Not one of transgression—to him, such borders mean nothing—but of belief. “There are people that are on the streets,” he says. “There are people that are controlling the streets.” The “invisible enemy” he’s spoken of before, the one QAnon calls Hillary Clinton or James Comey or John Podesta. But this foe has no name.
He speaks of an airplane “in a certain city,” one full of “thugs” in “dark uniforms.” Indistinguishable; like a virus. This happened, he says, then: “They’re on a plane.” Present tense. “This is all happening.” Right now. It has the dream logic of a nursery rhyme. On the streets, in the air, dark shadows everywhere.
What Trump is describing is no more nor less exotic than the popular evangelical concept of spiritual war, the conflict thought to be raging always, around us and within, between believers and “principalities” and “powers,” according to Ephesians, or demons, in the contemporary vernacular. QAnon has translated the concept from King James into Trumpish, but Trump is no more reading Q “drops” than undead John-John, JFK Jr., is writing them. For once there’s nothing contrived about Trump’s answer. He’s not saying what he thinks MAGA wants to hear. Dark shadows is in fact the wrong answer, as Ingraham tries to signal. But he can’t hear her.
If you LOVE TRUMP, you’re receiving THE SIGNAL. If you FEAR HIM, fear he’ll never really BE GONE, you’re hearing it too.
Trump used to flirt with and feed morsels to evangelicalism’s spiritual warriors and the rabbit-holers of Q. That’s when they were distinct constituencies, the Christians and the crazies. Lately they’ve been merging, the theology of Q infecting evangelicalism, the organization of the Christian right incarnating Q’s digital power. Together they’re his base; his hope; and now, maybe, his identity. He’s no longer a con artist. Now he’s his own mark, like an email scammer who clicks on his own malware. He isn’t selling a dream, he’s dreaming it. The difference between him and his believers is that he has the power to make the dream real, for them, for him, for us. To summon into being the “American carnage” he nightmared at his inauguration, the cities he said were desolate now set ablaze; the killers in the street recast as heroes, with paramilitary backup; fear a daily given; the plague risen up from legend to fill the land with ghosts. This was his dream. Now we are all nightmaring it together.
When press secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked to explain Trump’s defense of QAnon, she insisted neither she nor the president knew a thing about it. But at the close of the interview, apropos of nothing, she said, “There’s a lot of children in this country who have died on the streets of Democrat cities. We’re focused on capturing criminals.” What was she talking about? Maybe she meant gun violence in Chicago, a favorite Trump topic, or the blond girls he describes falling prey to human “animals.” But I heard Q. I heard #SaveTheChildren. Was she signaling, I wondered? A very Q question.
I thought of a Q podcast, Praying Medic, to which I’d started listening. “This information is real, distractions are necessary,” says the Medic, explaining the need for Q’s cryptic constructions. So real it demands the poetry of myth, not the dull prose of politics. “Double meanings,” like loop-the-loops, kairos—sacred time—disguised as chronos, “ticktock,” as QAnon says. Consider the third of November, a date seemingly promised by Q in October 2017 to deliver indictments against the cabal, around which “public riots” (versus the private kind?) would be organized in an attempt to prevent their arrests. November 3, 2017, came and went sans perp walk or broken windows.
But who knows which November 3 Q meant, asks the Medic. I see the answer before he says it—there are riots now, and November is coming! Ticktock. I thought of Rittenhouse’s first shot, and his lawyer’s “Second American Revolution,” and the plastic bag his supporters claimed was a Molotov cocktail; and of Michael Reinoehl, the Portland protester who said his kill shot “felt like the beginning of a war.” I thought of “retribution,” Trump’s term for the police killing of Reinoehl. “That’s the way it has to be,” he explained. Tit-tat, ticktock. I thought of Michael R. Caputo, the Trump aide who on Facebook warned of Bidenaut hit squads and called for supporters to stock ammunition and also spoke of shadows: “Shadows on the ceiling in my apartment, there alone, shadows are so long.”
I shook it off; insane. But what about McEnany? I started listening to another Q podcast, this one a debunking, QAnon Anonymous. Its hosts also heard echoes in McEnany’s words. It was on this podcast that I learned of the woman I’m calling Evelyn. When I called one of the hosts, an artist named Julian Feeld, to ask how he’d found her, he said a listener had seen the attack in the local Waco news.
The report mentioned nothing about QAnon. But the listener wondered if there was more. Feeld didn’t wonder, he knew. He knew because he’s been listening even longer. In his voice I hear what sounds like pleasure, a kind of frightened delight in piecing together the puzzle of QAnon’s shattered mind. The Praying Medic sounds like this too, a mix of amiable and urgent that’s at odds with the history of conspiracy-mongering. Neither man grabs you by the lapels, demanding you listen. They don’t have to. So many of us already are. If you love Trump, you’re receiving the signal. If you fear him, fear he’ll never really be gone now no matter the outcome, that he’s a chronic condition or maybe a terminal one, then you’re hearing it too.
“Blood makes noise,” declares a speaker at a #SaveTheChildren rally in Los Angeles that Feeld attended and recorded, a gathering of the unexpected: white hipsters, Black men, Latinx women, mothers concerned for their children. The speaker says the blood of the children is spilled by the cabal into the earth, where it’s soaked up by the roots of trees—she doesn’t need to mention Thomas Jefferson, the tree of liberty, for patriots to hear the echo—which then grow fruit, which “we” eat. “Their blood is now inside us!” she crows, as if this is a victory. The crowd cheers. “And we cry out with”—can you hear it?—“the voice of the children!”
This is the nightmare: We are the children and the cannibals. The victims and the killers, the innocence and the revenge. Do I need to say that none of this is true? Yes. We are none of us innocent, none of us martyrs. Such words are for faith, and democracy is a practice. It may not yet be real, but it’s not a dream. It’s something you do, something we need to make, in this life, the real one.
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