Republican Sen. Ben Sasse (NE) penned an op-ed for The Atlantic in which he criticized the QAnon movement and its adherents among GOP leadership. Yet, while making some valid points about the conspiracy theory and the movement it sparked, he also helped to spread a myth about its prevalence on the right.
The left has been obsessed with QAnon since it became a relatively popular conspiracy on the right. Activist media outlets like CNN, The New York Times, Washington Post, and yes, The Atlantic have published numerous reports on the group, casting it as a threat to American society.
As I wrote previously, “the corporate press is pushing the Qanon issue so hard because it is an effective political tactic used by the media on both sides of the aisle. It is an example of ‘nutpicking’, a practice designed to discredit one’s political opponents by making it seem as if the fringe of a group somehow represents the entire movement.”
In his op-ed, Sasse is pushing the same narrative, intimating that QAnon is some massive force on the right.
The senator describes the people who participated in the riots at the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6. He writes:
The leader of that flank of the mob, later identified by the FBI as Douglas Jensen, wore a T-shirt emblazoned with a red-white-and-blue Q—the insignia of the delusional QAnon conspiracy theory. Its supporters believe that a righteous Donald Trump is leading them in a historic quest to expose the U.S. government’s capture by a global network of cannibalistic pedophiles: not just “deep state” actors in the intelligence community, but Chief Justice John Roberts and a dozen-plus senators, including me. Now Trump’s own vice president is supposedly in on it, too. According to the FBI, Jensen ‘wanted to have his T-shirt seen on video so that ‘Q’ could ‘get the credit.’’
January 6 is a new red-letter day in U.S. history, not just because it was the first time that the Capitol had been ransacked since the War of 1812, but because a subset of the invaders apparently were attempting to disrupt a constitutionally mandated meeting of Congress, kidnap the vice president, and somehow force him to declare Trump the victor in an election he lost. En route, the mob ultimately injured scores of law-enforcement officers. The attack led to the deaths of two officers and four other Americans.
Sasse then argues that QAnon is not a fringe element on the right, but a widespread force among conservatives. He writes: “the violence that Americans witnessed—and that might recur in the coming days—is not a protest gone awry or the work of ‘a few bad apples.’ It is the blossoming of a rotten seed that took root in the Republican Party some time ago and has been nourished by treachery, poor political judgment, and cowardice.”
Sasse also argues that the GOP must choose between “defending the Constitution” or become “a party of conspiracy theories, cable-news fantasies, and the ruin that comes with them.” He contends that “many party leaders and consultants thought they could preach the Constitution while winking at QAnon.”
But there is a serious problem with Sasse’s remarks: He provides no evidence demonstrating that a significant number of GOP movers and shakers support the QAnon movement. The reason why is predictable: It’s because his assertion is untrue.
The senator only provides the name of one Republican leader who openly supports the conspiracy theory. He noted that newly-elected Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene won the GOP nomination and subsequently defeated her Democrat opponent.
“Now in Congress, Greene isn’t going to just back McCarthy as leader and stay quiet. She’s already announced plans to try to impeach Joe Biden on his first full day as president. She’ll keep making fools out of herself, her constituents, and the Republican Party,” Sasse writes.
Well, he’s not totally wrong there. If Greene engages in the type of questionable grandstanding that she has before she was elected, she will make the GOP look silly if they fail to disassociate from her wacky behavior. Nevertheless, her election does not prove Sasse’s contention about the QAnon movement’s predominance on the right.
The senator then asserts that if the Republican Party is to have any influence over the direction of the country, it must first repudiate the QAnon conspiracy theory and the movement it spawned.
First, Republicans must repudiate the nonsense that has set our party on fire. Putting it out will take courage—and I don’t mean merely political courage. This week, after realizing that some Capitol insurrectionists wanted to capture the vice president, several Republican House members said privately that they believed a vote to impeach the president would put their lives, or the lives of their families, at risk.
Second, the GOP “must offer a genuine answer to the frustrations of the past decades,” according to Sasse. “Other than by indulging Trump’s fantasies about building iPhones in America, Republicans have not figured out how to address Americans’ anger about community erosion, massive dislocations in the labor force, or Big Tech’s historically unprecedented role in governing de facto public squares.”
On the second point, Sasse is correct, but it is the first point that is flawed. The reality is that the vast majority of Republicans, both in the rank-and-file and in government leadership, have rejected the QAnon conspiracy theory.
An overwhelming number of conservative politicians, pundits, and leaders have strongly denounced the violence at the Capitol and condemned the people involved. Likewise, they have not aligned themselves with the QAnon movement or expressed belief in its theories. As I stated previously, this truth is what the left and its activist media wish to distract from.
Even Sasse notes that the left is using the movement to portray the right as adherents to an outlandish conspiracy theory. “Sensing a chance at tribal expansion, some on the left are thrilled by the chaos on the right, and they’re eager to seize the moment to banish from polite society not just those who participated and encouraged violence, but anyone with an R next to his or her name,” he observes.
Unfortunately, the lawmaker either doesn’t realize, or care, that he is bolstering the false accusations that the left is making against the right.
Is the QAnon movement an issue? Sure. On the right, we must ensure that this asinine fairy tale doesn’t give the left enough ammo to paint us all as conspiracy lunatics. Still, most of us know that this fringe element by no means represents the conservative movement or the Republican Party. Instead of pretending that it is, prominent conservatives like Sasse would do better to push back against the left’s narrative regarding the right instead of helping them spread it.
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