Late 2017. Marjorie Taylor Greene,the 43-year-old founder of a CrossFit gym in a wealthy Atlanta suburb, hops onto Facebook Live, where she will discuss Moloch, the pagan idol of child sacrifice. Greene is wearing a black top, her blonde hair down. Filming before a blank wall, she looks tired but happy, in her element. “Okay, now,” she says in a pleasant drawl, “have you guys been following 4chan, Q, any of that stuff? Anybody? I’m going to watch for your comments here.” The anonymous persona Q, purportedly a government mole, had begun posting on the right-wing message board 4chan in late October, about a month before Greene’s livestream. Q’s posts formed the nucleus of a collective belief system that became known as QAnon, whose premise was this: Hollywood and the U.S. government were teeming with pedophiles and demon worshippers, whom Donald Trump was trying to bring to justice with the help of unlikely allies such as Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whose investigation of the president was, in fact, a false-flag operation. To anyone who found this idea implausible, Q had posed a question: Why would a famous billionaire give up his charmed life to run for president? Was it, perhaps, because “he could not stomach the thought of mass murders occurring to satisfy Moloch?”
In her livestream, Greene vouches for Q. “He’s posted many things that seem to verify that he is the real deal,” she says. “It’s not just someone poking in the dark, messing with people.” She cites a suspect 2009 email, published by WikiLeaks, in which a State Department official expressed hope that a U.S.-brokered peace accord in Honduras was close to fruition. The official wrote, “With fingers crossed, the old rabbit’s foot out of the box in the attic, I will be sacrificing a chicken in the backyard to Moloch.” His email was forwarded to Hillary Clinton, then secretary of State. “If that’s not evidence that there’s Satan worship in our government,” Greene asks, “and if Hillary Clinton was not involved in it, then why would someone, someone that is involved in worshipping Satan, why would they tell Hillary that in an email? I mean, if someone told me that in an email, I would freak out.” She cites another WikiLeaks email, from 2015, in which the artist Marina Abramovic invited Clinton’s chief of staff, John Podesta, to a “Spirit Cooking Dinner.” (Podesta did not attend.)
Greene looks revved up, if unsurprised, by the allegations. As a contributor to a now-defunct website called American Truth Seekers, she had already raised questions about demonic behavior in the ranks of the elite, citing Georgetown hostess Sally Quinn’s habit of “hexing” her enemies, the Clintons’ presence at a voodoo ceremony during a 1975 trip to Haiti, alleged child sex abuse by a former mayor of Seattle, the Anthony Weiner scandal, and Jeffrey Epstein’s flight logs. “There’s so much that goes on in our American culture that keeps us distracted,” she says. “So many Americans are blind, and when they hear these stories about pedophiles and they hear these stories about satanic worship, they don’t want to believe it’s true.”
Or … maybe they do. In August, Greene won the primary election in Georgia’s staunchly Republican 14th Congressional District, all but guaranteeing her a victory in November and a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives (when her Democratic opponent dropped out earlier this month, it made victory even more certain). You’d like to think it’s a fluke that a well-off mother of three with no political experience discovered a weird-ass message board, got engrossed in a lurid conspiracy theory, beat out eight rivals for a congressional seat, and became a far-right folk hero. But 81 so-called QAnon candidates ran for the Senate or the House this year, according to a master list maintained by Alex Kaplan of the liberal site Media Matters. With primary season over and a bunch of candidates culled, the list is now finalized: There will be 24 QAnon candidates on the federal ballot in November — 22 of them Republicans and two independents. And while Greene is by far the most prominent of them, and the likeliest to win, she looks less like an outlier than like the vanguard of a new faction in American politics, heralding an even worse partisan epistemological muddle than the one the country has become distressingly accustomed to over the past decade. As any Q disciple can tell you, there’s no such thing as a fluke.
When the pandemic-induced lockdowns began in March, membership in three leading QAnon Facebook groups reportedly rose from under 50,000 to over 300,000. In August, according to NBC, an internal Facebook review identified more than 3 million followers across a number of groups and pages. The platform conducted a purge, after which dozens of groups simply reconstituted themselves as benign-sounding anti-trafficking clubs. (To believers, efforts at censure only prove Q is onto something.) Teenagers on TikTok, meanwhile, have been drawn to the notion that children are being trafficked via suspiciously expensive cabinets sold on Wayfair, the online furniture retailer. Unlike the ironic alt-right spaces that spawned Pizzagate, there is nothing edgy about QAnon, whose puritanical literal-mindedness recalls conservative panics about provocative queer art. (An old Sarah Silverman–Patton Oswalt sketch about child abduction, for instance, was recently passed around as a horrifyingly frank document of Hollywood complicity.) And the community can draw interest from seemingly anywhere: Supporters include a niece of Osama bin Laden’s as well as a former CIA agent once tasked with hunting bin Laden down.
