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'QAnon Anonymous' Host On The Conspiracy Movement's Growing Influence

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Staying on the topic of misinformation, there's news about QAnon. That's a movement based on a bizarre conspiracy theory that claims that all manner of public figures and institutions are secretly involved with child trafficking and child murder. Yesterday, a group of several hundred people espousing those views marched down Hollywood Boulevard chanting and carrying signs. Now, in the past, the group was seen as a fringe group of online obsessives.

But more recently, followers have been charged with crimes, including murder, domestic terrorism and planned kidnapping. Still, the group seems to be gaining ground, even gaining a viable candidate for Congress in Marjorie Taylor Greene, who won the Republican primary for Georgia's 14th District. She's heavily favored to win in November.

We wanted to find out what is driving this and what the presence of a follower in Congress could mean, so we called Travis View once again. He's the co-host of the "QAnon Anonymous" podcast, and he's been reporting on this group.

Travis View, thank you so much for joining us once again.

TRAVIS VIEW: Michel, thank you so much for inviting me.

MARTIN: So could we start with Marjorie Taylor Greene, who won the congressional primary in Georgia? How is she connected to QAnon? Like, what kinds of statements has she made that indicates the connection? And does she acknowledge it?

VIEW: So Marjorie Taylor Greene - throughout 2017 and 2018, she was an open and proud QAnon follower. And she even promoted some of the most deranged conspiracy theories from that group. For example, she claimed that the plane crash that killed JFK Jr. in 1999 was the responsibility of Hillary Clinton when the National Transportation Safety Board actually ruled that it was the result of a pilot error. She had also claimed that the criminal gang MS-13 was responsible for the murder of the DNC staffer Seth Rich. And

now, all these beliefs are deranged, and she got them directly from Q. And like you said, she is favored to enter Congress starting next year.

MARTIN: Does she still acknowledge the connection now that she's become more visible?

VIEW: Well, she offered some statements on Fox Nation trying to distance herself from QAnon, but I wouldn't say that she has fully denounced it. What she said was that after following QAnon, she chose a different path by running for Congress.

MARTIN: So this week, a reporter asked President Trump about the group, and he said, I don't know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much. And he added that they are people that love our country. So I have a couple of questions here, which is, what role does President Trump play in the QAnon narrative? And how big of a deal is it for the president to say those words?

VIEW: In the QAnon narrative, President Trump is the savior of humanity. Literally, they believe if Donald Trump didn't come riding along and was elected president then it would essentially mean the end of the United States and the end of the world. They worship him, essentially.

Now, the fact that Trump acknowledged the QAnon community is hugely consequential to the community because they have been waiting this for years. They've been goading reporters to, what they say, ask the Q - because in their imagination, they believe that if Trump was asked about QAnon that he would say it was real, and then they would say, the storm is upon us. And this would lead to a huge mass arrest event that they imagine is going to happen.

Now, it didn't play out like that. But nonetheless, the fact that he praised them and he said that he would be willing to help and that he did nothing to denounce the theory or denounce the followers hugely energized them. I mean, they are on cloud nine as a consequence of Trump's statements.

MARTIN: And how does this contrast to how they're viewed by law enforcement - you know, particularly the FBI?

VIEW: Yes, there was a intelligence bulletin from the Phoenix field office of the FBI that warned about the threat of conspiracy theory-driven extremism. They named QAnon specifically as a possible source of this extremism.

I mean, this has been realized in a few ways. There's one case of a QAnon follower named Matthew Wright who pled guilty to a terrorism charge for holding a armed standoff on the Hoover Dam. There's another case of a Colorado woman named Cynthia Abcug who was charged with conspiracy to commit kidnapping after planning an armed raid with fellow QAnon followers. There's actually recent reporting from the Daily Beast that shows that her case is actually part of a network of QAnon followers who encourage members to commit kidnappings and even harbor fugitives from the law.

MARTIN: It does seem curious that, you know, authorities in some jurisdictions have taken a very aggressive stance toward, say, Black Lives Matters protesters. In some cases, like, jurisdictions are moving to try to penalize or criminalize certain tactics like sit-ins, for example, or sitting in or occupying public spaces. But they don't seem to have taken such an aggressive stance toward people falsely accusing people of very scurrilous acts.

And is it because it's so invisible because so much of the activity is online and isn't visible sort of publicly that perhaps they just didn't see it coming?

VIEW: Yeah. That's the issue. I mean, it only seemed invisible because these people - they were organizing and they were getting radicalized online. I mean, the total size of the QAnon community isn't known. But there was a recent analysis by The Guardian that showed that there were 3 million accounts that followed various QAnon Facebook groups and pages. So it is quite substantial, and we're only now sort of seeing the consequence of this years-long radicalization process.

MARTIN: Is there something that social media companies should be thinking about? And is there any evidence that they are thinking about their role in allowing this to flourish?

VIEW: I mean, the No. 1 thing I think that these companies could do would be stop recommending QAnon pages or groups or accounts in their algorithms because, you know, even the broadest definition of free speech doesn't include sort of free advertising or free marketing for your speech.

Another thing that Facebook could do was, like, no longer allow, you know, paid advertising for QAnon - which, last I checked, is something that is still permitted. So I think that social media companies could do a lot more because they have been instrumental in allowing this community to grow to the point that it has.

MARTIN: That was Travis View, co-host of the "QAnon Anonymous" podcast.

Travis View, thanks so much for joining us once again.

VIEW: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF YELLOWJACKET'S "BEGIN THE DAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.