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'QAnon' conspiracy theory creeps into mainstream politics – The Associated Press

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — President Donald Trump was more than halfway through his speech at a rally in Milwaukee when one of his hand gestures caught the eye of a supporter standing in the packed arena.

The 51-year-old woman believed the president had traced the shape of the letter “Q” with his fingers as a covert signal to followers of QAnon, a right-wing, pro-Trump conspiracy theory. She turned to the couple on her right and excitedly asked, “Did you see the ‘Q’?”

“He just did it?” asked Diane Jacobson, 63, of Racine, Wisconsin.

“Was that a ‘Q’?” added Jacobson’s husband, Randy, 64.

“I think it was,” replied their new friend, Chrisy. The Geneva, Illinois, resident declined to give her last name in part because she said she wanted to avoid negative “attention.”

The Jacobsons met Chrisy and her husband, Paul, hours earlier in the line to get into the Jan 14 rally. The couples bonded over their shared interest in QAnon, which centers on the baseless belief that Trump is waging a secret campaign against enemies in the “deep state” and a child sex trafficking ring run by satanic pedophiles and cannibals.

What started as an online obsession for the far-right fringe has grown beyond its origins in a dark corner of the internet. QAnon has been creeping into the mainstream political arena for more than a year. The trend shows no sign of abating as Trump fires up his reelection campaign operation, attracting a loyal audience of conspiracy theorists and other fringe groups to his raucous rallies.

Trump has retweeted QAnon-promoting accounts. Followers flock to Trump’s rallies wearing clothes and hats with QAnon symbols and slogans. At least 23 current or former congressional candidates in the 2020 election cycle have endorsed or promoted QAnon, according to the liberal watchdog Media Matters for America, which compiled online evidence to support its running tally.

Conspiracy theorists aren’t the only fringe characters drawn to Trump rallies. The Oath Keepers, an anti-government group formed in 2009 after President Barack Obama’s election, has been sending “security volunteers” to escort Trump supporters at rallies across the country.

University of California, Davis history professor Kathryn Olmsted, author of a book called “Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War I to 9/11,” said it’s unclear whether QAnon has attracted more believers than other conspiracy theories that have intersected with U.S. politics.

“What’s different now is that there are people in power who are spreading this conspiracy theory,” she said, adding that Trump’s conspiracy-minded rhetoric seems to fire up part of his base. “Finally, there is someone saying they’re not crazy.”

Conspiracy theories are nothing new, but experts fear the powerful engine of social media and a volatile political climate have ramped up the threat of violence. An FBI bulletin in May warned that conspiracy theory-driven extremists have become a domestic terrorism threat. The bulletin specifically mentions QAnon.

A Trump campaign spokeswoman and a White House spokesman didn’t respond to emails seeking comment. Asked about QAnon in 2018, then-White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump “condemns and denounces any group that would incite violence against another individual.” Some major Trump supporters, including former White House aide Sebastian Gorka, have denounced QAnon.

For more than two years, followers have pored over a tangled set of clues purportedly posted online by a high-ranking government official known only as “Q.” Many followers believe the late John F. Kennedy Jr. is a Trump supporter who faked his death in a 1999 plane crash. Another core belief is that thousands of deep state operatives and top Democrats, including Hillary Clinton and Obama, will be rounded up and sent to Guantanamo Bay during an event called “The Storm.”

The first Q “drop” appeared on the 4chan imageboard in October 2017. The messages migrated to 8chan until a string of mass shootings by gunmen who posted manifestos on the site led to it getting forced offline in August. The disruption, which ended when the imageboard relaunched in November under the new name 8kun, hardly spelled the end of QAnon.

Travis View, a conspiracy theory researcher who co-hosts The QAnon Anonymous Podcast and has written about QAnon for the Washington Post under his pseudonym, said the sense of community forged by QAnon believers has helped it endure beyond the life span of other conspiracy theories.

“People in the QAnon community feel like they are banding together to uncover the real truth behind the scenes,” said View, who works as a marketer for a San Diego company and says he uses the pseudonym to protect himself. His acerbic comments about what he calls an “apocalyptic political cult” have earned him more than 20,000 followers on Twitter and vitriol from QAnon believers.

