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Trump's QAnon embrace draws GOP backlash

“Why in the world would the president not kick QAnon supporters’ butts?” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush tweeted.
Image: U.S. President Trump holds news conference at the White House in Washington
President Donald Trump speaks at the White House on Wednesday. Tom Brenner / Reuters

President Donald Trump’s embrace of QAnon is drawing backlash from some prominent Republicans, who say his comments Wednesday on the group that believes he is saving the world from a satanic cult of pedophiles and cannibals have "no place" in the party.

Trump declined Wednesday to disavow the QAnon movement, saying that the followers of the extreme conspiracy theory are “people who love our country."

QAnon, once thought of as fringe, has emerged in recent months as a sort of centralized hub for utterly false conspiracy and alternative health communities, researchers and experts say.

The group, linked to several violent, criminal incidents, including a train hijacking, kidnappings, a police chase and a murder, sees Trump as their hero in a secret war against pedophiles. When asked about this part of the theory specifically by an NBC News reporter, Trump said, "Is that supposed to be a bad thing?"

Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and primary opponent of the president in 2016, tweeted his displeasure with Trump's remarks on the group, whose conspiracy theories the FBI said in 2019 "very likely motivate some domestic extremists."

“Why in the world would the President not kick Q’anon supporters’ butts? Nut jobs, rascists, haters have no place in either Party,” he wrote, misspelling "racists."

Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska told NBC News in a statement, "Q-Anon is nuts — and real leaders call conspiracy theories conspiracy theories."

Republicans should consider the possible electoral consequences of Trump’s comments, he said.

“If Democrats take the Senate, blow up the filibuster, and pack the Supreme Court — garbage like this will be a big part of why they won,” Sasse said. “Real leaders call conspiracy theories conspiracy theories.”

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois, tweeted "a reminder of QAnon’s track record” and said, “Let’s be clear, Complete BS.”

“Whoever wrote this does not ‘love our country' they seek to mislead and destroy it,” he wrote.

On a Fox News panel, GOP strategist and former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove said Trump “ought to disavow” QAnon, which he called “a group of nuts and kooks.”

“They may like him, but they like him because they think he is fighting an incredible war against forces of ‘pedographic’ evil, and it’s just ridiculous,” Rove said, referring to the group's pedophilia conspiracy theory. “Disavow them, get done with it.”

On Thursday, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 Republican in the House and the highest ranking GOP woman in Washington, added her name to the growing chorus of critics.

“QAnon is dangerous lunacy that should have no place in American politics,” Cheney said in a statement.

Trump's embrace comes as the Republican Party has become further entangled with the group.

Before running for office, Georgia Republican congressional candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene wrote dozens of articles published on a now-defunct website that were favorable to the QAnon conspiracy theory, NBC News has found. In the posts, Greene also suggested Hillary Clinton murdered her political enemies and ruminated on whether mass shootings were orchestrated to dismantle the Second Amendment.

Julie Tsirkin, Kasie Hunt and Haley Talbot contributed.