QAnon scored its first national political victory on Tuesday when Marjorie Taylor Greene, a supporter of the convoluted pro-Trump conspiracy theory, won a House seat in Georgia, bringing into the halls of Congress an online movement that has inspired real-world violence and been branded a potential domestic terrorism threat by the F.B.I.
Ms. Greene was among at least a dozen Republican congressional candidates — some estimates put the number upward of 20 — who had expressed some degree of support for QAnon and its baseless belief that President Trump is fighting a cabal of Satanist child-molesting Democrats and deep-state bureaucrats who seek global domination. Most were running for reliably Democratic seats.
Ms. Greene’s victory was expected — she was running unopposed in one of the most conservative districts in the country — as were losses by most of the other QAnon-linked candidates. None of the results altered what by now has become apparent inside and outside the Republican Party: This is the year conspiracy theories, QAnon foremost among them, gained a new foothold in the party.
The influx of QAnon-linked candidates was only the most high-profile example of how a phenomenon that began on the troll-infested fringes of the internet had moved offline and into American political life, enabled by Mr. Trump’s own espousal of conspiracy theories and continual railing against the political establishment. The question now is whether the election represents the beginning of QAnon’s political rise or its high-water mark. Much will depend on how Mr. Trump fares.
A Trump victory would be an unqualified boon “that could cause the ranks of QAnon followers to swell,” said Travis View, who hosts “QAnon Anonymous,” a podcast that seeks to explain the movement.
A Trump loss would be more complicated. QAnon has proved incredibly elastic, absorbing older conspiracy theories and bouncing back after one or another of its predictions failed to materialize. If anything, QAnon followers may come to see a victory for former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. as proof that the deep state is so powerful it managed to take down a president.
At the same time, few envision Mr. Trump, unshackled by any constraints of office, doing anything to tamp down such talk, though the rest of the party’s leaders may no longer be willing to sit by as he makes wild claims or enables conspiracy theorists.
“You can’t be a successful national party and simultaneously peddle conspiracy theories,” Alex Conant, a Republican consultant who has overseen communications strategy on Senate and presidential campaigns, said in an interview.
QAnon’s future would then be likely to hinge on how deeply the movement had seeped into the party, and whether the Republican establishment could win back the conspiracy theory’s adherents — by no means a certainty. The movement is unabashedly pro-Trump, casting the president as something of a god-emperor figure and painting much of the Republican old guard as little better than the Democrats.
While it is hard to pinpoint how many Republican voters feel that way, there is growing evidence that QAnon followers make up a small but significant minority inside the party. The movement’s growth has picked up pace since the onset of the pandemic, and in a recent poll by YouGov, fully half of the Trump supporters surveyed said they thought powerful Democrats were involved in elite child sex-trafficking rings, a core tenet of QAnon.
Mr. Trump has done little to discourage QAnon’s followers. He has described QAnon adherents — several of whom have been charged with murder, domestic terrorism or planned kidnapping — as “people that love our country.” His children have posted social media messages related to the conspiracy theory, and aides have made barely disguised appeals to its followers. The most recent came last week when Stephen Miller, a top Trump aide, claimed without evidence that Mr. Biden would “incentivize” child trafficking if elected.
“It has been given oxygen by the president,” said Brendan Buck, a former counselor to the last two Republican House speakers, Paul D. Ryan and John A. Boehner. “He’s had many opportunities to shut it down and just chose not to.”
Beyond Mr. Trump’s circle, most Republican leaders have done little to stop QAnon’s spread within their ranks. If anything, some party leaders, desperate to maintain their grip on the Senate and not lose further ground in the House, have at times quietly acquiesced to QAnon’s rise.
Lauren Boebert, a House candidate in Colorado who made approving comments about QAnon before distancing herself from the movement, defeated a five-term Republican incumbent in a primary in June. She was in a tight race Tuesday night.
Angela Stanton-King, who was expected to lose her bid for a House seat in a heavily Democratic district in Atlanta, repeatedly posted QAnon content and obscure hashtags like #TrustThePlan, and yet attracted campaign contributions from the Republican National Committee and the Georgia Republican Party. Jo Rae Perkins, a Republican Senate candidate in Oregon, declared in May, “I stand with Q and the team.” and later posted a video in which she took what has become known as an oath for QAnon digital soldiers. She was similarly expected to be defeated.
Among the others expected to lose on Tuesday were candidates like Mike Cargile, who was one of a number of QAnon-linked Republicans to challenge incumbent Democrats in California for House seats. His Twitter bio includes #WWG1WGA, a shortened version of the QAnon motto “Where We Go One We Go All.”
Elsewhere, Ron Weber, a West Point graduate and lawyer in Ohio who beat three other contenders in a primary and has shared QAnon hashtags and conspiracy theories on social media, lost his race on Tuesday.
But it is Ms. Greene, the victorious candidate in Georgia, whose candidacy has exemplified the party’s difficulties in handling its QAnon problem. Now that she is headed to Congress, the party must decide what to do with her.
“I think she will start off with a pretty short leash,” Mr. Buck said.
Even so, he added, there is a fundamental problem: “There is no real establishment or party leadership in the way that there used to be,” and so “members of Congress have realized that there is an open playing field to be whoever you want if you can get attention for yourself.”
Ms. Greene, who owns a construction company, has called QAnon “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take this global cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles out.” She has also made derogatory remarks about Black people, Jews and Muslims.
Nearly every elected Republican in Georgia’s 14th Congressional District, where Ms. Greene was running for an open House seat, lined up to oppose her after she trounced eight other candidates in the June primary and forced a runoff. But not everyone in the party was as unwelcoming. Mr. Trump posted a congratulatory tweet after Ms. Greene’s strong showing in June, and two of his highest-profile supporters backed her: Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio and Mark Meadows, the former congressman who is now the White House chief of staff.
Whatever objections others had seemed to melt away after Ms. Greene won the runoff in August. Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House minority leader, said she would be given committee assignments if elected. Senator Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed by the governor last December and is seeking a full term in a special election in Georgia, readily accepted Ms. Greene’s endorsement.
Ms. Greene, for her part, has recently sought to distance herself from her most controversial views. Asked about QAnon in an interview with Fox News, she said she had chosen another path. She also tweeted that she had now accepted that the Pentagon had been hit by a hijacked plane on Sept. 11, 2001, not a missile.
But, she added, “The problem is our government lies to us so much to protect the Deep State, it’s hard sometimes to know what is real and what is not.”