The “strong on everything” line evokes Trump’s habit of declaring his preferred candidates as strong on the Second Amendment or on “the wall” or on whatever. In the case of Greene, though, it’s more evocative, intentionally or not. After all, what Greene is best known for nationally isn’t her policy positions but instead her fervent advocacy of QAnon.
It’s difficult to summarize QAnon briefly, in part because it sprawls across so many topics, a conspiratorial kudzu looping in elements of Pizzagate, Deep State criticism, military tribunals and the death of John F. Kennedy Jr. The short version is that it centers on a mysterious figure, Q, who offers cryptic prognostications that make horoscopes look precise. The theory is that Q is offering insight into Trump’s real struggle as president: upending an international sex-trafficking ring that includes any number of public figures and celebrities.
There are a lot of reasons that QAnon has found a perfect symbiosis with Trump’s political worldview, but it’s largely a function of QAnon adherents necessarily sharing Trump’s willingness to engage in wild, unmoored conspiracy theories.
“Powerful people can’t use conspiracy theories very well,” Joseph Uscinski, an associate professor of political science at the University of Miami and the co-author of “American Conspiracy Theories,” told me in 2017. “They’re tools of the weak to attack the powerful.” In this case, though, Trump’s embrace of the tactic has made it a tool of the powerful. And in so doing, Uscinski said, he “put together a coalition of conspiracy-minded people.”
That overlap has at times been embarrassing for the president. At one Trump rally in New Hampshire last year, QAnon supporters told me that staffers or the Secret Service had asked them to cover up or reverse QAnon-themed shirts. But the campaign can’t and probably isn’t interested in tamping down QAnon support generally, recognizing that these are mostly fervent, committed Trump fans, many of whom find order in the otherwise complicated theory.
“I view it as hope,” one supporter told me in Pennsylvania 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 Republican candidates, that has been appealing. Hundreds of thousands of votes have been cast for candidates who either explicitly endorse QAnon or who used QAnon-related hashtags or identifiers, presumably in part to spur more engagement.
Few of those candidates, though, have been as explicit in doing so as Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Greene’s engagement with QAnon has been well-documented by the liberal watchdog site Media Matters for America. Q communicates with adherents through short messages called “drops,” which supporters mine for clues and information the way people in escape rooms frantically search for hidden keys. In June 2018, Greene shared one such drop with her friends on Facebook.
“Awesome post by Q today!!” she wrote, cutting and pasting the message’s contents.
“FIGHT for what is RIGHT!” it read, in part. “FIGHT for FREEDOM! They will not win. Divide they try. Fail they will. TOGETHER. WWG1WGA!”
That last initialism stands for “Where we go one, we go all,” an adopted motto of the Q movement.
That drop was relatively innocuous. About an hour later, Q shared a message that reads more like it comes from the set design of “They Live” than from a motivational speech.
“You have a choice. The choice has always been yours,” it read. “POWER TO THE PEOPLE. THEY WANT YOU DIVIDED. THEY WANT RACE WARS. THEY WANT CLASS WARS. THEY WANT RELIGIOUS WARS. THEY WANT POLITICAL WARS.” And so on.
Among adherents, Q is celebrated for purported proximity to Trump and for their prognostication. In late 2017, Greene shared a video promoting a blog post centered on Q’s identity and promoting the idea that Q was an authentic voice from within the administration.
“Donald Trump is going to take down the deep state. Currently, over 1,000 sealed indictments for deep state operatives sit in the US Courts,” it began. “Because the US courts really cannot be trusted, as they are filled with corrupt actors, military tribunals may be used to try these enemies of the state … All of this, according to ‘Q’; an anonymous poster seen on sites such as 4Chan. Before you dismiss Q as a hoax, know that some of the precise information Q has shared in recent months has been completely factual and has been proven to be truthful in the future.”
It’s not clear who wrote that paragraph, but in the video promoting it, Greene says that “we” posted it to the website a few days prior.
The message in the video and the blog post match other comments from Greene. In May 2018, she tweeted that people should “trust the plan,” adding “WWG1WGA.” In another tweet documented by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, she offered to “walk [people] through the whole thing” — that is, through the intertwining QAnon claims.
After Greene’s victory on Tuesday night, paving the way for a likely general-election win in November, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) tacitly criticized her embrace of the conspiracy theory.
“Qanon is a fabrication,” he wrote on Twitter. “This ‘insider’ has predicted so much incorrectly (but people don’t remember PAST predictions) so now has switched to vague generalities. Could be Russian propaganda or a basement dweller. Regardless, no place in Congress for these conspiracies.”
That’s a fair assessment of the situation. QAnon adherents cherry-pick and reshape past predictions to demonstrate accuracy, but easily verifiable claims often don’t hold up. For example, Q appeared to predict a 53 to 47 vote to confirm Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in 2018. When that didn’t materialize, supporters worked to fit the “53-47” prediction into some other narrative.
What elevates all of this to something particularly remarkable was the response from the Trump campaign to Kinzinger’s tweet. One might expect no response, certainly, or perhaps a message of support for his point about QAnon’s accuracy. But that’s not what Matt Wolking, the campaign’s deputy director of communications, offered.
Kinzinger has been critical of Trump, a no-no in the president’s eyes. And the subject of Russian interference in the 2016 and 2020 elections is obviously a sore spot for the president and his team. But in a situation in which the campaign could have said nothing, it — or, at least, Wolking — chose to use a sitting Republican representative’s dismissal of an extensive, pro-Trump conspiracy theory as a moment to push back.
“The FBI assesses in some cases anti-government, identity based, and fringe political conspiracy theories very likely encourage the targeting of specific people, places, and organizations, thereby increasing the risk of extremist violence against such targets,” read a bulletin from the FBI released May 2019. “This assessment is based on several incidents where individuals threatened, assaulted, or plotted to attack entities they perceived as being linked to or involved with an alleged conspiracy.” It specifically cited QAnon as such an influence.
Two months earlier, Frank Cali, an alleged boss in the Gambino crime family, was shot to death on Staten Island. The alleged shooter did so, his lawyer later claimed, because he had been influenced by online discussion of QAnon to believe that Cali was part of the loose-knit sex-trafficking cabal that overlapped with the Deep State.
Nonetheless, Trump’s campaign pushed back against criticism of QAnon, however obliquely. Greene, who will likely be a sitting member of Congress this time next year, said in 2017 that “Q is a patriot, we know that for sure.”
Of the multiple candidates who won contests on Tuesday, only Greene received a thumbs-up from the president.