To take back control of the U.S. House of Representatives this year, Republicans need to gain at least 17 seats. That’s a remarkably tall order, especially since there are about as many Republican and Democratic toss-up races.
It’s also Rep. Tom Emmer’s job. As chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, House Republicans’ campaign arm, the Minnesota Sixth District representative has a mandate to take back the House. To do so, Emmer and the NRCC have embraced a winning-by-any-means-necessary approach to House races: press releases trash-talking candidates regularly flood reporters’ inboxes; they’ve even gone so far as to call Jewish candidates antisemitic.
But now, under Emmer, the NRCC is going further: supporting candidates who affiliate with or explicitly support QAnon, a set of conspiracy theories that have resulted in alleged kidnappings and violence, with followers designated a potential domestic terrorist threat by the FBI.
If you’re not paying attention to the insular (but ever expanding) online world of QAnon, the baseline theory is that President Donald Trump is engaged in a secretive fight against a group of Democratic satanic cannibal-pedophiles who run the world (many of these tropes echo age-old antisemitic conspiracy theories). At the center of it all is “Q,” an anonymous online figure who QAnon believers think may be in the Trump administration (this is not substantiated).
The NRCC supports candidates who have gone on QAnon affiliated shows or expressed support for QAnon. And Emmer himself has expressed support for Marjorie Taylor Greene, a likely-to-be-elected candidate in Georgia who has expressed support for QAnon.
When asked about these associations, neither Emmer nor the NRCC responded to multiple requests for comment. But in media appearances, the group has not backed down from their support of the candidates — let alone condemned their embrace of a conspiracy theory that has inspired acts of violence.
‘Hate-driven conspiracy theories’
When Emmer was asked earlier this month about Republican candidates that support QAnon, Emmer told PBS’ Judy Woodruff that the NRCC would not tolerate hate or conspiracy theories.
“We don’t support any hate-driven conspiracy theories, no matter what the organization is,” Emmer said. “And the — the candidates that we’re focused on are in the 55 targeted districts that actually will swing the House to Republicans in 70 days.”
But Emmer has done very little, if anything at all, to distance the NRCC from QAnon.
Emmer has explicitly offered party support to Taylor Greene, who, in addition to public support for QAnon, has published a number of Islamophobic and racist posts on social media, most recently publishing an image of herself holding a gun next to Rep. Ilhan Omar, prompting death threats for the Fifth District Democrat whose district borders Emmer’s.
In August, Emmer talked about the NRCC’s support for Taylor Greene. “The conversations that we’ve had basically are congratulations and let us know how we can be of assistance,” Emmer told The Hill.
Of all the candidates who the NRCC is backing, Taylor Greene’s support of QAnon has been the most explicit. She taped a video in June telling her supporters that “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.”
The NRCC has also included several QAnon-affiliated candidates in its Young Guns program, an initiative that supports up-and-coming potential Republican members of Congress.
Some Young Gun candidates, like Madison Cawthrone, the Republican nominee for North Carolina’s Eleventh District, have repeated baseless QAnon talking points about child sex-trafficking and then denied the comments are meant to signal QAnon supporters. Others, like Colorado Third District candidate Lauren Boebert — who was congratulated by President Donald Trump for her primary win (defeating a five term Colorado Congressman Scott Tipton) — are QAnon sympathizers. She does not consider herself a follower, but she has said she is “very familiar” with the group.
In an interview earlier this year, Boebert said: “Everything that I’ve heard of Q, I hope that this is real because it only means that America is getting stronger and better, and people are returning to conservative values.” Boebert’s campaign subsequently walked her statements back, saying she did not know “everything about it” at the time she made the statements.
When Boebert won her primary, Emmer released a statement via the NRCC congratulating her, suggesting that it’s actually Democrats peddling conspiracy theories (he did not specify which ones) and that attempts to condemn Boebert for were part of “radical cancel culture.”
The NRCC’s Young Guns program also includes Burgess Owens, who won the Republican primary in Utah’s Fourth District. When Owens won, Emmer also congratulated him from the NRCC.
But Owens, too, went on a QAnon affiliated show and thanked the host for all they were doing, saying that he’s glad to be “part of the team.” Because of this, one Republican delegate and former state legislator from Utah suggested Owens should have been uninvited from the National Republican Convention. Owens’ campaign later said he had no knowledge of QAnon during the interview in question.
Will Republicans do anything?
Publicly, Republicans in Congress haven’t done much of anything about candidates like Taylor Greene entering their ranks. They have not, for exampled, pledged to bar her from committee assignments, like they did with Rep. Steve King of Iowa after years of antisemitic and racist remarks.
At least one Republican, Rep. Denver Riggleman of Virginia, is the cosponsor of a bipartisan resolution condemning QAnon. “I condemn this movement and urge all Americans to join me in taking this step to exclude them and other extreme conspiracy theories from the national discourse,” Riggleman said in a statement on the resolution. But Riggleman is not representative of his party as a whole: He was defeated in his own primary this year, after his opponent emphasized the fact that he officiated a same-sex wedding.
Others, like Minnesota state legislator Pat Garofalo, have condemned QAnon candidates in the Republican party. At least six QAnon-affiliated candidates are running for the state Legislature in Minnesota, according to the Star Tribune.
“QAnon is a crackpot conspiracy group that has zero legitimacy,” Garofalo said on Twitter. “Any candidate for office who supports or advocates QAnon nonsense is unqualified to be an elected official. The Republican party should rescind the endorsement of any candidate who supports QAnon poison.”
But no one Republican has condemned Emmer’s leadership on the topic, where he has the power to pick and choose who the Republican party designates Young Guns.
Emmer’s praise for candidates affiliated with QAnon disturbs critics like Angelo Carusone, the president of Media Matters for America, a left-leaning organization that has tracked Qanon-affiliated candidates running for Congress.
“The fact that any person at the NRCC or in any political institution who has any power and influence is giving positive accolades and embracing anyone that is not just an advocate of this, but it can be connected to the community in any way … it’s reckless and irresponsible,” said Carusone. “I don’t understand why [it] … somehow gets you on the Young Guns list and a full throated embrace from somebody like Emmer.”
“To me, when you put somebody in that category, I think it says a lot about where the party currently stands and its position on this,” said Carusone.