Lauren Boebert, the Republican who defeated U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District primary on June 30, wants to run to be the conservative AOC, referencing liberal firebrand U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez of New York, but Democrats hope voters associate her with another political initial.
The night Boebert set the state’s political world on its head — she was the first Colorado candidate to unseat an incumbent member of Congress in 38 years — national and international outlets trumpeted her feat for a different reason.
It turned out the 33-year-old political novice — who had already spent years racking up Google hits for arming the waitresses at Shooters Grill, the restaurant she and her husband own in Rifle — was also the latest Republican nominee associated with the far-right conspiracy theory attributed to an anonymous figure known as Q.
Loosely, the QAnon theory is an elaborate mythology — think Dungeons and Dragons, only involving politicians and Hollywood stars — built around the notion that President Donald Trump is waging a secret war against the “deep state,” but that description hardly does it justice.
To call the fringe theory “unfounded,” “unsupported” and “disproven,” as news outlets routinely do, is a profound understatement, and a polite way of saying it’s utterly whack.
Emerging in late 2017 from a dark corner of the internet, the QAnon conspiracy began as a series of “drops” posted to message boards purporting to expose a secret investigation that was going on under everyone’s nose to bring a ring of cannibalistic child sex traffickers and Satanists — led by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama — to justice.
According to the posts, then-special counsel Robert Mueller wasn’t probing the Trump campaign’s ties to Russian interference in the election, but instead was conducting a dragnet that would sweep up its prominent targets, who were already outfitted with ankle monitors, resulting in mass executions.
The theory echoed the Pizzagate conspiracy, one of the more alarming beliefs that swept right-wing circles near the end of the Obama administration, involving the notion that leading Democrats were operating a sex-trafficking ring out of the basement of a Washington, D.C., restaurant. That set of allegations appeared to fizzle after a disturbed, heavily armed man was apprehended on his way to “liberate” the cabal’s victims, sending some of its more high-profile adherents — including key figures in Trump’s orbit — scurrying to distance themselves.
Where Pizzagate left off, QAnon dared to tread, however, revealing the horrible secrets its followers and the internet sleuths it inspired had never dared articulate, including a complicated plot involving pineal glands and sacrifices to an ancient god, and another involving Adolph Hitler’s descendants.
That’s the theory Boebert appeared to endorse during the primary, when she said she was “very familiar” with the conspiracy during a guest appearance in May on QAnon supporter Ann Vandersteel’s internet program SteelTruth.
"Everything that I've heard of Q, I hope that this is real, because it only means America is getting stronger and better, and people are returning to conservative values, and that's what I am for," Boebert said. "And so everything that I have heard of this movement is only motivating and encouraging and bringing people together stronger, and if this is real, then it could be really great for our country."
The Daily Beast earlier this month reported that Boebert also did an interview before the primary on the QAnon platform Patriots’ Soapbox, which churns out bits and pieces of the QAnon theory around the clock on YouTube and via apps available on popular streaming devices. Even as Q-related chatter filled the screen surrounding her, though, Boebert stuck to the message she’d been delivering on conservative talk radio shows throughout her congressional district, appearing to be unaware that she was appearing on a show devoted to discussing Q’s revelations.
Boebert later told Colorado Politics she’d only had a “glancing acquaintance” with QAnon and dismissed the notion she was embracing the theory, but organizations and news outlets seized upon her words, linking her with other Republicans who have more explicitly — and repeatedly — voiced support for the theory. Among them, the liberal Media Matters for America tallied, nine have made it onto the November ballot, including Jo Rae Perkins, the longshot Republican nominee for Oregon’s U.S. Senate seat, who said she stood with “Q and the team” when she won her primary.
Boebert’s campaign was quick to distance the candidate from the QAnon movement.
"I’m not a follower. QAnon is a lot of things to different people. I was very vague in what I said before. I’m not into conspiracies. I’m into freedom and the Constitution of the United States of America. I’m not a follower,” Boebert said in a statement sent by her campaign to news outlets that had overnight begun clamoring for more details.
Her allies argued that Boebert was being unfairly tarred with QAnon, when its proud devotees made no bones about their sympathies, invariably littering their social media posts and public pronouncements with explicit citations of elements of the QAnon universe and wink-wink references to “the 17th letter.”
While the QAnon theory is mostly unknown to the American public — NPR reported that a Pew Research Center poll found only 20% of respondents had heard “a little” about it, and just 3% said they’ve heard “a lot” — the FBI takes it seriously, last year labeling it a “domestic terror threat.”
In an internal memo, the feds drew attention two 2018 incidents, to the arrest of Illinois man who planned to bomb his state capitol and another man who attempted to carry out an attack on the Hoover Dam, both saying they had planned their mayhem to bring attention to QAnon talking points.
In January, police arrested a Colorado woman in Montana who authorities said had planned to kidnap one of her children with the help of QAnon theorists.
Earlier this month, an offshoot of the conspiracy involving expensive cabinets sold on the internet retail site Wayfair burst into public view, with QAnon disciples proclaiming they had discovered the furniture was a cover for transporting victims of a vast child-sex trafficking ring.
And on July 4, Mike Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, became perhaps the highest-profile QAnon aficionado when he posted a video to Twitter reciting an oath of office, followed by the Qanon oath: “Where we go one, we go all,” followed by QAnon-related hashtags, though a Flynn representative denied his client was tied to the movement.
Twitter last week banned thousands of QAnon-associated accounts, drawing rebukes from followers and plenty of attention.
Ben Collins, the NBC News reporter who says he covers the “dystopia beat,” wondered in a July 30 tweet when mainstream political reports will realize that QAnon “is not a fringe element.”
“People are stuck inside watching YouTube videos all day looking for a quick, magical answer,” Collins said. “QAnon provides that. It is a sizable part of the American electorate.”
He added: “Part of the reason QAnon is so undercovered is because you have to admit to yourself how dark the landscape is.”