In his first public appearance since leaving office, former President Donald Trump made it clear that he intends to remain a significant force within the Republican Party.
Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, on Sunday, Trump attacked his successor President Joe Biden, rehashed his baseless claims of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, and called for unity within the GOP while singling out the Republicans who voted to impeach him following the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.
“I’m going to continue to fight right by your side,” Trump said during his speech, which lasted nearly two hours. “We’re not starting new parties. We have the Republican Party. It’s going to be strong and united like never before.”
Despite being more than an hour late for his CPAC appearance, Trump was greeted with applause and chants of “You won! You won!” His speech was met with approval from his base as well as far-right actors such as adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory.
“Trump 2021 or goodbye freedom,” a QAnon follower wrote on Telegram following the speech.
QAnon is a virtual cult whose supporters claim that a cabal of elite pedophiles made up of Hollywood actors, Democrats, and other high-ranking officials is behind a global child sex-trafficking ring. The unfounded conspiracy theory also alleges that Trump is planning a day of reckoning known as “The Storm,” during which thousands of these so-called deep state actors will be arrested. QAnon adherents believed that the supposed reckoning and the eventual defeat of the deep state would begin with Trump’s victory in the 2020 election.
Despite Biden’s ascent to the White House, many QAnon adherents remain steadfast in their convictions. Some believe that Democrats “stole” the election from Trump, while others believe the former president will return to office in the near future, referring to him as the “undeniable leader of the Republican Party” and his CPAC speech as the “State of the Union Address.”
“He is a true king of kings,” a QAnon adherent wrote on one of the group’s most prominent Telegram channels. “There is only one Donald Trump.”
Lin Wood, a pro-Trump attorney turned conspiracy monger and QAnon celebrity, told his 820,000 Telegram subscribers that he has “never wavered for one minute in my belief that President Trump will be President for at least the next four years. He will be.”
Beyond the QAnon movement, the neo-fascist Proud Boys also celebrated Trump’s speech. The Proud Boys chapter in Seattle, Washington, posted a picture from CPAC of a hand holding a Proud Boys emblem while flashing the OK hand sign—a known hate symbol used by some to denote white supremacy. The group also shared clips of Trump’s speech in a Telegram channel known as The Western Chauvinist, which used to be called “Proud Boys: Uncensored” before being rebranded to focus on “ultra-nationalism.” The channel is reportedly being operated by the leader of the New Hampshire chapter of the Proud Boys, Todd M. Clark.
“Stop the Steal” organizer and far-right activist Ali Alexander shared a link on his Telegram channel that allowed the former president’s supporters to “send messages of appreciation to President Trump for the work he’s done to Make America Great Again.”
“Let’s find all 80 million Trump voters!” Alexander wrote on Sunday.
It is worth noting that the far right were not the only entities showering Trump with adulation. The former president was a big hit among CPAC attendees, according to the conference’s annual straw poll, which found that 68 percent of the more than 1,000 polled attendees wanted Trump to run for office again.
The poll is not without merit, as the former president himself hinted at a possible run for president again in 2024 during his lengthy CPAC speech.
“Who knows, who knows?” Trump said. “I may even decide to beat them for a third time.”