Before Trump’s rally in Milwaukee, thousands waited in line for hours to enter the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panther Arena. Some wore apparel adorned with a “Q” or “WWG1WGA,” which stands for the QAnon slogan, “Where we go one, we go all.”

The frigid, gloomy weather didn’t dampen the spirits of QAnon follower Donna Shank, 50, of Burlington, Wisconsin. Shank, who said she voted for Obama in 2008, was ambivalent about politics before she stumbled across QAnon online and joined Facebook groups to learn more.

“I just woke up,” she said. “I was a sheep. I followed anything and everything.”

Diane Jacobson attached a pink “Q” and a blue “Q” to the back of her black “Make America Great Again” hat. She and her husband were eager to attend their first Trump rally.

“Trump is trying to tell us, to the best he can without compromising intelligence, what’s really going on,” she said.

Jacobson knows many people, including some of her relatives, scoff at QAnon.

“You really can’t argue with them,” she said.

Jacobson celebrated with her new friend, Chrisy, when the doors to the downtown arena opened.

“All these people believe me! I’m not crazy here!” Chrisy shouted.

Hours later, during Trump’s speech, Chrisy’s husband, Paul, grinned when the president said “the whole world is watching” what’s happening with protesters in Iran.

“That’s a Q reference,” Paul said, noting the phrase “the world is watching” has appeared several times in Q drops.

The May 30 bulletin sent by the FBI’s Phoenix field office warned of conspiracy theories inspiring violence by groups and “individual extremists,” according to an October court filing for a QAnon-related criminal investigation in Colorado. Police in the Denver suburb of Parker said Cynthia Abcug was accused of conspiring with QAnon supporters to kidnap her son from foster care. Abcug was arrested in Montana on Dec. 30 and awaits extradition to Colorado.

Internet-fueled conspiracies already have been linked to acts of real-world violence. A man charged with killing the reputed boss of the Gambino crime family last March showed off a QAnon symbol scrawled on his left hand during a court appearance. In 2017, a North Carolina man was sentenced to prison for firing a rifle in a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant at the center of the debunked “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory that high-profile Democrats run a child sex trafficking ring out of the restaurant’s (nonexistent) basement.

Pizzagate and other far-right conspiracy theories have faded, but experts see no end in sight to QAnon’s popularity.

Nancy Rosenblum, a Harvard University professor emeritus of ethics in politics and government, said the apocalyptic nature of the QAnon narrative resonates with those who want to believe that their political enemies will be vanquished and a better future will rise from the ashes.

“What makes it unique is that Trump is the chosen one,” said Rosenblum, co-author of the book “A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy.”

___

Associated Press reporter Colleen Slevin in Denver contributed to this report.

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Follow Michael Kunzelman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Kunzelman75

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Why Wisconsin Is the Most Fascinating State in American Politics – The New York Times

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What happens there in November will offer a preview of the political brawls to come.

Wisconsin has long been a crucible of American politics. It remains so now.

It’s where two once-powerful senators, Joseph McCarthy and Robert La Follette, defined two of the major themes we still see playing out today — what the historian Richard Hofstadter called the “paranoid style,” in McCarthy’s case, and progressivism in La Follette’s.

It’s a place that has also proved time and again that elections have consequences. McCarthy won his Senate seat in the 1946 midterms amid a backlash against President Harry Truman, who was struggling to control the soaring price of meat as the country adjusted to a peacetime economy. He ousted Robert La Follette Jr., who had essentially inherited his father’s Senate seat.

Four years later, McCarthy used his new platform to begin his infamous anti-communist crusade — persecuting supposed communists inside the federal government, Hollywood and the liberal intelligentsia across the country. His rise came to an end after a lawyer for one of his targets, Joseph Welch, rounded on him with one of the most famous lines ever delivered during a congressional hearing: “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?”

The state’s modern political geography, which is rooted in this history, as well as deep-seated patterns of ethnic migration and economic development, is as fascinating as it is complex.

