How a Trump soundtrack became a QAnon phenomenon

Earlier this week, close advisers to former President Donald Trump grappled with a question: what to do with the QAnon song.

The melody—an orchestral theme with swelling strings, soft ringing tones and brooding piano harmonies—was the soundtrack to a campaign-style video Trump released in August. But it wasn’t until last Saturday’s rally in Youngstown, Ohio, when the tune closed Trump’s nearly two-hour speech and inspired the crowd to respond with arms raised and pointy index fingers, that it broke through as a phenomenon.

The music has been widely described as a hymn to QAnon, an extremist movement identified by the FBI as a domestic terrorism threat. QAnon’s main discredited belief centers on the baseless claim that Trump is secretly fighting a secret cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles. But the real story of the song is even stranger and more complicated — underscoring the increasing difficulty of distinguishing between QAnon’s supporters and Trump’s own “Make America Great Again” movement.

The bottom line for Trump, according to one adviser, is that he will likely use the number again. His next rally is Friday in Wilmington, NC

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Former President Donald Trump released an ominous campaign-style video on August 9, 2022, a day after the FBI raided his Mar-a-Lago Club. (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

That decision is in line with Trump’s long-standing stance of welcoming the support of QAnon followers. “I don’t know much about the movement, other than understanding that they like me a lot, which I appreciate,” he told reporters at the White House in 2020. On Thursday evening, Trump posted a video to his social media account that openly featured QAnon themes and symbols, including references to Satanists, pedophiles and military tribunals.

Trump infamously took a similar approach to avoid denials from Russian President Vladimir Putin, former KKK leader David Duke and the far-right group the Proud Boys. The FBI has warned that “anti-government, identity-based and fringe political conspiracy theories” and extremist ideologies such as QAnon “will most likely motivate some domestic extremists, in whole or in part, to commit criminal and sometimes violent activities.”

The origins of Trump’s decision to use the number in the first place remain obscure. The piece was first released in 2019 as “Mirrors” by Will Van De Crommert, a composer who writes music for films, TV and commercials.

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The following year, the song appeared on Spotify under the title “WWG1WGA,” an abbreviation of the QAnon slogan, “Where we go one, we all go.” It was posted by a user with the screen name “Richard Feelgood”, who appears to be a man in Finland who makes YouTube videos of himself discussing false claims while wearing a teddy bear mask and sunglasses.

“Mirrors” appears on several services that sell stock music for use in media without expensive royalties. For example, the song ended up in Trump’s August video and was considered among other options, according to the Trump adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity to make private conversations public.

Van De Crommert, the composer, said he has not authorized Trump’s use of the song and is investigating legal remedies. “This person has unlawfully distributed my music under his own name,” he said of the Spotify user. “I do not support Donald Trump, and I do not support or adhere to the beliefs of QAnon.”

The person behind the Spotify account “Richard Feelgood” did not respond to a Facebook post asking for comment.

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There’s little to no evidence that the song was widely recognized in QAnon circles until Trump began using it in August, according to two researchers tracking the movement, Jared Holt of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and Alex Kaplan of Media Matters for America.

In Trump’s video, he shared signs of American decline over black-and-white clips of his rallies and illustrations of his words, such as the US evacuation from Afghanistan and a graphic stabbing. Trump liked how the gloomy, haunting atmosphere of the music interacted with the dark tone of the video, the adviser said. Trump has a special interest in musical selections considering multiple versions, the adviser said.

The video introduced Trump’s speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in August, and he posted it to his Truth Social platform a few days later. Almost immediately, people on QAnon forums traced it to the number known as WWG1WGA. Followers interpreted Trump’s use of the song as a message intended for them. “If that’s not Q-proof, then I don’t know what is,” wrote an influencer with more than 200,000 subscribers on the encrypted messaging platform Telegram.

“It was just a song, a guy said, ‘This is a Q song,’ nobody really did anything,” Holt, the extremism researcher, summed up. “The Trump team said, ‘This is a Trump song,’ and the Q people said, ‘No, it’s a Q song.’ ”

Trump previously winked at QAnon, including by retweeting content from QAnon-supporting accounts while he was president. Those gestures tended to increase at times when Trump was under attack, such as during one of his two impeachments, according to Holt, the extremism researcher. Holt said he noticed a marked shift shortly after the FBI issued a search warrant in Mar-a-Lago in August, seizing classified and other government records, with Trump making more explicit overtures to QAnon. He recently promoted an image on his Truth Social platform of him wearing a Q lapel pin with the motion slogans: “The storm is coming” and “WWG1WGA.”

The song completed its journey from Trump to QAnon back to Trump at his Pennsylvania rally over Labor Day weekend. Trump said he wanted haunted music to end his speech, like the song in the video, the adviser said. So he started doing a live performance of the video, reading the same script with the same soundtrack, including thunderclaps that preceded the music.

Trump dropped the sound effect of thunder as he repeated the performance at Saturday’s rally in Ohio. This time, the audience responded with the gesture of the outstretched finger.

The raised hands caught the attention of the rally organizers, who began asking people in the crowd what was going on, the adviser said. Trump’s team is looking for disruptions and is working to remove people before they become disruptive. Some assistants thought the raised hands were people praying as if they were in church.

There is no clear evidence that the gesture was previously associated with QAnon or Trump. Some right-wing figures have since moved to claim credit for the symbol, such as Nick Fuentes, an online personality who spews white nationalist ideas.

Trump’s circle has previously inspired new trends in the QAnon community. One of the first accounts created on Truth Social was called “Q,” and Trump adviser Kash Patel posted a photo in February that said he was “now having a beer with @Q.” A flannel shirt appears in the image, giving rise to a meme for “Flannel Fridays.” Patel has also given interviews on QAnon-supporting podcasts and has spoken fondly of the movement.

“Whoever that person is has definitely caught a widespread breath of the MAGA and the ‘America First’ movement,” Patel said in a June interview of Q. do not ignore. But what you can do is educate them about what’s true versus what’s a conspiracy theory or what’s a waste of time.”

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