How a Trump soundtrack became a QAnon phenomenon

Former U.S. President Donald Trump rallies with his supporters at Wilmington International Airport in Wilmington, N.C., on Friday.

Earlier this week, close advisers to former president Donald Trump grappled with a question: what to do about the QAnon song.

The melody – an orchestral theme featuring swelling strings, gentle bell tones and brooding piano harmonies – was the soundtrack to a campaign-style video Trump released in August. But it wasn’t until last Saturday’s rally in Youngstown, Ohio, when the tune closed Trump’s nearly two-hour speech, inspiring the crowd to respond with raised arms and pointed index fingers, that it broke through as a phenomenon.

The music has been widely described as an anthem for QAnon, an extremist movement that the FBI has designated as a domestic terrorism threat. The main discredited belief of QAnon revolves around the baseless claim that Trump is secretly fighting a secret cabal of Satan worshiping pedophiles. But the real story of the song is even stranger and more complicated – underscoring the increasing difficulty in parsing distinctions between the QAnon following and Trump’s own “Make America Great Again” movement.

The bottom line for Trump, according to one adviser, is that he will probably use the song again. His next rally is Friday in Wilmington, N.C.

That decision is consistent with Trump’s long-standing stance of welcoming support from QAnon followers. “I don’t know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate,” he told reporters at the White House in 2020. On Thursday night, Trump posted a video to his social media account containing overt QAnon themes and symbols, including references to Satanists, pedophiles and military tribunals.

Trump infamously took a similar approach to avoiding disavowals of Russian President Vladimir Putin, former KKK leader David Duke and the far-right group the Proud Boys. The FBI has warned that “anti-government, identity based, and fringe political conspiracy theories” and extremist ideologies such as QAnon will “very likely motivate some domestic extremists, wholly or in part, to commit criminal and sometimes violent activity.”

The origins of Trump’s decision to use the song in the first place remain murky. The piece was first released in 2019 as “Mirrors” by Will Van De Crommert, a composer who writes music for movies, TV and commercials. The next year, the track appeared on Spotify under the title “WWG1WGA,” short for the QAnon slogan, “Where we go one, we go all.” It was posted by a user with the screen name “Richard Feelgood,” who appears to be a man in Finland who makes YouTube videos of himself discussing false claims while wearing a teddy bear mask and sunglasses.

“Mirrors” appears on several services that sell stock music for use in media without expensive royalties. That’s how the song came to be featured in Trump’s video from August and it was considered alongside other options, according to the Trump adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose private conversations.

Van De Crommert, the composer, said he did not authorize the song’s use by Trump and is exploring legal recourse. “This individual has unlawfully distributed my music under their own name,” he said of the Spotify user. “I do not support Donald Trump, and I do not support or espouse the beliefs of QAnon.”

The person behind the “Richard Feelgood” Spotify account did not respond to a Facebook message requesting comment.

There’s little to no evidence that the song was widely recognized in QAnon circles until Trump started using it in August, according to two researchers who monitor the movement, Jared Holt of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and Alex Kaplan of Media Matters for America.

Trump’s video featured him narrating signs of American decline over black-and-white clips from his rallies and illustrations of his words, such as the U.S. evacuation from Afghanistan and a graphic stabbing. Trump liked how the music’s gloomy, spooky mood worked with the dark tone of the video, the adviser said. Trump takes special interest in musical selections, considering multiple versions, the adviser said.

The video introduced Trump’s speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in August, and he posted it a few days later to his Truth Social platform. Almost instantly, people on QAnon forums traced it to the track known as WWG1WGA. Followers interpreted Trump’s use of the song as a message meant for them. “If that’s not a Q proof then I don’t know what is,” one influencer with more than 200,000 subscribers wrote on the encrypted messaging platform Telegram.

“It was just a song, some guy was like, ‘This is a Q song,’ no one really did anything,” Holt, the extremism researcher, summarized. “The Trump team was like, ‘This is a Trump song,’ and the Q people were like, ‘No, it’s a Q song.’ “

Trump has winked at QAnon before, including by retweeting content from QAnon-supporting accounts while he was president. Those gestures tended to increase at times when Trump was under attack, such as during one of his two impeachments, according to Holt, the extremism researcher. Holt said he noticed a distinct shift shortly after the FBI executed a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago in August seizing classified and other government records, with Trump making more explicit overtures to QAnon. He recently promoted an image on his Truth Social platform showing him wearing a Q lapel pin with the movement slogans: “The storm is coming” and “WWG1WGA.”

The song completed its journey from Trump to QAnon back to Trump at his rally in Pennsylvania over Labor Day weekend. Trump mentioned that he wanted spooky music to end his speech, like the song in the video, the adviser said. So he started doing a live performance of the video, reading the same script with the same soundtrack, including thunderclaps that preceded the music.

Trump dropped the thunder sound effect when he repeated the performance at Saturday’s rally in Ohio. This time, the crowd responded with the outstretched-finger gesture.

The raised hands caught the attention of rally organizers, who began asking people in the crowd what was happening, the adviser said. Trump’s team is on the lookout for disturbances and works to remove people before they become disruptive. Some aides figured the raised hands were people praying like they were in church.

There isn’t clear evidence that the gesture was previously associated with QAnon or with Trump. Some right-wing figures have since moved to claim credit for the symbol, such as Nick Fuentes, an online personality who spews white nationalist ideas.

Trump’s circle has previously inspired new trends in the QAnon community. One of the first accounts created on Truth Social was named “Q,” and Trump adviser Kash Patel in February posted a picture saying he was “having a beer with @Q right now.” A flannel shirt appears in the image, prompting a meme for “Flannel Fridays.” Patel has also given interviews on QAnon supporting podcasts and has spoken fondly of the movement.

“Whoever that person is has certainly captured a widespread breath of the MAGA and the ‘America First’ movement,” Patel said of Q in a June interview. “You can’t ignore that group of people that has such a strong dominant following. But what you can do is educate them on what is true versus what is a conspiracy theory or what is a waste of time.”