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What is QAnon? How the conspiracy theory gained traction in 2020 campaign

With less than three months until Election Day, most of the nation’s attention has been focused on the presidential race. But more than 20 candidates who support a far-right conspiracy theory will be on the ballot for Congressional races in November. Amna Nawaz reports and talks to Travis View, co-host of the “QAnon Anonymous” podcast.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    With less than three months until Election Day, much of the attention has been on the presidential race. But Amna Nawaz looks at how a conspiracy theory could make its way into the halls of Congress after the election.

  • Marjorie Taylor Greene:

    America's the greatest country in the world.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    On Tuesday, Marjorie Taylor Greene won the Republican run-off in Georgia's 14th Congressional District.

  • Marjorie Taylor Greene:

    I'm a conservative Republican.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It's an overwhelmingly GOP district, so she is favored to win in November.

  • Marjorie Taylor Greene:

    We have an Islamic invasion into our government offices.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But after Politico uncovered Greene's previous Islamophobic, anti-Semitic and racist remarks about black people, GOP leaders distanced themselves, condemning her words as appalling, disgusting and bigoted.

    But Republican leaders remained largely silent about Greene's support for a far-right conspiracy theory known as QAnon, support she professed in a 2017 video she deleted before her campaign launch.

  • Marjorie Taylor Greene:

    Q is a patriot. He is someone that very much loves his country, and he is on the same page as us, and he is very pro-Trump. OK?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    QAnon first emerged in the months after President Trump took office, starting on fringe Internet message boards, before spreading to social media.

    Adherents allege, among other things, that the president is the target of so-called deep state actors, high-ranking officials plotting against him. The conspiracy quickly took off, and the president's supporters latched on to the mysterious Q.

    Signs and T-shirts appeared at Trump's campaign rallies. Last year, the FBI labeled the movement a potential domestic terror threat.

  • Jo Rae Perkins:

    I stand with President Trump. I stand with Q and the team. Thank you, Anons, and thank you, patriots.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But now QAnon has firmly taken root on the 2020 campaign trail.

  • Lauren Boebert:

    Honestly, everything I have heard of Q, I hope that — I hope that this is real.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Some congressional candidates, like Lauren Boebert in Colorado, promoted the conspiracy theory to friendly media outlets, before later calling QAnon fake news.

    According to Media Matters, a left-leaning watchdog group, 20 candidates, all Republicans, except one independent, with varying levels of support for QAnon conspiracies, have advanced to November's general election.

    And now Marjorie Taylor Greene's name will be on the ballot as well.

    To look more closely at the rise and spread of the QAnon conspiracy on the campaign trail, I'm joined by Travis View, co-host of the "QAnon Anonymous: podcast.

    Travis, welcome to the "NewsHour."

    You have been following the QAnon conspiracy theory and its followers for a very long time.

    Let's start with the basics, though, for those who haven't been. Just explain to us, where and how did the QAnon conspiracy begin?

  • Travis View:

    The QAnon conspiracy theory originated on 4chan in October of 2017, though it has its origin in Pizzagate.

    The basic premise is that a group of high-level military intelligence officials close to President Trump, QAnon followers believe, are sending out secret coded messages on these image boards about this great grand battle of good vs. evil, in which Trump and what they call the Q Team are working to destroy a global cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles, which the QAnon community believes is controlling everything. And that includes politician, entertainment and the media.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And what is the endgame? If you are someone who believes in this conspiracy theory, what do you believe will happen as a result of all this?

  • Travis View:

    The QAnon community is awaiting two big events.

    One of them is called the Storm. And this is supposed to be a great mass arrest event, in which over 100,000 people from the highest levels of power and entertainment are arrested and face a great day of reckoning.

    The other event that they are waiting for is called the Great Awakening. And this is basically an event in which everyone realizes that QAnon was right the whole time, and that would allow us to enter into a great, brand-new utopian age.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Travis, what you just laid out seems so obviously irrational that a lot of reasonable people might just dismiss it.

    And yet it has picked up real speed in recent years, right? It was reported just recently that Facebook found thousands of groups and pages with millions of followers and members supporting QAnon.

    So, what has helped to fuel this idea so well?

  • Travis View:

    You know, it is a really appealing story, if you happen to feel really disenfranchised and you want to believe that the world is about to change in a really important, revolutionary way.

    And it is also appealing because it allows the QAnon followers to believe that they can take part in this great, grand revolutionary change. They think that they are basically conducting an information war, so that by going on social media and posting QAnon memes, and then spreading these QAnon conspiracy theories, they can help usher in this great awakening.

    And so it sounds ludicrous, and it is. But the story really has a lot of appeal to people who might otherwise feel like they have no voice in the political system.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Travis, the fact that President Trump has been retweeting some of these conspiracy theories, that congressional candidates are now saying that they support these ideas, and are then winning, likely ending up in Congress, what does all of that say to you about the potency of this particular conspiracy theory?

  • Travis View:

    Well, there is some historical precedent for a conspiratorial movement gaining a significant share of power in Congress.

    All the way back in 1833, there was a party called the Anti-Masonic Party, which was dedicated to the proposition that Freemasons were controlling the world. And they gained 10 percent of the House of Representatives.

    There has always been an undercurrent of conspiracy thinking and paranoia in American politics. And, occasionally, it can rise up and actually get some actual significant political power. So, this is just something we are seeing again.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You mentioned the Pizzagate conspiracy theory back in 2016. We should mention that has not really gone away. It tamped down a little bit, but it has resurfaced again recently.

    What happens with the QAnon conspiracy theory? Do you see a point at which this goes away?

  • Travis View:

    No, absolutely not.

    You know, this is something that has started very small a couple of years ago. And it has only accelerated and gained in popularity and gained in speed. So, if you go by the trajectory, I mean, this is something that will almost certainly be with us for at least a generation, and probably longer.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is Travis View, co-host of the "QAnon Anonymous" podcast.

    Thanks so much, Travis.

  • Travis View:

    Thank you for having me.

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