Each Trump rally is worse than the one that precedes it. Each time the president appears at a podium to address a stadium of red hats, his command of the hatred that unites these crowds is stronger, and each time that rage burns hotter. On Wednesday night, speaking in North Carolina, Trump delivered an apparently scripted rant against Rep. Ilhan Omar, one of four progressive congresswomen of color known as “the Squad,” with whom he has publicly feuded.
The name prompted the audience to break out in a chant: “Send her back.” Although this closely echoed the president’s own racist suggestion that the first-term Democratic representatives “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” Trump claimed to be unhappy with the reaction, falsely adding that he had tried to speak over it. For those of us on the left, this was the defining moment of the frenzy, a superfluous reminder of the ugly campaign to come and a dangerous amplification of white resentment.
But a smaller, weirder incident caught the attention of a notable group within the larger MAGA coalition: Trump halted his remarks to admire a “beautiful baby” in a onesie with a hand-drawn letter Q on the back — a reference to the QAnon conspiracy theory that has infected the web in recent years.
QBaby, as she swiftly became known, represents a turning point for the online community her parents wanted to promote. Trump, noticing only his name on her chest and not the Q on her back, appeared to endorse the QAnon worldview; that would have been enough to set them alight even if it hadn’t been the 17th of the month, a number to which they attach great significance, as Q, the chosen alias of the anonymous poster who dispenses “breadcrumbs” about Trump’s hidden war on the deep state, is also the 17th letter of the alphabet. Q then acknowledged QBaby on 4chan with the initialism WWG1WGA, for the slogan “Where we go one, we go all.” This confluence of events was a bonanza for QAnon’s self-styled sleuths.
Yet the optics at the rally triggered higher vibrations, too. For starters, the QAnon set are often laughed off as a bunch of easily misled boomers who fell down the wrong Facebook rabbit hole. Here, instead, were a very young husband and wife, 24 and 21 years old, respectively, advertising that their child lives in a household where the accusation that Democrats eat babies is accepted fact. That QAnon describes infants and children as the victims of Satanic, cannibalistic, pedophilic liberals is also essential here; believers were soon pointing out that QBaby is exactly who they seek to protect in their vigil against the monstrous left.
Finally, there was the potent but unspoken link between this image and the white supremacy of the Trump era — for the idea that brown people should “go back” to someplace else is closely entwined with an anxiety over white birth rates here at home. Recall prominent fascist Rep. Steve King complaining that we can’t restore civilization “with somebody else’s babies,” or the white supremacist slogan known as the 14 Words: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” These are sentiments that stoke fear of a “white genocide” while sowing the seeds of violence toward non-whites. And they are Trump’s bread and butter.
The unification, in this tiny human, of many poisonous threads — the racism, the paranoia, the fetishization of white kids for fascist ends, and the commitment to passing such disease down through generations — cannot be dismissed like other QAnon bullshit. Seen through the prism of the movement’s underplayed religious nature, not to mention Trump’s own cult of personality, the QBaby episode takes the dimensions of a fundamentalist fever dream.
As journalist Ben Collins wrote in a Twitter thread, QAnon is predicated on a utopia ever just out of reach, the promise that Trump is waging an epic battle to free the masses from the world order that keeps them in chains. If that messianic faith continues to be sold through the innocence of kids, and to those kids, the damage may be incalculable and last for decades. QBaby is a beacon and grail for the truthlessness of our time — a symbol of the relativistic realities we choose to inhabit. Whatever happens next, she will have played an unwitting role in getting us there.
We’ve already learned that the narratives of QAnon cannot be punctured by material fact. Now we brace ourselves for its disciples and zealots to breach the mainstream — usually with help from irresponsible tech giants — and run for political office. As with Trump’s 2016 run, we’ve been ridiculing them for so long, we forgot they could persevere, or even triumph.
We may come to find that when they grow tired of waiting for what they call “the Storm,” the great coup that unmasks and punishes the villains of their story, they’ll get to work stirring it up themselves. Who can say? QAnon’s newest radical prophet could well be inspired by a baby held above a crowd.