QAnon Coming to Congress? Georgia Votes on 'Unapologetically Conservative' Who's Bought into Dangerous Theories
Some GOP lawmakers tell PEOPLE they "fear" the rise of conspiracy-theorists entering politics, as a northern district of Georgia appears poised to send to the U.S. House of Representatives the Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has previously expressed belief in multiple widely debunked tales.
"Something is a conspiracy theory until somebody with authority says it authoritatively," Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois, says. "When they do that, it becomes a reality to people. And if you look at civilizations in history that have fallen, they fall, in many cases, because people believe things that may just not be true."
Greene, 46, is favored to win Georgia's 14th district U.S. House seat on Tuesday. If that happens, she won't be known as "congresswoman" until January, but she's already widely known for previously expressing belief in the far-right “QAnon” internet conspiracy.
The baseless conspiracy stems from anonymous internet posts by a message board user using the name “Q,” representing the “Q clearance” code given to security officials in the Department of Energy.
The anonymous user’s unfounded posts claim that a secret gang of Democratic lawmakers and global elites run an international child sex trafficking ring—among other unfounded and dangerously provocative theories—and have gathered a growing number of devotees since 2017.
The conspiracy casts President Donald Trump in the role of its champion, rooting out the so-called “Deep State” gang from within the U.S. government.
“That is actually insane,” Rep. Denver Riggleman, a Republican congressman and an outspoken critic of conspiracy theories, tells PEOPLE.
Greene’s campaign did not provide the candidate to speak with PEOPLE for a story after the magazine said it would ask about her statements regarding the conspiracy. (The incoming lawmaker previously expressed belief in the theories through social media videos and blog posts as a “correspondent” for a conspiracy theory website.)
“It’s quite obvious this is a hoax by somebody—Russia, or an individual, or otherwise,” Kinzinger says.
This truth hasn't sunk in with everyone in the GOP, though. President Donald Trump called Greene a "Republican star," while Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler welcomed Greene's endorsement and the two women campaigned together.
Trump, 74, refused to denounce QAnon during an ABC News town hall last month. And Loeffler's campaign would not clarify for PEOPLE their candidate's views on QAnon or Greene's association with the QAnon community.
But like Riggleman and a growing list of other U.S. lawmakers, Illinois' Rep. Kinzinger says the spreading conspiracy theory is a “serious problem” seeping into the country’s government.
Greene doesn’t see it that way.
“Many of the things that [the anonymous “Q” posts have] given clues about and talked on 4Chan and other forums have really proven to be true,” Greene said in one 2018 video, calling the anonymous and unverified "Q" figure a “patriot” in social media videos she’s made, according to The Daily Beast.
The FBI has said QAnon is a domestic terror threat, the Associated Press reports. At least seven Republican candidates who won primaries this year have once expressed belief in the baseless theory, Politico previously reported.
Greene, a mother of three, told Fox News in August that labeling her as a “QAnon candidate” is a description that “doesn't represent me.”
(Greene, however, has not explicitly said whether she still believes in the conspiracy theory and has avoided opportunities from news outlets, including PEOPLE, to explain her previous statements and current beliefs.)
That same day in August, NBC News reported Greene had previously suggested she believes baseless theories that Hillary Clinton kills her enemies and that mass shootings, such as the 2017 Las Vegas massacre, were carefully orchestrated events to rile public opposition to Second Amendment rights.
In January, Greene uploaded a video to YouTube showing her chasing down David Hogg, a survivor of the 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, on the street in Washington, D.C., and confronting him about why he’s an advocate for stricter gun laws.
Controversy surrounding Greene’s conspiratorial and inflammatory rhetoric has largely overshadowed her policies, which she told Fox News were “unapologetically conservative.”
Republican congressmen tell PEOPLE there’s ongoing conversations within the House about how lawmakers will handle working with incoming representatives like Greene, who have expressed belief in conspiracies like QAnon.
“I’ll take her basically day-by-day,” Kinzinger says. “But if those conspiracies start getting thrown out, I think it’s incumbent on current members of Congress to call that out.”
Riggleman says “many” lawmakers “are scratching their head wondering what’s happening.”
“And that’s on the Republican and Democratic side,” Riggleman, a former Air Force intelligence officer, says. “You’re seeing a lot of my colleagues wondering, ‘How far do we go now? Are we actually pandering to this?’ ”
Greene and Riggleman got into a Twitter argument last month over a bill he co-sponsored, condemning QAnon and other radical conspiracy theories.
“How do you even have any honest dialogue?” Riggleman asks, scratching his own head at the situation. “It seems that we’ve gone from being the loyal opposition to hating each other.”
Both Riggleman and Kinzinger say there are conspiratorial beliefs at both ends of the political spectrum, but Kinzinger says it’s incumbent upon each party "to keep your house in order.”
Riggleman also says it doesn't matter which political party conspiracy theorists belong more to, because "if you stick your toe into crazy, it could infect the whole body."
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