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California leads the nation in QAnon-supporting congressional candidates

on October 30, 2020

SACRAMENTO — In early April, Republican congressional candidate Buzz Patterson was asked on Twitter if he supports “the Q movement,” a group on the fringe of GOP politics best known for its outlandish conspiracy theories accusing leading Democrats of being part of a secret Satanic cabal that engages in pedophilia and child trafficking.

Patterson, a candidate for the seat representing California’s 7th district in suburban Sacramento, left no doubt about his support for the movement — also known as QAnon — when he replied with an emphatic “Yep!”

Across the country, some two dozen Republican congressional candidates have openly flirted with — and sometimes embraced — the elaborate fantasies spun by QAnon followers. But leading the way is California, where Patterson is one of five QAnon-supporting candidates for Congress who are on the ballot — the most of any state. The other four are Mike Cargile and Erin Cruz in the 35th and 36th Districts of Riverside County, and Alison Hayden and Nikka Piterman of the 15th and 13th Districts in Contra Costa County.

The California GOP, struggling to rebuild after years of electoral defeats and declining membership, has endorsed all of the QAnon-supporting candidates except for Cargile. 

The QAnon movement first appeared in chat rooms of the extremist-friendly internet site 4Chan, after an anonymous poster named “Q” claimed that President Trump was fighting an evil conspiracy of pedophiles that included liberal politicians, Hollywood figures and wealthy businessmen. QAnon quickly amassed huge followings across Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, and despite recent crackdowns by those sites, is still active on these platforms.

While expressing support for QAnon might be an effective strategy to pull in votes during a Republican primary, it puts candidates and the party in uncomfortable positions during a general election. Patterson recently tried to walk back his support for QAnon, saying he doesn’t “know what or who Q is.”

His social media activity, however, paints a different picture. In recent months he has repeatedly tweeted QAnon-associated content to his 100,000-plus Twitter followers. He has accused Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden of pedophilia and he has accused George Soros of funding “BLM/ANTIFA rioters.” Each is a common QAnon trope.

Jared Holt, a researcher at Right Wing Watch, a non-profit organization which tracks extremism, said that Patterson’s approach to QAnon is being replicated by other candidates. “They try to draw a line between themselves and this dangerous conspiracy theory but continue to follow along with the guiding QAnon ideas and activities,” he said.  

For the most part, the other California QAnon candidates are sticking by QAnon. Piterman, who is running against Barbara Lee, the longtime Democratic congresswoman from Oakland, said he sees merit in QAnon theories. Insisting that a “large portion” of his constituency are QAnon followers, Piterman said he doesn’t disavow QAnon “in any way” and that the “idea that there are groups of God-hating pedophiles isn’t far-fetched at all.”

Cargile, who lost the California Republican Party’s endorsement after he used a racial slur in a Facebook post in late-June, seemed more equivocal. “I don’t have a doubt that QAnon exists,” he said. “What or who it is exactly, no one seems to be sure.”

Hayden, who’s running against Eric Swalwell, the Democratic congressman from Castro Valley who is heavily favored to be re-elected, called QAnon “another information resource” for Americans. Alternative sources are vital “for the future of the Republic,” she said via text message. “That they label alternative sources as ‘cults’ tells me that they fear the loss of control over their narrative for public consumption.’’

Cruz attempted to distance herself from QAnon but added that she is “open to all concerns of the district and the people within it.”

Very little party money flows to these QAnon candidates, but the picture isn’t entirely clear. Only Piterman received funding from a party committee — $500. It’s not known how much money Patterson and Hayden are working with: Patterson’s committee hasn’t filed a financial disclosure with the Federal Election Commission since October 2019, and Hayden has no disclosure reports on file with the FEC. 

California GOP Spokeswoman Samantha Henson said the party doesn’t “agree with or believe in QAnon,” but she would not address the candidates’ support for the movement. 

That’s not enough for some conservatives. Mike Madrid, a co-founder of the Lincoln Project and longtime GOP consultant denounced any candidate who espouses QAnon beliefs, and any party that allows it. “QAnon’s disgusting theories being promoted in the Republican Party today, with no pushback from GOP leaders, shows how broken the party is,” Madrid said.

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