So “Pizza-gate” happens. It is, by any measure, bonkers. It’s not merely false, it’s a deliriously weird compilation of arbitrary lies poorly stitched together to create a bizarre narrative that cannot withstand a moment’s scrutiny or the slightest contact with reality.
But, if you’re Mitch McConnell, it also seems useful. Voters inspired by Pizza-gate are, after all, voters. And while they may not exactly be voting for Mitch and the Republican Party he leads, they’re vehemently going to be voting against Democrats, which amounts to the same thing. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. In close races across the country, Republican support from Pizza-gate voters might just be what Mitch’s party needs to win.
And so McConnell and his fellow Republicans quietly welcomed the support of voters who’d gotten caught up in the weird conspiracy delusion of Pizza-gate. They even encouraged such voters a bit with semi-deniable dogwhistles and dark hints that at times verged on suggesting there might be something to their loony-tunes beliefs.
This was a tricky business in 2016. Mitch and his fellow Republicans didn’t want to appear too close to the nuttiness of Pizza-gate lest they make themselves look nutty by association. They also worried that because Pizza-gate devotees had strayed so far from reality, they couldn’t be regarded as reliable or predictable or stable. Openly welcoming their support or openly encouraging them might backfire with voters back in reality if one of these recklessly delusional voters from the fringes went even further off the deep end. (This happened, eventually, with one Pizza-gater opening fire in a Washington, DC, restaurant demanding to see the non-existent secret tunnels in which he claimed to believe that children were being trafficked, harvested, tortured, sacrificed, and eaten by Satan-worshipping cannibalistic liberals. And then, later, another Pizza-gater sent pipe bombs to a dozen elected officials and media figures based on what he believed to be secret instructions from Donald Trump.)
Republicans in 2016 also didn’t want to direct too much attention to Pizza-gate because it undermined their main line of attack against Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, which involved nebulous dark allusions to something (it was never clear what, exactly) having to do with their emails. Pizza-gate exposed the hollowness of that attack by demonstrating that those emails were, in fact, wholly innocent. The only way to turn them into anything nefarious was to pretend they were some kind of weird “code” in which occasional dinner-time discussions of ordering pizza meant something other than hey, let’s order pizza.*
But overall, from Mitch McConnell’s point of view, courting support from Pizza-gaters worked. He kept his Senate majority. And, thanks to the dubious arithmetic of the electoral college, his party won the presidency, ensuring that he and his pals at the Federalist Society would be able to continue stocking the federal judiciary with judges who believed money has more rights than people.
The problem for Mitch, though, is that if you don’t turn away Pizza-gaters, and others like them, they won’t go away on their own. They’ll stay close. They’ll move in. They won’t just end up supporting your party, they’ll end up joining it.
This is what happens when you choose to use a useful lie. The lie becomes a part of you and instead of you using it, it starts using you.
“Pizza-gate” has now morphed into “The Storm” and “QAnon.” It’s the same lie — the same very old lie that traces its roots back to the witch panics and the ancient blood libel. (This is both its source and its trajectory — it always leads to burning witches and murdering Jews.) Satanic baby-killers yada yada.
But this lie is no longer something outside of, or on the very fringes of Mitch McConnell’s Republican Party. It now lives inside their house. And after the elections in November, it will be inside the House.
“Congratulations to future Republican Star Marjorie Taylor Greene” Donald Trump tweeted about the Georgia congressional candidate after her run-off win to secure the GOP’s nomination in her overwhelmingly Republican district.
Greene is a proud racist, anti-Muslim bigot, and antisemite. She’s also a rabid believer in the QAnon delirium. But none of that will stop her from becoming U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).
And she’s not the only one. Alex Kaplan of Media Matters has identified at least 14 Republican/QAnon candidates who will be on the ballot in November. “QAnon may be coming to Congress, and journalists need to be ready,” Parker Malloy writes:
Media Matters’ Alex Kaplan has reported extensively on the QAnon movement, and he has identified two concepts that journalists need to understand when reporting on this movement. The first has to do with QAnon-supporting candidates and the need to probe their actual beliefs. “Some of these candidates seem to see QAnon and its supporters as an explicit political constituency to appeal to for support, and are trying to use existing QAnon infrastructure to do so, such as using QAnon hashtags (particularly #WWG1WGA) and going on QAnon YouTube channels,” he says. “So they seem to be treating a far-right conspiracy theory group tied to violence and flagged by the FBI as some normal voting block when it’s clearly not.”
The second issue is that reporters often seem unaware of, or aren’t reporting on, the actual number of QAnon-supporting candidates who are progressing in their races. Kaplan says, “I keep seeing just a few specific candidates mentioned over and over regarding those who made it out of primaries or to primary runoffs (Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Jo Rae Perkins), when it’s way more than that; it’s at least 14 candidates that made it out of primaries to the ballot in November or to primary runoffs (and that’s leaving out independent/write-in candidates).”
Boebert certainly seems to fall into Kaplan’s category of QAnon candidates who may not be true believers of the conspiracy theory, but have found it politically expedient to associate themselves with it during the primary. …
We discussed Boebert’s cynical, dangerous “expedient” courting of QAnon supporters here last month. It may have helped her to win her Republican primary and it may help her get elected to Congress, where she’ll take her seat alongside Greene and other true believers in this nonsense.
This is what happens when cynical politicians welcome support from hate-groups and radical fringes and whackaloon conspiracy nutters. First they cynically welcome support from the fringe, hoping to manipulate and control it. Then they come to seek out that support. Then they come to rely on it. And then they become part of it and it becomes part of them. Mitch McConnell probably still thinks he’s pulling the strings, that he’s the puppet-master who’s using QAnon believers for his own political ends. But now they’ve got strings on him as well and he’s going to be pulled in directions he never expected.
Mitch has been through this before. The same dynamic played out with the so-called “Tea Party” nonsense after the election of America’s first black president. But for all of the absurdities and incoherent fantasies and the headaches the Tea Party Caucus caused for the GOP’s leadership, dealing with the QAnon Caucus is going to be even more of a nightmare.
This post is an extremely literal and specific warning about an actual and very real political development that will be shaping America’s political life in harmful ways in the years ahead. But I think it can also be read as a parable that local churches and national denominations might want to heed. Let those who have ears to hear, etc.
* Contrast the hacked emails from the DNC with the 2014 Sony hacks. The emails stolen from Sony executives were also largely banal, but sifting through them turned up a few nuggets in which studio workers said insulting things behind other people’s backs, exposed some horribly sexist attitudes and pay arrangements, and shed light on some of the studio’s dubious lobbying agenda. People lost their jobs at Sony. Some were fired, some were forced to resign in disgrace. The substance of those stolen emails proved to be hugely damaging and shameful for Sony. The substance of the emails stolen from the DNC, by contrast, proved only that campaign workers don’t tend to stick to healthy diets.