Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, on Sunday called on President Trump to disavow the far-right conspiracy movement QAnon – just days after the president said supporters of movement “love our country.”
Warner called the conspiracy theory movement, which has gained popularity among a small faction of Republicans, a "fringe group” that is “potentially a threat.”
“The idea that the president of the United States is embracing these folks and says just because they like him and they love our country is very bizarre,” Warner said on NBC’s “Meet The Press.” “These guys are whack jobs, and the president ought to disavow them.”
During a White House press briefing last week, Trump addressed QAnon for the first time – admitting that he doesn’t know much about the movement, but adding that many adherents support him and that they are frustrated with the unrest that has gripped some cities across the nation.
“I don’t know much about the movement besides that they like me very much,” Trump said during a press briefing at the White House. “These are people that don’t like seeing what’s going in places like Portland and Chicago.”
He added: “I heard these are people that love our country.”
The QAnon conspiracy theory is centered on the belief that Trump is waging a secret campaign against enemies in the “deep state” and a child sex trafficking ring run by global elites who are satanic pedophiles and cannibals.
The conspiracy theory emerged on a 4chan message board in late 2017, but has crept into mainstream politics. Trump has retweeted QAnon-promoting accounts dozens of times and its followers flock to his rallies wearing clothes and hats with QAnon symbols and slogans.
When asked on Wednesday by a reporter about what he thought about the conspiracy theory, Trump questioned whether the movement’s claims are “supposed to be a bad thing or a good thing?”
“We’re saving the world from a radical left philosophy that will destroy this country,” he added.
Trump's comment drew quick condemnation from the campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, which argued that the president is "giving voice to violence" and seeking to "legitimize a conspiracy theory."
"Not only is our president refusing to take responsibility for his failed leadership that has cost over 170,000 American lives and tens of millions of jobs — he is again giving voice to violence," Biden campaign spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement, saying, "Trump just sought to legitimize a conspiracy theory that the FBI has identified as a domestic terrorism threat."
Until Wednesday, the president has remained silent on the conspiracy — twice ignoring a question last week about whether he supports QAnon, while in 2018 then-White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump “condemns and denounces any group that would incite violence against another individual.”
While QAnon has for years remained on the far-right fringe of American politics, it has entered mainstream discourse over the last few years. Adherents to QAnon have been linked to murder, kidnapping and vandalism.
In an attempt to distance the president from his comments, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said on Sunday that Trump and his staff “don’t even know what it is.”
"We don't even know what it is," Meadows told "Fox News Sunday" after host Chris Wallace asked whether the president would denounce QAnon, which the FBI has labeled a potential domestic terror threat.
"It's not a central part of what the president is talking about," he added. "I don't even know anything about it. I don't even know if it's credible."
Meadows continued: "If it's a hate group, I can tell you that this president is not for hate.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.