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Tuesday’s Georgia runoff could help launch the Congressional QAnon Caucus

Awash in racism and conspiracy, Marjorie Taylor Greene embodies the logical ends of Trumpism. 

Trump rally attendee wearing a red shirt holds a large red, white, and blue “Q” sign while waiting in line on to see President Donald J. Trump at his rally August 2, 2018. “Q” represents QAnon, a debunked conspiracy theory group.
A Trump rally attendee holds a large “Q” sign while waiting in line on to see President Trump at his rally August 2, 2018. “Q” represents QAnon, proponents of a debunked conspiracy theory.
Rick Loomis/Getty Images

Marjorie Taylor Greene, currently the leading candidate in the race for Georgia’s 14th Congressional District seat, has a campaign that marries two powerful political forces: conspiracy theories and racism. In doing so, Greene could give new energy to Trumpism in the next Congress.

Like President Donald Trump, Greene has played on racist tropes, anti-Semitism, and conspiracy theories to amass a reputation for repudiating political correctness in favor of “truth-telling.” She has, for instance, called Q, the purported leader of the QAnon conspiracy theory — which claims Trump will save the US from “deep state” pedophiles and other malcontents — a patriot. She’s called George Soros, a Jewish Democratic donor, a Nazi. And she boasts a long history of decrying Islam, denying racial inequality, and defending Confederate memorabilia.

Now Greene seems poised to win a seat in Congress. She leads the Republican field in Tuesday’s runoff election against John Cowan, a local neurosurgeon, for the US House of Representatives seat representing the 14th District in Georgia. The 14th stretches from the Atlanta suburbs to the state’s northwest corner. More than 85 percent of its constituents are white. It is a conservative, deep-red district that is rated Solid Republican by the Cook Political Report.

And nationally, the race has garnered attention as one of a number with prominent QAnon candidates that, together, seem indicative of Republican Party’s future — and how much sway Trump’s controversial political style may hold over the party’s direction in the years to come.

Establishment Republicans have struggled to manage bigotry and conspiracism

In June, Politico published an exposé featuring videos of Greene making antagonistic and xenophobic comments. In one clip, taken from the candidate’s YouTube page, Greene says: “Let me explain something to you, Mohammed! Let me explain. We already have equality and justice for all Americans. Muslims are not being held back in any way ... what you people want is special treatment, you want to rise above us, and that’s what we’re against!

After the story, mainstream Republicans rebuffed Greene’s campaign. Rep. Steve Scalise, the House Republican whip, called her statements “disgusting” in the New York Times, and a spokesperson for House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney called the comments “offensive and bigoted” in Politico.

However, while House leadership rebuked her comments, these types of statements were not without precedent — particularly at the top of the Republican ticket. President Trump has built his political career levying similar racist and xenophobic statements, like insinuating that Barack Obama was not a citizen, insisting that broad swaths of Mexicans were violent criminals, and telling female Congress members of color to return to their home countries.

Beyond racism, Greene also supports, and has promoted, QAnon. It is a conspiracy theory that believes a pedophilic “deep state” of federal officials is working against Trump — and that he has a secret strategy to defeat them. Greene has previously said on YouTube that she’s “very excited about that now there’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take this global cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles out, and I think we have the president to do it.”

This adherence is concerning in part because believers in conspiracy theories like these have shown themselves to act erratically, if not violently, in recent years. For example, in 2016, a man fired gunshots into a pizza restaurant in Washington, DC, because a similar conspiracy theory had suggested there was a secret pedophile ring connected to Hillary Clinton being run from the basement. Some experts, like Media Matters president Angelo Carusone, fear bringing this type of fringe thinking to Congress would amplify the number of conspiracy theorists, including those with a willingness to attempt dangerous attacks.

Greene’s racist comments and her naked embrace of fringe conspiracy theories appear to have won her support in her district, but threaten to undermine the more tempered political vision of some moderate Republicans seeking to realign the party for a potential Trump loss.

Rising Republican star Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan recently argued in an Atlantic interview on the future of the party that “successful politics is about addition and multiplication, not subtraction and division,” and that it should be the goal of the GOP to build “a big tent.” Likewise, last month, Oren Cass, a former staffer for Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), critiqued the Trumpism and the Republican orthodoxy of the past 20 years, arguing their limited scope will increasingly make it difficult for Republicans to hold on to power: “The kind of coalition that those ideas were built for does not seem to have any potential as a majority coalition,” Cass told Vox’s Ezra Klein.

As a potential end to Trump’s presidency looms, many in the GOP disagree on the direction for a post-Trump norm. Some, like Hogan, push for a moderate vision; others, like Sen. Ben Sasse, have taken up the cause of fiscal conservatism; and still others, like Rep. Doug Collins, advocate for a focus on “law and order.” Meanwhile, Republicans like Greene and fellow QAnon-aligned candidate Lauren Boebert are pushing to take Trumpism to its logical end — with more racism and conspiracy theories.

Greene epitomizes the potential peril of a “Congressional QAnon Caucus”

Strong support for candidates like Greene undermines this push for a transition to a more approachable, pluralistic, economically populist Republican Party. This year, several Republican candidates have successfully campaigned for office by tapping into conspiratorial thinking. According to the Media Matters QAnon tracker, “Nineteen candidates — 18 Republicans and one independent — have already secured a spot on the ballot in November by competing in primary elections or by fulfilling other requirements needed to get on the ballot.”

If these candidates win in November, experts fear it will institutionalize fringe thinking. “There’s a huge concern with having a potential for a popularly elected caucus that has no basis in fact, or as untethered by campaigning on evidence,” Graham Brookie, a specialist in disinformation and the director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, told Vox. “It would be dangerous to have a cadre of elected officials in the House’s representatives that believes the federal government is trying to overthrow itself violently.”

And it is dangerous in part because, although 18 members would be a small caucus, small but vocal caucuses like the Tea Party have caused the GOP trouble — and transformed it — in the past.

QAnon candidates have been so successful, in part, due to institutional distrust endemic in the GOP caucus. Many “elements of the worldview underpinning QAnon don’t look all that different from what’s coming from the top of the ticket,” Vox’s Cameron Peters writes in explaining the group’s electoral popularity. Peters notes that a Yahoo News/YouGov poll from late May found “half of all Americans who name Fox News as their primary TV news source believe the conspiracy theory (that Bill Gates wants to use mass vaccination to implant microchips), and 44 percent of voters who cast ballots for Trump in 2016 do as well.”

This success, which includes Greene’s lead in her conservative Georgia district, offers a preview for how party grassroots elected officials with a strong affinity for Trump and his style may proceed in his absence. With Trump trailing in national polls, a second term in the White House is not a sure thing — but the presence of Greene and other QAnon supporters in Congress would ensure, at the very least, the continued projection of virulent racism and misinformation into the national discourse.

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