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Why Trump’s latest political rally was extra creepy, even for him

Donald Trump’s political rallies tend to be relatively predictable, but his apparent embrace of QAnon messaging made his latest event very different.

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Donald Trump’s political rallies tend to be relatively predictable. The former president will show up, lie uncontrollably, celebrate himself, condemn news organizations, elicit “Lock her up” chants, and generally bask in the support of followers who treat him with almost religious reverence.

There’s often some question as to what new claims the Republican might come up with, and the events sometimes vary in length, but the gatherings themselves tend to be similar enough that they blur together.

Occasionally, however, there are exceptions. The New York Times reported on Trump’s Saturday night rally in Ohio, where the former president “appeared to more fully embrace QAnon.”

While speaking in Youngstown ... Mr. Trump delivered a dark address about the decline of America over music that was all but identical to a song called “Wwg1wga” — an abbreviation for the QAnon slogan, “Where we go one, we go all.” As Mr. Trump spoke, scores of people in the crowd raised fingers in the air in an apparent reference to the “1” in what they thought was the song’s title. It was the first time in the memory of some Trump aides that such a display had occurred at one of his rallies.

To fully appreciate how creepy this was, it’s worth watching a video clip from the rally.

For its part, Trump’s political operation denied that it was making any direct outreach to adherents of the mass delusion, telling the Times that aides simply used “a royalty-free song from a popular audio library platform.”

Maybe so. But there is a larger context to consider.

Trump generally tried to strike a balance with QAnon devotees — the Times referenced “a winking relationship” — in which he would neither denounce nor explicitly embrace the lunacy. It was about two years ago when the then-president, speaking from behind a White House lectern, said he didn’t know much about the deranged theory or its followers, “other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate.”

Two years later, he has dispensed with the subtleties. The Associated Press reported late last week:

After winking at QAnon for years, Donald Trump is overtly embracing the baseless conspiracy theory, even as the number of frightening real-world events linked to it grows. On Tuesday, using his Truth Social platform, the Republican former president reposted an image of himself wearing a Q lapel pin overlaid with the words “The Storm is Coming.” In QAnon lore, the “storm” refers to Trump’s final victory, when supposedly he will regain power and his opponents will be tried, and potentially executed, on live television.

Two weeks earlier, NBC News ran a related report, highlighting instances of the Republican “explicitly promoting the QAnon conspiracy theory” by way of his social media platform.

The day after the AP published this report, the former president and his team appeared to play a QAnon song during a campaign rally, which elicited an unnerving salute from many in the audience.

For those who may need a refresher, the basic idea behind QAnon is that Trump is secretly at war with nefarious forces of evil, including Democrats, Hollywood celebrities, the “deep state,” cannibals and an underground ring of Satanic pedophiles that only adherents of the conspiracy theory are aware of.

The FBI characterized QAnon as a domestic terror threat in an internal memo, and West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center published a study characterizing QAnon as a burgeoning threat to public safety.

As things stand, Trump’s embrace of the madness has become increasingly overt in ways that should spark a larger conversation in Republican politics. Indeed, there’s no reason GOP candidates shouldn’t comment on the latest evidence of their party leader’s extremism.