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Nearly 200 years ago, another QAnon-like conspiracy propelled its believers into Congress

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Nearly 200 years ago, another QAnon-like conspiracy propelled its believers into Congress

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  • The QAnon conspiracy has spread through American culture, and several of its aherants are poised to compete for seats in Congress later this year.
  • This may seem like a new trend in American politics, but it isn’t the first time candidates have promoted conspiracies as part of their platform to win seats in Congress, writes anthropologist Sophie Bjork-James.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Republican congressional primary win in Georgia ensures, in all likelihood, that the heavily Republican district will be represented by a QAnon conspiracy theorist in the 117th Congress.

But Greene was just one of several primary candidates who embraced the conspiracy, which coincides with the trend of “Q” paraphernalia appearing at Republican rallies.

The conspiracy originated in 2017, when a mysterious poster named “Q” began posting to the internet message board 4chan. Q soon amassed a following, but it wasn’t until the pandemic that its popularity exploded. Q’s near-daily posts detail the existence of a satanic cabal of pedophiles that secretly control the government and other institutions. They promise that the enterprise, run by Democrats and celebrities, will soon be taken down by Trump.

This may sound like a new development — some might say a new low — in American politics. But it isn’t the first time candidates have promoted conspiracies as part of their platform to win seats in Congress.

In the 1820s, an anti-Masonic conspiracy theory dominated politics in the Northeast. It even birthed a political party, the Anti-Masonic Party, which ended up holding its own presidential convention and nominating the United States’ first third-party candidate.

A mysterious disappearance

Freemason symbol handshake

Two French freemasons shake hands inside a masonic temple in Suresnes, west of Paris, May 27, 2019.

LUCAS BARIOULET/AFP via Getty Images


The Freemasons was founded as an upper-class fraternal organization in early-18th century Britain. Membership quickly grew, and many influential American politicians and thinkers — including Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and Paul Revere — joined the ranks.

Its secretive nature, elaborate rituals and the wealth and power of its members made the Masons fodder for conspiracy theorists from the start. Because it often challenged the power of the church, conspiracies against the Masons have tended to frame the group as anti-Christian or even satanic.

In 1798, British author John Robison published a text arguing a secret cabal of Freemasons had formed a group called “the Illuminati,” which peddled a philosophy of “cosmo-politism” bent on subverting all religions and resisting state authority.

In the United States, anti-Masonic fervor took hold following the disappearance and presumed killing of a Mason, William Morgan, in the 1820s. Morgan had vowed to publish a book exposing Masonic secrets. Local members urged Morgan to stop the book project; when he refused, they had him arrested for a debt of under $3.

After being released on bail, he was never seen again. It was widely believed that local Masons killed him to in order to prevent him from publishing their secret rituals.

Freemasons anti-Masonic party

An apron contrasts the ideals of the Freemasons with the “darkness” and “ignorance” of the Anti-Masonic Party.

Corbis Historical via Getty Images


Anger at the purported killing and cover-up led to widespread criticism of secret societies and to the formation of a new political party, the Anti-Masonic Party.

Running on a platform against corruption, immorality and elitism, the party won 15 state legislative seats in 1827, and its ranks swelled thanks to an organized media campaign. At one point, party backers were publishing 35 weekly newspapers and dozens of party members were elected to Congress in the 1830s.

The movement was most popular in the Northeast, especially in areas that had been heavily impacted by evangelical revivals. Evangelicals were drawn to its critique of sinful behaviors, while members of the working class liked the party’s anti-elitist rhetoric.

During the presidential election of 1832, the Anti-Masonic Party opposed President Andrew Jackson, who was a Mason, and had planned to support his opponent, Henry Clay. But after members found out that Clay was also a Mason, the party went on to back a third-party candidate, William Wirt. The anti-Masons hosted their own convention, and Wirt received 8% of the presidential vote.

After the election, the Anti-Masonic Party merged with former Republicans to form the Whig Party, which would become a force in American politics for several decades. A number of prominent Whigs, from former President Millard Fillmore to former New York Gov. William Seward, were originally members of the Anti-Masonic Party.

