QAnon believers duped by Trump, Melania Impersonators on Telegram

QAnon conspiracy theorists pushed off of major social media platforms in the aftermath of the U.S. Capitol riot have a new problem: falling for obvious impersonators of their right-wing heroes on the messaging app Telegram.

A months-long purge of QAnon believers on sites like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter climaxed in the days following the Jan. 6 riot, with Twitter alone banning 70,000 QAnon-related accounts. QAnon believers’ attempts to organize elsewhere online hit another wall in January when Amazon pulled server support from conservative site Parler, taking the upstart social media network offline for a month.

Faced with few other options, QAnon believers and other Trump supporters opened accounts on Telegram, a social media network and messaging app that was already popular with conservative figures banned from more mainstream platforms.

Many of the Telegram newcomers found that some of MAGAworld’s biggest stars had joined them. Donald Trump himself was on the app, amassing more than 200,000 followers within a few days. So was Melania Trump, posting herself to Telegram as “Lady Melania Trump.” Air Force General John Hyten joined the app and began issuing cryptic, QAnon-style pronouncements that thrilled believers eager to see President Joe Biden arrested and Trump returned to power.

Except all of the accounts, including the accounts representing both Trumps and Hyten, were fake. Many of them were later removed, or marked as scams on the app. Despite that, QAnon believers soon started taking the fake accounts’ pronouncements as genuine, as though they really were coming from the Trumps or Hyten.

Attempts to convince QAnon believers not to follow have been inadvertently hindered by Lin Wood, the pro-Trump attorney whose legal attacks on the election results turned him into a MAGAworld star.

“Melania is a genius,” Wood posted on his genuine Telegram account on Jan. 18, linking his hundreds of thousands of Telegram followers to the fake Melania Trump Telegram account. “A beautiful genius. And she loves her husband and her son. They are geniuses too.”

Wood’s backing proved to be a powerful endorsement for some of the fake accounts. In QAnon chatrooms on Telegram, believers said they had been convinced the Melania Trump account was fake themselves—until they saw Wood post about it, persuading them that it was in fact real.

Wood, who has claimed the Georgia State Bar wants him to take a mental health evaluation to retain his membership, didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether he realized the Melania Trump account was fake.