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Trump indictment news fuels baseless beliefs held by QAnon followers


Former President Donald Trump is wearing his history-making criminal indictment - that's 34 counts of falsifying business records, to be precise - as a badge of honor, proof of a corrupt deep state that's out to get him. And even before those charges, there was plenty of speculation that this indictment could add fuel to the conspiracy theories that have swarmed around Trump and that he has increasingly embraced. So how is that all going? For that, we talked to someone who knows a lot about QAnon. That's Travis View, a conspiracy theory researcher and co-host of the podcast "QAnon Anonymous." Welcome, Travis.

TRAVIS VIEW: Scott, thank you so much for having me on.

DETROW: So before we get into the reaction, let's help refresh listeners about what exactly we're talking about and what your podcast does, which is give a glimpse into the QAnon subculture. This is a conspiracy theory that began, roughly speaking, with the idea that Donald Trump is battling a secret world of pedophiles who are embedded in the government and the media and the deep state and many other places. Is that, at this point in 2023, still a fair way to characterize what's going on there?

VIEW: Yeah, that is fair. Yeah, it's basically - it's both the conspiracy theory, but it's also, I think, fairly described as an extremist movement. It's based upon these posts on these image boards, 4chan and 8chan and 8kun, which QAnon followers believe are actually secret messages coming from Trump and his allies and military intelligence, which QAnon followers think that they can decode to defeat the deep state and the worldwide cabal of pedophiles who supposedly control the world.

DETROW: And I'll just say, for the first of many times I say this in this interview, that that is completely not true. Just to put it out there. So I'm wondering, let's get to the heart of this. How has this world responded to this indictment?

VIEW: Well, they are still trusting the plan. Research into cognitive dissonance shows that when a prophetic cult encounters, you know, a false prophecy or an unrealized prophecy, they simply reinterpret past events and try and make sense of that, and the followers will usually wind up doubling down on their beliefs.

DETROW: So in what we saw happen this week, the response has been, yes, of course. This is part of it, and it's good for Trump.

VIEW: Absolutely. I saw many QAnon followers compare Trump to a bullfighter who is trying to provoke the bull of the deep state into attacking him in order to wear out the deep state so that the deep state may eventually be defeated. So the QAnon followers are still very much trusting the plan.

DETROW: We keep talking about they. Who, at this point, are we talking about? Do you have a sense about how many people are deeply in this world, posting, taking cues from these message boards?

VIEW: You know, it is notoriously difficult to gauge the actual support for QAnon beliefs, partly because QAnon followers may not be totally honest with pollsters and partly because how you phrase the question gets wildly different results. I mean, polls by YouGov, the polling firm, indicate that only about 3% of Americans are willing to self-identify as QAnon followers. However, polls conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute found that somewhere between 15 to 20% hold to some of the core concepts of QAnon. But even if you were to go at the low end, that still would indicate that there are millions of Americans who believe in QAnon.

DETROW: On that note, were you surprised that there was not any widespread political violence and really not much of a big showing of Trump supporters around the courthouse in Manhattan this week?

VIEW: Yeah. I mean, I was certainly grateful that that's the case. I think it really depends upon, you know, how strongly Trump directs his most devoted followers to act and to gather, because, you know, he certainly does still have the grip of a cult leader over the sort of the most devoted QAnon followers. What keeps QAnon followers more or less pacified is the belief that things are happening behind the scenes in order to fix the country. They're very difficult to tell. I mean, like I said, the research generally shows that nothing, no real-world events, could ever dissuade their faith. But yeah, like I said, it's always very, very difficult to predict how social movements like that will behave.

DETROW: Do you feel like this movement has peaked or is waning, or do you find it to be growing in staying power and influence at this point? Taking a while to think about that answer.

VIEW: Yeah, that's a really tough question. I would say it's pretty stagnant at the moment, but don't hold me to that. I generally don't like making predictions about the direction of QAnon. There are many times in the past where I thought that events suggested that QAnon was going to go away that just never happened. But I am - I will discover exactly the direction QAnon goes with everyone else.

DETROW: And Q drops, we should just clarify for those not steeped in this language, is the official word from Q. Is that fair to say?

VIEW: Yeah, the strange, occasionally cryptic, sometimes straightforward messages that were posted on these image boards that QAnon followers believe are coming straight from the highest levels of military intelligence.

DETROW: Occasionally cryptic and sometimes straightforward. That's how I like to think of this radio program as well. We're talking on Saturday, in the past five days since Trump appeared in court and pleaded not guilty, you have not seen a massive movement to suggest this could re-energize things, or is it still too early to make a conclusion like that?

VIEW: I would say it is still too early to make a conclusion like that. I mean, you really do get the sense that a lot of the broader right-wing movement is kind of sick of QAnon in some ways. We kind of saw that in the recent lawsuit with - that Dominion filed against Fox News for defamation, in which we saw, you know, big names such as Tucker Carlson express disgust at Sidney Powell, a QAnon-affiliated lawyer who spread a lot of conspiracy theories about election fraud.

DETROW: That's Travis View, co-host of the "QAnon Anonymous" podcast. Thanks, Travis.

VIEW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.