Donald Trump startled reporters at a press conference on Wednesday after he was asked a question about QAnon, the far-right conspiracy movement that has been deemed a potential domestic terrorism threat.
The FBI named QAnon in a bulletin on fringe theories that warned of increasing extremist domestic violence.
“I don’t know much about the movement, other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate,” Trump told reporters, adding that “these are people that don’t like seeing what’s going on in places like Portland and places like Chicago and New York and other cities and states.”
But then the president was told the specifics of what QAnon followers believe, going well beyond concerns of protests and unrest in major cities.
“The theory is this belief that you are secretly saving the world from this Satanic cult of pedophiles and cannibals,” a reporter asked him. “Does that sound like something you are behind?”
“I haven’t heard that, but is that supposed to be a bad thing or a good thing?” Trump said.
“If I can help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do it,” he added. “I’m willing to put myself out there. And we are saving the world from a radical left philosophy that will destroy this country. And when this country is gone the rest of the world would follow. The rest of the world would follow.”
Trump has embraced other political figures who have risen to prominence in part because of their promotion of conspiracy theories, including commentator Laura Loomer, who won the GOP nomination for a House seat in Florida on Tuesday, and Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Qanon supporter who recently won a Republican primary in Georgia.
The spread of QAnon is what is seen by law enforcement as a potential threat. The QAnon has origins in what is known as Pizzagate, a false conspiracy theory that top Democrats were involved in a child sex ring run out of the D.C. eatery Comet Ping Pong. That took a dangerous turn when one of the theory’s adherents showed up and fired from a semi-automatic assault rifle.
Facebook has been taking down QAnon content off its platform and Instagram, and removed 790 groups and more than 1,500 ads tied to the movement.
Trump said that he had heard that QAnon is “gaining in popularity,” and he also has retweeted posts from some of the movement’s adherents.
Last month, the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point published a report on QAnon in which it said that it “represents a public security threat with the potential in the future to become a more impactful domestic terror threat.” The FBI also has warned that fringe conspiracy theories can lead to domestic terrorism.
Andrew Yates, spokesman for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, said, Trump “is again giving voice to violence.” He said that the president “just sought to legitimize a conspiracy theory that the FBI has identified as a domestic terrorism threat.”
On Fox News, Karl Rove said that Trump make a “big mistake. This is a group of nuts and kooks and he ought to disavow them.”
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.