Enter: Q

qanon trump supporter

A person holds a banner referring to the Qanon conspiracy theory during an alt-right rally in Portland, Oregon, August 17, 2019.

Stephanie Keith/Getty Images


Investigative journalist Chip Berlet, who has written extensively about the spread of conspiracy theories, has pointed out that many of the conspiracies tied to American politics contain similar threads. Everyday Americans tend to be “held down by a secretive group of wealthy elites” who manipulate “corrupt politicians, mendacious journalists, propagandizing schoolteachers and nefarious bankers.”

Like the anti-Masonic conspiracies, QAnon followers believe that a secretive group of elites is secretly controlling social institutions for satanic ends. The conspiracy also portends a “Great Awakening,” during which the masses will finally grasp the existence of the depraved cabal and bring it to justice.

The Anti-Masonic Party understood the importance of leveraging the media in order to reach a wider audience. Likewise, QAnon adherents have used social media platforms as digital megaphones. Facebook and Twitter recently banned QAnon groups and content, but only after their platforms helped the movement grow exponentially. A recent study conducted by Facebook found that QAnon-affiliated groups on the platform had millions of members.

There’s an important difference between the two conspiracies, however. The Freemasons are actually a secret society. Their influence may have been overstated, but they nonetheless represented an actual group of people, many of whom have held positions of power.

The cabal described by QAnon loops in individuals who have long been targeted by conspiracy theorists, from George Soros to Jeffrey Epstein. Anyone, really, can be accused of being part of the satanic ring, and it becomes that much more difficult to argue with the conspiracies to either prove an individual’s innocence or disprove the conspiracy.

Media attention backfires

Marjorie Taylor Greene

Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Screenshot via Marjorie Taylor Greene/YouTube


Political scientist Michael Barkun describes conspiracy theories as “stigmatized knowledge,” in which attempts to invalidate the claims only reinforce the beliefs among followers, who see these efforts as proof that those in power want the theories muzzled. This is the same impetus that no doubt helped transform the unsolved mystery of William Morgan’s disappearance into a nationwide political movement.

QAnon discussions frequently blame the mainstream media for intentionally discrediting them in order to prop up the cabal. Under a YouTube video explaining Q, one commenter wrote, “‘Conspiracy Theory’ is CIA-speak for ‘Uh-oh! They KNOW!'” A poster on “Q Research Forum” wondered “where is the journalist who will do a ‘what the [mainstream media] won’t tell you about Q’ story?”

A 2019 Emerson poll found that 5% of Americans believe in QAnon. This might seem like a small number. But elections can serve as important platforms to expand movements. At their most basic level, they expose more voters to individuals who hold certain beliefs and ideas.

Even a small group of motivated conpiracists can have an outsize effect on broader society, as in the anti-Masonic Party, and increasing representation in elected officials can end up legitimizing fringe beliefs. This is particularly true if those politicians, like Greene, are maligned by both the media and the political establishment.

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]

Sophie Bjork-James, Assistant Professor of the Practice in Anthropology, Vanderbilt University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Sanders and Schumer call on McConnell to hold hearings to fight election conspiracy theories – KTVZ

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Sanders and Schumer call on McConnell to hold hearings to fight election conspiracy theories - KTVZ

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Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York are calling on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to create a new bipartisan committee focused on election integrity and schedule hearings to reassure Americans over a process President Donald Trump has repeatedly sought to undermine.

There is growing anxiety among Democrats, and some Republicans, that Trump will not only continue to sow doubt over the legitimacy of the coming election but throw the subsequent count into chaos by declaring victory before all the votes can be tallied, including the millions that will arrive by mail.

In a letter to McConnell, Sanders and Schumer quote back the Kentucky senator’s own words, in which he attested to the reliability of mail-in voting by citing its successes in Oregon, Washington and Colorado, which have been using the system for years.

