survived. Her mother and the dog did not.
The killings weren’t the first to be linked to QAnon radicalization. Last year, a 40-year-old California man confessed to killing his two young children; in an affidavit, an FBI agent said he “explained that he was enlightened by QAnon and Illuminati conspiracy theories” and had come to believe that his children had serpent DNA. In 2019, a QAnon devotee stabbed his brother to death after being convinced that he was a lizard. However bizarre, the idea that the ruling elite are really lizards or reptiles seeking to enslave the human race is an old conspiracy theory that has been subsumed into QAnon’s paranoid omnibus mythology.
All these men appear to have been mentally ill, but QAnon played a role in shaping and reinforcing their delusions, as it has for many committing lesser crimes. On Friday, an Iowa man named Doug Jensen became the latest QAnon follower to be convicted in connection to his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. The existence of the Reddit forum where Lanis posted, QAnon Casualties, is itself a testament to the way QAnon destroys lives.
Which is why Trump’s embrace of the movement is not just dangerous, but cruel.
Trump has long played footsie with QAnon, whose adherents prophesy an apotheosis, or “storm,” in which Trump is returned to power and his enemies rounded up and executed. “I don’t know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate,” Trump said in 2020. When he was still on Twitter, he regularly retweeted QAnon followers.
But in recent weeks, as Trump’s legal troubles have mounted, his endorsement of QAnon has become more forthright. On Sept. 12, he reposted an image of himself wearing a Q lapel pin and the words “The Storm Is Coming” on his social media platform, Truth Social. An Associated Press analysis, published Sept. 16, found that of nearly 75 accounts Trump has reposted on Truth Social in the past month, more than one-third have promoted QAnon.
“What he’s doing on Truth Social is a massive escalation,” said Mike Rothschild, author of “The Storm Is Upon Us: How QAnon Became a Movement, Cult, and Conspiracy Theory of Everything.”
At a rally on Sept. 17, Trump spoke over mournful music that was, as The New York Times reported, “all but identical” to a QAnon theme song; many in the audience raised a pointed finger in the air, a QAnon salute. On Friday, the former president reposted a video full of QAnon memes on Truth Social. (Some around Trump may believe it’s unhelpful for him to openly court an apocalyptic cult; at a rally Friday, staff reportedly made people giving the QAnon salute lower their arms.)
Many have speculated about why Trump is moving closer to QAnon. My own guess is that he’s deepening his connection with his most fanatical fans to more easily whip up a vigilante mob if he’s indicted on any of the many charges he appears to be facing. What’s clear, though, is how little he thinks of those fans, whom he is blithely encouraging down a ruinous path.
“We tend to see the danger that these movements represent, but we don’t talk about the people who are in them,” Rothschild told me. It’s easy to write off QAnon followers, he said, many of whom have reprehensible beliefs. But “this movement, and this philosophy, it finds an audience because it tells people things that they want to hear, and it creates a world for them that is much safer and makes a lot more sense than the world that we’re in now.”
It is deeply comforting for people to feel that they’re part of an epochal battle between good and evil in which good is destined to triumph. The world of QAnon, said Rothschild, “becomes the only meaningful thing to them.”
Trump is making it much harder for people to leave that world, because the man they admire most is endorsing all their wild, violently millenarian fantasies. “It blows away the doubt,” said Rothschild. Much was made in 2016 of Hillary Clinton calling Trump supporters “deplorables.” But few have demonstrated as much contempt for the people who love Trump as Trump has himself.