Trump Refuses to Denounce Antisemitic QAnon Conspiracy Theory at NBC Town Hall

At town hall, president claims 'I just don't know about QAnon,' referring to conspiracy theory that ADL says 'promotes antisemitism' and inspires violence

Allison Kaplan Sommer
Allison Kaplan Sommer
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U.S. President Donald Trump takes part in a live one-hour NBC News town hall forum with a group of Florida voters in Miami, Florida, U.S., October 15, 2020.
U.S. President Donald Trump takes part in a live one-hour NBC News town hall forum with a group of Florida voters in Miami, Florida, U.S., October 15, 2020. Credit: Carlos Barria / Reuters
Allison Kaplan Sommer
Allison Kaplan Sommer

President Donald Trump repeatedly refused to denounce the widespread QAnon conspiracy theory, insisting that he “knows nothing about it” then praising the theory’s acolytes for being “very strongly against pedophilia” after the moderator of a televised town hall pressed him on the topic Thursday night.

Trump made the remarks on the NBC broadcast when asked about the conspiracy theory by moderator Savannah Guthrie. Trump was visibly irritated by the fact that Guthrie followed up a question about white supremacy groups with the question about QAnon – the bizarre theory asserting that Democrats and the so-called “Deep State” are running a child sex-trafficking ring and waging a war on Trump’s authority from within, and which has attracted a global community of believers.  

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Asked repeatedly by Guthrie why he wouldn’t say the theory was “crazy” and “not true,” Trump exclaimed “You may be right, I just don’t know about QAnon!” 

“You do know!” she shot back. 

Credit: Jonathan Greenblatt

He responded sarcastically “You tell me all about it, let’s waste a whole show,” and then added “Let me just tell you, what I do hear about it, is that they are very strongly against pedophilia. And I agree with that. I do agree with that. And I agree with it very strongly.”  

The QAnon conspiracy theory centers on the idea that Trump is secretly battling a cabal of child-sex predators that includes prominent Democrats, Hollywood elites and "deep state" allies. The cluster of bizarre beliefs, which began to circulate online in 2017, is based on anonymous web postings from "Q," a mysterious figure who supposedly possesses insider knowledge of the Trump administration.

A demonstrator wearing a Qanon shirt protests during a rally to re-open California and against Stay-At-Home directives in San Diego, California, May 1, 2020.
A demonstrator wearing a Qanon shirt protests during a rally to re-open California and against Stay-At-Home directives in San Diego, California, May 1, 2020.Credit: SANDY HUFFAKER - AFP

According to the Anti-Defamation League, multiple aspects of QAnon theories “mirror longstanding antisemitic tropes.” The evocation of kidnapping and murdering children, for example, has roots in historic blood libels against Jews, like charges of ritual killing of Christian children. Several QAnon theories center on the alleged evil intentions of Jewish billionaire George Soros and a secret cabal of international banker elites.  The watchdog group has also noted that posts by QAnon followers frequently refer to Israel, Jews, Zionists, and the Rothschilds as being in league with the evil anti-Trump cabal of Democrats and “deep state” forces.

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti Defamation League, tweeted in response on Thursday night that it was "shockingly irresponsible" of Trump not to denounce QAnon, "a dangerous and hateful conspiracy theory that promotes antisemitism and has inspired followers to commit multiple instances of real-world violence." He added, "This isn’t hard. Feigning ignorance is unacceptable."

Credit: American Jewish Committee

The American Jewish Committee also tweeted in response on Thursday night in clear terms that "QAnon is antisemitic and dangerous and should be condemned." They added, "If there is one central lesson that we have learned in fighting antisemitism and bigotry it is that you must condemn it from every source—especially when it comes from those who call themselves your supporter."

In 2019, the FBI identified QAnon and associated fringe conspiracy theories as domestic terrorist threats. Two weeks ago, the House of Representatives passed legislation officially denouncing QAnon and associated conspiracy theories, noting that “many QAnon followers express antisemitic views, and the Anti-Defamation League has said that the movement’s central conspiracy theory includes antisemitic elements … conspiracy theories have been a central driver of antisemitism for centuries, and QAnon conspiracy theories are fanning the flames as antisemitism is on the rise in the United States and around the world.”

Trump’s remarks came on the same day that YouTube announced it was banning QAnon content, and a week after Facebook and Instagram classified the QAnon conspiracy theory movement as dangerous and began removing Facebook pages and Instagram accounts identified with the group. Over the summer, Twitter announced that it would not recommend QAnon content or accounts and that it would block QAnon URLs and permanently suspend QAnon accounts violating its rules.

Guthrie began the town hall, held in Miami, with a question following up on the discussion of white supremacy at the first presidential debate, in which Trump refused to flat-out denounce white supremacists and militias, but a few days later, voiced condemnation in an appearance on Fox News. 

Trump told Guthrie, “I denounced white supremacy, OK? I’ve denounced white supremacy for years.”

He then chastised her for not asking him to condemn groups on the left and complained that the media did not ask his rival for the White House, Vice President Joe Biden, to do the same. 

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden arrives at the ABC town hall event at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 15, 2020.
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden arrives at the ABC town hall event at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 15, 2020.Credit: Tom Brenner / Reuters

After Trump claimed that he “didn’t know anything about QAnon,” he added, “I’ll tell you what I do know about. I know about Antifa, and I know about the radical left, I know how violent they are and how vicious they are, and I know how they are burning down cities run by Democrats, not run by Republicans.” 

Biden: "U.S. is less secure than we have been"

The president’s town hall took place at the same time that his rival, Biden appeared on a town hall hosted by the ABC network in Philadelphia. The two were originally supposed to face off against each other in a second presidential debate. After Trump refused to participate in a virtual debate with Biden in the wake of his COVID-19 diagnosis, the town halls were scheduled instead.

At Biden's town hall, one participant asked the Democratic contender about President Trump’s foreign policy and called his Mideast policies a “modern-day miracle.”  

“I do compliment the president for the deal with Israel recently,” Biden said, presumably referring to the agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain - in a rare point of praise for the president.

Biden said that Trump deserved "a little but not a whole lot” of credit for foreign policy achievements, pointing out that “we find ourselves in a position where we are more isolated in the world than we have ever been, our allies are going it alone. 'America First' has meant 'America Alone.' You have Iran close to having enough nuclear material to build a bomb.” He added that North Korea remains a threat, and that the U.S. finds itself "isolated" in the western Pacific where "Japan and South Korea at odds with each other. China is making moves."

Overall, Biden said, the “U.S. is less secure than we have been.” He said that NATO allies have publicly said they can’t count on the U.S.," and added, “If you take a look, we are not very trusted around the world.”

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