January 29, 2023

PRESCOTT, Ariz. — Pamphlets, buttons and American flags filled booth after booth of political candidates at a convention center in Prescott, Arizona, this month. But the desk of Republican congressional candidate Ron Watkins, who rose to prominence for his ties to the QAnon conspiracy theory, was empty.

“I thought it started at 11:30,” said Orlando Munguia, Mr Watkins’ campaign manager, who arrived about 30 minutes after the event and had no candidates. Arranging campaign materials in a hurry.

Mr. Watkins, a computer programmer in his 30s, encountered a reality faced by many other QAnon-related candidates: being associated with a conspiracy theory doesn’t automatically translate into a successful political campaign.

More established Republican rivals have much more than Mr. Watkins of the 2nd District of Arizona.Two other Arizona congressional candidates have also shown some level of support for QAnon track their competitors in fundraising Before the Aug. 2 primary. A fourth Arizona candidate linked to QAnon has suspended his House campaign. The same trend is playing out across the country.

Their bleak outlook reflects the shifting role conspiracy theories play in American politics. GOP flirts with QAnon in 2020 as several Q-related candidates seek higher office, and Q merchandise appears at rallies across the country for then-President Donald J. Trump . However, the identity movement became a political responsibility. As they have done this election cycle, Democrats have attacked Q-related candidates as extremists, all but two representatives — Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Lauren Boebert of Colorado All lost the election.

But experts say many QAnon themes have penetrated into mainstream Republican politics this year, including the false belief that “evil” Deep State agents control the government and that Mr. Trump is waging war on them. Savvy candidates have found ways to fuel this excitement — all without explicit reference to conspiracy theories.

In fact, just a few booths from Mr. Watkins in Prescott, other campaigns are suggesting the election results are not credible, an idea QAnon helped promote.

conspiracy theorist, author The Storm Comes: How QAnon Became a Movement, a Cult, and a Conspiracy Theory of Everything. ” “People no longer really identify themselves as believers in QAnon. “

“But QAnon’s view is very mainstream,” he added.

On the campaign trail, Republican candidates avoided talking about the idea that paedophile groups were preying on children, a core QAnon creed. But they accept the false claims of liberals”groomSex education kids. In criticizing Covid-19 restrictions, many Republicans echoed QAnon’s belief that the “deep state” of bureaucrats and politicians wants to control Americans.

The most prominent topic echoing QAnon, though, was the false claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen by Mr. Trump. The movement pushed the idea long before the vote, long before Mr. Trump pushed the claim into the mainstream.

At least 131 candidates who announced bids or applied to run for governor, secretary of state or attorney general this year supported false election claims, according to United Nations Action, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization focused on elections and democracy.

By contrast, so far Only 11 out of 37 congressional candidates According to the liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America, there is some history of pushing QAnon from the primary to the general election. Only one of them, JR Majewski of Ohio’s Ninth District, has the opportunity to increase QAnon’s representation in Congress. Overall, Media Matters has linked 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 former news anchor Cary Lake, considered a front-runner in Arizona’s gubernatorial Republican primary, as a model for Republicans who deftly use conspiracy theories for political gain.

But in the most recent campaign, it was election fraud that got all the attention. Hundreds of Trump supporters packed a raucous country music bar in Tucson. No one in the crowd appeared to be wearing QAnon shirts or hats, items frequently seen at Trump rallies. A lady who was delivering flags and bumper stickers at the event also had no Q merchandise.

“A lot of people like Kari Lake don’t believe in Q or QAnon directly,” said Mike Rains, QAnon expert who hosts “The Adventures of HellwQrld.” podcast Track movement. But by pushing the electoral fraud narrative, Ms Lake “gained their support without having to really understand the inner workings of the campaign”.

Ms Lake was introduced at the event by former Army Captain Seth Keshel. National tour Push for debunked claims about the 2020 election.

“Everyone knows Arizona didn’t go to Joe Biden,” he falsely said, before calling for “citizen soldiers” — a term reminiscent of QAnon’s “digital soldiers” — to protect the ballot box.

The crowd boiled when Ms. Lake took the stage. Soon she was repeating lies about the election. “How many of you thought it was a corrupt, corrupt, fraudulent election?” she demanded applause.

A spokeswoman for Ms Lake declined to comment.

According to a 2021 poll by the Institute for Public Religion, polls show that QAnon remains popular, with about 41 million Americans believing the core tenets of conspiracy theories. But claims of electoral fraud are more popular.

Among Arizona Republicans who support Trump, 27 percent believe QAnon’s theories are mostly correct, according to OH Predictive Insights, the state’s political research arm. In contrast, 82 percent believed the election was stolen.

Among Arizona Republicans, who are more loyal to the Republican Party than Trump, just 11 percent believe QAnon’s theory is mostly correct, and about half believe the election was stolen.

The disinformation watchdog has warned that candidates who support the Arizona election fraud narrative could win three key races that control the election: governor, secretary of state and attorney general.

State Representative Mark Finchem, the leading candidate for Secretary of State, has also focused his campaign on electoral fraud.He attended the rally on January 6 and Say Arizona should Shelving election results from the county it thinks “An irredeemable compromise.”

Mr. Finchem in Conference in Las Vegas Last year, organised by a QAnon influencer, Mr Watkins also spoke. At crowded intersections across the state, his campaign slogan read “Protect Our Children,” evoking QAnon’s popular slogan, “Save the Children.”

“The broader culture war has triggered some of the more conspiratorial tendencies that QAnon has brought,” said Jared Holt, a QAnon expert and senior research manager at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. “In a way, a merger happened.”

Arizona attorney general candidate Abraham Hamad surged in the polls after Mr Trump offered a belated endorsement.He and other attorney general candidates say at the May debate They will not sign a certificate of the state’s 2020 election results.

Mr Hamad and Mr Finchem did not respond to requests for comment.

There is also no shortage of election deniers in the race for Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District, where Mr. Watkins is running his long-running campaign.period embarrassing tv debate In April, he distanced himself from QAnon, Say: “I’m not Q and neither am I.” He turned to election fraud conspiracy theories, noting Mr Trump retweeted the tweet He is on this issue. But he was outflanked by his rivals.

“The election was stolen. We understand that, and we know it,” Walt Blackman, Republicans said during a House debate in Arizona.

Mr. Holt said Mr. Watkins may have thought Arizona’s embrace of conspiracy theories could propel him from online celebrity to real-world politician. But it has proven difficult to stand out in a race where no one is aligned with QAnon and almost everyone supports the election fraud conspiracy theory.

“Every once in a while, people on the right wing of the conspiracy brain get a lot of attention online, and they think that means they’re popular,” Mr Holt said. “So they’re trying to run for office or have an in-person event somewhere, and it’s just a tragic crash and burn.”

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