An alarming wave of Republican candidates who flirted with or openly embraced the QAnon conspiracy theory launched bids for Congress this year. But QAnon largely lost at the polls, with 26 of the 28 QAnon-backing Republicans (including three write-in candidates) facing defeat in the general election, many of them losing by 40% or 50% margins.
Even with QAnon flaming out, one of the conspiracy cult’s most recognizable faces and loudest voices will be striding the halls of Congress next year: Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. And Lauren Boebert, who didn’t get nearly as much pre-election publicity, pulled out an early-morning win in Colorado.
The QAnon movement pushes an unhinged conspiracy theory that Democratic powerbrokers, media bigwigs and Hollywood elites are engaged in child trafficking and drink a chemical harvested from the blood of children they imprison in satanic torture dungeons. That so many QAnon candidates made it this far is a worrying sign of what might yet come. Thanks to social media, the movement continues to spread, and not just in America but around the world.
Most of these candidates won primaries in congressional races that were not competitive for Republicans, and thus they did not face a powerful, party-backed candidate. Accordingly, they got blown out in the general election. Lauren Witzke, a Republican, was pummeled in her race for Senate in Delaware against Democratic incumbent Chris Coons. Witzke not only endorsed QAnon and publicly welcomed its followers into the GOP but also helped a crew of far-right political subversives try to embroil Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, in the conspiracy by smearing him with child abuse accusations.
Shiva Ayyadurai was another pro-QAnon Republican Senate candidate who went down to defeat, in his case in Massachusetts. In September, Ayyadurai lost the GOP primary but launched a write-in campaign, for which he solicited QAnon support on Twitter. The far-right outreach mirrored Ayyadurai’s 2017 bid for Senate, when he asked notorious alt-right extremist and Holocaust denier Chuck Johnson to “do a massive air strike from multiple media outlets across the Alt-Right community (you, gateway pundit, Mike Cernovich, etc.)” to promote his candidacy, according to an email Ayyadurai sent Johnson that HuffPost obtained. Ayyadurai has also been photographed partying at an event organized by “Pizzagate” pusher Mike Cernovich alongside Jason Kessler, the white nationalist who organized the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Jeff Giesea, a white nationalist funder who has worked closely with Cernovich.
But Greene, who appears to be a full-fledged far-right extremist, will be seated in the 117th Congress. A racist, anti-Semite and Islamophobe linked to white supremacists and anti-government militias, Greene cruised to victory in the general election, essentially running unopposed in Georgia’s heavily white, Republican and gerrymandered 14th District after her extremist followers terrified her opponent into dropping out of the race.
The wealthy gun-toting Greene, who co-owns a construction company started by her father, received endorsements from ultraconservative Trump-aligned members of Congress such as Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) ― himself an associate of Holocaust deniers and far-right extremists. Greene was also embraced by President Donald Trump and took money from a political action committee connected to former Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), Trump’s chief of staff.
She promoted her campaign by posting pictures of herself online holding an assault weapon, in one instance next to photos of Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Facebook considered the post an incitement to violence and took it down. Greene also talked about socialists and “cultural Marxists” tearing America apart. She said Black people should look at Confederate monuments as symbols of progress. She called George Soros, who is a Jewish Holocaust survivor, a Nazi collaborator.
But it was her devotion to the amorphous ever-mutating glob of conspiracy theories known as QAnon, which Greene embraced in 2017, that received the most attention. QAnon is based on the belief that a prophetic government official known only as “Q” has inside knowledge about a secret “deep state” plot against Trump, who is revered as a god-like figure waging a holy war against his enemies.
The movement started with Q leaving cryptic posts on neo-Nazi-infested internet message boards. It metastasized from there. Some QAnoners now think, for example, that a COVID-19 vaccine will be used for mind control. Or that the disease can be cured by drinking an industrial-strength wood pulp bleach.
“QAnon really preys on people with mental health issues,” Travis View, a conspiracy theory researcher and the host of the “QAnon Anonymous” podcast, told HuffPost this summer.
“I’m very excited about that now 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,” Greene said while campaigning.
Accusations of child abuse have a long, gruesome ― and politically useful ― tradition in Western history to demonize out-groups and justify violence against their members. Since the Middle Ages, Jews have often been the target of “blood libel,” which refers to a notorious and false allegation that Jews murder Christian children and use their blood for baking Passover matzah or other nefarious purposes. Riddled with anti-Semitism, QAnon offers a bizarro world update of this ancient hatred. As Talia Lavin, a journalist who covers far-right extremism, explained in The New Republic in September, “The fixation on Soros — an echo of mainstream Republican claims that the Hungarian Jew is the potential orchestrator of a ‘coup’ and a perennial funder of political opposition ― is particularly hysterical and violent.”
The FBI considers QAnon a potential domestic terrorism threat. Adherents of the conspiracy movement long for a Judgment Day-style authoritarian reckoning called “The Storm,” in which they fantasize the military will take out Trump’s foes, with deadly force if necessary. Until then, some have been taking matters into their own hands. QAnoners have staged an armored truck standoff at the Hoover Dam, stormed homeless camps with rifles in search of nonexistent sex traffickers, allegedly killed a Gambino family crime boss, allegedly tried to kidnap a child from protective custody and occupied a factory they suspected was a child trafficking hub. One cultist drove hundreds of miles armed with a bushel of knives and a plan to “take out” Joe Biden.
Trump has refused to disavow QAnon, instead driving the conspiracy movement deeper into the fabric of the Republican Party. In the months leading up to the election, the president, his family members and his campaign proxies courted QAnon and the movement’s army of “digital soldiers” for electoral help. Just before Election Day, Fox News hosts and contributors and right-wing influencers on Twitter promoted a pro-Trump video created by a QAnon extremist.
Greene didn’t need the boost. But Boebert, a Republican running for Congress in Colorado’s 3rd District who went up against Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush, a retired sociology professor and former state lawmaker, may have benefited from her party’s pro-QAnon spin in her win.
In May, Boebert, a restaurateur and gun rights advocate, appeared on two online shows hosted by QAnon supporters and said that she was “very familiar” with the conspiracy movement and that she hoped it “is real.” If it is, she said, “then it can be really great for our country.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.