The movement has grown large enough to include several splinter factions, including one group that believes John F. Kennedy Jr. is alive and working with Trump to bring down the cabal, and even apostates, like ex-QAnon social-media personality Dylan Wheeler, who believes the Trump-endorsed drug hydroxychloroquine is not, in fact, a COVID-19 prophylactic but a deep-state designer drug that enables 5G cell towers to microwave human organs. One vigilante branch, called the Children’s Crusade, led by a donation-soliciting 9/11 truther, has motivated at least one parent to plan to kidnap her own son from protective services because she was convinced he was being abused there. Legitimate child-welfare organizations, sometimes accused by critics for themselves exaggerating the threat of child abduction, don’t quite know what to do with all the #Savethechildren rallies QAnon believers have organized around the country (about 200 were planned for one Saturday in August). And neither, really, does the Republican Party, some of whose leaders have denounced the movement, while others have drafted off its energy whenever possible. In March, Dan Scavino, the White House’s social-media guru, tweeted a meme of the president playing the violin above the words NOTHING CAN STOP WHAT IS COMING. Liberals mocked it as a self-own, noting the parallels between Trump and the fiddling emperor Nero. But QAnon appreciated the dog whistle: The phrase is one of Q’s mantras.
A few months later, General Michael Flynn, of Russiagate infamy, one of the heroes of the movement, was filmed reciting the QAnon oath — “Where we go one, we go all” — with his family. The Texas Republican Party, searching for a new slogan, just borrowed one from QAnon (“We Are the Storm”), then rolled it out with a new line of swag and text messages to supporters (“Text STORM2020 for updates”). Fox News, perhaps optimizing for consumer demand, seems to be ramping up its coverage of sex-trafficking stings, and, in an interview with Eric Trump (who posted and then deleted a Q meme ahead of his father’s Tulsa rally), its host Jesse Watters said, “Q can do some crazy stuff, with the pizza stuff and the Wayfair stuff, but they’ve also uncovered a lot of great stuff when it comes to Epstein and when it comes to the deep state.” The pro-Trump outlet OAN started offering QAnon emoji to its $4.95-a-month YouTube members. Volunteers text-banking for Joe Biden are being spammed right back by people who accuse the Democratic nominee of being a pedophile.
Trump, obeying his own lizard instincts, has managed to boost the movement without endorsing it or probably even understanding it. In August, he was asked for the first time at a press briefing to comment. (Adherents have consistently begged reporters to “ask the Q.”) After the journalist described the theory — which, again, casts Trump as a crusader against a cabal of pedophiles — the president replied, “Is that supposed to be a bad thing or a good thing? I mean, you know, if I can help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do it.” Q’s digital army — the titular “anons” — went wild.
QAnon still falls far enough outside the mainstream, however permeable those boundaries have become, that it will not have the axis-tilting effect the tea party had on the GOP. There will be no QAnon Caucus in next year’s Congress, probably just a wave of one. But it may be a bigger challenge to tame the movement: Because QAnon’s platform is not ideological but invented, it poses no threat to the party’s core tenets and makes no policy ask of its leaders, which incentivizes the GOP to absorb its followers. And why not? The MAGA brand is already premised on the fantasy that Trump is the ultimate champion of the little guy and his enemies a corrupt power elite (and its adherents are often less interested in real policy achievements along that axis than in Trump’s continuing performance as a culture-war troll). From the Trumpist intellectuals who saw 2016 as a “Flight 93 election” (in which the country either perishes in a fiery crash or elects a mad savior to rush the cockpit) to the Evangelical Christians who tolerate his libertinism in the service of the higher good, much of the GOP seems already to support the president on the grounds that the country is locked in a battle between the forces of darkness and lightness. QAnon is just an explosive mutation of this idea.
It isn’t mentioned much in the Qniverse that, in 2017, the GOP came within two percentage points of electing an actual credibly accused pedophile, Roy Moore, to the U.S. Senate. Or that in 2016, Trump himself was accused, in a Jane Doe lawsuit, of raping a 13-year-old girl procured by Jeffrey Epstein, whom Trump used to hang out with. The suit was dropped, but by the free-associative evidentiary standards of QAnon, this would seem like a red flag. Instead, the movement goes in the other direction. Unable to defend the president’s real-life sexual misconduct on empirical grounds, QAnon has fashioned him into a secret warrior against serial predation. As the president’s own Big Lies demonstrate, the most effective political untruths often end up being the most mind-blowingly implausible ones.
In this way, the emergence of Greene and the QAnon candidates suggests not so much a collective mental breakdown as a rupture in the fabric of shared reality. Come January, Greene may look around Capitol Hill and perceive a different world from her Republican colleagues, as though she were wearing a VR headset. Many of the candidates I interviewed for this story clearly did not agree on what I take to be a set of established facts about the world. This feels new. It’s one thing for politicians to cynically allege seditious plots by their opponents, as they have forever done. It’s another thing to truly believe the nation’s political Establishment is run by satanic abusers and then head off to Washington to work alongside them.
