The Trump campaign is hosting events across the country this weekend to capitalize on whatever momentum the Republican National Convention created and mobilize the party’s base of voters to turn out in November. HuffPost found that official campaign events in Georgia and Nevada will be hosted by people who promote QAnon, the hateful conspiracy theory that the FBI recently flagged as a domestic terror threat.
Neither masks nor social distancing appear to be mandatory for any of the gatherings — and they have not been required at numerous Trump reelection events over the past two weeks, where campaign surrogates and supporters have frequently crowded into relatively small spaces without proper protection. Attendees are required to waive their right to sue the campaign and the host venue if they contract the coronavirus at the event.
QAnon adherents baselessly claim that the world is controlled by a cabal of satanic, pedophiliac Democrats and wealthy Hollywood socialites who run a global sex trafficking ring and feed on the blood of abused children. They claim that President Donald Trump is engaged in a secret battle against the satanists and their so-called deep state supporters in government. QAnon rhetoric is steeped in anti-Semitism and threats of violence, and the FBI has warned it poses a domestic terrorism threat.
The GOP has, at times, made half-hearted efforts to distance itself from this extremist movement, even as a QAnon-er is set to win a congressional seat as a Republican. But QAnon believers are some of the president’s most enthusiastic supporters and Trump — who readily embraces conspiracy theories — retweets QAnon accounts and has welcomed support from the cult-like faction.
A Black Voices for Trump event in Mableton, Georgia, on Friday evening features Angela Stanton-King, who is the Republican nominee in the November election to fill the House seat of recently deceased civil rights icon John Lewis. “THE STORM IS HERE 🇺🇸,” Stanton-King tweeted earlier this month, using a QAnon reference to the moment Trump will supposedly arrest and execute his enemies.
Like most QAnon adherents, Stanton-King appears to be convinced that most world events are in some way linked to sex trafficking, a problem that QAnon believers vastly overstate using bogus statistics. “TRUTH BOMB 💣,” she tweeted in July. “This isn’t about COVID 19 or BLACK LIVES MATTER. This is a major cover up for PEDOPHILIA and HUMAN TRAFFICKING.”
Stanton-King, who received a pardon from Trump earlier this year for her role in a car theft ring years ago, has also used Twitter to sow doubt about the risks of COVID-19, which has killed more than 180,000 Americans. In May, she praised Trump for promoting hydroxychloroquine as a miracle cure for the virus, despite a lack of medical evidence and the risk of severe side effects. In July, she predicted COVID-19 will disappear altogether after the election, implying that the virus is a hoax to defeat Trump. Stanton-King is speaking at Friday’s event alongside Dr. Robin Armstrong, a physician who said he has provided hydroxychloroquine to nursing home patients.
In order to register for the Black Voices for Trump event, attendees have to “voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19” and “waive, release, and discharge” the Trump campaign, the venue and their affiliates from all liability.
On Saturday, two Latinos for Trump events in Las Vegas and Henderson, Nevada, will give voters the opportunity to meet Tito Ortiz, a mixed martial arts fighter who has the QAnon phrase “WWG1WGA” (Where We Go One, We Go All) in his Instagram bio and sells shirts with the same slogan as part of his Punishment Athletics clothing line. Ortiz has posted a video on Instagram suggesting that states are lying about the number of people who have died from COVID-19 and will also miscount votes in the election. In another post, he suggested that the media is unnecessarily scaring people into wearing masks and closing schools and businesses.
The Trump campaign, Stanton-King and Ortiz did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Holding in-person maskless events with purveyors of COVID-19 misinformation is at odds with the narrative Trump and his allies were pushing at the Republican National Convention. With polls suggesting that his failed response to the pandemic could hurt his chances of reelection, the president tried to use the RNC as an opportunity to rewrite history. Over the past four nights, speakers described Trump as a heroic leader whose decisive response to the coronavirus saved lives and protected the economy. Several of Trump’s allies referred to the pandemic in the past tense, even as new outbreaks have emerged in areas that reopened schools and businesses. The rising death toll was hardly mentioned at all. During the four days of the convention, at least 4,024 Americans died from COVID-19.
In reality, the Trump administration has ignored or downplayed the threat of COVID-19, failed to secure enough personal protective equipment for front-line workers and forced states to figure out a testing plan on their own. In Congress, his party has passed some but repeatedly blocked other economic relief measures that would make it easier for people to stay home and avoid spreading the disease. As a result, coronavirus cases in the U.S. continue to climb, while much of the rest of the world has been able to reopen without triggering serious new outbreaks.
Even as Trump misleadingly boasts about his pandemic efforts on the national stage, his campaign has continued to host crowded indoor gatherings of maskless supporters in battleground states throughout the country.
At a time when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning Americans that traveling — even to visit loved ones — increases the chance of getting and spreading COVID-19, the Trump campaign is operating two bus tours with surrogates traveling throughout the country to pose for photo ops with voters. The campaign has a hot pink bus for the women, including campaign advisers Lara Trump (who is also the president’s daughter-in-law), Mercedes Schlapp, and Katrina Pierson. The president’s son Eric Trump, campaign adviser Corey Lewandowski, and former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (who in 2013 decided not to join a lawsuit against a Trump University affiliate after Trump donated $25,000 to a political action committee supporting her reelection) have been traveling on a red bus. There appears to be a friendly competition between the pink and red bus tours over who can turn out the biggest crowds.
At Women for Trump events in Wisconsin, Maine, New Hampshire and Minnesota, campaign surrogates have crowded in tight with mostly unmasked supporters to pose for pictures at a local restaurant, a church, a police station and various MAGA confabs. The red bus crew has made stops in Arizona and Nevada, including the Area 51 Alien Center.
These events do not appear to be widely attended and it’s not clear whether they will have a meaningful impact on election turnout. But even gatherings of a few dozen maskless people significantly increase the risk of an individual contracting COVID-19 and inadvertently spreading it in their community.
The Trump campaign does not appear concerned with whether a few people die in the process of hyping his reelection. Even after the Republican Party decided to make this year’s convention mostly remote, Trump presided over televised in-person, no-mask interactions with front-line workers, immigrants who were featured in a naturalization ceremony they didn’t realize would be part of the convention, and a formerly incarcerated man pardoned by Trump. In a city where COVID-19 precautions ban gatherings of more than 50 people, hundreds of people packed onto the South Lawn of the White House on Thursday during Trump’s convention-ending speech. Four people who attended or worked at the RNC location in Charlotte, North Carolina, have tested positive for the virus.
On Friday night, Trump is set to appear in New Hampshire for a campaign rally, an event that poses such a high COVID-19 risk that the state’s Republican governor has said he will not attend. The president’s June rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, likely contributed to a surge in coronavirus cases in the area, according to the state’s health department director. Black Voices for Trump surrogate Herman Cain tested positive for COVID-19 about a week after attending the Tulsa rally. He was placed on a respirator and died after a month in the hospital.
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