Prescott, Ariz. – Pamphlets, buttons and American flags were vandalized after booths for political candidates at a convention center in Prescott, Ariz., this month. But the table for Congressional Republican candidate Ron Watkins, who rose to fame for his ties to the QAnon conspiracy theory, sat empty.
“I thought it started at 11:30,” said Orlando Munguia, Mr Watkins’ campaign manager, who arrived about 30 minutes after the event started and hurriedly laid out the campaign material without the candidate.
Mr. Watkins, a computer programmer in his 30s, is running into the same reality many other QAnon-linked candidates have faced: affiliation with conspiracy theory does not automatically translate to a successful political campaign. Is.
More established Republican rivals have largely outnumbered Watkins in Arizona’s Second District. Two other congressional candidates in Arizona who have shown some level of support for QAnon also lag behind their competitors in fundraising ahead of the August 2 primary. The fourth Arizona candidate with QAnon ties has suspended his House campaign. The same trend is going on at the national level.
Their bleak prospects reflect the shifting role of conspiracy theories in American politics. The Republican Party flirted with QAnon in 2020, as several Q-linked candidates sought higher positions and Q goods nationwide with then-President Donald J. Appeared at Trump’s rallies. Yet identifying with the movement emerged as a political obligation. As they have done during this election cycle, Democrats attacked Q-linked candidates as extremists, and all but two — Representatives Marjorie Taylor Green of Georgia and Lauren Boebert of Colorado — lost their races.
But several QAnon topics have penetrated deeply into mainstream Republican politics this year, experts say, including the misconception that “evil” deep state henchmen control the government and that Mr. Trump is waging war against them. are. Wise candidates have found ways to tap that enthusiasm—all without explicitly mentioning conspiracy theory.
Indeed, in Prescott just a few booths away from Mr Watkins, other campaigns were suggesting that election results could not be trusted, an idea that QAnon helped popularize.
“The actual iconography and branding of QAnon has really fallen by the wayside,” said Mike Rothschild, a conspiracy-theory researcher and author of “The Storm Is Upon Us: How QAnon Becomes a Movement, Cult, and Conspiracy Theory of Everything.”,People don’t really identify themselves as QAnon believers anymore.”
“But QAnon’s ideas are widely mainstream,” he said.
During the campaign, the Republican candidate avoids talking about the idea that a group of pedophiles are hunting children, a core tenet of QAnon. But they accept false claims that liberals tend to “groom” children with progressive sex education. When criticizing COVID-19 restrictions, many Republicans balk at QAnon’s belief that a “dark state” of bureaucrats and politicians seeks to control Americans.
more than a challenge to democracy
However, most prominently with echoes of QAnon is the false claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Mr. Trump. The movement pushed that idea long before any votes were cast, and it was before Mr. Trump took hold of the mainstream claim.
At least 131 candidates who have declared to have bid or filed for governor, secretary of state, or attorney general this year, according to States United Action, a nonpartisan nonprofit focused on elections and democracy, have made false claims. endorsed the electoral claims.
By comparison, only 11 of 37 congressional candidates with some history of promoting QAnon have advanced from the primaries to the general election, according to Media Matters for America, a liberal watchdog group. Only one of them, JR Majewski in Ohio’s Ninth District, has a chance to add to QAnon’s representation in Congress. In all, Media Matters added 65 current and former Congressional candidates to QAnon so far this year, compared to 106 during the 2020 election.
JR Majewski and Mr Watkins did not respond to requests for comment.
Experts point to Kari Lake, a former news anchor who has been considered a frontrunner in the Republican primary for Arizona governor, as a model for Republicans who deftly wield conspiracy theories for political gain. are navigating.
But in a recent campaign, it was the electoral fraud that caught everyone’s attention. Hundreds of Trump supporters crowded a raucous country music bar in Tucson. None in the crowd appeared to be wearing a QAnon shirt or hat, items often seen at Trump’s rallies. A woman selling flags and bumper stickers outside the event didn’t even have any Q merchandise.
“Many of these people like Kari Lake don’t believe in straight Q or QAnon,” said Mike Rains, a QAnon expert who hosts the movement-tracking podcast “Adventures in HellwQrld.” But taking the electoral fraud story further, Ms. Lake gets her support “without knowing the inner workings of the movement.”
Ms Lake was introduced at the event by Seth Keschel, a former Army captain who is touring the country and pushing false claims about the 2020 election.
“Everybody knows that Arizona didn’t go to Joe Biden,” he falsely said, before calling for “civilian soldiers”—a term reminiscent of Cuone’s “digital soldiers”—to guard ballot drop boxes. For.
The crowd froze as Ms. Lake came on stage. Soon she was repeating lies about the election. “How many of you think it was a rotten, corrupt, fraudulent election?” He asked for cheers.
A spokesperson for Ms Lake declined to comment.
Polling shows that QAnon remains popular, with nearly 41 million Americans believing in conspiracy theory fundamentals, according to a 2021 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute. But the narratives of electoral fraud are even more popular.
Of the Arizona Republicans who support Mr. Trump, 27 percent believe QAnon’s theories are mostly true, according to OH Predictive Insights, a political research group in the state. This is compared to 82 percent who believe the election was stolen.
Among Arizona Republicans who are more loyal to the Republican Party than Mr. Trump, only 11 percent believe QAnon’s theories are mostly true and nearly half believe the election was stolen.
Disinformation watchdogs have warned that a slate of candidates backing narratives of electoral fraud in Arizona could win the three major races that control elections: governor, secretary of state and attorney general.
Mark Finchem, the front-runner for State Representative and Secretary of State, also focused his campaign on election fraud. He attended a January 6 rally and said that Arizona should bypassing the election results Got it from the counties “Incredibly compromised.”
Mr. Finchem spoke at a conference hosted by a QAnon Influencer in Las Vegas last year where Mr. Watkins also spoke. On signs of his campaign at crowded intersections across the state, one of his slogans reads, “Protect our children,” while invoking a popular QAnon slogan, “Save the Children.”
“The widespread culture war picked up some of the more conspiratorial tendencies that come with QAnon,” said Jared Holt, a QAnon expert and senior research manager at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. “To some extent, there was a merger.”
The polls swung after the Arizona attorney general’s candidate Abraham Hamadeh, Trump, offered support of late. He and other attorney general candidates said during the May debate that they would not have signed the certification of the state’s 2020 election results.
Mr Hamadeh and Mr Finchem did not respond to requests for comment.
There was no shortage of election denials in the race for Arizona’s second congressional district, either, where Mr. Watkins is running his lengthy campaign. During an awkward televised debate in April, he distanced himself from QAnon, saying: “I was not Q, and I am not.” He turned to conspiracy theories of election fraud, noting that Mr Trump had retweeted him on the subject. But he got ahead of his competitors.
“The election was stolen. We understand this, and we know that,” Walt Blackman, a Republican in Arizona’s House of Representatives, said during the debate.
Mr Watkins may have recognized that adopting Arizona’s conspiracy theories could turn him from online celebrity to real-world politician, Mr Holt said. But it proved difficult to stand in a race where no one aligned with QAnon and almost everyone supported the election-cheating conspiracy theory.
“Every once in a while, the conspiracy-brain right-wing gets someone’s attention online and they think it means they’re popular,” Mr. Holt said. “So they try to run for office or program somewhere in-person, and it’s just a sad crash and burn.”