Greene, whom Trump has called a “future Republican star,” has tiptoed around the subject all summer. She managed to delete almost all her old posts about Q, making it hard to establish the timeline of her interest. She never talked about it on the trail and told Fox News her devotion to the movement had waned after the disappointing 2018 elections. This may well be true, though some combination of defiance and lingering suspicion seems to keep roping her back in. When a local TV anchor pressed her on whether she followed QAnon, Greene couldn’t bring herself to say no, telling him she has “only seen patriotic sentiment coming out of that source,” which “gets censored tremendously.” Since winning her August primary, she has joined the anon-adjacent crusade against Netflix’s French film Cuties, which features tween girls twerking and, according to Greene, “entertains pedophiles.”
Greene’s victory appears to have split the far-right House Freedom Caucus, whose super-PAC helped fund her campaign. The group’s media star, Matt Gaetz, has vouched for her; Georgia representative Jody Hice withdrew his initial endorsement. Everybody else in the party Establishment seems pretty much horrified. In large part, this is because of the litany of more straightforwardly offensive things she has said — that George Soros is a secret Nazi, that there has been an “Islamic invasion” of government. But also, of course, thanks to Q. “Listen, I’m a hard-core Trump Republican,” said Seth Weathers, an Atlanta consultant who served as Trump’s Georgia state political director in 2015. “I have a record working with really hard-core conservative candidates. But not psychos.”
Interviewing QAnon candidates is not like interviewing regular politicians. For one, despite their distrust of the media, a lot of them are incredibly approachable. That’s partly because they’re heavy underdogs and have nothing to lose, but also, I think, because of a general openness to the weird possibilities of life. For another, you have no idea what they really believe until you get them on the phone. The Media Matters list snares anyone who appears to vouch for the theory on the internet. In some cases, that’s a guy like the defeated El Paso congressional candidate Samuel Williams, who told me he started retweeting Q stuff just to gain social-media followers. (Did it work? “Yup.”) In other cases, it’s someone like Angela Stanton-King, pardoned by the president for her role in a car-theft ring and running for the late John Lewis’s seat in Atlanta. A believer that “America is being led by its genitals straight to hell,” she’ll post about “elite pedophiles trafficking children” or, just last week, about “Moloch worship.”
In August, I connected with a guy called Mike Cargile, who is running for a seat in California’s Inland Empire. Cargile has an interesting backstory. He left the Army to try to make it in Hollywood and ended up with a bit role in a 1994 Julia Roberts–Nick Nolte movie called I Love Trouble. From there, he pivoted to Christian content, writing and directing films like the 2001 feature Lay It Down, an allegory about street racing. For a while, we chitchatted: about AirPods, about his plans for an inclusive immigration policy. And then QAnon came up. “I think there is a large group of Satan-worshipping, Wiccan sort of people” in Hollywood, he said. “Oh, for years now. Just do a Google on ‘Rihanna or Beyoncé satanic stuff’ and you’ll see tons of stuff. All sorts of imagery and stuff, little signs they make and references to demonic things that are both inspiring to them and part of their creative processes. They’re not hiding it anymore.”
I had a similar experience talking to Theresa Raborn, a homeschooling mother of three running in a Chicago district. She worked for Cigna Insurance for nine years before writing a book about American history and deciding to get involved in politics. She landed on the list only because she’d retweeted Michael Flynn taking the oath and said she didn’t have time to learn much about Q. “I’m not going to say ‘Q is real,’ ” she said, “and I’m not going to say ‘It’s a conspiracy theory,’ simply because I believe in keeping an open mind.”
But the more we talked, the deeper into it she seemed. “There’s Q, there’s the anons, and then there’s the rest of us going off on what the interpretations are,” she said. “Just like the Bible, people have different interpretations of the same verse.” Maybe one-third of the content her Facebook friends send her way, she said, is Q-related: alarming allegations about Katy Perry or Oprah, pictures of “cannibal parties.” “From what I understand, they may be staged,” she said of such images. “But isn’t that kind of sick? Why would someone even fake something like that?” When I suggested that the QAnon-spread allegations of baby-eating seem extreme, she paused to consider. “I would say that’s extreme, but on the flip side, I also remember Jeffrey Dahmer.”
I was curious to hear how else the Q candidates feel the Establishment has failed the country. Jo Rae Perkins, an insurance agent and former GOP county official, is Oregon’s Republican Senate nominee this year and almost certainly the most devoted of the group. After Perkins won her primary, her campaign consultant tried to scrub her Q presence from the internet, but the candidate revolted, going on Oregon Public Radio to talk about the theory. Perkins talked to me about Skull and Bones and the New World Order and name-checked the classic 1994 conspiracy text The Creature From Jekyll Island, written by HIV denialist and chemtrail theorizer G. Edward Griffin. (Even in deep-blue Oregon, Perkins’s QAnon persona didn’t seem to hurt her in the primary. When she first ran for incumbent Jeff Merkley’s seat in 2014, she received a little over 7,500 votes, finishing fourth in a five-way primary. This year, she took 178,000 votes, winning a four-way race in a landslide.)
