PRESCOTT, Arizona. Pamphlets, badges and American flags cluttered booth after booth for political candidates at the convention center in Prescott, Arizona, this month. But the table was empty for Ron Watkins, the Republican congressional candidate famed for his links to the QAnon conspiracy theory.
“I thought it started at 11:30,” said Orlando Munguia, Mr. Olympia. Watkins’ campaign manager, who arrived about 30 minutes into the event and hurriedly laid out campaign materials without a candidate in tow.
mr. Watkins, a programmer in his 30s, is facing the same reality that many other non-QA candidates face: having links to a conspiracy theory does not automatically mean a successful political campaign.
More established Republican rivals definitely outplayed mr. Watkins in Arizona’s Second District. Two other congressional candidates in Arizona who also showed some support for QAnon. fall behind your competitors in fundraising ahead of Aug. 2 primary. A fourth QAnon-linked Arizona candidate has suspended his campaign in the House of Representatives. The same trend is evident on a national scale.
Their bleak outlook reflects the changing role of conspiracy theories in American politics. The Republican Party flirted with QAnon in 2020, with several Q-affiliated candidates seeking higher office and Q merchandise showing up at then-President Donald Trump rallies across the country. However, identifying with the movement has become a political responsibility. As in this election cycle, the Democrats have attacked Q-linked candidates as extremists, and all but two are Marjorie Taylor Green from Georgia as well as Lauren Bobert from Colorado lost their races.
But experts say many QAnon topics have penetrated deeper into mainstream Republican politics this year, including the false belief that “evil” Deep State agents control the government and that Mr. C. Trump is waging war against them. Savvy candidates have found ways to exploit this excitement—all without explicitly mentioning the conspiracy theory.
Indeed, just a few stalls from Mr. Watkins in Prescott, other campaigns suggested that the election results could not be trusted, an idea that QAnon helped popularize.
“The actual iconography and branding of QAnon has really taken a backseat,” said Mike Rothschild, a conspiracy researcher and author or “Storm Down on Us: How QAnon Became a Movement, a Cult, and a Conspiracy of Everything.”“. “People don’t consider themselves QAnon believers anymore.”
“But QAnon views are widespread,” he added.
During the campaign, Republican candidates avoid talking about the idea that a cabal of pedophiles preys on children, which is a core principle of QAnon. But they accept false claims that liberalsgroomchildren with progressive sex education. Criticizing the Covid-19 restrictions, many Republicans are ridiculing QAnon’s notion that a “deep state” of bureaucrats and politicians wants to control Americans.
More from Democracy Challenged
However, the most prominent topic of discussion, of which QAnon echoes, is the false claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Mr. Trump. Trump. The movement was pushing the idea long before votes were cast and before Mr. Trump catapulted the claim to the mainstream.
At least 131 candidates who announced their bids or applied for governor, secretary of state or attorney general this year supported false election claims. according to States United Action, a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to elections and democracy.
For comparison, while only 11 out of 37 congressional candidates With some history of support, QAnon moved from the primary to the general election, according to Media Matters for America, a liberal watchdog group. Only one of them, J. R. Majewski of Ohio’s Ninth District, has a chance to increase QAnon’s congressional representation. In all, Media Matters linked 65 current and former congressional candidates to QAnon this year. compared to 106 during the 2020 elections
J. R. Mayevsky and Mr. Watkins did not respond to requests for comment.
Experts point to Kari Lake, a former news anchor who is seen as the frontrunner in the Republican primary for Arizona governor, as a model for Republicans who deftly use conspiracy theories for political gain.
But during the recent stoppage of the campaign, all the attention was drawn to the fraudulent elections. Hundreds of Trump supporters filled a bustling country-style bar in Tucson. No one in the crowd was wearing the QAnon shirt or hat often seen at Trump rallies. The woman selling flags and bumper stickers outside of the event also had no Q items.
“A lot of people like Kari Lake don’t directly believe in Q or QAnon,” said Mike Raines, a QAnon expert who hosts Adventures in HellwQrld. podcast motion tracking. But by pushing the election fraud narrative, Ms. Lake “gets their support without even knowing the inner workings of the movement.”
Mrs. At the event, Lake introduced Seth Keshel, a former army captain, touring the country putting forth debunked claims about the 2020 elections.
“Everyone knows that Arizona didn’t go to Joe Biden,” he falsely said, before calling for “civilian soldiers,” a term reminiscent of QAnon’s.digital soldiers– Guard the ballot boxes.
The crowd roared as Miss Lake took the stage. Soon she was repeating lies about the election. “Which of you thinks this was a rotten, corrupt, fraudulent election?” she asked with a bang.
Press Secretary Miss. Lake declined to comment.
Poll shows that QAnon remains popular, with approximately 41 million Americans According to a 2021 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute, he believes in the basic tenets of the conspiracy theory. But even more popular are stories of electoral fraud.
Among Arizona Republicans who support Mr. Trump, 27 percent believe QAnon’s theories are basically correct, according to OH Predictive Insights, the state’s policy research group. This compares with 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 basically correct, and about half believe the election was stolen.
Disinformation watchers warn that a slate of candidates who support Arizona election fraud narratives could win the three key races that control the election: governor, secretary of state and attorney general.
Mark Fincham, state representative and top candidate for secretary of state, has also focused his campaign on voter fraud. He attended Jan. 6 pack up and hurry said Arizona must cancel the election results from the counties he considered “Irrevocably compromised.”
mr. Finham spoke at conference in Las Vegas hosted by a QAnon influencer last year, where Mr. Watkins also spoke. On his campaign posters at crowded intersections across the state, one of his slogans reads “Protect Our Children”, evoking the popular QAnon catchphrase “Save the Children”.
“The Greater Culture War has picked up on some of the more conspiratorial tendencies inherent in QAnon,” said Jared Holt, QAnon expert and senior fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. “There’s been a merger to some extent.”
Abraham Hamade, the Arizona Attorney General nominee, surged in the polls after Mr. Trump offered his belated endorsement. He and other candidates for the Prosecutor General announced this. during the May debates, they would not have signed the confirmation of the 2020 state election results.
mr. Hamade and Mr. Finchem did not respond to requests for comment.
There was no shortage of election deniers in the race for Arizona’s second congressional district, where Mr. Watkins has been running his long-term campaign. During awkward televised debate in April he distanced himself from QAnon, speaking: “I was not a Q, and I am not.” He addressed conspiracy theories about electoral fraud, noting that mr. Trump retweeted him on the topic. But it was surpassed by competitors.
“The elections have been stolen. We get it, and we know it.” — Walt Blackman republican in the Arizona House of Representatives, they said during the debate.
mr. Watkins may have believed that Arizona’s commitment to conspiracy theories could turn him from internet celebrity to real-life politician. Holt said. But it proved difficult to stand out in a race where no one supported QAnon and almost everyone supported the election fraud conspiracy theory.
“Every once in a while, a right-wing conspiracy gets a lot of attention online and they think that means they’re popular,” Mr. Holt said. “So they try to run for office or have a private event somewhere, and it’s just a miserable crash and burn.”