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Republicans are stoking QAnon conspiracy fires — and we're all paying for it

QAnon conspiracies bear uncomfortable proximity to many mainstream right-wing beliefs about Jan. 6.
Image: Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the US Capitol
Brent Stirton / Getty Images; MSNBC

Supporters of QAnon, the conspiracy theory that Democratic politicians are Satan-worshiping pedophiles and that former President Donald Trump’s mission in the White House was to stop them, have a new outlandish hypothesis: that the police officers who died by suicide after surviving the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol have in fact been covertly murdered by the deep state.

Both Republicans and QAnon are peddling evidence-free conspiracy theories, it’s just that QAnon’s go a bit further.

In a sane world, it should go without saying that this is not just false, but also absurd and dangerous. But unfortunately it does not go without saying — and that’s in part because of mainstream right-wing disinformation surrounding the riot and the election.

Both Republicans and QAnon are peddling evidence-free conspiracy theories, it’s just that QAnon’s go a bit further. Political and media elites on the mainstream right are creating a climate in which the very idea of a knowable, shared reality is becoming extinct, and only in-groups can be trustworthy sources.

In this environment, it’s only natural for QAnon conspiracies — which about a quarter of Republicans subscribe to — to flourish and evolve. To that point, the latest QAnon theory stands out less for how strange it is than for how closely it tracks with the way that Republicans have framed what happened Jan. 6.

Vice News reports that QAnon influencers and adherents have been discussing the addition to the conspiracy theory online and on fringe right-wing media sites in recent days. It appears to be a response to the fact that on Monday, authorities announced that two more police officers who responded to the insurrection have died from suicide.

Where most people see tragedy stemming from trauma and neglect, the QAnon world sees proof of a shadowy effort to silence whistleblowers.

“What’s going on? Obviously, one is weird. Two is very weird. Three, anything more than three is really statistically impossible,” QAnon supporter DeAnna Lorraine, who ran unsuccessfully against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in her district last year, said on an independent right-wing talk show. “Something very weird is happening here. And I think that we can safely assume that these are not suicides. I mean, come on, we’re not stupid. We’ve seen this time and time again.”

Lorraine goes on to say that “Nancy Pelosi and the deep state” somehow “scripted” the riot, paying officers to testify afterward and then getting rid of those who might act as whistleblowers. “Maybe the ones that really know the full scoop of this and potentially were about to come forward with evidence that debunks this entire hoax, maybe they are the ones that were offed,” she said.

Lorraine of course has no evidence for her claim, but it’s still important to refute her point about the improbability of the event. There is of course nothing “impossible” about a few people committing suicide out of many hundreds of officers deployed to the Capitol that day.

Where most people see tragedy stemming from trauma and neglect, the QAnon world sees proof of a shadowy effort to silence whistleblowers.

Countless officers were brutally injured by a hateful mob and one collapsed and died after sustaining serious injuries. The experiences of that day — and anger at the circumstances that produced it — contributed to an uptick in resignations among Capitol Police officers. Many officers report being haunted by the trauma of being swarmed by a violent crowd and narrowly avoiding death. And as we know from high suicide rates among veterans of war, trauma can often have lethal consequences for those who survive it.

But more chillingly, Lorraine’s comments stand out for their proximity to many mainstream right-wing beliefs about Jan. 6 which have been cultivated by the GOP and powerful conservative media networks. The third-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, Elise Stefanik, recently said that “Nancy Pelosi bears responsibility as speaker of the House for the tragedy that occurred on Jan. 6,” and deemed Pelosi “an authoritarian who has broken the people’s house.” She was hoping to capitalize on debunked falsehoods about Pelosi’s responsibility for the security situation at the Capitol that day.

Many Republicans have relentlessly advanced the false claim that left-wing protesters or Black Lives Matter are to blame for the Jan. 6 attack. Those falsehoods have gained traction: A Yahoo News/YouGov poll from May showed that 73 percent of Republicans believe that “left-wing protesters trying to make Trump look bad” bear some or a great deal of responsibility for the riot. That poll is not an outlier.

And Fox News hosts have also stoked the fire — like Laura Ingraham, who described police officers as giving theatrical “performances” when testifying before Congress about the attacks. While this isn’t the same thing as saying the attacks were orchestrated by the deep state, it’s not hard to see how, combined with all the other myth-making about who was protesting and who was responsible for security, people are thinking even the suicides are fake.

When Trump's term ended, it technically should've been a blow to QAnon forecasts that he would remain in office despite losing the election. But it hasn't been hard for QAnon supporters to stick with their belief system in an environment in which the mainstream right paints everything their opponents do as a hoax.