Halie Soifer: Trump’s refusal to disavow QAnon is part of his pattern of encouraging hate for political gain

October 19, 2020

By Halie Soifer

For the second time in less than three weeks, President Donald Trump refused to condemn right-wing extremism when asked and instead legitimized its dangerous vitriol and hate.

This time, when asked at NBC News’ presidential town hall on Thursday if he would disavow the QAnon group and its false conspiracy theory that “Democrats are a satanic pedophile ring and that [he is] the savior of that,” Trump responded with the implausible assertion that he knew nothing about the movement and then immediately undercut his own claim by vacuously stating QAnon’s followers are “very much against pedophilia.” This is as ignorant and dangerous as saying white supremacists are “very much against people with bad genes.”

By normalizing, accepting and repeating a conspiracy theory’s core, false tenet as a fact and reason to sympathize with them, the president of the United States legitimized domestic terrorism and hatred — and it’s not the first time. This QAnon exchange came shortly after Trump refused to denounce white supremacy when asked at the first presidential debate. And then, when pointedly asked to disavow the Proud Boys — another right-wing extremist group aligned with white supremacists that promotes “Western chauvinism” — Trump instead issued a call to arms by encouraging the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.”

Under immense public pressure after the debate, including from Fox News, he walked back his remarks two days later, but the damage was done. Both of Trump’s statements had been immediately embraced by extremist groups as signs of solidarity and alignment. After the first debate, the Proud Boys changed their logo and began selling merchandise echoing the president; QAnon followers celebrated what Trump offered as “the biggest pitch for QAnon” they’ve ever seen.