Jamie Kelter Davis for The New York Times

La Follette’s old base in Madison, the capital and a teeming college town, dominates the middle south of the state like a kind of Midwestern Berkeley. But unlike in periwinkle-blue coastal California, Madison and Milwaukee — the state’s largest city, which is about 90 minutes to the east along the shores of Lake Michigan — are surrounded by a vast ocean of scarlet.

Much of the state remains rural and conservative — McCarthy and Trump country.

And as in much of the United States, even smaller Wisconsin cities like Green Bay (the home of the Packers), Eau Claire (a fiercely contested political battleground), Janesville (the home of Paul Ryan, the former House speaker), Kenosha (the hometown of Reince Priebus, the sometime ally and former aide to Donald Trump) and Oshkosh (the home and political base of Senator Ron Johnson) have gone blue in recent decades.

The so-called W.O.W. counties around Milwaukee — Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington — are the historical strongholds of suburban G.O.P. power, and political pundits and forecasters watch election trends there closely to tease out any potential national implications. Other portions of the northwestern area of the state are essentially suburbs of Minneapolis, and tend to toggle between the parties from election to election.

The Republican Party’s origins can be traced to Ripon, Wis., where disaffected members of the Whig Party met in 1854 as they planned a new party with an anti-slavery platform. The party’s early leaders were also disgusted by what they called the “tyranny” of Andrew Jackson, a populist Democrat who built a political machine that ran roughshod over the traditional ways politics was done in America.

On Tuesday, the state held its primaries, and the results were classic Wisconsin: Republicans chose Tim Michels, a Trump-aligned “Stop-the-Steal” guy, as their nominee to face Gov. Tony Evers, the Democratic incumbent, over Rebecca Kleefisch, the establishment favorite. Robin Vos, the Assembly speaker who has tilted to the right on election issues but who refused to help Trump overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, barely held on to his seat.

To understand what’s happening, I badgered Reid Epstein, my colleague on the politics team. Reid has forgotten more Wisconsin political lore than most of us have ever absorbed, and here, he gives us some perspective on why the state has become such a bitterly contested ground zero for American democracy.

Our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity:

You started your journalism career in Milwaukee, if I’m not mistaken. Give us a sense of what’s changed about Wisconsin politics in the years you’ve been covering the state.

In Waukesha, actually. Back in 2002, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel still had bureaus covering the Milwaukee suburbs, and that’s where I had my first job, covering a handful of municipalities and school districts in Waukesha County.

A lot of the same characters I wrote about as a cub reporter are still around. The then-village president of Menomonee Falls is now leading the effort to decertify Wisconsin’s 2020 election results, which of course can’t be done. The seeds of the polarization and zero-sum politics you see now in Wisconsin were just beginning to sprout 20 years ago.

Republican voters chose to keep Robin Vos, yet nominated Tim Michels. Help us understand the mixed signals we’re getting here.

Well, it helped that Michels had more than $10 million of his own cash to invest in his race, and Adam Steen, the Trump-backed challenger to Vos, didn’t have enough money for even one paid staff member.

Vos, whose first legislative race I was there for in 2004, nearly lost to a guy with no money and no name recognition in a district where the Vos family has lived for generations. He won, but it was very close.



<!–

Behind the Journalism

–>

How Times reporters cover politics.
We rely on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members may vote, they are not allowed to endorse or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, any political candidate or election cause.

What is it about Wisconsin that has made politics there so zero-sum? I’m thinking of developments like the Democrats’ attempted recall of Gov. Scott Walker in 2012, his crackdown on union power, and the Legislature’s efforts to curtail the power of Tony Evers, the current governor. What’s the deal? How did the state get so starkly divided?

The Wisconsin political and media ecosystem has long been dominated by conservative talk radio hosts. More than any other state in the country, Wisconsin’s right-wing talkers control the political agenda, and like Fox News nationally, they generate ratings by stoking outrage — usually against Democrats, but sometimes against fellow Republicans.

Scott Walker was raised in this environment. He was a backbench state assemblyman who became widely known from calling into the Charlie Sykes show on WTMJ in Milwaukee. Those shows always had a villain — usually, whichever Democrat or newspaper reporter was in the host’s cross hairs for the day.

