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Georgia Might Elect A Supporter Of QAnon Conspiracy Theory To Congress

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

QAnon, or Q, is a conspiracy theory. Believers think President Trump is leading a secret rebellion against a dangerous cabal of deep state elites. Now, that theory is moving from the fringe to Capitol Hill. After a runoff election yesterday, Georgia is poised to become the first state to send someone who has supported QAnon to Congress. NPR's Hannah Allam has more.

HANNAH ALLAM, BYLINE: Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene is a pariah inside her own party over her past racist and bigoted statements. But this week, it's another kind of extremism drawing attention to her run for Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE: All right. So Q is a patriot. We know that for sure. But we do not know who Q is.

ALLAM: That was Greene in a video a couple of years ago, one of several social media posts where she mentions Q, or QAnon. It's a conspiracy theory that emerged on right wing message boards in 2017. It spread quickly through Facebook groups and homemade documentaries like this one on YouTube.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: What do we have for now? Donald Trump as president of the U.S. And then, out of nowhere, arose the enigma of Q.

ALLAM: Those who buy into the baseless theory think President Trump is leading a secret war against Satan-worshipping pedophiles in the deep state. They believe someone, known only as Q, is helping by leaving encrypted messages for self-proclaimed digital soldiers to decode.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "QANON ANONYMOUS")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Q is a peaceful movement. Our only weapon is truth.

ALLAM: That's a Q supporter in an episode of the podcast "QAnon Anonymous." The show takes a deep skeptical look into the world of QAnon.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "QANON ANONYMOUS")

TRAVIS VIEW: What's up, QAA listeners?

ALLAM: One of the hosts, Travis View, says Q is so outlandish, so ridiculous that most people didn't take it seriously - not federal authorities, not social media platforms, at least not until Q believers started running for office.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "QANON ANONYMOUS")

VIEW: When things go sort of viral online, even if they're, you know, dangerous extremist movements, they might be dismissed as fringe. But once they started entering the halls of Congress, then that makes people sit up and pay attention.

ALLAM: The watchdog group Media Matters for America counts 19 congressional candidates with links to QAnon who will be on the ballot in November. Many are longshots - not Marjorie Taylor Greene. Her primary win in a deep red district means she's all but assured a seat in Congress. Trump has already tweeted his congratulations. These days, Greene is no longer making videos about Q, but she hasn't disavowed the conspiracy either.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Yes or no, are you a follower of QAnon?

ALLAM: That's local news channel 9 trying to pin Greene down last month. Her response?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREENE: I'm just like millions of people here in our country and then millions of people around the world that are very much concerned about a deep state and our government...

ALLAM: Greene never gave a clear yes or no. NPR reached out to her. She declined to speak with us.

MARC-ANDRE ARGENTINO: I think Marjorie Taylor Greene started in the bucket where she truly believed in QAnon, but now she's probably drifting more towards the political constituency.

ALLAM: Marc-Andre Argentino recently wrote about QAnon for the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. He worries Q is fueling extremism. Last year, an FBI memo called it a potential domestic terrorism threat. Several Q supporters already have been linked to serious crimes. Aoife Gallagher tracks QAnon for the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue.

AOIFE GALLAGHER: It's almost like a cult. You know, it really becomes this almost cult-like thinking. They have their mantras and their oaths. And they, you know, are so dogmatic in their thinking.

ALLAM: Gallagher says the conspiracy now goes well beyond American politics. International Q groups have formed. It's sweeping up new age and anti-vaccination types. It's reaching millions across social media platforms, outpacing new efforts by tech companies to contain it.

Hannah Allam, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.