LOS ANGELES — Hundreds of believers of the dangerous conspiracy theory QAnon rallied in Hollywood on Saturday, just days after President Donald Trump praised the cult-like group.
The demonstration, purported to be about bringing awareness to child sex trafficking, was largely an opportunity for supporters of QAnon to spread various unfounded conspiracy theories; the group has co-opted anti-trafficking messaging to draw more people into its conspiratorial web. Most demonstrators did not wear masks as they marched through Los Angeles, where thousands of people have died from COVID-19.
QAnon believers follow the postings of “Q,” an anonymous individual who claims to be a high-ranking official working with Trump to take down a supposed cabal of Satanic-worshipping pedophiles who have breached the highest levels of government, media and entertainment. Though that appears to be the primary belief of QAnon supporters, followers often fold in a wide array of other baseless conspiracy theories. No matter how wild or absurd the theory, QAnon embraces it all.
More than 200 Facebook and Instagram events called for demonstrators to spread awareness about child sex trafficking across the U.S. on Saturday, as NBC News first reported. Though this appears to be a worthy cause, something more sinister is at play.
“This is not about pedophilia,” Whitney Phillips, an assistant professor of communication and rhetorical studies at Syracuse University, told NBC News. “This is not about child protection. This is about a conspiracy theory that’s trying to couch itself in other terms to get more people involved and sympathetic.”
In Hollywood, people chanted “Defund Hollywood” and “Defund Pedowood,” and carried signs demanding an end to child sex trafficking. But in conversations with HuffPost, demonstrators quickly drew connections between trafficking and the conspiracy network of QAnon.
Parents brought their children along for the ride, including 15-year-old Isis, who told HuffPost that the “government keeps secrets from us.”
“They try to keep us under a rock,” she said. When asked where she gets her information, Isis said it comes from seeing politicians on TV “making weird moves on children.”
Despite numerous signs referencing conspiracy theories unrelated to child sex trafficking, 47-year-old Kristen Cummins said the rally was first and foremost about bringing awareness to the problem of child sexual exploitation. She’s also a believer in QAnon, a movement she says is about the “restoration of America.”
“I love the hope and the perspective it offers,” Cummins said. “I love that it’s not this negative, beat-down approach to try to force agendas. Q is very much inviting, inclusive.”
Protestors gathered next to an In-N-Out Burger on Sunset Boulevard, where they held a 20-second moment of silence followed by a rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
Angelita, 33, who declined to give her last name, said she started following QAnon because of her distrust of media.
“I started doing research into what was really going on because what I was seeing on the news was not matching what I was seeing in the world around me,” she told HuffPost, while wearing a QAnon shirt and holding a sign that read, “THE REAL PANDEMIC IS CHILD TRAFFICKING.”
“It’s more about a mindset,” she added. “I want to be a critical thinker, I want to be a truth-seeker, instead of just believing an article and what the narrative is in the article.”
Multiple protesters who declined to be interviewed by HuffPost later took part in a chant of, “Where is the media?”
What may have once been a laughable conspiracy movement has now led to dangerous real-world consequences. In 2018, a man took his AR-15 and an armored car to the Hoover Dam to demand the government come clean about supposed crimes related to QAnon beliefs. In 2019, a QAnon-obsessed man was arrested in the killing of a high-profile mob boss. A Colorado woman was arrested earlier this year after allegedly attempting to kidnap her son with the help of QAnon followers. In April, the New York Police Department arrested a woman connected to the QAnon movement who was carrying 18 knives and allegedly threatened political figures.
Just last week, a Texas woman was arrested after she allegedly used her car to attack strangers she believed were pedophiles. As Right Wing Watch reported, the woman was a believer of QAnon. The FBI has now designated QAnon a domestic terror threat.
What’s more, the deadly movement has now infiltrated politics at some of the highest levels. In Oregon, the Republican Senate nominee, Jo Rae Perkins, is a staunch supporter of QAnon and even fought against her own campaign to promote the conspiracy network. In an interview with CNN published Saturday, she continued to praise QAnon while falsely claiming that masks don’t protect against COVID-19 and that the more than 170,000 American deaths from the disease had been “doctored” in an effort to hurt Trump.
Earlier this month, racist QAnon follower Marjorie Taylor Greene won a runoff election in Georgia’s 14th Congressional District and will be on the ballot there in November.
Following her win, Trump praised Greene in a tweet, calling her a “rising Republican star.” When asked why he was celebrating a conspiracy theorist, Trump sidestepped the question.
“Well, she did very well in the election,” Trump said. “She won by a lot, she was very popular, she comes from a great state and she had a tremendous victory.”
Days later, when asked by a reporter if he supports QAnon, Trump outright embraced the group.
“I don’t know much about the movement, other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate,” Trump said on Wednesday. “I have heard that it is gaining in popularity. … I’ve heard these are people that love our country.”
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