Donald Trump’s defeat in the presidential election – and subsequent failure to triumphantly return to the presidency in March – crushed believers of the false QAnon conspiracy theory. Many realized that “trust the plan” wasn’t working out for them, as Q had promised since it first appeared in 2017, and decided to take action themselves. An article just published in Time Magazine takes an in-depth look at the disturbing trend of QAnon adherents becoming local government leaders.
One poster wrote on a QAnon message board in January, “Wondering when we’re going to realize what’s really happened blatantly in front of our eyeballs and start making moves locally.” Another urged “fellow patriots” to begin with city councils and school boards: “to not just hold the line but make some headway into the local governments.”
From Michigan to California, and Nevada to Washington State, dozens of recently elected local officials have promoted elements of the outlandish Internet conspiracy theory. Mayors, school board and town council members who believe that Trump is a messianic figure battling deep-state operatives, Democratic politicians and Hollywood celebrities who molest and murder children are now making important decisions in their local governments.
In Grand Blanc, Mich., Amy Facchinello, who shared posts saying the COVID-19 pandemic is a dark plot engineered by Bill Gates and while George Floyd’s killing was “exposed as deep state psyop,” is now one of seven people in charge of shaping education in that small town outside of Flint.
In Las Vegas, Katie Williams was elected to the seven-member board of the Clark County school district, which is the fifth largest in the country, with more than 300,000 children. Williams has been nicknamed #Qatie by local critics for her numerous posts of QAnon conspiracies. “Wayfair is selling children and if you don’t believe that you’re probably voting for Joe Biden,” she tweeted last July, one of several posts amplifying a preposterous theory that the online retailer was trafficking children inside cabinets.
Tito Ortiz, a former Ultimate Fighting champion and longtime Trump supporter, ran for and won a seat on the city council of Huntington Beach, Calif. His politics is a mix of Trump-style goading and open support for conspiracies, including QAnon. He campaigned to “Make Huntington Beach safe again,” promised to save the city from Black Lives Matter protesters and antifa. He has refused to wear a mask and called COVID-19 a “political scam” and form of “population control by the left.”
A little over 200 miles north in San Luis Obispo, Calif., a 73-year-old retired teacher named Eve Dobler-Drew in November won a seat on the San Luis Coastal Unified School District’s board, overseeing 7,500 students. She had previously shared QAnon conspiracy videos, called Melinda Gates “satanic,” claimed that George Soros had paid racial-justice protesters and pushed disinformation about LGBTQ “conversion” therapy.
In Sequim, Wash., the mayor’s enthusiastic promotion of QAnon has shaken up the town of 6,600 on the Olympic Peninsula. Last August, Mayor William Armacost urged listeners of the radio program Coffee With the Mayor to seek out a YouTube video about the conspiracy. A local salon owner who has served as mayor since January 2020, Armacost called QAnon a “movement that encourages you to think for yourself” and praised “patriots from all over the world fighting for humanity, truth, freedom and saving children.”
It’s impossible to estimate how many elected officials believe in QAnon or have promoted its theories in the past. But in the 2020 election at least two dozen Republican candidates who embrace the conspiracy ran for congressional seats and two won: Marjorie Taylor Greene in Georgia and Lauren Boebert in Colorado. The fear is that victories by national politicians like Greene and Boebert will only encourage more QAnon believers to seek local elected office.
“The long-term impacts are really dangerous,” Jared Holt, a disinformation researcher at the Atlantic Council said to Time. “We’re supposed to have our leaders make decisions based on shared sets of facts. If we decide that for elected officials to believe in an outlandish byzantine conspiracy theory like QAnon is O.K., then the door is effectively left open for that shared sense of understanding to further erode.”
Graham Brookie, the director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab is much more blunt about the issue. “This trend of local officials who have a lot of direct authority over decisions in their communities using disinformation as a strategy to get those positions is toxic and dangerous,” he said.