Democrats dismissed it as a fringe group of conspiracy zealots. Moderates worry about the possibility of damaging their party’s image, while more conservative lawmakers are careful to tap into its root energy. The sympathetic media have covered its protests, portraying it as an emerging influx of populist politics – a protest movement born of frustration with a corrupt class, can not overcome.
Then, to everyone’s surprise, its supporters started winning the elections.
It is a description of the Tea Party movement, which emerged in 2009 from the right and moved on to become a major, enduring force in American conservatism.
But it could be as easily as the QAnon depiction, the pro-Trump conspiracy theory that has emerged as a possible successor to the Tea Party’s crust as the strongest root force in right-wing politics. .
This week, QAnon most likely got the first member of Congress: Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican from Georgia who won the primary vote in a crowded part of the Party. Republic on Tuesday. Ms. Greene has openly backed QAnon, appeared on QAnon’s shows and upheld the movement’s baseless belief that President Trump is on the verge of disrupting a team that alludes to Satan-worshiping pedophiles . Other QAnon-affiliated candidates won primary elections at the federal and state levels, though very few in conservative counties like Greene’s.
QAnon, taking trust from puzzling posts on an anonymous writer’s message board claiming access to high-level government intelligence, lacks a leadership structure and dark money connections by Tea Party. It also lacks realistic goals or anything like a coherent policy agenda. Its followers are internet wary people gripped by paranoid and violent revenge fantasies, not tax-lowering conservatives or opposing the Affordable Care Act.
But after Greene’s first win, some Washington insiders began to wonder if QAnon’s potential influence is being equally underestimated. They worry that, just as the Tea Party conceals a racist movement that has pushed conspiracy theories about President Barack Obama into the mainstream of the Republican Party, QAnon’s extreme stance – which has caused some followers to commit serious crimes – which can be difficult to contain. .
“They are delusional about removing it as part of the powerlessness,” said Steve Schmidt, a longtime GOP strategist and campaign veteran who has become a critic of Trump. “The Republican Party is becoming the common home of a surprisingly active group of conspiracy theorists, fringeists, extremists and white nationalists” .
To be clear: QAnon’s idea is much more extreme than Tea Party ever had. Tea Party proponents oppose Wall Street bailouts and a growing federal deficit; Followers of QAnon believe Hillary Clinton and George Soros are drinking the blood of innocent children. While Tea Party supporters often seek to overthrow their political opponents at the ballot box, QAnon supporters cheer for top Democrats who could be jailed in Guantánamo Bay or captured and executed.
But there are more similarities than you might think, especially when it comes to how the political institutions of their time responded to the rise of each group.
When the Tea Party emerged in early 2009, many commentators scoffed at the idea that it could gain political power, calling it the “hysterical display” of the “frothy far right.” . Michael R. Bloomberg, then mayor of New York, described Tea Party as a fad, comparing it to Ross Perot’s outburst in favor of the 1992 presidential campaign. Republican leaders take this issue more seriously, but they also think they can harness its energy without its more extreme elements.
Then, in January 2010, Scott Brown, a little-known Republican congressman from Massachusetts, won the Senate seat in a shock to his Democratic rival, Martha Coakley, in part because of his support from the Tea Party. And members of both sides clearly see that they are wrong to underestimate the Tea Party’s potential.
Today, experts tend to portray QAnon as an extreme but marginal movement – a kind of 4chan John Birch Society. And some polls show that this movement has yet to be widely available.
But QAnon’s followers have left dark corners of the internet and established a growing presence on mainstream social media platforms. Twitter recently announced that it would remove or limit the visibility of more than 150,000 QAnon-related accounts, and NBC News reported this week that an internal Facebook investigation into QAnon’s presence thousands of active QAnon groups and sites have been found on its platform, with millions of followers among them.
Even after Ms. Greene’s first win this week, very few lawmakers have directly acknowledged QAnon. (A Republican lawmaker, Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, called it a “fabrication” that has no place in Congress on Wednesday.) But party followers regularly use it. social media to promote extreme views – including opposing masking, false fears about child exploitation and “Spygate” conspiracy – into conservative media. At least one Fox News commentator has voiced his endorsement of the movement. And dozens of QAnon candidates are running as anti-establishment outsiders in this year’s Republican primary elections, just as the Tea Party candidates did in the mid-election. period 2010.
The similarities between QAnon and Tea Party are not just history. Several similar activists are involved in both movements, and organizations such as the Tea Party Patriots have fed QAnon’s social media campaigns, such as a recent viral video about the doctor made a false statement about Covid-19.
One notable difference is that while the Tea Party gained influence during the Republican time out of power, QAnon was thriving in the Trump administration, with the presidential tacit blessing. On Wednesday, Mr. Trump congratulated Ms. Greene on the preliminary victory, calling her the “future star of the Republican Party”. (He did not mention a video in which she called Mr. Trump’s presidency “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to globally eliminate Satan-worshiping pedophiles.”
Vanessa Williamson, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and co-author of “The Tea Party and Republican Conservative Rework,” says QAnon, in some ways, represents skepticism. of the Tea Party to the mainstream authorities.
“The Republican Centralist conspiracy movement is not entirely new,” Ms. Williamson said. “But at the heart of that conspiracy thought is something that stands out about Tea Party, and that’s something even more impressive about QAnon.”
One advantage QAnon has over previous insurgent movements is its innovative technology. Members of the John Birch Society have resorted to newspaper and newspaper ads, and Tea Party – which started with CNBC’s televised voice – relied heavily on the existing conservative media to spread the word. my message.
But QAnon originated from the Internet and moved at the speed of social networking. Since 2017, QAnon followers have built an impressive media ecosystem that includes Facebook groups, YouTube channels, and Discord servers. These spaces serve as both news feeders and virtual water coolers, where followers exchange new theories and memes, and strategize to boost their rankings.
The other big difference, of course, is who is in the Oval Office. Mr. Trump did not directly mention QAnon, but he has clearly avoided denouncing it, and has shared dozens of posts from trusted people on his social media accounts.
Geoffrey Kabaservice, director of political studies at the Niskanen Center, a liberal ideological organization, says although QAnon probably won’t take over the Republican Party as thoroughly as the Tea Party did in the year. 2010, but it may continue to grow if the top Republicans don’t want or can’t to accommodate it.
“It won’t be automatically released from the system,” he said. “Republicans will have to take positive steps to remove it from the system. And that is likely not going to happen under President Donald Trump ”.
Bill Kristol, a conservative commentator and critic of Mr. Trump, is more skeptical of QAnon’s influence on Republicans. He points out that there have always been extreme exceptions in both parties of Congress whose influence tends to be diminished by more moderate voices over time.
But it was a period before Trump, he admitted. Who knows what QAnon can become, with the presidential stamp of approval?
“Trump’s embrace is what makes this different and more disturbing,” says Kristol. “If Trump is the president and he embraces this, are we confident that it is not the future?”