In the past few weeks, the cultish conspiracy movement known as QAnon has come under increasing scrutiny over its outlandish myths about everything from COVID-19 vaccines to satanic pedophile rings. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook have cracked down on the fast-growing movement, but the effort doesn’t seem to have deprived it of oxygen: more than 80 current or former 2020 congressional candidates have endorsed or lent credence to QAnon, including 22 who will appear on ballots this November. And the numbers continue to rise.
The QAnon worldview revolves around a bizarre fantasy that Hollywood celebrities and members of the Democratic establishment secretly torture and eat children, and that Donald Trump is working secretly to have the malefactors rounded up en masse and executed in Guantánamo. In a few short years, QAnon-associated accounts have metastasized on Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok at an unprecedented rate. The pandemic has further fueled conspiracy movement’s growth, uniting anti-vaxxers, “re-open” fanatics, and COVID deniers with the Sandy Hook skeptics already part of QAnon’s growing coalition.
Over the summer, QAnon quadrupled in size and influence, due largely to the embrace of Trump, who regularly shares QAnon content on Twitter which then echoes around the MAGA-sphere. During the economic shutdown in response to COVID-19, believers found common cause with anti-vaxxers and anti-government protesters. In July, former national security adviser General Michael Flynn released a video of himself and his family earnestly reciting the QAnon pledge. More recently, conspiracy theorists have co-opted the hashtag #SaveTheChildren, which had been used in the past for legitimate causes, including raising funds for the humanitarian organization Save the Children and to draw attention to the scourge of human trafficking, obscuring the lines between actual activism and conspiratorial propaganda.
Already, a QAnon diehard named Marjorie Taylor Greene is headed to Congress next year, after her Democratic opponent in a deep-red Georgia district quit the race, citing a pending divorce from his wife. Taylor Green won the Republican nomination despite hours of uncovered videos in which she demeans Blacks, Muslims, and Jews, and promotes a slew of conspiracy theories. Trump endorsed Taylor Greene after the victory, calling her “a future star,” all but ensuring the rest of the GOP will fall in line behind her. The attention-hungry Taylor Greene has already begun trading online insults with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, albeit unsuccessfully.
Don’t worry Mrs. Greene, I completely understand why you need to swing + miss at my intellect to make yourself feel better.
You seem to have some trouble spelling your own insults correctly.
Next time try “single-handedly,” it’ll work better.
Good luck writing legislation! https://t.co/y33JXVfxDc
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) September 21, 2020
“As a blonde woman, I would like to take a moment to thank Congresswoman @AOC. She has single handily [sic] put an end to all ‘dumb blonde’ jokes. Blondes everywhere appreciate your service and your sacrifice!” Taylor Greene wrote. To which Ocasio-Cortez replied, “Don’t worry Mrs. Greene, I completely understand why you need to swing + miss at my intellect to make yourself feel better. You seem to have some trouble spelling your own insults correctly. Next time try “single-handedly,” it’ll work better. Good luck writing legislation!”
In August, Trump referred to QAnon supporters as “people that love our country.” The President added, “I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate.”
Trump’s ringing endorsement of QAnon supporters like Taylor Greene has elevated the once-obscure network of conspiracy theorists into a force within the conservative movement that is drawing comparisons to the Tea Party of a decade ago. Angelo Carusone heads Media Matters for America, a progressive research group that has been keeping tabs on QAnon congressional candidates since the start of the 2020 election cycle. He estimates that the number of current and former candidates running for Congress this year who have expressed support for the conspiracy theory has increased from approximately 50 before Taylor Greene’s victory to more than 80 in the weeks that followed.
“It just became more socially acceptable and politically viable to embrace it and to say so more explicitly,” Carusone said in a recent interview.
Some of the new Q-friendly candidates started pushing Q content on the eve of their primary election, presumably paying lip service to the conspiracy cult as part of a last-minute bid for more votes. Others did it because QAnon has become more politically acceptable and they no longer feared the consequences, Carusone said.
Catherine Purcell, a third-party candidate who has qualified to appear on the ballot in Delaware’s At-Large Congressional District in November, belongs to the second group. A pledge of allegiance associated with QAnon is posted on Purcell’s campaign home page. She recently posted an unsettling selfie video on YouTube in which she unblinkingly recites a poem featuring QAnon-related phrases like “Democrats eat you for adrenochrome”—a reference to the belief widely held in QAnon circles that opponents of Trump extract a life-extending chemical from the blood of children. (Content warning: She also refers to Michelle Obama using an anti-LGBTQ slur.)
Folks, we are now up to 𝟖𝟎 current or former 2020 congressional candidates who have endorsed or given credence to QAnon. The newest addition is Catherine Purcell, a 3rd party candidate in Delaware who will be on the ballot in November per Ballotpedia. https://t.co/yM8gPNJOhq pic.twitter.com/T3TD5ssw1E
— Alex Kaplan (@AlKapDC) September 15, 2020
Presently, at least 22 QAnon-identified congressional candidates will appear on the November ballots, according to Media Matters, and five of those are from California. One is Alison Hayden, a London School of Economics graduate running for California representative Eric Swalwell’s seat in Congress. Hayden, 60, a Bay Area special education teacher, became a QAnon believer during the COVID-related shutdown in the spring. She now suspects that shadowy global elites unleashed both the pandemic and the civil unrest over racial injustice to foil President Trump’s plan to unmask a secret cabal of Democratic pedophiles.
A QAnon supporter named Mike Cargile is running against incumbent Congresswoman Norma Torres to represent the 35th District of California, which includes parts of eastern Los Angeles County and western San Bernardino County. Cargile, a marketing professional from Pomona, has referred to the coronavirus as a “scamdemic” on social media and posted incendiary remarks attacking Blacks, immigrants, Muslims, and the LGBTQ community. Torres, who emigrated to the U.S. from Guatemala as a child, said supporters of the GOP challenger have trolled her campaign relentlessly and even made death threats against her online. “It’s on the upswing because the president has normalized it,” she said of QAnon. “He continues to retweet and provide a platform for these people.”
Most of the QAnon supporters running for Congress, including the five in California, aren’t going to get elected. But at least two might. Colorado gun activist Lauren Boebert, who defeated a five-term Republican incumbent in the primary, would join Taylor Greene in Congress next year if she wins a close race to represent a district in Colorado. In May, Boebert told an interviewer, “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.”
Win or lose, QAnon candidates’ success at getting on the ballot for the November election should give voters pause, says Carusone of Media Matters. “You’ve had 80-plus people running for the House and Senate combined that have been pushing QAnon theories and adding a layer of political legitimacy to it,” he said. Meanwhile, QAnon memes and affiliated social-media accounts are cropping up in races for state legislatures around the country, the Associated Press reported earlier this month.
Mike Madrid, the former political director of the California GOP-turned Never Trump conservative and co-founder of the Lincoln Project, predicts there will be a QAnon caucus in the Republican Congress in 2020. “Count on it,” he says.