Speaking at a conference in Dallas on Sunday aimed at QAnon supporters, former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn appeared to support the idea of a military coup to reinstate Donald Trump as president. A member of the audience asked about the possibility of a Myanmar-style coup d’état in the US, and Flynn said there was “no reason” that something similar could not happen in America. He added, “I mean it should happen here.”
After a public backlash, Flynn subsequently stated on the encrypted chat app Telegram that the media had tampered with his words and insisted that he actually say there was “no reason for there (a coup) to happen here (in America) should”. However, experts following QAnon say Flynn is parroting Myanmar talk that has been developing in the QAnon conspiracy theory online communities for months.
Flynn’s comments and the resulting backlash show that news and conspiracy theories related to QAnon are still gaining traction, including the misconception that Trump will somehow become president again before the 2024 election. Influencers who continue to spread false QAnon theories related to the election and Trump’s imminent White House return appear to be doing well on Telegram, despite being booted from other social media platforms.
Trump has told a number of people he’s in contact with that he expects to be reinstated by August (no, it doesn’t work that way, it just shares the information). https://t.co/kaXSXKnpF0
– Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) June 1, 2021
“You still support 100 percent the removal of Biden and the return of Trump to office, regardless of whether it is a coup.” [or] whether there is a reinstatement that doesn’t exist, ”Mike Rothschild, a researcher who has followed the QAnon conspiracy for several years and author of The Storm is Upon Us: How QAnon Became a Movement, Cult, and Conspiracy Theory of Everything said Recode. “QAnon’s prophecy now is that Trump will be back in office, and whether that’s by force or magic, that’s what they want to happen.”
Since the January 6 riot, conversation with QAnon appears to have decreased on traditional and social media alike. A recent study by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab found that QAnon content and language “almost disappeared from the mainstream Internet” after major platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube took action against conspiracy theory.
At the same time, however, QAnon followers have found a way to flourish with alternative apps like Telegram, where some QAnon influencers have tens of thousands of followers. That this latest twist on the QAnon conspiracy theory, based on the coup in Myanmar, was both previously broadcast on Telegram and subsequently returned to Telegram by Michael Flynn, shows how the platform has gained new meaning within the fringe movement.
The discussion of this branch of conspiracy theory came as part of a broader trend of QAnon followers moving to Telegram. After Jan 6, extremism researchers noticed the growth of Telegram channels targeting the QAnon audience. QAnon activities in Telegram groups continued after President Joe Biden’s inauguration. Throughout 2021, conspiracy theory supporters used the platform to promote the idea that Covid-19 vaccines are a population control tool and otherwise dangerous, and some QAnon influencers have used the platform to promote explicitly anti-Semitic conspiracy theories .
“Right now, everything is really happening through Telegram,” Rothschild told Recode. “What you can do with Telegram is just kind of Spread these news on your own private channels and get tens of thousands of views and thousands of comments on them instantly. But the discussion is really one-sided, so it’s really changing the way QAnon promoters interact with their followers. “
The conference at which Flynn made his conspiratorial comments was called “For God & Country Patriot Roundup” and was held at the Omni Dallas Hotel. While the event was largely focused on “patriotism,” it contained clear references to the QAnon conspiracy theory, and the event’s logo made explicit reference to the QAnon slogan, “Where We Go, We All Go”. Other well-known proponents of the QAnon theory also attended, as did Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) and former Trump campaign attorney Sidney Powell, who said at some point during the conference that Trump could “just be reinstated” and a new a date in office could be set before the actual next election.
“Flynn’s appearance at this event wasn’t in a vacuum. He’s been providing QAnon support for a while, ”Alex Kaplan, a senior researcher at Media Matters, told Recode. Last year Flynn posted a video sharing QAnon slogans and building relationships with influencers in the QAnon movement.
QAnon conspiracy theorists have long believed that the November 3, 2020 election was bogus, and they have spread the idea that the election was stolen from former President Donald Trump, including through election fraud, Kaplan explained. Since inauguration, QAnon supporters have continued to seek ways to support the idea of Trump coming back as president. For a time, some supporters thought that Trump would be reinstated on March 4th, a view that has obviously been proven wrong. After the February military coup in Myanmar, some QAnon supporters viewed the events as inspiration for what could happen in the US.
“The Burmese military arrested the country’s leaders after credible evidence of widespread electoral fraud became indiscriminate … Sounds like the controlled media and the Biden administrator are afraid this might happen here,” predicted an account in the Telegram app, according to a Rolling Stone report from February. “We’ll see that headline here soon.”
Some QAnon supporters have even tried to forge links between tech companies involved in conspiracy theories about the US election and the events in Myanmar. Similar claims have been made for apps like Rumble and Gab.
At the moment it is not clear what will happen next to QAnon or where its supporters will go. A recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that a large majority in the country disagrees with the idea that the government, media, and finances are “controlled by a group of Satan’s worshiping pedophiles engaged in a global child sex trafficking operation.” – a core belief of the QAnon conspiracy theory – about 15 percent of Americans agree with this idea. Other scholars have questioned the idea that QAnon’s following is actually that widespread.
Regardless, Flynn’s comments and response are a reminder that the future of QAnon conspiracy theory is more complicated than the mainstream social media platforms’ content moderation decisions. While people believed similarly Conspiracy theories prior to the arrival of QAnon, QAnon has managed to repackage many of those beliefs, and they have evolved and evolved despite raids.