US President Donald Trump has praised the supporters of QAnon, a convoluted, pro-Trump conspiracy theory, saying its adherents “love our country”.
Mr Trump made the comments even as Facebook disabled the accounts of hundreds of groups that promoted its messaging.
At a news conference at the White House on Wednesday (local time), Mr Trump courted the support of those who give credence to the conspiracy theory, saying, “I heard that these are people that love our country.”
It was his first public comment on the subject.
“I don’t know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate.
In a reference to civil unrest seen in a number of cities across the US, Mr Trump described QAnon followers as “people that don’t like seeing what’s going on in places like Portland … Chicago and New York”.
QAnon has ricocheted around the darker corners of the internet since late 2017 but has crept into mainstream politics.
The baseless theory centres on an alleged anonymous, high-ranking government official known as “Q” who shares information about an anti-Trump “deep state” often tied to satanism and child sex trafficking.
Mr Trump insisted he had not heard much about the movement, “other than I understand they like me very much” and “it is gaining in popularity”.
Mr Trump has retweeted QAnon-promoting accounts and QAnon supporters flock to his rallies.
An FBI bulletin last May warned that conspiracy theory-driven extremists had become a domestic terrorism threat. The bulletin specifically mentioned QAnon.
Pressed on QAnon theories that Mr Trump is allegedly saving the nation from a satanic cult of child sex traffickers, Mr Trump claimed ignorance but asked “is that supposed to be a bad thing? If I can help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do it.”
The movement has been powered almost entirely by social media, amassing a large following and, more recently, a toehold in US politics.
Mr Trump’s comments came a week after he endorsed Marjorie Taylor Greene, who won her GOP House primary in Georgia last week. Ms Greene called the QAnon conspiracy theory “something worth listening to and paying attention to” and called Q a “patriot”.
Mr Trump praised her as a “future Republican Star”.
A spokesman for Democrat Joe Biden, Mr Trump’s opponent in the November 3 election, said the Republican president was “again giving voice to violence”.
“After calling neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville ‘fine people’ and tear gassing peaceful protesters following the murder of George Floyd, Donald Trump just sought to legitimise a conspiracy theory that the FBI has identified as a domestic terrorism threat,” a Biden campaign spokesman said.