Despite her fixation on the deep state, Perkins didn’t seem overly concerned with, say, the proven overreaches of the actual intelligence community. It was as if once a real government plot had been documented, it ceased to be interesting. “Honestly, I’m conflicted about [Edward] Snowden,” she said. On the one hand, she appreciated his revelations about the sprawling global surveillance apparatus of the National Security Agency. On the other: “Did he do that to throw people off the trail of another agency because they’re working on some other stuff? I don’t know. I know that he came over from the CIA.”
As some have suggested, QAnon isn’t just a messianic fantasy but an elaborate role-playing game. While Trump is still the movement’s ultimate savior, Q has created a parallel dimension where followers needn’t wait around for the political Rapture but can actively participate in it. Dropping gnomic hints, Q encourages followers to do their own research about the bad guys. This engages them as foot soldiers in a righteous choose-your-own-adventure tale, which they collectively push in this direction or that. This realm becomes especially enticing during a global pandemic, when everyone IRL is jobless, sick, or trapped inside (and not just to followers but to journalists, for whom tumbling down other peoples’ rabbit holes may be preferable to confronting the bleakness of the outside world). It may also help explain why so many of the candidates seem to regard the conspiracy theory as a sort of hobby obsession, oddly divorced from their vision of what their own work in government should be.
Of the dozen or so candidates I spoke with, I had long conversations with five whom I would consider true believers, and despite endorsing the notion that the government is effectively a cover story for a global sex-trafficking network — which, as congresspeople, they could theoretically do something about — the candidates themselves didn’t seem to have given much thought to how they’d expose it, nor did they seem overly suspicious of their presumptive colleagues. Alison Hayden, a special-ed teacher and Republican running in the Bay Area, told me, “These things are stopped at the local level.” I asked Raborn the same question. “If the whole Q thing is still going on and growing,” she figured, “I can certainly put my staff members at least on a part-time basis doing deep dives into it.” Cargile, when asked what it would be like to work among evildoers, said he hoped to be a “peacemaker.”
Aside from Marjorie Taylor Greene, the anons are likely to lose. Most of these candidates are running punily funded races in heavily Democratic districts, where their primary victories were fueled by an absence of GOP infrastructure. But those losses are unlikely to spell the end of Q’s influence over the Republican Party, given how much energy the conservative Establishment — or what passes for it in the Trump era — has grifted off the movement in recent months, indeed, how much more comfortable Republicans seem using its worldview and sloganeering than they would have been even last winter. QAnon, like other populist movements, seems to attract people who feel alienated from the political Establishment. Yet, in this case, the Establishment’s casualties aren’t them, or even anyone nameable, but an imagined colony of lost children. For the Q candidates, the quotidian legislative realities of Congress probably aren’t as satisfying to contemplate as the cathartic fantasy retribution promised by the theory. “It has lots of intrigue around it,” admitted Cargile, who said it appeals to him as a storyteller. “Because seriously, how many ways can you cover what’s going on politically between President Trump and Joe Biden? The saturation is beyond. And now we’re entering the realm of outright boring.”
QAnon is not boring. “It’s fun,” Cargile said. “It’s fun until it’s not. I lose my sense of humor when we’re talking about children.” He told me about the sickening images of child exploitation he sees online. “Is it real? I don’t know. But the idea of it being on video for me to see makes me have to support anything that wants to get to the bottom of this. And if it is a huge child-trafficking network, then I want to be one of the ones to break it and prosecute it.”
Even for Q-curious candidates who don’t buy everything about the theory, there seems to be appeal in a Pascal’s-wager approach: Given the minimal online commitment it takes to signal your anti-pedo bona fides, via the #wwg1wga hashtag or a General Flynn retweet, why not? And if a growing number of Republican voters are into this stuff, why risk spurning them? Lauren Boebert, a Colorado Republican with a shot at winning her race, and who got some attention this summer for her novelty open-carry restaurant, is almost certainly not a hard-core follower. Asked on a pro-Q YouTube show about the theory, she replied that it was “more my mom’s thing — she’s a little fringe” — before recovering and assuring the host “it could be really great for our country.” Matthew Morris, who lost a Republican primary in Delaware, initially told me QAnon was “a bunch of crazy conspiracy theorists.” That didn’t stop him from splashing SAVE OUR CHILDREN across his campaign website.
Historical panics about Freemasons or Catholics or Jews or communists tended to play off fears that the country was being subverted from within. In those cases, the groups were real, but their power or nefariousness was inflated. QAnon has inverted this trope by taking the actual problem of child sex abuse and ascribing it to a theoretically infinite universe of evildoers. While Q’s forerunner Pizzagate focused its allegations pretty narrowly on the Clinton orbit, one byzantine QAnon project claims to have identified more than 176,000 indictments. Enemies are everywhere: Could be Huma Abedin, could be Chrissy Teigen. Which, for the anons, basically translates into a breathtakingly high-stakes game of Pokémon Go: Gotta catch ’em all.
When Q publishes a “drop,” it’s often just a link to an article or a long string of unrelated words. One Q watcher has compared them to CVS receipts. (Q’s posts currently appear on an opaque message board called 8kun and are then made accessible via a handful of searchable follower-created aggregators.) This so-called Socratic posting style encourages maximalist interpretation, which occurs on YouTube shows, in Twitter threads, on livestreams, and in books. To choose one of 4,751-plus examples: Q’s 100th drop, from November 2017, began, “Who is the Queen of England?,” and moved on to Princess Diana, then MI6, then Angela Merkel, then migrants, then upside-down crosses, then spirit cooking, before ending with:
For three years, Q has predicted the imminent arrests of government malefactors. When, inevitably, the arrests do not occur, anons posit that Q is intentionally sowing disinformation, or that Trump is waiting to install better judges. Like some never-ending, ultradark improv-comedy exercise, the only response to a Q drop is “Yes, and …” This open-endedness gives QAnon a flypaper quality, attracting all manner of suspicious thinkers.
As Vice’s Anna Merlan has pointed out, Q became part of a larger “conspiracy singularity” this summer. “UFO conspiracy theorists and QAnon fans are advocating for drinking a bleach solution promoted by anti-vaxxers. QAnon groups and Reopen America groups alike promoted [the COVID truther video] Plandemic,” she wrote. “We’re all trying to make sense of the same massive global event, which seems to drive an urge towards a grand unified theory of suspicion.” In mid-September, with forest fires engulfing the Northwest, Q began posting social-media profiles of alleged antifa arsonists, folding another layer into the larger plot.
Q also cribs from a number of classic conspiracy clichés identifying George Soros, the Rothschild banking family, and the Kingdom of Saudia Arabia as an unholy triumvirate pulling the strings of the pedo cabal. Basically, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, if it had been marinating in speculation about the Clinton Body Count, plus any number of outré paranoid fantasies that have grown up on the far-right fringe in the decades since — from Barack Obama’s being a Muslim to Michelle Obama’s being a man.
All that said, the thread that links the Q candidates I spoke with comes from real life: the Jeffrey Epstein case. “The reason I’m leery of people saying Q is a conspiracy theory is I’d heard for years about Epstein and the Lolita Express, and he has this island,” said Raborn, the Chicago candidate. “I always thought it was a conspiracy theory. And then he got arrested. And we found out about the plane. I’m going, Okay, whoa. How many things do I think are conspiracies that really aren’t?” Tracy Lovvorn, a physical therapist running for a seat in central Massachusetts, had practically the same conversion experience, marveling at “everything the FBI knew back in 2005, 2006,” and then, she said, “for him to die the way he did?” Ditto Cargile, whose interest in Q stemmed from Epstein’s suicide (his alleged suicide): “Who caused this to happen? Who doesn’t want him to talk? Who is at most risk by Jeffrey Epstein being on the stand and naming names?”
As a case study in elite failure, you could do worse than to wonder why, when he was first charged with having sex with minors in 2007, Epstein received a sweetheart non-prosecution deal from Florida’s then–U.S. Attorney, Alexander Acosta — later Trump’s Labor secretary. (Or why Harvey Weinstein or Michigan State gymnastics trainer Larry Nassar or the hierarchy of the Catholic Church evaded prosecution for so long.) Seen from this perspective, the real conspiracy theory isn’t an invented pattern of sexual misconduct but a tacit agreement among elites to protect one another at the expense of the innocent. In this vein, pedophilia works as a particularly visceral symbol of predation — a synecdoche for an Establishment that screws over ordinary people.
(Of course, you can see evidence of conspiratorial machinations well outside the message-board fever swamps these days, from the Panama Papers’ portrait of global tax avoidance and big-bank money laundering, to the president’s attempt to strong-arm the Ukrainian government into digging up dirt on Joe Biden, to Purdue Pharma’s lucrative business model of addicting as many people as possible to its opioid product OxyContin.)
Q disciples take such plots as reasons to mistrust basically everything they hear. “When Bill Clinton was being accused of all these extramarital affairs, the rape cases, Hillary Clinton was one of the first ones to use the term ‘vast right-wing conspiracy,’ ” Lovvorn said. Now, “that is the go-to term to hide stuff.” And once you’ve reached that conclusion, anything goes. “This is going to sound crazy,” she said, “but Epstein met with Fidel Castro a few times and also, I think, with the president of Venezuela, but I’m not sure. That rings in my ear a little bit because my opponent, Jim McGovern, he’s gone to Cuba 17 times — pictured a handful of times with Fidel Castro.” (I held my tongue, but part of me was tempted to remind her what the 17th letter of the alphabet is.)
