Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Republican nominee for Georgia’s 14th congressional district, is a harbinger of her party’s post-Trump future. She’s running in a strongly Republican district with an almost certain prospect of going to Congress. She disdains Black Lives Matter and argues that Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to serve in government. She’s also an adherent of QAnon, the amorphous conspiracy theory that holds that Donald Trump is battling a secret cabal of Satanic cannibalistic pedophiles who control the Democratic Party, Hollywood, and the American government.
In a 2017 video, Greene said, “There’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take this global cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles out, and I think we have the president to do it.” For his part, Trump returned Greene’s regard. On August 12, the president tweeted, “Congratulations to future Republican Star Marjorie Taylor Greene on a big Congressional primary win in Georgia against a very tough and smart opponent. Marjorie is strong on everything and never gives up—a real WINNER.” Asked about QAnon on Friday, Trump avoided disavowing the conspiracy theory and reiterated his praise of Greene.
This tweet is in keeping with Trump’s general approach of aligning himself with the QAnon movement but not explicitly affirming it. As The New York Times notes, “Trump has not directly addressed QAnon, but he has conspicuously avoided denouncing it, and has shared dozens of posts from believers on his social media accounts.”
A few Republicans, to their credit, have spoken out against Greene and QAnon—but they all are much less well-known than Trump. On the same day as Trump’s warm words for Greene, Republican Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois tweeted, “Qanon is a fabrication,” adding that there is “no place in Congress for these conspiracies.” Another Republican, Virginia Representative Denver Riggleman, tweeted, “QAnon is the mental gonorrhea of conspiracy theories. It’s disgusting and you want to get rid of it as fast as possible.”
But if QAnon is gonorrhea, more and more Republicans are getting infected, and party leaders are doing nothing to stop the spread. Kinzinger and Riggleman are lonely voices in their own party. As CNN reports, “Top Republicans, including President Donald Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, are embracing their party’s nominee for a House seat in Georgia, despite her history of racist and anti-Semitic remarks and promotion of the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory.” Other Georgia Republicans, notably Senator Kelly Loeffler and Representative Doug Collins, have joined in welcoming Greene’s primary victory.
The response of the GOP to Greene echoes the way the party handled Trump in 2016. At first there was some trepidation about Trump, with a few voices denouncing what he was doing to the party. But eventually, Republicans made their peace with Trump when they realized that they had to support him as their standard-bearer or suffer humiliating defeat as a divided party.
“The future of the Republican Party very well may be Marjorie Taylor Greene,” argues Dan Pfeiffer, former Obama adviser. “Greene is one of eleven QAnon supporting Republican congressional nominees on the ballot this fall.”
The conservative writer Bill Kristol, although a critic of the Republican Party under Trump, disagrees with this assessment. According to The New York Times, Kristol is “skeptical about QAnon’s influence on the Republican Party. He pointed out that there had always been extreme outliers in both parties of Congress whose influence tended to be diluted by more moderate voices over time.”
But even Kristol acknowledged that Trump’s embrace could give QAnon a greater reach. “If Trump is the president, and he’s embracing this, are we so confident that it’s not the future?” Kristol wondered.
QAnon is a byproduct of the Trump era and is likely to be part of his lasting legacy, long outliving his presidency. QAnon is best understood as a myth that helps Trump supporters reconcile themselves to his manifest flaws as a man and political leader. Trump thrives on negative partisanship, which requires that he be seen as preferable to his rivals. Given numerous reports of his sexual predations and corruption, the only way he can be acceptable is if his foes have committed the worst crimes imaginable. The embryonic version of QAnon was Pizzagate, which painted Hillary Clinton as a leader of a child sex ring.
The current version of QAnon took off on social media in 2017 when Trump was enmeshed in the Russiagate investigation. The conspiracy theory emerged on 4chan, a message board that facilitates anonymous posting. “Q” claimed to be a high-level insider with “Q” security clearance who had information that the entire Mueller investigation was a false flag operation used by Trump to hide his war against powerful pedophiles. Again, it served a narrative function: Building on the Pizzagate story line, it portrayed Trump as a heroic battler against a “deep state” conspiracy, thus helping to wave away evidence of actual corruption. It’s no accident that prominent Russiagate figures like former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Trump crony Roger Stone have embraced QAnon.
The current upsurge of QAnon is a response to the Covid-19 pandemic. As NBC news reports, “While QAnon bubbled on the fringes of the internet for years, researchers and experts say it has emerged in recent months as a sort of centralized hub for conspiracy and alternative health communities. According to an internal document reported by NBC News this week, Facebook now has more than 1,000 of these QAnon groups, totaling millions of members.”
The report goes on to note that social media users “who started off in wellness communities, religious groups and new-age groups on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram during the pandemic were then introduced to extremist groups like QAnon, aided by shared beliefs about energy, healing or God—and often by recommendation algorithms.”
QAnon has been resilient because it’s a myth that serves to explain Trump’s failures and wretched personal behavior. QAnon has helped recast a sexual predator as a covert fighter against pedophilia and an incompetent response to Covid-19 as a heroic battle against a pro-mask conspiracy.
If we understand QAnon as a conciliatory myth that evolves to excuse the horrific truth about Trump and Trumpism, then it is likely to have a long life after he is defeated. It’ll become a Lost Cause myth about how a great man was felled by a sinister conspiracy. Donald Trump Jr. has already shared an Instagram post suggesting that Joe Biden is a pedophile. The president’s son explained the post by saying he was only “joking around.”
QAnon is not a nonviolent movement. As Media Matters reports:
The QAnon conspiracy theory has been tied to multiple violent incidents and threats of violence, including a man accused of murdering his brother with a sword, a man accused of murdering an alleged crime boss, a man who reportedly threatened to kill YouTube employees, an armed man who blocked the Hoover Dam with an armored vehicle, and even a man who threatened to assassinate Trump, among numerous other incidents.
If Trump loses and QAnon evolves into a narrative about how a conspiracy of pedophiles won, then it’ll become even more violent than it already is.
QAnon is sometimes treated as if it were analogous to the Tea Party movement or the John Birch Society, a right-wing faction within the GOP coalition. But in fact it is much more violence-prone than those groups. It’s closer in spirit to terrorist organizations like the KKK, which had ties to political elites but also instigated extrajudicial violence.
Trump could leave the White House in January of next year, but QAnon will be with us for a long time to come.