It would be comical if it weren’t so increasingly dangerous. QAnon, a growing movement of unhinged, evidence-free conspiracists, are convinced that an evil cabal of Democrat, Satan-worshipping, pedophile sex-traffickers rule the world. As the theory goes, this evil enterprise controls the media, politicians and Hollywood. In fact, supporters say, if it weren’t for President Donald Trump, the devil’s devotees would have conquered the globe.
As Trump berates leftists and labels antifa a “terrorist organization," it’s time for the GOP to decide what it wants to be when it grows up.
These same cultish conspirators assert that there is a secret “deep state” plot within our current government against the president and his supporters. A disturbing current of racism and anti-Semitism unites many QAnon believers, and violence has already been attributed to its adherents. Now, this quackery is embedding in our state and federal legislatures as candidates wave the figurative, and sometimes literal, QAnon flag and spout QAnon babble as part of their campaign platforms. Even former national security adviser Michael Flynn was recently seen in a video reciting the QAnon “oath.”
As Trump berates leftists and labels antifa a "terrorist organization," it’s time for the GOP to decide what it wants to be when it grows up. Will it enable this blatant partisan hypocrisy and ignore the dangerous conspiracy theorists that even now are being retweeted approvingly by the president? Or will it take this threat to democracy seriously and be ready to protect America from members of its own party?
In Tuesday’s Georgia Republican congressional primary, Marjorie Taylor Greene — a pro-Trump, former CrossFit gym owner and QAnon supporter — beat her Republican opponent, a neurosurgeon, to become the inevitable next U.S. representative from the Rome, Georgia, area.
She may have defeated a brain surgeon, but it doesn’t take a medical degree to know that Greene is a quack and a racist. Politico unearthed hours of Facebook videos featuring Greene ranting about Blacks, Muslims and Jews. In other videos, Green proclaimed that “white men are the most mistreated group in America.” In a 2017 video she said, “There’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to take this global cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles out, and I think we have the president to do it.”
Republican Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan endorsed Greene’s campaign, and a PAC associated with Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows funneled thousands of dollars to her campaign. Trump himself even tweeted his support of Greene, calling her a “future Republican Star.”
Some current elected GOP officials, including Rep. Steve Scalise and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, appear panicked that QAnon may usher in yet another extreme shift in GOP ideology. It’s the kind of pivot that would make the tea party look like, well, a tea party.
They should be worried. One estimate, by Alex Kaplan of Media Matters, claims that dozens of congressional or state legislative candidates this year express some degree of support for QAnon. It’s time for serious GOP thinkers to do what they did when white supremacist congressman Steve King revealed his true colors: deny committee assignments and close ranks.
Marjorie Taylor Greene is just the beginning. In Colorado, Lauren Boebert, a gun-rights advocate, recently upset a five-term congressman in the GOP primary. Boebert is the first primary challenger to defeat a sitting congressional representative in Colorado in 48 years, according to Colorado Politics. She owns Shooters Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, where the staff are encouraged to openly carry firearms.
In May, Boebert told right-wing conspiracy theorist Ann Vandersteel, “Everything that I’ve heard of Q, I hope that this is real because it only means that America is getting stronger and better, and people are returning to conservative values.”
In Atlanta, Angela Stanton-King, who spent time in prison for her role in a car-theft ring and was later pardoned by Trump, became the GOP candidate for Georgia’s 5th Congressional District. Stanton-King, who has compared the LGBTQ rights movement to pedophilia, has repeatedly tweeted the QAnon slogan. Stanton-King also benefited from at least $2,200 in Republican National Committee donations despite posting QAnon content and hashtags related to “global elite pedophiles.”
There are definite cult-like qualities to QAnon. The theory purports that one or more current U.S. government employees are leaking inside revelations to followers about events that prove their overall conspiracy theory. Their leader — known as “Q” — could be a single person, or more likely a small group of individuals. There is no guarantee they are even Americans. "Q" communicates vague clues from the dark recesses of the internet to followers who revel in trying to interpret what those clues, including alpha-numeric codes, might mean.
The vagueness contributes to a kind of self-confirmation among followers — meaning they can see whatever they choose to see in the messages and can therefore convince themselves that current events comport with the predictions and conspiracy theories. The messages became even more vague when past predictions fail to play out. The feeling that followers are part of some secret, insider information source, and are working together as part of a much larger group to fight for a common cause, is typical of a cult.
If the QAnon movement were limited to just frustrated, lonely albeit nonsensical code-solvers, that would be troubling enough. But QAnon is not a benign game.
Worryingly, QAnon adherents, and their support of like-minded candidates for elected office, seem to have increased as people spend more time during the coronavirus pandemic in isolation and in front of their computer screens, longing for a sense of belonging and affirmation.
If the QAnon movement were limited to just frustrated, lonely albeit nonsensical code-solvers, that would be troubling enough. But QAnon is not a benign game; it’s dangerous.
In 2019, an FBI field office released a memo saying QAnon posed a potential domestic terrorism threat. Now, people are voting for more of it.
The QAnon belief system won’t “magically disappear” any more than Trump claims COVID-19 will. In fact, no matter who wins the next presidential election, the outcome will only serve to “prove” the unprovable puzzle at the heart of QAnon ideology.
If Trump wins, the conspiracy crazies will take that victory as evidence that the QAnon promise of Trump as savior will soon be fulfilled. If former Vice President Joe Biden wins, there is even more risk. Much of QAnon theory is premised on beliefs that former President Barack Obama and his cohorts pose a threat to America and are plotting a coup; many believers blame society’s ills on Black people.
Biden’s choice of Sen. Kamala Harris for vice president will likely fuel the QAnon furor and increase the possibility that someone will violently act out. Cult experts call this kind of violent response “forcing the end,” an attempt to bring about the group’s prophecy when things are going contrary to plan.
Clearly, QAnon threatens more than just the future of the Republican Party; it threatens all of us.