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How the false, fringe ‘QAnon’ conspiracy theory aims to protect Trump

In the crowd at President Trump's rally in Tampa on Tuesday night were supporters who believe in a conspiracy theory claiming that a shadowy cabal within the U.S. government is at war with Trump -- and that he will soon purge the country of these people. Judy Woodruff learns more about this conspiracy and how it's spread with the NewsHour’s P.J. Tobia.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Last night, President Trump spoke at a rally in Tampa. The crowd was visibly angry at reporters who were there to cover the event, and wasn't afraid to show it.


  • Judy Woodruff:

    Today, the president retweeted some of this video.

    Also in the crowd last night, people who believe in the QAnon conspiracy theory. QAnon claims that a shadowy cabal within the U.S. government is at war with President Trump, and that the president will soon purge the nation of these enemies.

    For more on this conspiracy and how it's spread, I'm joined by "NewsHour"'s P.J. Tobia, he's been following this.

    P.J., first of all, what is QAnon?

  • P.J. Tobia:

    So, this all started last fall on 4chan, which is an anonymous online message board.

    And last fall, a user calling himself QAnon began posting little nuggets of information. Q is actually a reference to the Q clearance. It's one of the highest security clearances in the U.S. government.

    Q claims to be highly placed in the government and has built visibility into a kind of conspiracy of globalists, a permanent criminal government that's been running the U.S. government for decades. This, of course, includes the Clintons, the Obamas, the financier George Soros, and many, many others.

    The conspiracy goes on to posit that President Trump will team up with the U.S. military and crush this — and crush this cabal by throwing them all in jail, starting with Hillary Clinton.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do they have any evidence that this is going on, that the Obamas, the Clintons are trying to overthrow President Trump?

  • P.J. Tobia:

    So what they're claiming as evidence are Q's posts on 4chan. And then it migrated to another board called 8chan.

    And these are these cryptic little — he calls them bread crumbs, because that's really what they are. And they're — they're little clues, watch for this, look for that. And people take them and unpack these bread crumbs and read into it kind of what they will.

    And things like President Trump's tweets, where it's well known that he misspells things occasionally or maybe uses improper grammar. He says those are actually clues, part of the — of the president — actions that the president is about to take to crush this cabal.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So who's on board with this? Who are the people who have — who are following this?

    We know there were people at this rally last night in Tampa that were wearing T-shirts or holding signs saying QAnon. Who are these folks? Do we have any idea, or how many of them?

  • P.J. Tobia:

    When it comes to conspiracy theories or a lot of fringe groups on the right or the left, it's really hard to quantify and get numbers.

    But YouTube pages where QAnon's bread crumbs are unpacked and discussed have hundreds of thousands of hits. Twitter accounts dedicated to this have tens of thousands of hits. So there's a lot of folks who are engaging in this content online.

    Now, some folks who — some people who are experts who watch conspiracy theories and conspiracy groups say it's probably not nearly the number of people who, say, believe that the moon landing was faked or that they're — a conspiracy about the JFK assassination.

    But, still, some prominent celebrity Trump supporters, like former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling and Roseanne Barr, have tweeted and said things positively about the QAnon conspiracy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And there was one of the people who believe in this, you said, who showed up at the Hoover Dam in June?

  • P.J. Tobia:

    Exactly right. In June, a young man showed up at the Hoover Dam. Resulted in an armed standoff with law enforcement.

    He had a sign that said "Release the OIG report." That was — that was referring to a Department of Justice Office of Inspector General report into Hillary Clinton's use of a private e-mail server.

    Now, interestingly, when this young man did that, that report had already been released, but QAnon said in a posting that the real report hadn't been released yet and that there were actually other reports, OIG reports, that were much more critical of Hillary Clinton and the Democrats and could result in them getting arrested.

    And that's what he wanted released.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, P.J., where does this go from here? Do authorities watch this kind of thing? There's nothing illegal about it, is there?

  • P.J. Tobia:

    No, there's nothing illegal about it at all.

    I mean, they're just talking on social media. But as these people start appearing in the real world, I think we're all going to be watching them much closer.

    Look, the bottom line about this conspiracy theory is that it's a conspiracy to protect Trump. So things that to the rest of us might seem like bad news for Trump, like the Mueller investigation, they look at as actually part of Trump's grand strategy. You see, he was colluding with — he wanted to make it look like he was colluding with Russia on purpose, so that Robert Mueller would be hired, and he could team up with Trump, Mueller and Trump teaming up together to investigate the Clintons and the rest of the deep state and their global pedophile sex ring.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, that is — that takes a lot of thinking to get that far.

  • P.J. Tobia:

    And a lot of talking. They spill a lot of digital ink online about this stuff.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    P.J. Tobia, who has been following this and I know will continue to follow it, thank you, P.J.

  • P.J. Tobia:

    Thank you, Judy.

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