A controversial figure within the Roman Catholic Church made waves in the online world of QAnon Friday, after his open letter to President Trump was quoted in a post from the anonymous leader of the cultlike conspiracy movement.
The letter by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a former Vatican ambassador to the United States and outspoken adversary of Pope Francis, hit many of the favorite themes of the pro-Trump conspiracy theory, attacking its familiar villains, from the ominous “global elite” to Bill Gates and “the mainstream media.”
“The fate of the whole world is being threatened by a global conspiracy against God and humanity,” Viganò wrote, emphasizing the “epochal importance of the imminent election,” casting Trump as “the final garrison against the world dictatorship” and his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, as “a person who is manipulated by the deep state.”
Not long after “Q” posted the letter to the fringe message board 8kun early Friday morning, it was tweeted by former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials, has publicly embraced QAnon rhetoric in the past, and his tweet quickly generated tens of thousands of retweets and even more likes.
By late Friday morning, Marc-André Argentino, a PhD candidate at Canada’s Concordia University who has closely studied QAnon, observed that the letter was gaining widespread traction across QAnon channels and groups online, and was being discussed in languages including Hebrew, Portuguese, Spanish, French, German and Italian.
This wasn’t the first letter Viganò had written to Trump, nor was it his first time flirting with QAnon-inspired conspiracy theories.
After serving as the Vatican’s top diplomat to the U.S. from 2011 to 2016, Viganò first gained real notoriety in August 2018 when he published another open letter calling for the resignation of Pope Francis, whom he accused, without evidence, of covering up allegations of sexual abuse by prominent clerics. In that letter and subsequent others published that year, Viganò repeatedly blamed gay priests for the Catholic Church’s child abuse crisis, and accused Pope Francis of promoting a dangerous “homosexual current” within the Vatican.
In recent years, Viganò, who has reportedly been in hiding since he published his initial 7,000-word screed against Pope Francis, has continued to use open letters and occasional interviews to deride the pope while also expressing other, increasingly paranoid and conspiratorial views, such as the claim that Masons and Jesuits were working to “infiltrate” the Catholic Church, or that a “gay mafia” of bishops was “sabotaging all efforts at reform.”
In recent months, Viganò has turned his attention beyond the Catholic Church. In May, he promulgated a manifesto, signed by a number of priests and other clergy, which cast doubt on the seriousness of the coronavirus, claiming that the pandemic is being used as a pretext by unspecified “powers” to impose restrictions on the public as part of a larger plot to create “a world government beyond all control.”
A month later, Viganò further aligned himself with these and other conspiracy theories with his first open letter to President Trump, in which he expressed belief in the existence of a “deep state” within the U.S. government “which is fiercely waging war” against Trump, described the response to the COVID-19 pandemic as a “colossal operation of social engineering,” and claimed that the racial injustice protests that were then taking place across the U.S. in response to the police killing of George Floyd were in fact provoked by shadowy forces “who would like to see someone elected in the upcoming presidential elections who embodies the goals of the deep state.”
In the June letter, which was published by the ultraconservative, anti-abortion website LifeSiteNews, Viganò also referenced the controversy over Trump’s visit, days earlier, to a shrine to Pope John Paul II the day after he’d visited a church across from the White House, in a brief photo op involving the violent dispersal of peaceful protesters.
Trump tweeted the letter, writing that he was “honored” by it, and encouraging his more than 80 million followers to read it, “religious or not.”
In response to the Trump tweet, some Catholic writers, like James Keane, an editor at the Jesuit magazine America, sought to discourage the publicity it would inevitably bring Viganò, insisting that the archbishop “is aligning with Trump to stay in the spotlight. Pay him no attention.”
“A tweet like this from the president of the United States, especially a tweet widely reported on in newspapers and on social media platforms, may lead some readers to think that President Trump’s behavior and policies have been endorsed by the Catholic Church,” wrote Keane.
“It’s not true,” Keane continued. “In reality, Mr. Trump was responding to yet another public letter from a marginal figure, one who has made a growth industry over the last two years of writing increasingly paranoid and disturbing missives against Pope Francis, the Second Vatican Council and many other enemies real and illusory.”
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