Part two of “The United States of QAnon,” an occasional series examining the QAnon movement’s influence in American politics.
Halfway through this year’s primaries, at least 15 candidates linked to the QAnon conspiracy movement have advanced to November’s general elections for congressional or statewide offices, Grid has found.
Deep-pocketed mainstream Republican groups and party leaders are pitching in to support many QAnon-linked candidates who have survived their primaries.
More Q-linked politicians could advance in primaries over the next month, as elections are held in Arizona and Florida, where QAnon has appeared popular. One candidate linked to the fringe QAnon conspiracy movement has already won a congressional seat in the 2022 election cycle.
Those 15 candidates have raised $20 million this election cycle, much of it from small donors. Overall, QAnon-linked candidates received nearly 70 percent of their donations from small donors — much more than traditional lawmakers or political groups, like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) or the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), Federal Election Commission records show.
When a QAnon-linked candidate wins their primary, however, that changes, as well-funded GOP groups and senior party figures rush in with support.
Establishment GOP embraces Q candidates
Major Republican groups jumped to back businessman J.R. Majewski following his May 3 primary victory, despite his Q ties and apparent extreme beliefs. The day after his win, the NRCC gave $5,000 to Majewski’s campaign, FEC records show.
“I believe in everything that’s been put out from Q,” Majewski said in a 2021 podcast reported on earlier this year by the left-leaning watchdog group Media Matters. Majewski told the Toledo Blade in April 2021, “I’ve never read any QAnon drop — what they call the ‘Q drop,’ what they post on the website.”
Majewski called for secession shortly after the 2020 presidential election. “I didn’t want to be a hype beast, but I’ve had it in my back pocket to say that every state that went red should secede from the United States,” the candidate said in a 2021 video unearthed by CNN. His campaign did not respond to multiple inquiries from Grid.
In early June, the NRCC announced that it had selected Majewski for extra support as part of House Minority Leader McCarthy’s “Young Guns” program. The program “helps equip Republican candidates across the country with the tools they need to run winning campaigns,” the NRCC announcement said.
The NRCC did not respond to Grid’s phone calls and emails requesting comment.
Majewski also collected $5,000 donations from House Republican Whip Steve Scalise’s (La.) Eye of the Tiger PAC and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-Ga.) Save America Stop Socialism PAC.
Grid repeatedly sought comment from Scalise and Greene, Eye of the Tiger PAC, Save America Stop Socialism PAC. None would speak with Grid about their support for Q-affiliated candidates.
After his primary victory in June, Air Force combat veteran and businessman Sam Peters — who has tweeted the hashtag “#QArmy” and supportive comments for other Q-linked candidates — is in a toss-up race against incumbent Rep. Steven Horsford in Nevada’s 4th Congressional District. He did not respond to Grid’s requests for comment.
Peters, like Majewski, also saw his primary victory in June followed by a warm embrace by top GOP donors and officials. His campaign website boasts the endorsements of Republican Reps. Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar of Arizona. He received two $5,000 contributions from Scalise’s Eye of the Tiger PAC on June 17 and 23, in addition to another $2,000 from Scalise’s campaign fund in June.
The campaign fund for Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., also contributed to Peters after his win. Like Majewski, Peters is labeled a “Young Gun” on the NRCC website. Neither Peters and Donalds responded to Grid’s requests for comment.
Florida and Arizona are major QAnon battlegrounds
The two states with the largest contingents of QAnon-linked candidates, Arizona and Florida, will hold their primary elections in August. Ballots for primary elections on Aug. 2 in Arizona and Aug. 23 in Florida will include 17 QAnon-linked candidates for statewide or congressional office, and at least 10 candidates for seats in state legislatures.
In Florida’s 7th Congressional District, rated “likely Republican” by Cook Political Report, some current polls indicate state lawmaker Anthony Sabatini is in the lead in a tight race. In May 2020, Sabatini posted a link to a website where supposed messages from Q are collected. Sabatini did not respond to questions from Grid about his relationship with the QAnon movement.
