Sydney Powell, attorney for President Donald Trump, conducts a news conference on Thursday, November 19, 2020. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)
Unraveling viral disinformation and explaining where it came from, the harm it’s causing, and what we should do about it.
Rudy Giuliani grabbed most of the headlines after his dangerously unhinged press conference on Thursday where he made baseless claims about rigged election results that were off the wall — even by his standards. But his performance was nothing compared to Trump’s other lawyer, Sidney Powell, whose statement was a litany of unfounded allegations that appeared to have been lifted wholesale from the QAnon fever swamp.
This is how Powell began her statement at the press conference:
“What we are really dealing with here, and uncovering more by the day, is the massive influence of communist money through Venezuela, Cuba, and likely China in the interference with our elections here in the United States.”
What followed was virtually a recitation of QAnon’s greatest hits, and Powell ended her tirade almost in tears, essentially telling those listening to “stick to the plan,” a phrase that has become a QAnon rallying cry since Trump lost the election.
“We are not going to back down,” she said. “We are going to clean this mess up now. President Trump won by a landslide. We are going to prove it, and we are going to reclaim the United States of America for the people who vote for freedom.”
The comments were essentially a dog whistle to the QAnon community, which has been waging a disinformation war on social media since the election earlier this month, helping to boost conspiracy theories that have made their way to the Oval Office.
Giuliani and Powell’s comments have been widely criticized. Chris Krebs, the recently fired head of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), called Thursday’s press conference “the most dangerous 1hr 45 minutes of television in American history. And possibly the craziest.”
Yet, for anyone who’s tracked Powell’s public pronouncements in recent years, the outlandish claims and winks toward QAnon conspiracy theories came as no surprise.
Exactly a year before Thursday’s press conference, Powell appeared on a QAnon YouTube show and praised the host’s support for her other client, former national security advisor Michael Flynn, as “huge and extremely helpful.”
The appearance on the YouTube show was not the first time Powell had publicly backed QAnon, the baseless conspiracy theory that claims Donald Trump is secretly battling the deep state while trying to uncover a cannibalistic Satanic child sex-trafficking network operated by Democrats and the Hollywood elite.
She has retweeted major QAnon accounts, including that of Tracey Diaz, identified by NBC as one of the three people who helped take QAnon from the obscure 4chan message board to a more mainstream audience.
She has also tweeted “#TheStormIsComing” and “#TheStorm,” phrases regularly used by QAnon supporters.
Prior to becoming one of Trump’s main conspiracy pushers, Powell was most famous as a lawyer for Flynn, who himself is a significant figure within the QAnon mythos.
Flynn, who QAnon recently helped to get to 1 million Twitter followers, has signed copies of his book with the #WWG1WGA hashtag, has the QAnon-linked #DigitalSoldiers and #TakeTheOath hashtags in his Twitter bio, and most blatantly, he posted a video of himself and his family on Independence Day pledging allegiance to the movement by reciting the QAnon oath.
But it’s not like Powell is trying to hide any of this. Just look at her Twitter account.
Her profile picture shows her with Flynn while a “storm” rages in the background over the White House, a less-than-subtle hint at “the storm is coming.”
Her background image says “We the people,” another QAnon phrase. Powell has also recently added the hashtag #Kraken to her bio after she kick-started a new conspiracy theory during an interview on Fox Business, where she claimed the Trump administration was going to release huge reams of “evidence” about voter fraud. The hashtag #ReleasetheKraken has since been embraced wholeheartedly by the QAnon community.
Powell did not immediately return requests for comment about her links to QAnon.
While the QAnon community embraced Powell’s comments on Thursday, others who had previously supported Powell’s allegations seem to have decided that she had crossed a red line.
Highlighting just how deranged Powell’s conspiracy theories have become, even Tucker Carlson, Fox News’ go-to conspiracy guy, rejected them on his show on Thursday night.
Unsurprisingly, the QAnon community didn’t take Carlson’s rejection of Powell very well: