WH defends Trump’s embrace of baseless QAnon conspiracy followers

By JORDYN PHELPS, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) — The White House on Thursday defended President Donald Trump’s embrace of a fringe conspiracy group, with press secretary Kayleigh McEnany saying that he was “talking about his supporters” when he called QAnon followers people who “love the country” and said he appreciates their backing.

“He believes his supporters are good hard-working people that love this country. He is not in the business of ‘basket of deplorables’ politics,” McEnany said Thursday on Fox News, referring to Hillary Clinton’s famous 2016 comment about Trump supporters, downplaying his comments but not disavowing QAnon or its made-up theories.

Trump stirred controversy Wednesday when he welcomed the support of adherents to QAnon, which has been deemed a domestic terror threat by the FBI and has inspired acts of violence.

“I don’t know much about the movement, other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate, but I don’t know much about the movement,” Trump said Wednesday in his most extensive comments to date on the group and support for him. “I’ve heard these are people that love our country, and they just don’t like seeing it.”

When the reporter explained that the group believes he is “secretly saving the world from this satanic cult of pedophiles and cannibals,” the president did not dispel the group’s concocted theory.

“I haven’t heard that. But is that supposed to be a bad thing or a good thing? I mean, you know, if I can help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do it,” Trump said Wednesday when told about the group’s beliefs.

In an interview with Fox News Thursday, McEnany sought to downplay the president’s knowledge of the particulars of what the group believes and instead sought to fault the news media with raising the profile of the fringe group.

“The media talks a lot about this so-called QAnon. I’ve never heard the president mention it. I often talk to him 10 times the day. Not once did he mention the group,” McEnany said, emphasizing that the group has never come up in the course of her usual day-to-day interactions with the president, even though he publicly spoke about the group Wednesday at a White House news conference and QAnon followers come to campaign rallies wearing QAnon attire and displaying the group’s symbol.

While the White House has not disavowed the group, McEnany said the president is not endorsing its claims either.

“He has not all looked into who QAnon is,” McEnany said when asked directly if the president wants the group’s support.

Multiple social media companies, including Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit, have taken steps to crack down on the group’s use of their platforms to spread misinformation.

Despite efforts to counter the group, the movement has grown and shown some success in entering mainstream politics of late, with two candidates who have embraced QAnon winning Republican primaries for Congress this year.

At the same time, GOP Rep. Liz Cheney on Thursday denounced QAnon in the wake of Trump’s remarks. She is the highest-ranking Republican official in Congress to denounce the group so far.

“QAnon is dangerous lunacy that should have no place in American politics,” she said in a statement provided to ABC News.

ABC News’ Mariam Khan contributed to this report.

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