All this has occurred with barely any pushback from Trump or Republican leaders — or even much acknowledgment that the phenomenon exists. And the engagement has continued even as the FBI has labeled the amorphous online community a potential source of domestic terrorism after several people radicalized by QAnon have been charged with crimes, ranging from attempted kidnapping to murder, inspired by the conspiracy theory.

To Trump’s critics, the reason is simple enough: QAnon followers are some of Trump’s biggest boosters. They show up at rallies. They promote the president’s narrative online, even coming up with their own conspiracy theories to protect him. And as the president struggles in the polls amid criticism over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and response to nationwide protests over police killings, there are political benefits to engaging Trump’s most fervent fan base.

“It’s easy enough for them to say OK, well, because of that, we can accept this other crazy level of behavior because those people love the president,” said Rick Wilson, a former GOP strategist and co-founder of the Trump-critical Lincoln Project. “They unequivocally support Donald Trump.”