Donald Trump endorsing QAnon is hardly a surprise, given that his political career was founded on a racist conspiracy theory.

When Voltaire was on his deathbed, the story goes, an attending priest asked him if he renounced the devil and all his works. “Now, now, my good man,” replied the French philosopher, “this is no time to be making new enemies.”

It’s a great line, even if Voltaire – AKA François-Marie Arouet – never said any such thing. The tale actually dates back to a generic Irishman joke told in a Springfield, Massachusetts newspaper in April 1856. It’s good to know that Fake News is nothing new.

Voltaire’s imaginary deathbed non-conversion came to mind recently when US president Donald Trump, ahead of the November presidential election, after months of flirting, embraced the proponents of the lunatic, far-right viral conspiracy theory QAnon, a grouping identified by the FBI as “a potential domestic terrorism threat”.

In a sentence: QAnon claims that Donald Trump, the self-confessed serial sex offender, is in fact fighting a secret war against a satanic cabal of paedophile cannibal sex traffickers led by the likes of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bill Gates, and George Soros.

With its lurid fantasy of a liberal elite harvesting a secret, life-extending hormone from the blood of abused children, QAnon is just a lazy 21st century online reimagining of the anti-Semitic blood libel, which for centuries claimed Jews murdered Christian children, using their blood to bake matzo bread to eat at Passover.

Donald Trump is no stranger to conspiracy theories, and would never have reached the White House if not for championing the racist “birther” lie that Barack Obama was ineligible to be president because he was born in Kenya (Obama was born in Hawaii).

Journalist Travis View, who has written extensively about QAnon for the Washington Post, summarises the conspiracy theory thus:

“There is a worldwide cabal of Satan-worshiping paedophiles who rule the world, essentially, and they control everything. They control politicians, and they control the media. They control Hollywood, and they cover up their existence, essentially. And they would have continued ruling the world, were it not for the election of President Donald Trump. Now, Donald Trump in this conspiracy theory knows all about this evil cabal’s wrongdoing.

“But one of the reasons that Donald Trump was elected was to put an end to them, basically. And now we would be ignorant of this behind-the-scenes battle of Donald Trump … were it not for ‘Q’ … a poster on 4chan, who later moved to 8chan, who reveals details about this secret behind-the-scenes battle, and also secrets about what the cabal is doing and also the mass sort of upcoming arrest events through these posts.”

Meanwhile, back in what we currently believe is the real world, when Trump was asked last month about QAnon, he replied: “I don’t know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate … I have heard that it is gaining in popularity.”

When one reporter pointed out to Trump that QAnon supporters believe Trump is “secretly saving the world from this satanic cult of pedophiles and cannibals”, he replied: “If I can help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do it, I’m willing to put myself out there and we are, actually. We’re saving the world from a radical left philosophy that will destroy this country and, when this country is gone, the rest of the world will follow.”

Online, QAnon supporters were thrilled at the endorsement from their tangerine hero, and the serially-bankrupt, draft-dodging, high-heeled pussy-grabber-in-chief is exactly the saviour they deserve. Weird, basement-dwelling incels though most QAnoners are, there are real-life implications at play here too.

A recent Civiqs/Daily Kos survey revealed that one in three Republicans believe QAnon is “mostly true”, while 23% believe “some parts” of the conspiracy are true, with 13% of Republicans calling QAnon “not true at all”.

Jamelle Bouie of the New York Times cautions that the results of the survey may have been skewed by the phrasing of its question, asking whether “you believe that the QAnon theory about a conspiracy among deep state elites is true,” a question Bouie suggests “might prime them to reveal partisan attitudes not about ‘the QAnon theory’ but about ‘the deep state’, leading respondents to answer ‘yes’ without thinking through the implications.” 

That said, QAnon supporter Marjorie Taylor Greene won by 57% August’s run-off election for Georgia’s overwhelmingly Republican 14th congressional district, meaning that she is almost certainly heading for Washington in November. Lauren Boebert, another QAnon supporter, unseated a five-term incumbent for Colorado’s third congressional district.

Put simply, those who looked on aghast years ago as Sarah Palin became the face of the Tea Party movement didn’t know how good they had it.

In truth, Donald Trump had little choice about endorsing the fanatics who apparently believe that a man who proudly cages immigrant children is simultaneously saving (white) children from liberal paedophile cannibals.

With some military families in key swing states – in the wake of all-too-believable stories of Trump’s utter disdain for dead American soldiers – reportedly realising belatedly just how little President Heel Spurs thinks of them, Trump, who has almost certainly never heard of Voltaire, (even if he does resemble somewhat Voltaire’s character Irax,) has nonetheless clearly decided that now is not the time to be making any new enemies.

On the subject of Voltaire, most of us know his most famous quote: “I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it,” but just like his alleged last-minute refusal to irritate the devil, that’s Fake News too. That was actually written by Evelyn Beatrice Hall in The Friends of Voltaire as an illustration of Voltaire’s beliefs, although it is often misattributed to him.

When it comes to Trump – a man who, like few before him in American history, so completely embodies HL Mencken’s famous definition of the demagogue, “one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots” – and the MAGA-hatted zealots who follow him, a far more apt Voltaire quote applies, one which François-Marie Arouet actually did say:

“Certainement qui est en droit de vous rendre absurde est en droit de vous rendre injuste,” wrote Voltaire.

“Certainly anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices.”

President Trump, by the Washington Post’s count, has made somewhere in the region of 20,000 false or misleading statements since he assumed office. He has been laying the ground for months now for the prospect of a disputed outcome to November’s presidential election, making vague but obvious references to “second amendment people”, and supporting heavily armed anti-lockdown “patriots” who stormed state capitals.

Donald Trump has long since established that he has the power to make his followers believe whatever absurdities pop into his addled head. With racial tensions, and fatalities, rising in cities across America – tensions fanned by Trump – who knows the injustices, the atrocities, the man who makes his followers believe absurdities will make those followers commit.