An NBC News reporter who tracks online extremism said he was shocked by President Donald Trump's grasp of the most fringe elements of one of the most fetid conspiracy theories on the internet.
Journalist Ben Collins told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that the president displayed in his phone call to Georgia's secretary of state a startling depth of understanding of the Qanon conspiracy theory, which claims that some political and media elites are part of a satanic cabal that sacrifices children and opposes Trump.
"I was startled by his knowledge and grasp of really specific conspiracy theories that even didn't make it out of the Qanon internet," Collins said. "They didn't make it to the civilian internet where most people live. They barely made it to Facebook rumor-level stuff. For example, the president targets this woman named Ruby Freeman, who is an election worker. She's a black woman, and 4chan, an extreme website, said this woman was rigging the election using suitcases -- this is an elaborate conspiracy theory -- and the president specifically targeted this one hashtag called 'where's Ruby.' This was a Qanon hashtag, only a few hundred people retweeted this thing and it was all Qanon accounts."
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"Who is Ruby Freeman?" Collins added. "She sells purses on Instagram and she has a kiosk at the mall and is not an elaborate scammer, which the president called her. It is almost confounding that this person has this information coming to him through this pipeline."
The conspiracy theory has morphed from an anti-Democratic movement to an explicitly anti-democratic push, all centered around Trump -- who seems to buy into the ideas himself.
"You know, Qanon was built on the idea that the Democratic Party is run by satanists, child eaters, all that nonsense," Collins said. "That fell apart, because there were several deadlines that passed -- it's like a cult, where there are hard deadlines, like the Rapture, and it comes and goes. So what happened instead? That network of people on Twitter and Facebook and then blogs, they have spent the last two months finding these ridiculous ways the president can remain in office despite losing the election."