Congressional Republicans came a step closer Tuesday to welcoming into their ranks a promoter of the QAnon conspiracy theory, whose adherents believe President Donald Trump is battling a cabal of "deep state" saboteurs who worship Satan and traffic children for sex.
Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has endorsed the baseless theory and made a slew of other racist remarks on video, won a Republican primary runoff in Georgia's 14th Congressional District, according to The Associated Press. Her victory, in a northwestern swath of the state that has favored Republicans by wide margins, sets her up to become QAnon's first devotee in Congress.
Trump tweeted congratulations to Greene on Wednesday morning, saying she is "strong on everything and never gives up - a real WINNER!" He did not endorse in the runoff.
Greene, who owns a construction company jointly with her husband, defeated John Cowan, a neurosurgeon. She will face Democrat Kevin Van Ausdal, an IT specialist, in November.
GOP leaders, whose standard-bearer rose to political prominence on the basis of a conspiracy theory about Barack Obama's birthplace, have watched her ascent with some unease. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., the House Republican whip, endorsed her primary opponent. Republican members of Georgia's delegation privately urged the party's House leader, Kevin McCarthy of California, to do more to intervene in the race, according to multiple GOP aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the conversations.
"There are a lot of members livid at McCarthy for sitting back and doing nothing to stop this woman from being elected while the entire Georgia delegation, Scalise and some moderates tried" to help her opponent, said one House Republican aide closely monitoring the race. A spokesman for McCarthy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, rebuked Greene for racist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic remarks that came to light in June, but a spokesman for the House Republican fundraising arm declined to say Tuesday whether the group would back its nominee.
The elevation of Greene to federal office would mark a watershed for adherents of QAnon, which the FBI has identified as a potential domestic terrorism threat. The convoluted pro-Trump philosophy took shape on internet message boards in the fall of 2017, with posts from a self-proclaimed government insider identified as "Q." The worldview has been core to numerous violent acts, according to law enforcement, including two killings, a kidnapping, vandalism of a church and a heavily armed standoff near the Hoover Dam.
Above all, the theory's devotees crave recognition from Trump and his allies, making a congressional victory a mark of legitimacy. At the same time, they seek the exposure of what they believe is a vast conspiracy at the heart of the American government, as well as the mass arrest of those complicit in it - mainly Democrats, celebrities and members of the media.
If the placement of a presumed ally within the halls of power does not bring about that result, experts noted, QAnon could lose credibility, even for some of its most fervent followers.
"If there is evidence in support of QAnon, then Greene should be expected to disclose it," said Ethan Porter, a professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University. "If she is unable to do so, she should be called for what she is: a reactionary fabulist."
Greene, in a victory speech Tuesday night, lambasted the "Republican establishment," in addition to Democrats and the news media, according to a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution who said he was quickly escorted from her campaign's celebration. The nominee singled out House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., calling her "anti-American" and adding, "We're going to kick that b---- out of Congress," according to the reporter.
Greene's campaign manager, Isaiah Wartman, did not respond to a request for comment. An email to the state party's executive director, Stewart Bragg, also went unanswered.
Greene, however, has been unequivocal about her views, including on the sprawling conspiracy theory movement that follows the online prophecies of Q.
"Q is a patriot," Greene said in a video posted on YouTube this summer. "We know that for sure."
Greene said that while the identity of the pseudonymous figure remained unknown to her, signs that the cryptic online hints were making their way to the president gave her hope.
"There's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take this global cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles out, and I think we have the president to do it," she said.
Twitter recently took action against the conspiracy theory, including by eliminating more than 7,000 accounts. Facebook is also weighing new action, a representative said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing deliberations.
Greene is among numerous pro-Trump congressional candidates who have expressed faith in QAnon. Most, however, stand little chance of being elected because their districts are deep blue. Colorado's Lauren Boebert, who defeated Rep. Scott R. Tipton in a June primary, told an interviewer that the conspiracy theory meant "a lot of things to different people" but that she does not personally support it. Her rural district is heavily Republican, but Democrats are targeting it in November.
In Greene's district, where Trump won by 53 percentage points in 2016, her Democratic opponent faces an uphill climb to keep her from Congress. Van Ausdal's campaign manager, Vinnie Olsziewski, said he would like the race to focus on local issues but knows the candidates are now under a national spotlight.
"What she says, it speaks for itself," Olsziewski said of the Republican candidate. "We are not going to get down in the mud and stoop to that level."
Though the contests are distinct, he said he was studying the 2017 special election for Senate in Alabama, in which Democrat Doug Jones pulled off an unlikely victory against the Republican nominee, Roy Moore, who was dogged by allegations that he had made sexual advances toward teenagers when he was in his 30s.
In that race, Moore, a former state judge twice removed from office, was abandoned by his party's Senate campaign arm.
Republicans on Capitol Hill have yet to take similar action against Greene, though some did speak out against her when Politico unearthed hours of Facebook videos in which she spewed offensive remarks. In the videos, she said Black people are "held slaves to the Democratic Party" and called the election in 2018 of the first two Muslim women to Congress evidence of an "Islamic invasion of our government." She described George Soros, the liberal investor and Holocaust survivor, as a "Nazi himself trying to continue what was not finished."
Those comments were met with condemnation from Republican leaders. Emmer said he was "personally disgusted" by her rhetoric. Scalise called her comments "disgusting." McCarthy's office said in June he was appalled, though he did not choose a side in the primary.
In fact, Greene said in a recent video interview that McCarthy remained supportive of her. "Well, actually, I've spoken with Kevin McCarthy several times since then, and we have a great relationship," she said, according to a recording reviewed by The Washington Post.
In a statement addressing the controversy, Greene brushed off the criticism.
"Every Republican, every Christian Conservative is going to be called a racist and a bigot by the Fake News Media, as have Steve Scalise and Liz Cheney," she asserted. "I'm sorry my future colleagues are unable to stand up to the pressure and fight back."