A QAnon caucus? Fringe conspiracy theory advocates aim for Congress

Almost two dozen candidates who have embraced QAnon conspiracy theories are running for Congress, and six are already on the November ballot.
Image: Marjorie Taylor Greene
Republican House candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene speaks at a GOP women's group in March in Rome, Ga.John Bailey / Rome News-Tribune via AP file

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By Dareh Gregorian

President Donald Trump, who has suggested that Sen. Ted Cruz's father was involved in the JFK assassination, that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya and that a George Floyd protester whose skull was fractured after he was shoved by a police officer was acting, will have some like-minded company on the ballot in November.

A half-dozen Republican congressional candidates who will be on the ballot Nov. 3 have promoted the QAnon conspiracy theory that Trump is leading a secret battle against a sprawling and powerful liberal child sex-trafficking ring — and more could be joining them.

A survey by the progressive site Media Matters found that 53 candidates running for Congress in 2020 have promoted QAnon. Thirty have already dropped out or have been defeated in primaries, and most are Republicans running in solid Democratic areas. But a candidate in Georgia has emerged as the favorite to win her conservative district in Georgia.

The QAnon conspiracy "is ludicrous because it's so detached from reality, but as a political movement, it's a tremendous success story," Travis View, a conspiracy theory researcher who hosts the podcast "QAnon Anonymous," told NBC News.

The state with the most Q-friendly candidates was California, which at one point had 11. Three finished in the top two in the March primary and will be on the ballot in November.

Florida at one point had nine Q-promoting candidates, but four dropped out. Two are running against each other in the 19th District in the Aug. 18 primary, and two are running against each other in the 22nd District.

Long-shot candidates who've promoted QAnon messages are on the ballot in Tuesday's primaries in New York and Kentucky, while another, Lauren Boebert, is challenging Republican Rep. Scott Tipton in the Colorado primary on June 30.

Trump endorsed Tipton shortly after Boebert, a restaurateur, joined the race in December, portraying herself as more in step with the president's positions.

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Boebert made headlines last year when she traveled to an event Beto O'Rourke, then a Democratic presidential candidate, was holding and challenged his proposed gun buyback program.

"I was one of the gun-owning Americans who heard you speak regarding your 'Hell yes, I'm going to take your AR-15s and AK-47s.' Well, I'm here to say, 'Hell no you're not,'" she declared.

She made headlines again in May by violating state coronavirus guidelines and reopening her restaurant, Shooters Grill.

She has been endorsed by Colorado on the Ground Bikers for Trump, and in May she made an endorsement of her own: Appearing on a QAnon-friendly internet show, Boebert was asked what she thought of "Q."

"I am familiar with that," she said, smiling. "Everything I've heard of Q — I hope this is real. Because it only means America is getting stronger and better and people are returning to conservative values."

Most QAnon supporters say they believe "Q" is an anonymous government official sharing information about a secret battle between Trump and a powerful cabal of Democratic politicians, liberal celebrities and the "deep state."

The conspiracy posts, first shared through the website 4chan in 2017, also hint at a much darker plot in which many of those figures control a worldwide child sex-trafficking ring.

"The basis of the QAnon theory is that a group of high-level officials close to Trump are leaking cryptic messages" about the secret conspiracy involving Democrats, the media and the "deep state," View said. Believers view Trump "as savior of not just the country, but humankind," and the person "who's going to expose the Satan-loving deep state pedophiles once and for all," he said.

"They are very worshipful of the current leader of the Republican Party," who, View noted, "rose to political prominence on the back of 'birtherism,'" the unfounded conspiracy theory that alleged that Obama was an illegitimate president because he was born in Kenya. Obama was born in Hawaii.

Trump has continued to weigh in on conspiracy theories from the Oval Office — retweeting a post suggesting that his 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, was involved in the death of multimillionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein — and he has done nothing to discourage the movement. View noted that Trump had quote-tweeted or retweeted QAnon followers 136 times as of last week.

On Saturday, Eric Trump, the president's son, posted an image on Instagram of a U.S. flag with a giant Q superimposed over it and a QAnon hashtag while promoting his father's rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday. Under the post, Eric Trump wrote, "TULSA OKLAHOMA HERE WE COME!!!"

Of the 23 Q-friendly candidates still running in 2020, six have already qualified for the ballot on Nov. 3. Some are considered long shots — Angela Stanton-King, who has repeatedly tweeted the QAnon slogan — ran unopposed for the Republican nomination in Georgia's 5th Congressional District. She is running against Democratic Rep. John Lewis, the longtime congressman and civil rights icon who is so popular in his district that he ran unopposed in the general election in 2018.

In Oregon, Jo Rae Perkins, who has openly embraced QAnon theories, captured the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in May. After her win, her campaign issued a statement walking back her support of QAnon, which she said left her "in tears" and then quickly refuted.

"My campaign is going to kill me," Perkins told ABC News afterward. "How do I say this? Some people think that I follow Q like I follow Jesus. Q is the information, and I stand with the information resource."

Perkins is running against Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley, who is widely favored to win in November.

Another Q-friendly candidate, however, is considered a favorite in the fall.

Marjorie Taylor Greene is running for the open House seat in Georgia's solid red 14th District. She has been outspoken in her support for the movement, saying in a 2017 YouTube video: "Q is a patriot. He is someone that very much loves his country and is on the same page as us, and he is very pro-Trump. He appears to have connections at the highest levels."

She also expressed her excitement about the "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take this global cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles out, and I think we have the president to do it."

She is in an August runoff with neurosurgeon John Cowan, whom she finished 20 percentage points ahead of in the primary. Her bid has the support of Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a top Trump ally.

But her road to easy victory might have hit a bump last week when Politico reported that she had expressed numerous racist and anti-Semitic views in Facebook videos, leading Republican leadership to rebuke her and back Cowan. A spokesman for Jordan didn't respond to a request for comment about whether he still supports Greene.

View said a rebuff from mainstream Republicans might not necessarily hurt Greene, and he predicted that she would try to lean into their criticisms. "She could use their attacks as proof of her populist credentials," View said.

Greene has done just that, issuing a statement saying that she wouldn't be "whipped into submission" and that "I'm sick-and-tired of watching establishment Republicans play defense while the Fake News Media cheers on Antifa terrorists, BLM rioters, and the woke cancel culture, as they burn our cities, loot our businesses, vandalize our memorials, and divide our nation."

Whether Trump wins or loses in November, View said, the potential addition of QAnon-aligned members of Congress won't contribute to the level of discourse in Washington.

"If you have legislators that believe the opposition party is full of child traffickers, that could impact the prospects of bipartisan legislation," View said.

CORRECTION (June 21, 2020, 2:20 PM ET): An earlier version of this story misstated the timing of President Donald Trump's endorsement of Rep. Scott Tipton. He endorsed Tipton shortly after Lauren Boebert joined the race in December, not before.