Trump’s Embrace of QAnon Realizes the Dream of the Religious Right

Trump’s Embrace of QAnon Realizes the Dream of the Religious Right

Trump’s Embrace of QAnon Realizes the Dream of the Religious Right

For evangelicals and conservative Christians, the former president’s cult-like rallies have placed their ritualized militancy at the center of American politics.


After last Saturday’s Trump rally in Youngstown, Ohio, the figurative notion of “the Trump faithful” has taken on an unmistakable literal meaning. That gathering—meant to gin up enthusiasm for Senate candidate J.D. Vance, the hillbilly-branded plaything of Trump-backing tech billionaire Peter Thiel—became, as all Trump events do, a monologue about Trump’s wounded pride and all-but-randomized quest for political vengeance. But the choreography, tone, and substance of Trump’s appearance told an additional story. The proceedings turned solemn as Trump struck a calculatedly sorrowful vocal cadence, so as to play up the rally’s plaint of white nationalist cultural confrontation, delivered in the apocalyptic key of QAnon. Trump delivered a litany of telltale signs of runaway American decline under the Democratic rule of Washington, from inflation to foreign-policy cock-ups to the tragedy of green energy funding, all to the swelling, kitschy accompaniment of a bona fide QAnon theme song, “WWG1WGA,” titled with the acronym for the movement’s slogan, “Where We Go One, We Go All.” (Trump campaign officials insisted that the lachrymose mood music was actually a different composition called “Mirrors,” but if it is, it somehow has the same melody.)

The crowd recognized the import of the moment, and began raising fingers in the air in what is apparently a QAnon salute, likewise symbolizing movement unity. The Youngstown spectacle left many political commentators baffled, since the logic of mass persuasion here didn’t really track with how campaigns traditionally play out. But this denialist outlook is of a piece with the uncomprehending posture of self-insulation that drove our pundit caste to dismiss Trump and his movement when they first burst on the scene in the 2016 election cycle. That moment marked a little-noted watershed for the evangelical right, says Kristin Du Mez, historian at Calvin University and author of Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation. “Back in 2016, you saw these radical evangelicals for Trump move into mainstream—but even then, this was a long-term process.… The leaders of this movement have for generations been telling evangelicals and conservative Christians that they’re under threat.”

This broad dynamic has been accelerating in Trump’s scandal-ridden, paranoid, and conspiracy-addled post-presidency. “This was a very different sort of meeting,” says University of Pennsylvania religion professor Anthea Butler, president of the American Society of Church History and author of White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America. “It was Trump intoning things, this weird song in the background, but it tracks with other things. It tracks with the Reawaken America tour, Charlie Kirk’s gatherings in Arizona, these are all things that are becoming evangelical political church services. One interesting thing about the Reawaken America tour is that they were doing baptisms…. Saturday’s rally sounded a lot like an altar call at the end of a worship service. The only difference is that everyone was pointing up instead of waving their hands in the air.”

Nor is the flamboyant cult of QAnon—which posits a worldwide cabal of powerful liberal pedophiles using state power to expand and conceal their predations, with Donald Trump as their superhero-savior—all that far afield from mainstream thinking in today’s evangelical right, Du Mez notes. “To go back to what’s considered the evangelical mainstream, you have all this rhetoric of masculine heroism and female vulnerability. It’s a not-so-subtle conflation of white patriarchy and gender protection. It’s always white women’s purity that must be protected, and white women who must be submissive to masculine authority. There’s this cohesive ideology that’s taught through thousands of books on dating, marriage, and sex for evangelicals, and so the resonances of these other conspiratorial teachings are so deep. It fits into their way of seeing the world.”

Though Trump is now romancing the QAnon cult in a more overt manner, those broader currents of evangelical cultural and political thinking have long been leading to this convergence of interests on the right. Jeff Sharlet, whose forthcoming book The Undertow addresses the longer-term legacies of Trumpism, has been covering Trump rallies since the 2016 campaign. He notes that the Q-friendly strains in Trump’s rally performance were there from the start, but again escaped the notice of a political press unattuned to their appeal. “I’d be at these rallies, then read the press coverage and think, Wait a minute, how come you’re not talking about the 20-minute riff on decapitation, or the prolonged description of a brown man crawling in your wife’s window? And that connects directly with Q.”

In the time since, that connection has only grown. “I started thinking in 2020, in terms of the convergence, you have QAnon infusing the Christian right with a new theological energy and license, and the Christian right giving it weight, and bricks and mortar. I’ve been to so many churches that are absolutely full QAnon—not the major churches, but the pretty big churches in medium-size cities. You go there, and you see how relatively common is the belief that Hillary Clinton is already dead—just out-there stuff. It’s like when Amazon had quietly started opening bookstores and no one noticed, and suddenly they’re everywhere.”

This cultural affinity also extends to the increasingly violent tenor of QAnon conduct—the cult was a prominent player in the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol, and has been at the center of a spate of killings fueled by online-bred conspiratorial speculation. The evangelical ideology of gender protection “justifies violence against perceived threats,” Du Mez says. “It teaches that this is why God filled men with testosterone, in order to protect women against violent threats.” Alongside the Q-evangelical alliance are increasingly militant Christian nationalist movements on the right, such as the antidemocratic New Apostolic Reformation, which boasts among its leaders Lance Wallnau, a Texas-based evangelist and conspiracy theorist preaching end-times conflict, who’s been stumping for far-right Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano. (By some accounts, it was also Wallnau who launched the infamous upward-pointing-finger Trump rally salute.)

With the obsessive focus on Trump’s outsize role in right-wing cultural discourse, few are noting how much the real Trump faithful are surrendering when it comes to the foundations of Christian observance. One recent survey indicates that a majority of evangelicals no longer even subscribe to core doctrines like original sin, and a strong plurality even deny the divinity of Jesus. “Evangelicals aren’t evangelicals anymore,” Butler says. “They’re charismatics and Pentecostals. If you have people talking about demons all the time, you have no gospel. Theology doesn’t matter anymore.”

What matters, finally, is power, along with the sense of belonging that comes with a militant posture toward the hostile, non-believing world at large. “It’s the spiritual warfare metaphor,” says John Fea, chair of the history department at Messiah College and author of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. “Evangelicals need an enemy—whether they want to talk about defeating that enemy as Satan, who needs to be crushed, or they want to talk about a threat that’s targeting a definition of liberty that needs to be crushed. Trump has been fusing both of those strands.” What comes at the end of this dynamic is anyone’s guess, but one prophetic foretaste was also on display at Youngstown: Placards were reportedly distributed among the Trump faithful promoting a book by one Helgard Müller titled Donald J. Trump, Son of Man—the Christ.

Thank you for reading The Nation!

We hope you enjoyed the story you just read, just one of the many incisive, deeply reported articles we publish daily. Now more than ever, we need fearless journalism that moves the needle on important issues, uncovers malfeasance and corruption, and uplifts voices and perspectives that often go unheard in mainstream media.

Donate right now and help us hold the powerful accountable, shine a light on issues that would otherwise be swept under the rug, and build a more just and equitable future.

For nearly 160 years, The Nation has stood for truth, justice, and moral clarity. As a reader-supported publication, we are not beholden to the whims of advertisers or a corporate owner. But it does take financial resources to report on stories that may take weeks or months to investigate, thoroughly edit and fact-check articles, and get our stories to readers like you.

Donate today and stand with us for a better future. Thank you for being a supporter of independent journalism.

Thank you for your generosity.

Ad Policy