The Republican Party let out a collective sigh of relief when Steve King—a soon-to-be-former Iowa congressman known for his racist and nativist rhetoric—lost his re-election primary in early June. But Republicans are still in a bind. In a partisan political climate that has sown the seeds for fringe candidates to win elections, the GOP is struggling to distance itself from conspiracy-mongering nominees without surrendering key districts to Democratic opponents.
Much of this can be traced to the QAnon conspiracy theory. Back in 2016, “Pizzagate” gained national attention when a man who believed that Hillary Clinton and John Podesta were running a child-trafficking ring out of the Comet Ping Pong pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C., went into the establishment and fired a rifle.
No one was hurt, and the outlandish claims were quickly debunked. But the vile conspiracy theory didn’t totally die. It lingered in dark corners of the internet. And then in 2017, an anonymous user named Q—self-dubbed for his alleged Q level security clearance—took the reins and began posting claims that Clinton would be arrested, adding other allegedly classified intel about her on a public messaging board called “4chan.” Mesmerized by Q’s cryptic clues (which were, in reality, baseless rumors), anonymous users began obsessively tracking his posts and the QAnon movement took hold.
According to conspiracy theory expert and University of Miami professor Joseph Oscinski, Q adopted the Pizzagate theory, “predicting that Donald Trump would be victorious in the battle against the satanic, pedophile, child sex trafficking deep state.” Anons believe “that imminently the ‘Great Awakening’ is going to happen in which all of the elites who have been engaged in these evil activities are going to be exposed for the evildoers they are, and shipped down to Guantanamo and summarily hung for their crimes.”