A cohort of the conservative movement, whose adherents were once considered fringe, tinfoil hat wearers has lately found a fortuitous alliance with powerful Republicans on both the state and federal levels.
Last week, the Texas Tribune reported that over a dozen GOP officials in Texas spread conspiracy theories on Facebook, which suggested that George Floyd’s death was orchestrated to hurt President Trump’s standing among black voters.
Other conspiracy theories of this ilk center around billionaire George Soros, a frequent Democratic donor whom many conservatives characterize as a “puppet master” who has spearheaded movements and organizations such as the Women’s March, Antifa and Black Lives Matter.
Earlier this month, Comal County Republican Party chair Sue Piner shared a meme on Facebook with an image of Soros that said, “I pay white cops to murder black people. And then I pay black people to riot because race wars keep the sheep in line.” In response to this, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush (a Republican) said she and three other state GOP officials should step down.
“We can say broadly that George Soros conspiracy theories are fundamentally very old anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Jews as the secret rulers of the world given a new guise,” says Anna Merlan, author of the 2019 book Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power.
Another far-right conspiracy theory to gain traction and a degree of mainstream legitimacy is QAnon, which details an alleged plot from the “Deep State” against Trump. Adherents to these conspiracy theories believe that Democratic operatives and left-leaning celebrities are running a child sex trafficking ring, and some of its proliferators include people that Trump himself has retweeted and invited to the White House.
QAnon theorists also believe that Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota married her brother, a debunked claim that former Attorney General Jeff Sessions himself even echoed:
“I don’t think they’re actually endorsing QAnon or necessarily believe it themselves,” Merlan says. “I think they’re trying to signal to their base that they too are concerned about the supposed shadowy elite rulers of the world who are keeping them from instituting all the promises they made during the last election.”
Still, QAnon believers have found representation in some Republican congressional candidates who have been successfully nominated by their own party. In May, candidate Jo Rae Perkins defeated three competitors in the GOP’s primary ballot for Oregon’s 4th Congressional District.
“I stand with President Trump. I stand with Q and the team. Thank you Anons, and thank you patriots. And together, we can save our republic,” she said in a since-deleted Twitter video.
The following night, Perkins slightly backpedaled on this statement in saying, “To be very clear, I do not believe everything from QAnon and would never describe myself as a follower, but I also do not believe in infringing upon any outlet’s right to discuss news or topics.”
One congressional candidate to stand by expressed support of QAnon, however, is Republican candidate for Georgia’s 14th District Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is the presumptive winner of the congressional seat:
On June 12, Trump expressed support for Greene in tweeting the following:
Merlan points out that it’s not hard to run specifically for Congress, which means a lot of insane Congressional and even Senate candidates appear on the campaign trail. “Ted Cruz used to talk openly about Agenda 21! You used to have to tamp that stuff down when you got elected, but not anymore.”
While Sen. Cruz himself has never publicly expressed any credence toward QAnon conspiracy theories, he has expressed adherence to those of billionaire investor George Soros, a boogeyman for alt-right conspirators. Amid Sen. Cruz’s 2018 race against Beto O’Rourke, Sen. Cruz told his supporters, “The partnership between [O’Rourke] and the billionaire Soros family won’t be easy to overcome.”
Gov. Greg Abbott has been much more adamant about Soros’ alleged role in subverting the Republican cause. In a 2017 campaign email, Gov. Abbott told supporters, “Liberal billionaire George Soros has poured millions of dollars into trying to eliminate your Second Amendment rights.”
Like Merlan, many people have criticized these Soros characterizations as antisemitic. As Christopher Hooks of Texas Observer wrote in an Aug. 2, 2017 article, “Let’s speak plainly: A very substantial part of Soros’ power as a scapegoat is that he’s a Jew. He’s the embodiment of some of the oldest anti-Semitic tropes there are, concepts that run deep in our cultural subconscious.”
Despite the fact that many of the conspiracy theories surrounding Soros and QAnon have been unequivocally proven false, many powerful Republicans have at least flirted with their dogma. And given that more vocal adherents of these ideas have made incremental strides in obtaining power, it does not seem like we will not see an imminent conclusion anytime soon.