QAnon creates troubling presence within Republican Party

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AP

A Qanon believer speaks to a crowd of President Donald Trump supporters outside of the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office where votes in the general election are being counted, in Phoenix, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-MIlls)

Dozens of United States congressional candidates in the 2020 elections openly ran on the platform of conspiracy theories that coincide with a group called QAnon. 

QAnon’s core theories state that President Donald Trump is constantly being targeted by a cabal of prominent Democratic figures like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and George Soros, to name a few. These establishment Democratic figures are supposedly Satan-worshipping pedophiles who are aiming to take out Trump. The members of this cabal are also said to be running a worldwide child sex-trafficking ring. 

In the wake of the election, two outright supporters of QAnon, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert won seats in the House of Representatives in Georgia and Colorado, respectively. Still, there is an unknown number of sympathizers who ran for office for the GOP without openly supporting QAnon. 

The spread of the ideas promoted by QAnon is similar to the rise of alt-right populism in some areas of the U.S. within the past 10 years. They both use online misinformation platforms to spread divisive and hateful rhetoric. 

“After you scratch the surface of QAnon, which starts out presenting itself as a line of defense against the human trafficking that has undisputably occurred, with horrible instances like Jeffrey Epstein, it then unfolds into this grandiose tech version of the familiar dog-whistle narratives of white supremacy, anti-Semitism and homophobia,” said DePaul sociology professor Eulalie Laschever. 

There is an anti-Semitic trope about a global cabal of Jews who eat Christian children that is adjacent to QAnon theories about the deep state Democrat cabal that is “eating children and plotting against President Trump,” according to Laschever. 

“So once you have one foot into QAnon, it goes from combatting human trafficking, to touching on these deeply ingrained and problematic cultural mythos that certain people have about what American racial identity should look like,” Laschever said. 

During QAnon’s origins in 2017, the group functioned mostly on sites like 4chan where members could interact with the group and even write their own conspiracy theories. In this way, it consumes their supporters in the world of its different functions with an addicting agent of control that is similar to a simulation or video game. Yet, because it is still mostly a decentralized online group, the theories of QAnon are widespread and wide-ranging in their beliefs. 

QAnon theories are slightly separate from alt-right theory and act more as a “tent” conspiracy theory, according to Laschever. This means QAnon is constantly adding new theories to the umbrella of its beliefs. For example, there are different variations of QAnon conspiracy theories that talk of an imposing “storm” that will result in the arrest of the group’s enemies and their subsequent sentence to Guantanamo Bay.

Another theory states that big tech leaders such as Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will be forced to resign and flee the country. 

Although these theories might seem obscure to a casual observer, they were not disavowed by the president when directly asked about them in his town hall on NBC before the election.

“I know nothing about QAnon,”  Trump said. 

When moderator Savannah Guthrie explained the theory, the president countered, “You told me, but that doesn’t necessarily make it fact.” 

On Thursday night last week,  Trump explicitly played into one of the main theories of QAnon during a press conference, where he falsely said the election was being stolen from him and that democratic “cabal” is trying to take him down. 

Whether Trump believes in QAnon or not, his refusal to condemn or disavow the group and its beliefs is symptomatic of the larger problem of constant and specific misinformation from the federal government. 

Still, many members of the GOP do not see Republicans as responsible for bringing alt-right ideals into the mainstream. 

Chicago Republicans Communications Director Jeff Fiedler made an effort to distance himself, as a member of the GOP, from white nationalism and other extremist theories circulating in the political sphere. 

 “The Party is against extremism in any form, from any angle, and we reject racism, bigotry and extreme positions that all such groups promote,” Fiedler said. “Based on our experience, social media, conflict media and the internet, in general, tend to exaggerate the ‘rise in popularity’ as you stated it. Our leaders are watchful, but simply are not seeing any presence or influence of such groups in local Republican circles.” 

Yet, the rise of QAnon in the mainstream politics of the GOP is not a spoof. QAnon supporter Marjorie Taylor Greene won her congressional seat in Georgia on Nov. 3 behind the banner of the GOP.

Republican candidate for Georgia’s 14th congressional seat Marjorie Taylor Greene speaks from the bed of a pickup truck during a campaign rally Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, in Roswell, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) (AP)

Although the chances of QAnon supporters taking control of a major party like the GOP are minuscule, there is still a real rise in populist tactics by members of the GOP like Trump. And in some cases, the combination of populist politics and conspiracy theories has even led to violence at the hand of white supremacists or QAnon believers. 

The violence accompanied by this sort of radicalization in the Trump era have been “lone wolf” attacks according to Sherri Replogle, a professor of political science at DePaul University, who teaches a class on identity politics and multiculturalism. 

“I don’t think violence is the main point of QAnon; rather, it is primarily a disinformation campaign that broadly targets Democratic leaders and establishment figures in government — the so-called ‘deep state’ — it would surprise me if they started to preach overt violence,” Replogle said. “The reason I say that is because the strength of social media disinformation is that it is decentralized, diffuse and thus unaccountable.” 

As the divisions in our country seem to be continually accentuated and threats of violence by white nationalists become very real in some cases, Replogle said the real worry of Americans should be the political usage of the followers of conspiracy theories like QAnon. 

The mainstream emergence of conspiracy theories and groups like QAnon has been long coming because of America’s increasingly dysfunctional and divisive politics, according to Replogle. 

“It seems unthinkable that people would believe some of the things that QAnon followers do, but we do know that when large numbers of people feel insecure, especially economically, but also culturally, political elites find it much easier to manipulate perceptions in ways that serve their own interests,” Replogle said. “I’ve never witnessed this level of attack on truth, logic and evidence in politics, but history certainly shows it is possible, and worse.”

QAnon, alt-right groups and neo-Nazis all remain largely out of political offices for the time being, but Trump’s efforts to discredit the legitimate vote count continue. As the election continues to unfold, though, the lack of political power for QAnon and other extremist ideologies is partially because they are not organized under one cause in particular. 

There is not a direct, tangible link between QAnon and Trump or the GOP. But Laschever said it is clear, however, the president has been consistently unwilling to condemn the harmful rhetoric and actions of alt-right extremist groups, and this has allowed a permission structure for ideas of white genocide in groups like QAnon to continue to flourish in the past four years.

“Either Donald Trump wins and QAnon is just a particularly ardent base, or we have a Biden presidency that creates more desperation and more permission structure for white nationalists,” Laschever said. “As soon as you see a Biden election, you’ll also immediately see a kind of uniting backlash to get the Democrats out of power, and then I would watch for more QAnon candidates in Congress in 2024, definitely.” 

As President-elect Joe Biden defeated Trump in the 2020 election, the future of QAnon remains murky without a concrete passage for them in the federal government. Meanwhile, Biden will work at proving his message of unity and possibility ‘for all Americans’ in the years ahead.