In Arizona, Republican State Rep. Mark Finchem, a prominent promoter of false claims about the results of the 2020 election, is arguably the highest-profile candidate in a four-way race for the state’s secretary of state, a position in which he would oversee the state’s elections.
If he is successful, Finchem would follow in the footsteps of 2020 election denier Jim Marchant, who won the Republican primary for the Nevada secretary of state seat in June and who has said he would not have certified his state’s election of President Joe Biden if he held the seat in 2020.
Candidates see a boost from a conference organized by QAnon influencers
In Michigan, secretary of state candidate Kristina Karamo has been endorsed by the state GOP and is expected to see her nomination become official at a state party convention scheduled for late August. Karamo, a community college professor who accused Democrats of promoting a “satanic agenda,” became a rising star in Michigan politics after she made baseless claims that she witnessed fraud in Detroit in the 2020 presidential election.
Marchant, Karamo and Finchem all participated in the “For God & Country: Patriot Double Down” conference in Las Vegas last year, which was organized by QAnon influencers and reportedly included QAnon imagery in its logo.
A victory by any one of the 2020 election-denying, QAnon-linked secretary of state candidates in battleground states — loosely aligned under the rubric of the America First Secretary of State Coalition, partially funded by former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne — would conceivably create the opportunity for chaos to the national Electoral College system in the 2024 presidential election.
Finchem, Karamo and Marchant did not respond to requests for comment.
Running with Q in deep blue
The politicians who have successfully advanced from their primaries so far, from California to New Jersey, represent a small fraction of the nearly 80 candidates with QAnon ties who announced their candidacies in 2022.
But experts say conspiracy theory-driven candidates can exert outsized influence. In the 2020 elections, QAnon helped propel the ascent of Greene and Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., who have since become household names and shifted the boundaries of acceptability in American political discourse.
“These two freshmen congresswomen, they have dominated the news cycle,” said Mia Bloom, a professor of communication at Georgia State University and co-author of a book on QAnon. “And you’re also looking at sort of the infection of the narrative. It’s changed how the Republican Party speaks.”
Many of the candidates who advanced from primary elections are running in firmly blue districts and face long odds in November.
The United States is being run by a satanic cabal of human traffickers and pedophile predators, working in conjunction other world leaders, to establish a one world order. I will do everything within my power to oppose this.Mike Cargile, candidate for California's 35th Congressional District
Among them is Mike Cargile, whose second-place finish in the open primary for California’s 35th Congressional District seat will earn him a place on the ballot in the general election facing incumbent Democratic Rep. Norma Torres.
“I have never deviated in my stance on this issue,” Cargile said in response to questions from Grid about his position on QAnon. “The United States is being run by a satanic cabal of human traffickers and pedophile predators, working in conjunction other world leaders, to establish a one world order. I will do everything within my power to oppose this.”
Voters in southern California will also find a QAnon-linked candidate on their ballots. Omar Navarro finished second in the primary for the 43rd Congressional District and will face off against longtime incumbent Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters in November.
“My relationship with this movement is to expose the dark human trafficking agenda in Hollywood and D.C.,” Navarro said in response to questions from Grid. “I stand by anything I said in the past. I like how media makes everyone who believes in it sounds [sic] crazy.”
Joseph Uscinski, a professor of political science at the University of Miami, said QAnon is part of a long tradition of conspiracist thinking in American politics, but that it is getting more attention than usual.
“It seems pretty clear to me that Trump and other politicians have used conspiracy theories far more than they’ve been used by our political leaders in the past,” he said.
Some candidates enter tight races
In a handful of races, QAnon-linked candidates have scored primary victories that position them for a serious shot at a congressional seat.
Rep. Mayra Flores, R-Texas, has already taken office due to her victory in a special election in June. Although Flores had used QAnon slogans in social media posts in the past, she has backed away from the conspiracy theory since taking office. She declined Grid’s requests to speak for this story.
