Some white evangelicals speculated about whether Barack Obama was the Antichrist, or just a “sign of the times.” Of course the point was not to actually determine, definitively, whether the first Black president was the Antichrist. The point was to make people wonder aloud about it or post about it on social media.
Long before QAnon mystified journalists with its special brand of nonsensical permutations, end-times prophecies were full of speculation and inconsistencies. That didn’t stop them from engaging followers in an incessant quest for meaning and certainty — a form of entertainment and diversion from reality.
Even as one prophecy is proved wrong, or doesn’t pan out, the broader theory is pliable enough to survive. Evangelicals are told to study their Bible; QAnon adherents are told to do their own research. Any needed adjustments keep things exciting, as if one is living in a perpetual cliffhanger upon which nothing less than the outcome of a cosmic battle between good and evil rests.
And that brings us to the Clintons. During Bill Clinton’s presidency, the Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr. sold conspiratorial pseudo-documentaries about the Clintons through his television program, “The Old Time Gospel Hour.” The first, “Bill Clinton’s Circle of Power,” which by 1994 had sold more than 100,000 copies, accused Mr. Clinton of being connected to assaults and murders of political opponents. The sequel, “The Clinton Chronicles,” was shown in churches across the country. An Arkansas journalist, Gene Lyons, has described it as a “near-delusional concatenation of preposterous falsehoods and conspiracy theories” that “presented the then-president (and his wife) as an embezzler, drug smuggler and serial killer.”
That October 2017 “drop” that kicked QAnon off? It read: “HRC extradition already in motion effective yesterday with several countries in case of cross border run.” Other tenets of QAnon: Hillary Clinton should be arrested (“Lock her up”); she will try to escape (because, like her husband, she is a wily criminal); and she and her cabal are out to get President Trump. He beat her once. He can vanquish her and her secret cabal of sexual predators inside the “deep state” again, but only if their persecution of him is brought to light.
Televangelists and other self-styled apostles and prophets were claiming to receive divine messages about current events many decades before QAnon. And warnings and prophecies about Mr. Trump predate QAnon as well. In July 2017, for example, the televangelist Rodney Howard-Browne (a friend of Paula White, Mr. Trump’s personal pastor and a White House adviser), told the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones that the deep state had “started a war” against Mr. Trump because of his alignment with evangelicals.
Many such people were once considered fringe elements of American evangelicalism; they are now validated by their close relationship with the president.