The Gaetz allegations show how QAnon corrupts its followers

But Gaetz is a Trump ally, and QAnon is nothing if not tribal. The group’s grand narrative — namely, that our government is run by a secret cabal of Satan-worshipping, cannibalistic pedophiles being exposed by a pseudonymous intelligence official called “Q” — holds Trump as a messianic figure, and in-group loyalty is incredibly strong. Thus did QAnon community discussions in the Telegram app immediately jump to Gaetz’s defense, dubbing the Times report yet another “SMEARING of MAGA Patriots.”

“Typical Narcissitic [sic] Flying Monkey, projectionist, gas lighting, smear campaign playbook,” wrote one user, employing a pop psychology term to describe The New York Times as an enabler of abuse. The journalists are “evil … bastards [who] hate [Gaetz] because he fights back and calls them out!” said another. Some highlighted that the girl allegedly involved was 17 years old. (Q is the 17th letter of the alphabet, so QAnon adherents sometimes think incidences of the number, like the 17 flags that stood behind Trump during his farewell address, are coded messages telling them to keep the faith.) Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green (R-Ga.), who has promoted QAnon in the past, backed Gaetz promptly, warning the story would become a “witch hunt.”

Maybe she’s right — we truly don’t know yet. If Gaetz is innocent, his name may forever be unfairly tarnished by the leaked story. And regardless, he deserves due process, not “trial” in the court of public opinion. But the QAnon defenses of Gaetz go well beyond legal presumption of innocence or a prudent withholding of judgment. My read is that, given the choice, they’d shutter the DOJ inquiry entirely.