Flores sidestepped direct questions about her past use of QAnon-related hashtags and slogans in social media posts in a Fox News interview shortly after taking office. Flores told hosts Sandra Smith and John Roberts to “stay focused on the issues that matter” and said she had made the posts because she opposed QAnon, not because she supported it.
Due to Texas’ congressional redistricting, Flores will be running for reelection in Texas’ 34th Congressional District in November against fellow incumbent Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas. The general election race for the newly drawn district is considered Democratic-leaning but competitive, according to Cook Political Report.
At least two other QAnon-linked candidates who already won their primaries are in general election races deemed toss-ups by Cook Political Report.
In Ohio’s 9th Congressional District, Majewski will face off against incumbent Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, who has held office since 1983. Although Kaptur is one of the longest-serving members of Congress, the Toledo-area district is competitive this cycle due to redistricting.
In rare cases, QAnon-linked candidates are receiving boosts from Democratic groups, who apparently see political benefit to helping fringe right-wing candidates win their primaries.
Trump-endorsed Maryland gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox, who has referenced QAnon on social media and appeared at a conference organized by QAnon conspiracists, won a tightly contested primary this month against a more mainstream challenger after reportedly benefiting from more than $1 million in TV ads funded by the Democratic Governors Association (DGA). Cox’s large margin of victory in the primary “reaffirms it was the right decision to waste no time holding him accountable for his radical MAGA stances,” DGA spokesman Sam Newton said in a statement.
In addition to Cox, far-right Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, who has spread QAnon references and false claims about the results of the 2020 election, won the GOP primary with the aid of ads funded by state Democratic groups.
Mastriano’s Twitter account made more than 50 posts referencing QAnon before they were deleted recently, according to research by Media Matters, and he also reportedly spoke at a QAnon-linked conference in April. A Mastriano spokesman said he “strongly condemns the ‘Q anon’ conspiracy theory,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
“I don’t have a relationship with QAnon”
Some candidates in the remaining primary races told Grid they are openly supportive of Q, the ostensible messenger who has made the anonymous internet posts propelling the movement.
“I am considered part of the Q movement because I have put ‘Where We Go One We Go All’ on my campaign website,” Florida congressional candidate Christine Scott said in a response to Grid. “Q is right and I like the [poignant] phrase: Where We Go One, We Go All! Yes, I absolutely stand by it, just like I stand by my love for family, my flag and my country … and Rocky Road Ice Cream!”
Other candidates whose campaigns have spread QAnon-associated material, however, said they did not have any connection to the conspiracy theory.
Billy Prempeh, who advanced unopposed to win the GOP nomination in the solidly Democratic 9th Congressional District in New Jersey, made posts on his Twitter and Facebook accounts that contained the QAnon slogan but said he did not know what QAnon was at the time and has since taken the posts down.
“I don’t have a relationship with QAnon,” Prempeh told Grid. “I don’t even know what the fuck it is.”
Johnny Teague, the GOP nominee in Texas’ 7th Congressional District, told Grid in an email he is “not associated with QAnon,” that the QAnon material shared by his campaign’s Twitter account was posted by a campaign manager and that he “had her take it down.”
“I am sure QAnon are good American loving citizens,” Teague said. “I just don’t know much about them and have been too busy to do anything but meet the needs of our District.”
While some candidates are careful to distance themselves from the conspiracy theory, it’s increasingly difficult to tell the difference between the central tenets of QAnon and many ideas that have entered conventional political discourse, said Mike Rothschild, author of “The Storm Is Upon Us: How QAnon became a Movement, Cult, and Conspiracy Theory of Everything.”
Many of QAnon’s core beliefs, Rothschild said, “such as the election being stolen by the ‘deep state’ using covid, pedophile rings running the world, secret battles between good and evil that are actually fought in public, are very popular and very mainstream now.”
An earlier version of this article misstated when the Michigan Republican Party is expected to officially select its nominee for state secretary of state. This version has been corrected.
Thanks to Lillian Barkley for copy editing this article.