QAnon scores wins, creating GOP problem

Gun rights activist Lauren Boebert’s upset win over Rep. Scott TiptonScott R. TiptonProgressive Bowman ousts Engel in New York primary Hillicon Valley: QAnon scores wins, creating GOP problem | Supreme Court upholds regulation banning robocalls to cellphones | Foreign hackers take aim at homebound Americans | Uber acquires Postmates On The Trail: Trump, coronavirus fuel unprecedented voter enthusiasm MORE (R) in Colorado this week is the latest in a string of victories for candidates who have publicly expressed support for the QAnon conspiracy theory. 

At least eight such candidates for the House will appear on general election ballots this fall, while another two are headed for runoffs. While the majority of them are running long-shot campaigns in uncompetitive districts, at least two are currently favored to win, including Boebert.

Meanwhile, Republican Jo Rae Perkins — who has supported QAnon, walked the support back and then committed again — is running against Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyHillicon Valley: NSA warns of new security threats | Teen accused of Twitter hack pleads not guilty | Experts warn of mail-in voting misinformation Merkley, Sanders introduce bill limiting corporate facial recognition Portland protesters clash with law enforcement for first time since federal presence diminished MORE (D) in the safe blue state of Oregon.

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The Republican establishment has largely avoided discussing QAnon so far, even as the once-fringe theory continues to pick up credibility from candidates.

“They’re sort of stuck between a rock and a hard place because the more the core of the Republican Party tries to disassociate from it, the more it actually validates the core tenants of what QAnon stands for,” said Angelo Carusone, president of the liberal media watchdog group Media Matters for America, which has been tracking mentions of QAnon by candidates.

The QAnon theory posits that President TrumpDonald John TrumpLincoln Project ad dubs Jared Kushner the 'Secretary of Failure' Pence: Chief Justice Roberts 'has been a disappointment to conservatives' Twitter bans Trump campaign until it deletes tweet with COVID-19 misinformation MORE and the military are working together to expose a shadowy cabal of figures in media, entertainment and politics who currently control the world.

The movement gets its cues on the progress of that mission from Q, a mysterious figure who posts cryptic messages on image boards including 4chan, 8chan and 8kun.

The QAnon conspiracy theory is expansive. Travis View, an expert on the community and co-host of the "QAnon Anonymous" podcast, explained to The Hill that it’s better to think of it as a “meta-conspiracy theory that can include almost any other conspiracy theory.”

Everything from the belief that John F. Kennedy Jr. never died to accusations that Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPence: Chief Justice Roberts 'has been a disappointment to conservatives' Top federal official says more details coming on foreign election interference The Hill's Campaign Report: COVID-19 puts conventions in flux  MORE ran a child sex trafficking ring in the basement of a D.C. pizza restaurant fits under the theory’s broad roof.

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The loose community dotted around the internet has grown massively through the first three years of Trump's presidency, enough for the FBI to take note and label it a domestic terror threat.

Boebert, who is best known for her ownership of a grill that lets its staff openly carry firearms, expressed support for the theory during an appearance on a right-wing internet show called "Steel Truth" in May. 

"I am familiar with that," she said when asked her thoughts on Q. "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." 

In an email to The Hill on Wednesday, Boebert walked back that support, saying, “I don’t follow QAnon” and adding, “I’m glad the IG and the AG are investigating deep state activities that undermine the President.”

Meanwhile, Perkins has walked back her support less decisively. Upon winning the Oregon Republican primary, her campaign issued a statement distancing her from QAnon. Perkins then appeared on ABC News to reiterate her support and recently posted a video of herself reciting an oath of the “digital soldier,” something Q recently asked followers to do.

Perkins told The Hill in an email that she reads Q drops — the cryptic messages Q posts — "when I have time" but said they "are not a theory" and that "Q drops is just one of the various sources of information I refer to."

View and Carusone both expect successful candidates to keep distancing themselves from Q moving forward.

"Candidates commonly become more moderate for the general election," View said before stressing that for the community those walk-backs won’t matter.

