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The Republican Party is increasingly dominated by adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory — the belief that top Democratic officials and celebrities are Satan-worshipers running a secret child sex trafficking ring.
A poll by Morning Consult earlier this month found that nearly 40% of Republicans who have heard of QAnon believe the theory is at least somewhat accurate. But this understates how deeply that the QAnon belief system has infiltrated the GOP. As social networks like Facebook and Twitter have cracked down on QAnon-related accounts, leaders of the movement have increasingly stopped referring to the conspiracy by name. Instead, they are holding rallies and events under the moniker of "Save the Children." This has created "a palatable entry point for many people who might not spend much time in dark parts of the internet but are active on Facebook."
A YouGov survey from October 16-18 measured how many Trump supporters accepted the main tenet of QAnon, whether or not they were aware of the name of the conspiracy. That poll found that 52% of Trump supporters believe "President Trump is working to dismantle an elite child-sex trafficking ring involving top Democrats." Just 12% of Trump supporters reject that notion as false.
At the same time, the poll found just 15% of Trump supporters explicitly say they believe QAnon is true, and another 22% say QAnon is partially true. In other words, QAnon has been successful in seeding its beliefs within the population of Trump supporters, often without QAnon branding.
But it's not just the grassroots of the Republican Party that have embraced QAnon's ideology. President Trump, in an NBC town hall last week, claimed to be unfamiliar with QAnon as a formal entity but praised its worldview. "I just don’t know about QAnon… what I do hear about it, is they are very strongly against pedophilia. And I agree with that. I mean I do agree with that!" Trump said.
Trump's acceptance of QAnon and its fraudulent ideology is mirrored by Republicans up and down the ticket.
Kelly Loeffler goes Q
Senator Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) is facing a tough reelection battle. She was appointed to her seat by the Governor and now faces opposition from Republicans and Democrats in a "jungle" primary that will take place on November 3. Loeffler has to finish in the top two to advance to a runoff election later this year.
Loeffler's closing strategy is to associate herself with QAnon.
Marjorie Taylor-Greene is a Republican Congressional candidate in Georgia. She "posted wide-eyed videos on Facebook describing Q as someone who 'very much loves his country' and is 'on the same page as us,' and she wrote pro-QAnon articles for a far-right Web outlet called American Truth Seekers." She is likely to become the first QAnon-supporting member of Congress. Taylor-Greene is running in a bright red district, and her Democratic opponent dropped out of the race weeks ago. Taylor-Greene said. Taylor-Greene has sought to avoid discussing her prior writings on QAnon during the campaign, telling Fox News that she "chose another path."
But last week, Loeffler appeared at an event with Taylor-Greene to accept her endorsement. "What impressed me with Kelly is I found out that she believes a lot of the same things that I believe," Taylor-Greene said.
At the event, Loeffler brushed aside questions about why she was accepting an endorsement from a notorious conspiracy theorist. She said QAnon was an invention of the "fake news."
No one in Georgia cares about this QAnon business. It’s something that fake news is going to continue to bring up and ignore Antifa and the violence promoted across this country. That’s not going to distract us. It never has distracted her.
Pressed about her appearance with Taylor-Greene at a debate with two of her top opponents, Loeffler claimed ignorance. "I don’t know anything about QAnon," she said.
After Taylor-Greene endorsement, Loeffler receives funding from an unlikely source
Joining forces with Taylor-Greene has not slowed down fundraising for Loeffler. On October 16, the day after receiving Taylor-Greene's endorsement, Loeffler received a $1,000 donation from a director of Microsoft’s Defending Democracy Program, Ginny Badanes.
Created in 2018, Microsoft’s Defending Democracy Program seeks to “protect the integrity of...democratic processes and institutions.” The program pursues this goal by working with stakeholders to “defend against disinformation campaigns” and counter “state-sponsored computational propaganda and junk news.”
Last year, Badanes participated in a webinar titled “Digital Disinformation and the Threat to Democracy. Now, Badanes supports a candidate who is helping legitimize QAnon – one of the largest sources of disinformation.
“This is a contribution made by an employee in their personal capacity,” Microsoft told Popular Information in a statement.
A government for Q
Despite Trump claiming to be unfamiliar with QAnon, the Trump administration has not shied away from positioning Trump as a crusader against child sex trafficking. Last month Attorney General Bill Barr and Ivanka Trump visited Georgia "to highlight the administration’s efforts to protect human trafficking survivors."
This week, the White House issued a press release declaring that Trump was redoubling “efforts to deliver justice to all who contribute to the cruelty of human trafficking, and will tenaciously pursue the promise of freedom for all victims of this terrible crime.” The U.S. Department of Homeland Security also announced that it was launching a new center for countering human trafficking. The center is to be led by ICE.
“The launch of this Center for Countering Human Trafficking represents the investment of resources, attention and time by President Trump to combat and dismantle all forms of human trafficking,” said Chad Wolf, Acting Secretary of the DHS, in a statement.
Human trafficking is a serious issue. But Trump’s recent focus on human trafficking, while refusing to disavow the QAnon conspiracy, is dubious.
In August, when a reporter asked Trump if he "is secretly saving the world from this satanic cult of pedophiles and cannibals," Trump didn’t reject it. Instead, he responded that "[i]f I can help save the world from problems, I'm willing to do it."