Updated: Oct 18, 2021
For the past decade, conspiracy theories have existed on the fringes of political discourse in the United States. The ideas that 9/11 was an inside job, that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) engineered the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and that the U.S. government faked the moon landing are just a couple of widely renowned conspiracy theories.
Rarely, certain theories have garnered enough nationwide attention, and support, to break into the mainstream political discourse. Conspiracy theories surrounding President Barack Obama’s birthplace and the impact of vaccines come to mind. Yet, while these theories were anomalies in their popularity, since the beginning of President Donald Trump’s presidency, courting with conspiracy has become almost commonplace.
In December of 2015, Trump praised known right-wing conspiracist and host of Infowars, Alex Jones, saying, “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down.” In the years following, Trump has continued to perpetuate right-wing conspiracies. However, while many of the conspiracies and associated movements promoted by the president have quickly died down, one, in particular, has gained steam and risen to unprecedented prominence—the QAnon movement.
The QAnon movement is based on the theory that the world is run by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles that run a child sex trafficking ring. Among the movement’s key suspects are top Democrats such as Hillary Clinton, George Soros, and a plethora of Hollywood celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey, Tom Hanks, and Ellen DeGeneres. QAnon dates back to October of 2017 when a user on 4chan, an anonymous imageboard site, by the moniker of “Q” claimed to have a security level of clearance known as “Q clearance.” The user began posting a series of messages on 4chan and asserted that President Trump was recruited by top military generals to run for president to fight against the alleged pedophiles.
Despite its far-fetched basis, QAnon has gained hundreds of thousands of followers based on traffic on mainstream social networking sites. As the movement has grown, it has incorporated, and thus enabled, a variety of other conspiracy theories into its main platform. These include the aforementioned theories relating to John F. Kennedy, 9/11, Barack Obama’s birthplace, and vaccines.
QAnon has been embraced by people and politicians alike—and not just the president So far, of the 77 congressional candidates preparing for the November election, 93% are Republicans and have echoed support for QAnon’s content. Of the Republican supporters, 20 candidates have already secured a place on the ballot for the November 2020 general election. For example, Republican Josh Barnett (Arizona), retweeted an article promoting the QAnon conspiracy and included the hashtag “wwg1wga” —an abbreviation of the movement’s rallying cry, “Where we go one, we go all.” Mike Cargile, another instance of a GOP hopeful explicitly promoting QAnon, went so far as to feature the phrase in his Twitter bio.
However, both Barnett and Cargile are running in Democratic strongholds, and are thus unlikely to bring QAnon-touting rhetoric into Washington. On the other hand, with a likely win in November, Republican Majorie Taylor Greene, of Georgia’s 14th Congressional District, is set to be the first politician in Congress to publicly support QAnon. Greene, who called the anonymous “Q“ a patriot in a 30-minute video from 2017, beat her opponent—a conservative Trump-lover like her, but a rejector of QAnon—by 15 points.
Although Greene is likely to be the first Congresswoman to support QAnon, she is by no means the first prominent politician in D.C. to support QAnon. That distinction belongs to Trump and his associates. The president himself has retweeted QAnon-associated accounts 216 times. Those close to the Trump administration have shown similar support for the movement. Over the past year, Trump’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications, Dan Scavino, has posted numerous photos with a “Q” in the background intended to hype up Trump rallies or policy decisions. Similarly, in July this year, Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn posted a video in which he recited QAnon slogans and its oath.
Trump’s support for QAnon culminated in an indirect endorsement of the movement in front of the press on Aug. 19. “I don’t know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate,” Trump said when pressed to condemn the conspiracy theory. “These are people that don’t like seeing what’s going on in places like Portland and places like Chicago and New York and other cities and states. I’ve heard these are people that love our country and they just don’t like seeing it.”
Several prominent GOP members — even those who are not frequently Trump critics — were swift to condemn Trump’s remarks on QAnon. Of them, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s rebuke was the most notable. “There is no place for QAnon in the Republican Party,” McCarthy said.
Even so, from QAnon’s growing prominence within the GOP since 2017, one thing is clear: conspiracy theorists are no longer just scraping to be heard in American politics. As long as QAnon supporters such as Greene and Trump continue to permeate both state and national government, they are here to stay.
Through Teen Lenses: Why do you think Trump and the GOP have validated conspiracy theories?
“They are pushing the conspiracy theories in order to remain in power. Plenty of political parties have done this in the past and it makes sense why Trump and his allies would do this. Clearly the conspiracists support politicians like Trump and the people who believe them will likely have a significant influence on the upcoming elections. The GOP is trying to appeal to its own base, which is more likely to believe in these theories.” Ananda Kalukin, Rising Junior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, 16, Arlington, Virginia
“Most politicians on both sides treat elections and politics like a game in my opinion (ex: Biden Kamala ticket despite Kamala being very vocal against Biden over his past policies like busing) as long as it brings in voters it’s fair game in Washington.” Jason Yi, 16, Rising Junior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, 16, Herndon, Virginia
“I think [Trump] supports and believes this kind of stuff because, to be perfectly honest, he’s an idiot. It would be in character for him to believe something that has no facts to back it up. I mean, this is the guy who hyped hydroxychloroquine even after the factual argument against it was presented. and in addition, some of his fellow party members touted this kind of ridiculous ideology, so he might have felt motivated to support them in their beliefs.” Aafreen Ali, Rising Junior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, 15, Fairfax, Virginia