Published August 13, 2020
I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion, and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.
–Air Force Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper, Dr. Strangelove
In the 1964 Stanley Kubrick classic black comedy Dr. Strangelove, the above words are spoken by a general who is about to start World War III. His theory about the contamination of “precious bodily fluids” is the tipoff for poor Group Captain Lionel Mandrake that the general has gone certifiably cuckoo.
This week, Republican voters in Georgia’s 14th congressional district nominated Marjorie Taylor Greene for the seat being vacated by Rep. Tom Graves. She won a run-off against a fellow Republican, Dr. John Cowan. Like Greene, Cowan is a gun-rights-supporting, anti-abortion Trump loyalist. Unlike Greene, he does not endorse the QAnon conspiracy. That’s right. Greene is (or claims to be) a Q believer.
You might think that once voters were alerted to this, they’d shrink from Greene as Mandrake did from Ripper, asking her to go nicely with the men in white coats who are here to help her. Cowan clearly thought his opponent’s Q talk was toxic. He ran ads saying “All of the conservative. None of the embarrassment.” And he told Politico, “She is not conservative—she’s crazy. . . . She deserves a YouTube channel, not a seat in Congress. She’s a circus act.” The voters were not convinced. Greene trounced Cowan by 14 points (as of this writing).
Georgia 14 is a comfortably Republican district, going for Romney in 2012 by 73 percent, Trump in 2016 by 75 percent, and Brian Kemp for governor by 75 percent. Greene correctly perceived that being conservative in a district like this is the bare minimum. And so she provided more. Responding to the election of Ilhan Omar, Greene said in a Facebook video that there was a “Muslim invasion into our government offices.” Attempting to prove that she wasn’t a racist, she told viewers, “It’s not about skin color. . . . I know a ton of white people who are as lazy and sorry as black people I know.” Repeating a smear that circulates perennially online, she called Hungarian financier George Soros, who is Jewish, a “Nazi.”
But the money quote is this one: Referring to Q, the anonymous leader of the QAnon conspiracy, she said Q is a “patriot.” “I think it’s something worth listening to and paying attention to, and the reason why is because many of the things he has given clues about and talked about on 4chan and other forums have really proven to be true.”
Q refers to an Energy Department classification level of top secret. The person styling himself Q in cryptic online messages is anonymous, thus QAnon. To describe what followers of Q believe is to enter a hall of mirrors. As one of my relatives (who, full disclosure, is on the left) put it to me, “At least the 9/11 truthers, as illogical as they were, had some nutty thread of plausibility to their theory. Inside jobs do happen. False flags are a thing. But the Qanon theory is beyond imagination.”
Remember the fellow who, a month after the 2016 election, drove from North Carolina to D.C., barging into a pizza place and firing off a shotgun? Why would a religious, previously law-abiding father of two do such a thing? Well, he was looking for the child sex slaves he’d been led to believe were chained in the back, at the behest of John Podesta and Hillary Clinton. He “knew” this because “Pizzagate” was circulating among right-wing websites and email lists, heavily promoted by Jack Posobiec (who went on to be honored with a Lincoln fellowship by the formerly respectable Claremont Institute).
Pizzagate morphed into the QAnon conspiracy in which Q followers wait for signals from their leader that a vast conspiracy of Satanic child abusers, run by the “deep state,” George Soros, the Supreme Court, and God knows who else is about to be unmasked. Did I mention that they think Beyoncé is only pretending to be black? It’s a hydra-headed thing, this conspiracy, and contains multitudes. But the one common thread is this: The great deliverer will be Donald J. Trump.
The internet age has birthed a crisis of information. Flooded by claims and counterclaims, people don’t know whom to trust. And in this welter of confusion, many seize upon stories they’d like to be true, rather than those that seem plausible. I guess it’s more comforting for some to believe that Trump’s erratic and incompetent behavior is actually cover for a massive plan to save the world from Satan-worshipping child molesters than to accept that he is what he seems.
People carrying Q signs began showing up at Trump rallies in 2018. The phrases “Calm Before the Storm” and “Where We Go One, We Go All” have become talismanic. Trump has done nothing to discourage the cult. On the contrary, he posed in the Oval Office with Michael Lebron, a Q promoter. Trump’s former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, believed to be the eponymous Q by a number of adherents, has signaled to Q followers in a video release. He follows a recitation of the oath of office for federal officials with the line “Where We Go One, We Go All.” (My guess is that Flynn is in it for the cash.)
No fewer than 60 current or former congressional candidates have expressed interest in or support for the QAnon conspiracy. One of them, Jo Rae Perkins, got the Republican nomination for Senate in Oregon. And now Marjorie Taylor Greene seems almost certain to be going to Congress.
Greene claimed that the Republican “establishment” was against her. But alas, that’s not true. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise and GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney did condemn her remarks. But Greene received backing from the House Freedom Fund, an arm of the House Freedom Caucus. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and former Rep. Mark Meadows, now Trump’s chief of staff, also backed Greene. And, naturally, the Republican Party’s leader had this to say:
Against the furnace blast of crazy that Trump puts out daily, green shoots of sanity are harder and harder to find. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican, has often provided them. Regarding this bit of nutbaggery, he said:
Normal, right? The world seems to be on its axis. But no, the Trump campaign smashed back at Kinzinger:
Most Americans have not yet heard of QAnon. But the paranoid conspiracy has gathered momentum at the Republican grassroots. The taste for crazy seems peculiarly partisan. When Democrats go off the deep end, it tends to be for Marxism or Maoism. Those are among the most dangerous political ideas in the world and have led directly to the deaths of scores of millions of people. But they’re not nuts.
It’s odd that Republicans, who pride themselves on their practical understanding of life—incentives matter, money doesn’t grow on trees, personal responsibility is essential to a well-ordered society—should display such a marked weakness for utter lunacy. I don’t offer an explanation, just a warning. This disordered thinking is no longer just a fringe phenomenon. Unlike Group Captain Mandrake, a lot of Republicans out there don’t recognize crazy when they see it.
Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a contributor to The Bulwark, and host of The Bulwark’s Beg to Differ podcast.