Trump has repeatedly questioned the validity of mail-in voting, promoted conspiracy theories questioning election security, called on supporters to act as unsanctioned “poll watchers,” and suggested that the absence of a clear result by the evening of November 3 would in some way cast doubt on the eventual outcome. Key allies in powerful positions, like Attorney General Bill Barr, have followed suit. Barr has persisted in puffing up a debunked claim that ballots received by mail would somehow strip the sender of their privacy — ignoring well-established safeguards.

By escalating the matter now, Sanders and Schumer are responding to growing concern, in partisan and nonpartisan spaces, that Americans are not adequately prepared for the potential of a longer-than-usual wait for results or Trump’s willingness to short-circuit the democratic process if he smells defeat.

“Democrats and Republicans in Congress must come together to ensure that we have a free and fair election where every vote is cast and counted without intimidation,” Sanders told CNN, “where no one has to put his or her health in danger to cast a ballot, and where we have full confidence in the results.”

The proposed hearings would invite a cross-section of election officials from across the country to testify to the security and reliability of mail-in, early- and in-person voting — subjects on which Sanders and Schumer, again, referenced McConnell’s own words.

“Despite the clear security of our vote-by-mail system, some have continued to undermine it with unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud,” they wrote. “As you have correctly said, people ‘can vote early, you can vote on Election Day, or you can drop it in the mail,’ and that voters should ‘not worry about your vote not counting.’”

The minority leader and Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, also want more detailed discussion about the fraught hours, or days, after the polls close and a real-time watch of the election horse race potentially swings from one candidate to another.

“We know a number of states may well be counting ballots for a period of time after Election Day, and that those votes may be determinative in this election,” the senators wrote to McConnell. “To avoid disinformation, conspiracy theories, and suspicion about results, we must understand the likely timeline for this process.”

The letter goes on to reference the recent war games-style preparations conducted by a group called the Transition Integrity Project, a bipartisan gathering of operatives and academics that made headlines when some of the outcomes of their exercises — including “both street-level violence and political impasse” — were reported on in late July.

“A bipartisan group of experts and officials have studied multiple scenarios where the outcome of the election was not immediately known. Some of these scenarios resulted in unrest and even violence,” Sanders and Schumer wrote, suggesting the Senate should elevate similar discussions and familiarize the public with the uncertainties ahead. “We would like to hear from the most knowledgeable people in the country as to how we can do everything possible to make sure that the election and the period afterward is secure and peaceful.”

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HHS official sorry for conspiracy theory video

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HHS official sorry for conspiracy theory video

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HHS supported Caputo, with a statement that called him a critical, integral part of the presidents coronavirus response, leading on public messaging as Americans need public health information to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic.

There was no immediate statement from the White House.

Attempts to reach Caputo were unsuccessful.

On Capitol Hill, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., called on Azar to fire Caputo, accusing the spokesman of trying to interfere with CDC reports to the medical and scientific community, as well as the public at large. And Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called on Azar himself to resign, citing interference with the CDC as one example of what he termed the administration’s failures.

Officials at CDC have privately complained of recent efforts by political appointees at main HHS to try to edit or press for changes in the agency’s weekly MMWR publications, a go-to resource for public health professionals.

MMWR articles are technical, but they reveal telling details. One published earlier this year noted that while Trump’s travel restrictions dramatically reduced travel from China in February, nothing was being done at that time to restrict travel from Italy and Europe, where the coronavirus was spreading widely and rapidly. Analysis of virus samples from hard-hit New York in March suggested it was introduced there from Europe and other parts of the U.S., the CDC article reported.

Caputo is an unswerving Trump loyalist. His recent book, The Ukraine Hoax, claims the presidents phony impeachment was rooted in a vast conspiracy.

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unwinona:This is exactly what conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers have done with their HIV/AIDS…

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unwinona:This is exactly what conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers have done with their HIV/AIDS...

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My RSS Feedunwinona:

This is exactly what conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers have done with their HIV/AIDS and Polio narrative (among others), only we’re seeing it escalated to weeks and months instead of years or decades.

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