As hopes fade for a bipartisan inquiry into the Capitol riot in Washington on January 6th, it’s increasingly clear that the Republican base remains in thrall to the web of untruths spun by Donald Trump – and perhaps even more outlandish lies, beyond those of the former president’s making.
A US federal judge warned in an opinion on Wednesday that Mr Trump’s insistence on the “big lie” – that the November presidential election was stolen from him – still posed a serious threat.
Presiding over the case of a man accused of storming Congress on January 6th, Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the US District Court in Washington wrote: “The steady drumbeat that inspired defendant to take up arms has not faded away. Six months later, the canard that the election was stolen is being repeated daily on major news outlets and from the corridors of power in state and federal government, not to mention in the near-daily fulminations of the former president.”
But it’s not just the notion that the election was stolen that has caught on with the former president’s supporters. QAnon, an outlandish and ever-evolving conspiracy theory spread by some of Mr Trump’s most ardent followers, has significant traction with a segment of the public – particularly Republicans and Americans who consume news from far-right sources.
Those are the findings of a poll released on Thursday by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Interfaith Youth Core, which found that 15 per cent of Americans say they think that the levers of power are controlled by a cabal of Satan-worshipping paedophiles, a core belief of QAnon supporters.
The same share said it was true that “American patriots may have to resort to violence” to depose the paedophiles and restore the country’s rightful order.
And fully 20 per cent of respondents said that they thought a biblical-scale storm would soon sweep away these evil elites and “restore the rightful leaders”.
“These are words I never thought I would write into a poll question, or have the need to, but here we are,” Robby Jones, founder of PRRI, said in an interview.
The teams behind the poll determined that 14 per cent of Americans fall into the category of “QAnon believers”, composed of those who agreed with the statements in all three questions.
Among Republicans only, that rises to roughly 1 in 4. (Twelve per cent of independents and 7 per cent of Democrats were categorised as QAnon believers.)
But the analysts went a level further: They created a category labelled “QAnon doubters” to include respondents who had said they “mostly disagreed” with the outlandish statements, but didn’t reject them outright. Another 55 per cent of Republicans fell into this more ambivalent category.
Which means that just 1 in 5 Republicans fully rejected the premises of the QAnon conspiracy theory.
For Democrats, 58 per cent were flat-out QAnon rejecters. Jones said he was struck by the prevalence of QAnon’s adherents. Overlaying the share of poll respondents who expressed belief in its core principles over the country’s total population, “that’s more than 30 million people”, he said.
“Thinking about QAnon, if it were a religion, it would be as big as all white evangelical Protestants, or all white mainline Protestants,” he added. “So it lines up there with a major religious group.”
He also noted the correlation between belief in QAnon’s fictions and the conviction that armed conflict would be necessary. “It’s one thing to say that most Americans laugh off these outlandish beliefs, but when you take into consideration that these beliefs are linked to a kind of apocalyptic thinking and violence, then it becomes something quite different,” he said.
The Public Religion Research Institute and the Interfaith Youth Core found a strong correlation between where people get their news and how much they believe in QAnon’s ideas.
Among those who said they most trusted far-right news outlets, such as One America News Network and Newsmax, 2 in 5 qualified as full-on QAnon believers. Fully 48 per cent of these news consumers said they expected a storm to wipe away the elites soon.
That puts these news consumers far out of alignment with the rest of the country – even fans of the conservative-leaning Fox News. Among respondents who preferred Fox News above other sources, 18 per cent were QAnon believers.
Mr Trump himself has avoided saying much about QAnon, but when he was pressed to denounce the theory while in office, he refused. At a news conference last year, he seemed to indicate that he was pleased by QAnon followers’ fondness for him. “I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate,” he said, adding that “the movement” was “gaining in popularity”.
While QAnon followers continue to be a minority among Republicans, some of the party’s most visible figures – and most successful fundraisers – have publicly flirted with the conspiracy theory. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is on a speaking tour with Matt Gaetz, expressed support for QAnon before she was elected; she has since publicly walked that back. Ms Greene raised upward of $3 million in the first quarter of this year, an uncommonly huge sum, especially for a first-term lawmaker in a nonelection year.
The PRRI/IFYC poll was conducted in March, among 5,625 respondents to Ipsos’s probability-based Knowledge Panel. It was analysed this spring and released on Thursday.
Those who expressed belief in QAnon’s premises were also far more likely than others to say they believe in other conspiracy theories, the poll found. Four in 10 said they thought that “the Covid-19 vaccine contains a surveillance microchip that is the sign of the beast in biblical prophecy”. – New York Times