The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Nearly 600,000 people have voted for candidates who support QAnon

The overlap of Q supporters with Trump’s base of support is not a coincidence.

A scene from a campaign rally for President Trump at the Florida State Fairgrounds Expo Hall, Tuesday, July 31, 2018, in Tampa. (The Washington Post)

The Republican Party’s candidate for the House in Colorado’s 3rd District will be Lauren Boebert, who won Tuesday’s primary over incumbent Rep. Scott R. Tipton by a nine-point margin. There are a lot of reasons that Tipton was booted from his seat, including by-now familiar criticisms that the incumbent wasn’t paying enough attention to the concerns of voters in his district. (See: Cantor, Eric; Crowley, Joseph.)

While her victory catapults Boebert into the relatively small group of successful challengers to sitting congressmen, it's her affiliation with a slightly larger group that is probably more important to note.

In an interview in May, Boebert was asked if she was familiar with the “Q” movement. Boebert said she was but that it was really what her mom thought, since her mom is “a little fringe.” Boebert was nonetheless complimentary toward the movement.

“I hope that this is real because it only means America’s getting stronger and better and people are returning to conservative values,” Boebert said. “And that’s what I am for. And so everything that I have heard of this movement is only motivating and encouraging and bringing people together, stronger. And … if this is real, then it can be really great for our country.”

Q, also called QAnon, is a sprawling and evolving conspiracy theory centered on the idea that President Trump’s secret mission in the White House is to combat a murky, nefarious web of sex predators woven throughout the political world and celebrity culture. It spirals out into various side theories, for example that John F. Kennedy Jr. wasn’t killed in a plane crash but instead is still living in the United States. Its sacred texts come in the form of anonymous posts from a figure who self-identifies as Q.

It is, in short, bizarre nonsense, a semi-direct continuation of the bafflingly bizarre “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory that emerged at the end of the 2016 campaign and that falsely suggested that Hillary Clinton and other officials were involved in a child sex trafficking ring based in a D.C. pizza shop. Both Pizzagate and QAnon have been used as rationales for acts of violence.

Boebert, who claimed to be “very familiar” with QAnon, thinks that it would be good if all of the above theorizing were accurate.

It is certainly true that some people who adhere to the idea that Q is in fact revealing details of a complex plot do so because they find appealing the idea that there’s a pattern to the complexity of the moment.

“I view it as hope,” one adherent told me at a Trump rally in 2018. “It’s like there’s a larger design. Despite all the chaos the country is going through, there is a backbone of what’s taking place behind the scenes.”

For others, it’s simpler still: an embrace of the idea that government officials and the media can’t be trusted and that QAnon adherents are part of a community that believes in didactic self-reliance. If this seems like a natural fit within what’s often called the MAGAverse — the most hardcore supporters of Trump and his “make America great again” movement — you’re correct. Many facets of Q, including the embrace of unfounded conspiracy theories and skepticism about formal sources of information, align with Trump’s personal approach to the world. You can think of QAnon as being largely a subset of MAGA — Trump fans who take their enthusiasm about the president into another level of thinking.

In that sense, it is understandable why candidates for office might solicit the support of QAnon adherents or even express more direct support for the idea. Hyper-engaged participants in the political dialogue who can be lured with a simple hashtag like #WWG1WGA (short for the Q slogan “where we go one, we go all”)? Throw the hashtag alongside #MAGA in a tweet and get more eyeballs.

Media Matters has documented 59 congressional and Senate candidates who have, at some point, demonstrated some support of the Q movement. Sixteen of the 59 did little more than drop a Q hashtag onto a social media post. Meaning that most, 46 of them, engaged with Q supporters to a greater degree, including promoting the movement or wearing Q-branded clothing. (The Trump campaign, recognizing the problem of being too closely associated with the movement, has in the past asked that attendees at its political rallies cover up pro-Q shirts, according to Q supporters I’ve spoken with.)

The thing that’s remarkable about these Q-adjacent candidates (nearly all of whom are Republican) is that many of them have gone on to win. A Post review of the outcomes of the races in which those 59 candidates have actually been on the ballot and received votes show that 11 of 28 candidates either won their primaries, advanced to a runoff or will be on the ballot in November.

In total, candidates who’ve shown support for QAnon have received more than 580,000 votes, as of this writing, including more than 425,000 votes that have gone to Republicans who were more actively engaged in the Q movement than simply using a Q hashtag on a tweet. This isn’t a sign that those voters were all demonstrating support for Q. It is a sign, though, that Q was not seen disqualifying for Republican primary voters.

Most of those successful candidates won’t end up in Washington next January. A number won primary contests against incumbent Democrats in heavily blue districts. It seems likely at the moment, though, that at least two — Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene, who won the party primary in Georgia’s 14th District — will be elected.

The sudden emergence of a possible Q caucus, if you will, itself mirrors Trump’s ascent. QAnon and the president took similar paths to political power.

You’re probably more familiar with Trump’s. Written off in 2015 as a lark, Trump perhaps accidentally stumbled on a successful path to the Republican nomination: say the things that the party elites didn’t want said but which were burbling in conservative media and social media.

His declaration that immigrants from Mexico were often criminals and rapists offered a stark view of immigration that fit neatly with the views of many Republicans who wanted to hear similarly aggressive language from their leaders. Trump embodied a hostility to the establishment that members of the establishment avoided both for the obvious reason and because it was often inaccurate, offensive or both. Once his comments about immigrants rose to national attention — thanks to Trump’s business partners breaking ties with him — a core group of Republican voters coalesced around his candidacy. In a splintered 2016 field, that made a big difference.

Saying things that others wouldn’t, rejecting what the “experts” say and embracing false-but-titillating theories (like Trump’s claims about the Sept. 11 attacks)? That’s what QAnon does, too.

Its seeds were planted in a fertile field.

In May 2016, Fairleigh Dickinson University released the results of its PublicMind Poll. It presented a series of six conspiracy theories to a group of respondents and asked whether the respondents thought the theories were true. Overall, most respondents didn’t think that any of the theories were true. Three-quarters said that either none or one were possibly true.

Among Trump supporters, two-thirds viewed at least one theory as true. More than 2 in 5 thought that two or more were true, more than any other group, including Republicans more broadly.

No group of voters is more supportive of Trump than conservative Republicans. Pew Research Polling conducted over the past nine months shows that nearly two-thirds of conservative Republicans have a very positive view of Trump, compared to a third of moderate Republicans and no Democrats.

Even now, as new conspiracy theories emerge, that group is more likely to embrace them. Pew asked respondents if they believed it was true that the coronavirus pandemic was a function of deliberate planning by a nebulous group of “powerful people.” Most people said this wasn’t true.

Half of conservative Republicans, though, said it was definitely or probably true. Among every other political/ideological group, a plurality or majority said it wasn’t.

There’s been a lot of discussion about what happens in Republican politics after Trump is out of office. Some figure there will be a reversion to the norm of the preceding several decades of GOP candidates. Others think that multiple elections in which Republicans seeking office embrace Trump will lead to a lasting strain of Trump’s particular ideologies and idiosyncrasies within the party.

We should not extrapolate from two potential members of the House of Representatives to a broader trend. But the results of the 2020 primaries do offer a third possible future, a step past Trumpism: a GOP in which a broad rejection of authority and open embrace of wild, unfounded conspiracy theories are widely accepted, if not the norm.