"They will likely chalk it up to the secret, coded nature of QAnon in their world. After all, they imagine Trump is the head of the 'Q operation,' and he's never given explicit support to QAnon, despite retweeting several QAnon followers."

"Unless [they’re] willing to say that there's no deep state ... they haven't actually disavowed or disassociated themselves from what Q stands for," Carusone said.

The candidate with perhaps the best chance to make it to Congress hasn’t actually clinched her primary yet.

Marjorie Taylor Greene is advancing to an Aug. 11 runoff in a deep-red Georgia district after finishing the primary 20 points ahead of her closest competitor. Retiring Rep. Tom GravesJohn (Tom) Thomas GravesStates begin removing Capitol's Confederate statues on their own House holds moment of silence for John Lewis QAnon scores wins, creating GOP problem MORE (R) won the district by 53 points in 2018.

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She said Q is a "patriot," in a YouTube video from 2017.

"He is someone that very much loves his country, and he’s on the same page as us, and he is very pro-Trump," Greene said in the video. "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."

Her campaign did not respond to questions on her current thoughts about the conspiracy theory. 

Media Matters identified seven other candidates who have expressed support for QAnon to varying degrees and will be on general election ballots as of Thursday.

Mike Cargile, who is running in California and has a QAnon slogan in his Twitter bio, told The Hill on Thursday that he watches Q content but is “much more focused on things that mean something to my constituents.” 

None of the other campaigns responded to emails from The Hill about their current stances on the theory.

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QAnon’s impact on these races remains to be seen, campaign strategists told The Hill.

“This is not something that most people know about. Obviously some Democratic candidates are gonna look for an edge in any kind of race ... but it doesn't necessarily mean it's going to draw attention for them or help them,” Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist, told The Hill.

A Pew Research poll from earlier this year found that 76 percent of Americans have heard nothing at all about QAnon.

But Democratic strategist Brad Bannon argued that support for QAnon would hurt Republicans, especially because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and growing consensus among citizens that taking protective measures and following government protocol is important.

Meanwhile, Jon Reinish, from the strategic communications firm SKDKnickerbocker, added that the general election audience “would be loath to believe that Donald Trump is a messiah battling a globalist Satan worshipping and child sex trafficking cabal.”

The Republican establishment has been quiet about the recent victories of QAnon supporting candidates so far. Representatives for the National Republican Senatorial and Congressional committees did not respond to questions from The Hill about whether they would back the candidates identified by Media Matters.

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Although they did not comment directly after Greene’s advancement to the runoff — when her support for QAnon was public — many of the House’s highest-ranking Republicans distanced themselves from her after Politico uncovered videos of her expressing racist views.

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyNRCC poll finds McBath ahead of Handel in Georgia Unemployment debate sparks GOP divisions Senate GOP divided over whether they'd fill Supreme Court vacancy  MORE (R-Utah), who has frequently bucked the party line on issues from Black Lives Matter protests to Trump’s impeachment, is one of only a few Republican lawmakers to public express concern on QAnon candidates.

“I’m worried about people falling for unsubstantiated, uncorroborated conspiracy theories that frankly have no basis in fact that we know of. And of course it’s a big party with a lot of people who have different points of views, but I’m convinced that Republican principles will remain steady even though we’ve taken a departure from time to time,” he told reporters Wednesday.

One Republican strategist who has been advising campaigns this cycle told The Hill that the establishment’s silence on the matter is wise: “Why draw attention to something that will probably fly over most people's heads?”

View suggested that the establishment is holding back now because “they don't want to alienate voters who subscribe to QAnon beliefs, but they're also cognizant of how deranged QAnon is.”

However, if candidates who back QAnon continue to win Republican races, that silence may no longer be tenable, according to Carusone.

“The sheer volume of political figures within the party that are embracing the QAnon conspiracy to me signifies that ... this is going to be a strain of their party that they're going to have to deal with for a while,” he said. “There’s a pretty big collision point down the road.”