For these candidates, invoking shadowy ruling-class schemes would seem to be the logical populist gesture. Yet what they mostly fixate on are Q’s grotesque allegations of occult sexual behavior. Dustin Nemos, a QAnon YouTuber, characterizes Q as a big tent that includes “the health-freedom movement,” “normal Christians tired of being censored,” “elements of Drain the Swamp,” and other factions. But “human trafficking is the emotional anchor point.” Lovvorn thinks this is a smart PR strategy on Q’s part. “If it wasn’t for all that craziness, you wouldn’t pick up the phone and call me,” she said. “I appreciate that crazy because at least it’s giving these kids a platform.” She cited a (misleading) news item, which went viral in the Qniverse, claiming 39 missing children had been found in a trailer in Georgia. (There was no trailer, and they weren’t all in Georgia.)
And this illicit subject matter, of course, engages the anons themselves. Fascination with ritualistic perversion is a hallmark of conspiratorial thinking. Anti-Catholic and anti-Mormon writers of the 19th century obsessively conjured images of “licentious orgies and fearful punishments,” wrote the historian David Brion Davis, which wound up “endowing even the worst offenses of their enemies with a certain fascinating appeal.” While QAnon’s outward emphasis on innocent children may explain its apparent popularity among unsuspecting suburban moms, it’s naïve to think the fascination with demonic sexual behavior isn’t also tinged with prurience. Precisely by claiming the mantle of moralism, QAnon grants itself license to broach some of the weirdest, most verboten shit on the political internet.
How does someone get into this stuff? Marjorie Taylor Greene’s biography begins innocently enough. She grew up outside Atlanta, where her father ran a successful construction business whose ads would have been familiar to any talk-radio listener in the region. She attended the University of Georgia, where she majored in business administration and met her husband, Perry Greene. Sometime after they graduated, they bought Taylor Commercial from her parents and eventually ran the company together. The Greenes raised two daughters and a son, settling in a comfortable suburban home in Alpharetta, north of the city. She attended an Evangelical megachurch called North Point, where in 2011 she received a public baptism in a large tank of water suspended off the ground.
On the campaign trail, Greene portrays herself as the boss, with her husband, of Taylor Commercial. But it’s not clear how involved she has been in the business; in 2012, her name stopped appearing on the registration forms the company filed with the Georgia secretary of State. (Greene and her campaign didn’t respond to my interview requests.) Around that time, she was working as a part-time coach at a CrossFit gym in Alpharetta. “She was going around the five different gyms at that point, working out obsessively, hanging out in paleo restaurants, like, drinking frozen drinks in green spandex,” said the gym’s then-owner, Jim Chambers. “As far as anyone could tell, she was a rich lady that [was] bored.” Politics did not seem to be on her radar. Chambers is a member of the billionaire Cox broadcasting family, which has been a player in Georgia Democratic politics for decades. He knew her from the gym and had been to her house for a dinner party, and the subject never came up. (Chambers assured me that he bears no partisan animus toward her, as he deplores all “petit bourgeois” politics.)
Greene eventually left Chambers’s gym to start her own, which became a hub for competitive CrossFitters. I found an old WordPress blog Greene started in 2013 tracking her workouts and diet program in exhausting detail. It is a monomaniacal document that could be of interest only to a CrossFit nerd. It can also feel very human. She wrote of a bout with skin cancer, of needing to wear braces for a spell. “I’m really bad at listening to that negative voice when it gets hard,” Greene wrote in 2014. “I want to silence the chatter. Confidence is also an area that I struggle in.” Working out gave her a sense of purpose. “It’s not about belonging, or really anyone else. It’s all mine and I love it.”
The blog ended in 2015, after which she discovered a new outlet for self-expression. Around 2017, she became a prodigious right-wing livestreamer, complementing her Facebook presence with blogging gigs and YouTube appearances. Her interest in QAnon was piqued by the seminal Q chronicler Liz Crokin, a former gossip reporter. But she was clearly predisposed toward the paranoiac wing of the Trump world, and she sought to amplify an entire portfolio of new and vintage conspiracy theories: Seth Rich was assassinated at Obama’s behest by the MS-13 gang, Charlottesville’s Unite the Right rally was staged, 9/11 was an inside job, the Las Vegas massacre was hatched by gun-control activists, the package bombs sent to prominent liberals in 2018 were a false flag. Writing about this last scheme on her Facebook wall, she adopted the oracular, acronym-heavy vernacular of Q: “Look deeper into the ‘victims’ of this. Who are they? Understand what deflection means. Then again look at the victims and ask what are they hiding?? Obama. HRC. CNN. DWS.”
