Marjorie Greene does not only confine herself to rants and disparaging remarks against Jews, Blacks and Muslims, she is also an adherent of QAnon, a group of conspiracy theorists who believe Donald Trump leads a righteous campaign to rid the deep state of left-wingers.
Until last week, few had heard of Marjorie Taylor Greene, even in America. Then on 11 August she won the Republican nomination for the 14th congressional district in the rural north-western part of Georgia, where the Republicans normally weigh the votes rather than count them, such is their dominance. In just 10 weeks, Greene will be facing the Democratic candidate in an election where her predecessor won more than 76% of the votes, making her a shoe-in for Congress. So why has this future lawmaker suddenly become famous, or to put it bluntly, infamous?
Greene has amassed tens of thousands of followers on social media, where she often posts videos of herself speaking directly into the camera, videos which have helped propel her popularity with her base; a base of racists, anti-Semites and those with anti-Muslim views. Following her selection, Greene received praise from her many admirers, among whom was President Donald Trump. “Congratulations to future Republican Star Marjorie Taylor Greene on a big Congressional primary win in Georgia”, he tweeted. “Marjorie is strong on everything and never gives up—a real winner.” Earlier, Trump had yet again revealed his own sexist/racist problem when he called the Indo/African/American running mate of Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, “a mad, angry woman”, while questioning her legitimacy to run for office because of her birth.
But Marjorie Greene does not only confine herself to rants and disparaging remarks against Jews, Blacks and Muslims, she is also an adherent of QAnon, a group of conspiracy theorists who believe Donald Trump leads a righteous campaign to rid the deep state of left-wingers. She has applauded this whacky movement, saying that QAnon is a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take this global cabal of Satan-worshipping paedophiles out, and I think we have the President to do it”.
American history is littered with conspiracy theories, which have taken off exponentially since the arrival of social media. Most are simply madcap and harmless. But today some are dangerously gaining traction amid the current pandemic and fraught political and social climate. According to June’s Pew Research Centre Survey, a quarter of US adults believe there is some truth in the conspiracy theory that powerful people intentionally planned the coronavirus outbreak. Five per cent of the survey respondents said that it is definitely true.
Fuelled by uncertainty and anxiety, the current health crisis has created the perfect backdrop for the spread of disinformation, which has real-world consequences, particularly when it leads to civil unrest, paranoia and distrust. Promoted by Donald Trump, America’s hyper-partisan politics is especially susceptible to the spread of bizarre conspiracy theories and the rising popularity of groups such as QAnon.
So how did QAnon take off and what do its followers really believe in?
Although shrouded in mystery, QAnon’s birth is linked to the “Pizzagate” scandal which arose from emails made public by WikiLeaks in October 2016.
These claimed that Hillary Clinton, the favourite to win the presidential election a month later, was running a child sex ring in the basement of a Washington pizza restaurant. Fundraisers for the Trump campaign took up this crazy theory (the restaurant in question didn’t even have a basement), which soon advanced from the trollish corners of the internet, to the more accessible precincts, such as Twitter and YouTube, claiming that the emails were proof of ritualistic child abuse. The conspiracy theorists claimed that the words “pizza” and “pasta” should be interpreted as code words for “little girls” and “little boys”. Facing legal action, the owner of the conspiracy-theory website, who also hosts an affiliated radio show, later backed away and apologised for promoting Pizzagate.
The damage was done, but now a new opportunity for conspiracists suddenly appeared. Backers of Donald Trump realised that millions of people paid attention to these websites and could see in real time how the core premises of Pizzagate were being recycled, revised and re-interpreted. These people could be seduced into believing that a secretive and untouchable cabal existed, learning about its fictional malign intentions and ties to the left-wing Democrats, with its “bloodlust and moral degeneracy”. More importantly, they could also learn about a small, but swelling band of underground American patriots, Donald Trump supporters, who were fighting back to make “America Great Again”. QAnon was born.
QAnon is derived from a mysterious figure “Q”, posting anonymously on the internet. “Q” comes from the name of the security clearance for access to top secret information, while Anon is short for “anonymous”. QAnon doesn’t have a physical location, but has an infrastructure, a literature, a growing body of adherents, and a great deal of merchandising. For QAnon, every contradiction can be explained away and no form of argument can prevail against it. When the fearsome new virus appeared this year, a series of ideas began burbling within the QAnon community that the coronavirus might not be real. If it was real, then it had been created by the “deep state”, the star chamber of government officials and other elite figures who secretly run the world. Moreover, the hysteria surrounding the pandemic was part of a plot to hurt the Trump re-election chances and that the media elites were cheering the death toll. Some of these ideas made their way onto Fox News and into the President’s public utterances. According to the New York Times, as of late last year even before today’s pandemic, Trump had retweeted accounts focusing on conspiracy theories, including those of QAnon, on at least 145 occasions.
In case you think QAnon is confined to America, think again. QAnon has spread like a virus to most parts of the world. A recent analysis showed that there were 179 groups on Facebook with more than 1.4 million members, and although Facebook removed a small number of QAnon pages in April, the conspiracy is still growing on the platform. Large groups have sprung up in places like Austria, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Russia and Israel. In Germany, a group of QAnon members asked for Trump to come and liberate them from the German deep state. There is a small but growing QAnon community in India.
Greene’s recent success in Georgia is creating a real headache for the Republican Party’s elite, who fear that the image of their party is suffering as a result. “If she’s the future of the Republican Party we’re in trouble”, said Republican Congressman Riggleman, calling QAnon the “gonorrhoea of conspiracy theories”. Other Republican members of Congress have denounced Greene for her “disgusting and vile comments”, but House Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has been accused of “not lifting a finger” to block her election. The left-wing media watchdog, Media Matters for America, recently found that 53 Republican congressional candidates, some of whom have a real chance of success in November, have promoted QAnon this year. NBC News recently “joked” that Congress could soon have a “QAnon caucus”, and many Republicans are terrified that NBC might be correct.
It’s now abundantly clear from his catalogue of tweets that Donald Trump is a racist and conspiracy-monger in his own right. Last Wednesday, he “claimed” at a press conference that he “doesn’t know much about QAnon”, but that he understands its supporter “like me very much, which I appreciate. These are people who love our country.” With these words from Trump, how can Republican leaders rebuke or even criticise those supporters of QAnon, who insist that Trump is the saviour of the nation? The top of the Republican Party worry that the ticket of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris is as mainstream and moderate as you can get, and that Fox News can bellow all day long that they are lackeys of Bernie Sanders and the extreme left-wing, but it’s simply not credible.
By contrast, the Republican Party, which has moved to the far-right under Donald Trump and supported by QAnon, isn’t just catering to extremists – it’s led by one. A new low in the Party has been reached.
John Dobson is a former British diplomat and worked in UK Prime Minister John Major’s office between 1995 and 1998.