National News

Florida SWAT Officer Is Demoted After Wearing QAnon Patch Next to Mike Pence

Posted December 4, 2018 2:33 p.m. EST

At the end of a trip to South Florida on Friday, Vice President Mike Pence posed for photos with a group of local SWAT team members who had protected him during the visit. They were shared on Twitter, where among the officers’ green uniforms, a red and black patch on Sgt. Matt Patten’s tactical vest stood out: a bold letter Q and the phrase “Question the Narrative.”

The online followers of QAnon, a pro-Trump fringe movement that promotes baseless conspiracy theories about government secrets and clandestine plots, took notice and shared the photo. So did their anonymous leader, Q.

“It’s spreading,” Q wrote.

While the movement’s loosely connected group of supporters embraced the moment, Patten’s employer, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, viewed it as an embarrassment. On Monday, the sheriff’s office said it had reprimanded him, removed him from the SWAT team and reassigned him to a new department.

“Sgt. Patten’s actions of displaying unity with a controversial group not in alignment with the core values of the law enforcement and the Broward Sheriff’s Office discredited the agency, the county and himself,” a sheriff’s office supervisor wrote in a disciplinary report.

Patten, a 31-year veteran of the department, did not respond on Monday to a call seeking comment. He will be reassigned to the Department of Law Enforcement, a sheriff’s office spokeswoman said.

When Pence landed on Friday at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Patten was part of a local SWAT group that, with the Secret Service, escorted him to a hotel in Hollywood, Florida, for a speech at the Israeli-American Council National Conference. After the speech, the sergeant traveled with Pence back to the airport, where the vice president asked if he could personally thank the local officers and take photos with them, according to the report.

It was at this time, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office said, that Patten attached the circular QAnon patch, roughly 4 inches across, on the front of his vest. Pence later tweeted the photos, including the one with the sergeant.

Supporters of QAnon and people who track far-right groups quickly noticed the patch, and the tweet by Pence was soon deleted.

QAnon believers follow a person or group of people named Q who claims to be a government insider trying to expose nefarious efforts by the so-called deep state to undermine President Donald Trump and his allies. They closely follow Q’s posts and rush to interpret the messages. The exact number of Q followers is difficult to determine, but some QAnon forums, including a private Facebook group, have tens of thousands of members.

The movement has lived online on 4chan and 8chan message boards and other platforms, but it has crossed over into the real world several times this year and has been promoted by celebrities including Roseanne Barr and Curt Schilling.

In June, a man armed with a rifle and a handgun drove an armored vehicle to the Hoover Dam on what he said was a mission from QAnon. He was arrested after a standoff with the police.

The fringe theory gained a wider audience over the summer when some attendees at a rally for Trump in Tampa, Florida, wore shirts with the letter Q.