Themes of invasion and subversion are constants in her videos. I found one fascinating livestream she recorded at a public library as she walked around with her leg in a protective boot. She was there to document a “Drag Queen Story Hour,” which she had campaigned to cancel. For most of it, she is hanging around outside the library waiting to catch the drag queen on-camera. Wearing a nice romper and a big rock on her ring finger, she makes like a MAGA Phyllis Schlafly. It’s hard for her to go five minutes without saying something offensive. At one point, she pans the camera to a woman in a hijab. “Our library is full of that,” she whispers, before citing the Women’s March co-organized by pro-Palestine activist Linda Sarsour and concluding offhandedly that “they all go together.”
What I find telling about the video isn’t just the bogeypeople Greene sees all around her but her sense of euphoria and purpose in combating their supposed agendas. Throughout the livestream, she urges her audience to find and share the real name of the drag queen, before then tracking down the branch manager (whom she pegs as having organized the event), plotting to spam him with phone calls, and creating a hashtag to get him fired. A transition to gonzo political activism, if that’s the right term, seems natural. In 2019, she began appearing regularly in Washington, D.C. She chased the Parkland shooting survivor and gun-control activist David Hogg around the halls of Congress. She tried to force Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib to retake their oaths of office on the Bible (rather than the Koran).
While on vacation in late 2018, she escaped her family to do an uninterrupted 90-minute stream from her hotel room. “Many women I know, they’re too busy playing their tennis, their ALTA [Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association] tennis, they’re into their hobbies or their book club, or they’re too busy with their ‘career’ to have time to participate and stand up and pay attention to what’s going on with America,” she said. “Most of my friends on social media find my posts inconvenient and annoying because they would rather see babies and puppies and something funny on social media. And I think that’s sad.” Greene’s entry into the political space is, in this way, inseparable from her discovery of an audience. Unlike the alienated, basement-dwelling stereotype of a conspiracist, Greene was in fact a kind of microinfluencer, surfing the wave of engagement. Which, as with the participants in QAnon’s collaborative adventure, made her at once a believer and an evangelist.
In spring 2019, Greene began running for Congress in her moderate home district, which is represented by a Democrat. When it became clear she was going to lose the Republican primary, members of the House Freedom Caucus, she said, encouraged her to move her campaign to a more conservative part of the state, where the tea-party Republican Tom Graves had announced he would not seek reelection. “I’d never heard of her,” said Luke Martin, an attorney and the GOP chair of a county in the district. The first thing Martin saw when he Googled Greene was a Southern Poverty Law Center article chronicling some of her greatest hits. “Nobody thought she had a chance,” he said. In a debate, her opponent, John Cowan, told her, “I was praying for your soul, actually,” when he heard her recent vow not to remove a statue of Hitler or “Satan himself” so she could teach her children about them.
Martin told me Greene’s bubbly retail politics shares none of the vitriol of her online persona. Money doesn’t hurt either. When the pandemic was hampering her opponent’s early efforts, Greene already had a campaign apparatus up and running. She loaned herself $900,000 and, according to federal records, was backed by more than $200,000 from the House Freedom Fund. A couple of months after Taylor Commercial received a six-figure PPP loan, she donated another $450,000 to her campaign. (Her name was added back to the company’s registration forms in 2019.) In June, Facebook removed a campaign ad in which she cocked an AR-15 and warned antifa to “stay the hell out of northwest Georgia.” Antifa probably isn’t much of a threat to northwest Georgia, but the incident wound up fueling her campaign’s existing sense of grievance, in which anarchists and Silicon Valley gatekeepers are just two sides of the same coin. And when paranoid anti-deep-statism collides with macho posturing, what it produces, basically, is Trumpism. Greene became a Fox News martyr and never looked back. Emboldened, she recently posted a Photoshopped image of herself standing next to the “Squad” — her future colleagues — holding an automatic rifle. Facebook removed it.
Georgia Republicans were dismayed by her victory. “She’s not from there, she didn’t know a soul, she didn’t need a single local endorsement,” said one top staffer in Georgia’s U.S. House delegation. Her opponent, Cowan, a prominent local neurosurgeon, had announced over 100 endorsements in a single week. He also received donations from a number of sitting U.S. representatives and solid right-wing groups, including Mike Huckabee’s HuckPAC. “It didn’t matter,” the Georgia staffer said. “People didn’t care. It was all about, ‘Are you with Trump, and are you going to fight this atmosphere that you feel we’re in?’ ” Cowan’s slogan was “Pro Trump. Pro Life. Pro Gun,” and he got outflanked from the right. (Greene’s slogan: “Save America. Stop Socialism.”) It’s impossible to say how many, if any, of Greene’s voters gravitated to her because of QAnon. But if there’s a takeaway from the race, maybe it’s this: In certain corners, it plays better to rave about dubious scourges than to speak to the lived experience of your constituents. Not all politics is local anymore, and increasingly it’s not national or partisan, either, but Manichaean.
In August, a couple of days after Greene’s victory, I tuned in to Patriots’ Soapbox, a 24-hour QAnon livestream. None of the hosts or commenters mentioned her, as though her ascension to the halls of power made her too tangible an entity to warrant discussion. Instead, I watched a guy named Coleman Rogers, who goes by the handle Pamphlet Anon and who some believe is Q himself, calculate the angles in a Star of David and discuss a scene from the 2009 Terry Gilliam movie, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus: “The young girl, she’s just slept with Colin Farrell, I think it was, and then she starts singing the pizza and the pasta song and the Anubis head looks over them?”
