On Jan. 19, 2021, one day before the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden, supporters of former President Donald Trump began sharing a video claiming to show military vessels off the coach of Long Beach, California. They either claimed or suggested that U.S. Navy ships had arrived to keep Trump in office.
The claims are baseless and are part of the QAnon conspiracy theory, whose followers support a series of beliefs based on anonymous web postings from “Q,” who claims to have insider knowledge of the Trump administration (here). A core tenet of the conspiracy theory is that Donald Trump is secretly fighting a cabal of child-sex predators that includes prominent Democrats, Hollywood elites and “deep state” allies.
Filmed from a coastal highway, the 32-second video pans to show several large ships in the water. The person filming says, “This is absolutely unreal. So many ships out there… All the way down the California coast. I’m by Long Beach, but I have a feeling these ships go all the way up through L.A. This is unreal.”
An hour after Biden was sworn in as president at the U.S. Capitol, one Facebook user shared the video with the following caption: “Breaking!!!! What’s going on off the calif coast .. Long Beach… Remember Q said watch the water” (here).
“Watch the water” is a common phrase used by QAnon followers in reference to “the Storm,” explained here by the Washington Post as the imagined moment in which Trump finally “corral(s) his enemies for military tribunals and mass executions in a show of force.
Reuters contacted Phillip Sanfield and Rachel Campbell, spokespersons for the Port of Los Angeles (here), a seaport located in San Pedro Bay that extends along 43 miles of waterfront 25 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, encompassing 4,200 acres of land and 3,300 acres of water (here).
Sanfield and Campbell said the ships at anchor in the video are inside and outside of the entrance to the San Pedro Bay port complex, which comprises both the Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach. Sanfield said these ships were not military vessels but cargo and cruise ships, and liquid bulk ships.
Data from MarineTraffic, which provides real-time information on movements of ships in harbors and ports around the world, showed 58 vessels arrived at the Anchorage of Long Beach on Jan. 19, the day the video was first shared, and 67 arrived on Jan. 20, the day Biden was inaugurated (here).
Of the 58 recent arrivals anchored at the Port of Long Beach on Jan. 19, six were categorized as “passenger,” two as “cargo,” five as “tanker,” 22 as “tug,” three as “pleasure craft” and 20 as “other.” Of the 67 recent arrivals anchored on Jan. 20, 10 were “passenger,” nine were “cargo,” five were “tanker,” 22 were “tug,” and 21 were “other” (here).
In an email response to Reuters, MarineTraffic spokesperson Georgios Hatzimanolis confirmed that the group’s data showed no U.S. Navy ships or any kind of military vessels in the area of Long Beach Anchorage over the last week. “The large number of ships people are seeing out in the bay are mostly cargo vessels as Long Beach and L.A. ports are facing some serious port congestion right now,” he said.
Hatzimanolis explained that the “other” category usually refers to non-commercial vessels that are not registered with the International Maritime Organization. Hatzimanolis said these “other” vessels would not be U.S. Navy ships, as the navy issued new orders in 2017 instructing its commanders to switch on their Automatic Identification Systems in busy waterways after a series of navy accidents.
On Sept. 29, 2017, NPR reported on the navy’s policy change here .
As noted here in a Dec. 28 CNBC interview with Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, he said the port had faced a shipping backlog during the coronavirus pandemic and its supply chain was “strained.”
“It’s all the change in the American consumer,” Seroka said. “We’re not buying services, we’re buying goods.”
As reported here by Reuters, QAnon followers on Inauguration Day had to face reality: Trump had left office with no mass arrests or other victories against the supposed “deep state.” Instead, Democratic President Joseph Biden was calmly sworn into office.
The Reuters Fact Check team has previously debunked social media claims related to the QAnon conspiracy theory, including that Martial Law and the Insurrection Act have been invoked; that power has been transferred from outgoing President Trump to the military; that there have been mass arrests; that Biden is not President; and that Trump will come back to power on March 4 (here).
Missing context. A video showing the Port of Long Beach does not show military vessels in the water but rather cargo, cruise ships, and liquid bulk ships. Claims that the U.S. Navy had arrived to prevent the peaceful transfer of power and keep Trump in office, part of the QAnon conspiracy theory, are baseless.
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .