After Donald Trump touted his support last week for a QAnon adherent who won a Republican congressional primary, a reporter asked the president on Friday for his thoughts on the crackpot conspiracy theory. It offered the president a great opportunity to denounce the nonsense publicly.
He let that opportunity pass. Trump didn't voice support for the ridiculous conspiracy theory, but he also dodged the question.
It was a disappointing response, which he made vastly worse nearly a week later.
President Donald Trump declined Wednesday to disavow the QAnon movement, saying that the followers of the extreme conspiracy theory oppose violent protests and that "I've heard these are people who love our country." When reminded by a reporter for NBC News that the movement's followers believe he is fighting to stop a satanic cult of pedophiles and cannibals, he asked: "Is that supposed to be a bad thing?"
The president added that he doesn't know much about the deranged theory or its followers, "other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate."
For those who may need a refresher, the basic idea behind the theory is that Donald 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.
As we recently discussed, this isn't just the usual conspiratorial nonsense bubbling up from the right. It's vastly weirder and more radical. Last year, the FBI went so far as to classify QAnon as a domestic-terror threat in an internal memo.
Common sense and common decency suggest a sitting American president should want nothing to do with such madness. But Trump has heard that its adherents like him "very much," and in his mind, little else matters.
As recently as last month, the West Point Combating Terrorism Center published a study characterizing QAnon as a burgeoning threat to public safety. And yet, there was the president, standing behind the podium at the White House, describing the extremists as "people who love our country."
New York's Jon Chait added yesterday:
The Republican Party has been moving to the right for decades. But under Trump, even avowed white supremacists and Nazis openly identify with Trump and echo his rhetoric. His promotion of conspiracy theories has marched along rapidly: from climate science denial to mass-scale vote fraud to Birtherism to various wild pseudoscientific beliefs about the coronavirus, there is no space left between Trump's party and the furthest fringes of the far right.
It would've been easy for Trump to do the right thing and make clear he has no use for dangerous extremists. Similarly, the president could've done what he did last week and steer clear of the subject altogether.
But as is too often the case, Trump couldn't help himself, choosing to lend support for the madness, which will almost certainly have the effect of fostering more pointless extremism.