The U.S. Marshals have been criticized for a tweet mentioning Abraham Lincoln's inauguration on March 4, 1861, as followers of the radical QAnon movement push baseless claims that Donald Trump will be reinstated as president on that date next week.
The federal agency has been accused of failing to realize the significance of mentioning March 4 and apparently legitimizing the conspiracy theorists' predictions.
"On February 23, 1861, President-Elect Abraham Lincoln quietly slipped into Washington, D.C. to prepare for his inauguration on March 4," the U.S. Marshal's account tweeted on Tuesday. "Accompanying him was U.S. Marshal Ward Hill Lamon (D/DC), a friend and former law partner."
The tweet, which the agency also posted last year, merely states historical facts. Presidential inaugurations were held on March 4 until 1937, when Franklin D. Roosevelt's ceremony was the first to take place on January 20.
The March 4 date has added significance this year, however, because QAnon followers have convinced themselves, using arcane reasoning, that Trump will somehow return to power on that day.
There have been fears in Washington, D.C. that QAnon radicals will turn violent next Thursday when the prediction fails to materialise.
Thousands of National Guard troops are to remain in D.C. until March 12 in case there are similar scenes to the riots of January 6, when Trump supporters and QAnon followers attacked the U.S. Capitol.
The tweet was discussed by QAnon supporters on their favored messaging apps, such as the encrypted service Telegram, and some replied directly to the U.S. Marshals on Twitter.
"Hopefully history repeats itself with President Trump and Lin Wood will be right beside him!! We need him to save our country and NOW!!" tweeted Brenda Hoye.
Another Twitter account that has Trump as its profile picture added: "Nothing but love on this thread, I believe it's happening. Thank you Jesus!"
"Hopefully they put Trump back in Power," wrote @stocksproperty, sharing the Marshals' tweet.
Other Twitter users urged the agency to remove the post to stop it being seized on by followers of QAnon, which is listed as a domestic terrorist threat by the FBI.
"Who the hell is running this account? Our official inauguration already happened & this nonsense is making these QAnon nuts think something is actually going to happen March 4th which it isn't & they are going to be even more p****d off," tweeted @PJocky82.
"Should have skipped this little factoid this year. I mean c'mon, are you really not paying attention or do you just not care?" wrote Twitter user KG Farrell. "I know 'we put it out every year...blah blah blah'.....Yeah well it isn't every year we have an insurrectionist mob hyper focused on that specific date."
Social media user @strychninelove wrote: "Delete this tweet. Either you're complicit in inciting future violent white supremacist insurgencies or you're just f*****g stupid and aren't heeding the DHS national security threat warnings. I don't care if they tweeted this last year—they def shouldn't tweet it this year."
Conspiracy theory expert Mike Rothschild, who has written a book about QAnon, said the U.S. Marshals should keep the tweet up and not play into the movement's "fantasies."
"This anodyne tweet about a historical event is being twisted by QAnon believers as 'comms' that their March 4th Trump inauguration fantasies are coming true. This is the essence of hopium, the need to turn nothing into total victory, and moving right on when nothing happens," Rothschild tweeted.
"There is nothing wrong with the tweet from the U.S. Marshals account. The problem is in the interpretation of prophetic conspiracy theorists who interpret *everything* as being favorable to their prophecy. When we change our language to accommodate them, they win."
In a statement to Newsweek dismissing any suggestion that the post had a coded meaning, a U.S. Marshals spokesperson said: "The 20th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1933, moved Presidential Inauguration Day from March 4 to January 20.
"Our tweet yesterday made a purely historical reference to President-elect Abraham Lincoln's arrival in the District of Columbia on February 23, 1861, in the company of U.S. Marshal Ward Hill Lamon, ahead of Lincoln's first inauguration.
"No other meaning or context was intended or implied."
This article has been updated with comment from the U.S. Marshals.