Are QAnon Conspiracies Going Mainstream?

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — At first glance, Matthew Lusk’s campaign signs look like any other Republican candidate’s.

On one side, they read, “Matthew Lusk for Congress,” and “Putting America First.”

But as he flipped the signs over while loading them into a hatchback near his home in Florida earlier this year, he pointed out a detail pasted on the back of one: a black letter “Q.”

“You never know when you’ll run into somebody else who’s interested in Q,” he said.

Lusk is running unopposed in the Republican primary for Florida’s 5th Congressional District. Among the 51 issues listed on his campaign website is “Q.”

And he’s not alone.

NBC News has identified four candidates who have shared or promoted messages affiliated with the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory — either through campaign Twitter accounts or in interviews with the news organization. All four are running in primaries for Congress — two of them unopposed — and all have filed paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission.

Although interpretations vary and are constantly changing, most QAnon supporters believe that “Q” is an anonymous government official sharing information about a secret battle between President Donald Trump and a powerful cabal of Democratic politicians, liberal celebrities and the “deep state.”

Those posts, first shared through the website 4chan in 2017, also hint at a much darker plot in which many of those same figures control a worldwide child sex-trafficking ring.

None of those claims have been supported by fact. Or Have They?

Danielle Stella, who is running in a Republican primary to determine who will go up against Rep. Ilhan Omar in Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, has a campaign account that frequently retweets QAnon-related messages and uses the#WWG1WGA hashtag — a frequent rallying cry for QAnon believers that stands for the motto “where we go one, we go all.” In August, Stella’s account retweeted a post that asked people to “Retweet if you support Q.”

In Texas’ 33rd Congressional District, Republican primary candidate Rich Helms’ account has used the #WWG1WGA hashtag and retweeted andexpressed support for QAnon accounts.

In July, he or someone from his campaign responded directly to a post about QAnon with “#WWG1WGA.”

Both candidates also often show their support for Trump on Twitter.

Helms didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.

The Stella campaign said by email: “I find it appalling that NBC would work so feverishly to defend child and sex traffickers, their funders, and their enablers.”

In Texas, Republican strategist Brendan Steinhauser says the conspiracy theory has started to creep into his work with candidates.

“I’ll get emails about it,” Steinhauser said. “People come on their Facebook page, and activists will say, ‘What’s your stance on this?’ Or, ‘You heard about this, right?’”

He advises all of his clients to disavow the conspiracy theory and worries the trend will cause long-term damage to the party, especially among independent and swing voters.

“I think if they see candidates out there who are sounding crazy, that’s going to hurt the Republican brand,” Steinhauser said.

At his home in Jacksonville, Lusk, who has expressed support for Trump, said he considers Q to be a reputable source of information.

“It’s like an advanced news warning,” he said. “Like, it might come out in the mainstream media a week or two weeks later. So I think there’s a lot of inside sources, whoever this person is.”
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