This indifference to politics isn’t unusual among hard-core Q people. There is one known QAnon super-PAC, called Disarm the Deep State. Intriguingly, it was created by Jim Watkins, the creator of 8kun, whom some also credibly believe to be Q. But the group has only about $4,000 to its name and hasn’t donated to any of the candidates. When I asked Nemos, the YouTuber, if he had interviewed any of them, he said he had talked to one but couldn’t remember her name. (It was Jo Rae Perkins.) He was excited about their rise, he said, but too busy running a QAnon e-commerce shop and debunking the mainstream media’s “4 a.m. talking points” to pay much attention to them. The best evidence I could find of coordinated political activity was a string of $17 donations to Perkins’s campaign.
Meanwhile, Greene will be going to Congress, where her new colleagues are preparing themselves for an infinite migraine. She hasn’t talked about Q since she started running for office, but that hasn’t made her any less problematic. In early September, Greene took to Twitter to discourage boys from wearing masks, which she found “emasculating.” A couple of weeks later, she tweeted that when she arrived in Washington, she would be investigating “how much of George Soros’ money is trickling down to these BLM/ANTIFA rioters. He truly is the ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE.”
The head of the Freedom Caucus, Jim Jordan, hasn’t abandoned her. But he’s becoming a rarity, as “Do you condemn Marjorie Greene’s comments?” becomes a new Washington litmus test. For this story, I spoke with two GOP chiefs of staff who ended up unloading their feelings about her for over an hour. “Look at her through the lens of AOC,” one of them said. “She’s going to be very powerful. She’s indestructible. She’s from a district where she cannot lose. She’s there as long as she wants to be. She’s willing to say or do newsy stuff. She blows up every paradigm.” He contemplated the state of his party. “It you sit back and think about it, it will crush your soul. It hurts, man. It fucking hurts.” (On Twitter, Greene recently called Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez dumb. Ocasio-Cortez responded that Greene had misspelled a word in her tweet.)
As Greene’s profile rises, the second chief of staff said, the downstream implications for the party will get bleak. With her most incendiary comments playing on constant loop, he fretted, “how are we going to take back a California seat or a New York seat?” Illinois Republican Adam Kinzinger has gone so far as to release a YouTube video about the dangers of QAnon, while a bipartisan House resolution was introduced to condemn it.
Seth Weathers, the Georgia consultant, said he had talked to Freedom Caucus members who want nothing to do with her. “Anything she sponsors will be DOA. Would you work with her on legislation? You don’t know what the hell she’s going to say. You can’t risk it.” Another Georgia GOP strategist worried about her non-Q beliefs, which she has in no way muzzled: “She’s made plenty of statements that have nothing to do with satanic rings of pedophiles that are part of the federal government but that are still problematic.”
For now, the theory’s own baroqueness may inoculate it from real scrutiny in the political sphere. Greene’s aging colleagues (she once called them “literally like dead people”) aren’t going to be scouring 8kun to read Q’s drops. For his part, Chief of Staff No. 1 told me his boss has zero understanding of QAnon and had waved off talk of Greene’s lunacy. “When I tell him there’s this cabal of people who believe Nancy Pelosi is eating children out of the basement of a pizza parlor, he’s like, ‘What? That doesn’t make sense. She seems nice. She does CrossFit.’ ”
Where will QAnon be after November? If the president is reelected, anticipation of Trump’s heroic purge can build for another four years, though followers may also begin to wonder what’s taking him so long. If he loses, QAnon might interpret the election as stolen, thereby imputing to the deep state even more power. In the meantime, absent a strong case for reelection — given the recession and the White House’s inept handling of the pandemic — it makes a kind of sense to throw out the old playbook and start accusing your opponents of being evil monsters to see how much turnout Q might yield.
A few weeks ago, House Republicans began doing just that. In Missouri, Republican congresswoman Ann Wagner ran an ad that starts with footage of a happy mom and dad laughing with their elementary-school-age children. “Everybody wants to keep our communities safe,” the spot begins. Except for Wagner’s Democratic opponent, Jill Schupp, whom it accuses of voting to let sex offenders “roam freely on our kids’ playgrounds.” In Florida, the National Republican Campaign Committee accused a Democratic candidate of endorsing child sex dolls. In New Jersey, the NRCC targeted Democratic U.S. representative Tom Malinowski, the former Washington director of Human Rights Watch: “Malinowski tried to make it easier for predators to hide in the shadows.” The congressman, a panel of overlaid text reads, “chose sex offenders over your family.” In late September, a Civiqs poll found that 14 percent of Republicans identified as supporters of Q.
*This article appears in the September 28, 2020, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!