When Sykes would spend a segment attacking one of my articles in the morning paper, my voice mail box at the office would be full of angry callers by the time I got to my desk. Imagine what that does to elected Republicans when are on the receiving end.

Skyes has since reinvented himself as a never-Trump podcast host and columnist — and he now trains his considerable rhetorical talents against the Republican Party he once enthusiastically supported. He’s traded his local influence for a national platform.

You cover a lot of the machinations over the control of American democracy. Is there anything unique about how these battles are playing out in Badger country?

Republicans have such control of the levers of power in Wisconsin that voters are almost immaterial. It is the most gerrymandered state legislature in the country — a 50-50 state where Republicans hold 61 out of 99 seats in the Assembly and 21 out of 33 seats in the Senate.

There is at the moment no functional way for Democrats to carry out any sort of policy agenda in Madison; their only hope is to have a governor who will veto things. And the Wisconsin Supreme Court has a 4-to-3 conservative majority that has, with some exceptions after the 2020 election, toed the party line for Republicans.

Some states, like Michigan and North Carolina, have managed to work through many of these same issues and create a more level playing field that reflects the real balance of power between the parties. Why hasn’t Wisconsin done so?

Wisconsin doesn’t afford its citizens the opportunity to petition things into law or the state constitution like Michigan and dozens of other states do. So the only hope is through the Legislature, where Republicans have shown no compunction about maintaining their hold on power through whatever means necessary.

Haiyun Jiang/The New York Times

On Politics regularly features work by Times photographers. Here’s what Haiyun Jiang told us about capturing the image above:

When the Senate began its “vote-a-rama” for the Inflation Reduction Act, a marathon series of votes on amendments, I was on Capitol Hill trying to capture the mood and action as senators prepared for an inevitably long weekend.

Around 9 p.m., Senator Ron Wyden, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, walked into the press gallery for a briefing with reporters. “I heard that you all wanted a little post-dinner entertainment,” he said as he sat down.

A tall man, Wyden was visibly uncomfortable in a sofa chair that was low to the ground. As the briefing went on, he periodically stretched his legs. I decided to wait for the moment when he stretched again.

His posture conveyed the exhaustion and weariness that I hoped to capture, with a long night of debates and votes looming over everyone on Capitol Hill.

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you next week.

— Blake

Is there anything you think we’re missing? Anything you want to see more of? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at onpolitics@nytimes.com.

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Baghdad gripped by protests as political rivals vie for power – The Washington Post

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BAGHDAD — Rival protesters took to Iraq’s streets Friday as their leaders vied for political dominance, just 10 months after a U.S.-backed election that was meant to heal the country’s fractures left many more exposed.

The aftermath of those polls has forced years-long tensions to the surface. In a country where elites rule by consensus, rival Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni politicians have been unable to agree on key government appointments. The election’s biggest winner, powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, has withdrawn his parliamentarians from the process, sending his supporters instead to occupy the leafy grounds of the legislature.

He is now calling for early elections, which would be the second in less than a year.

As dusk approached Friday, Sadr’s supporters gathered in provinces across the country and outside the parliament to echo his demands. But they were not alone. Several miles away, near Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, thousands of foot soldiers for the cleric’s rivals — former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and leaders of armed groups linked to Iran — gathered too, protesting what they described as a “political coup” by Sadr.

By nightfall, a crowd of hundreds was building tents in the capital, and people said they were setting up for the long haul.

“We’ll stay as long as it takes,” said Ali Hassan, a 30-year-old government employee from Baghdad. “The people know our demands, and they know that they are legitimate.”

Iraq’s wildcard cleric upends politics as summer heat descends

While the politics were complicated, the core problem was simple, analysts said. Twenty years after the U.S.-led invasion, winners from the kleptocratic political system it ultimately installed are now fighting over who reaps its spoils.

Locked out of that system are millions of ordinary Iraqis who have seen little benefit from the nation’s immense oil wealth. Hospitals are crumbling, and the education system is among the worst in the region. For three days last week, as a heat wave pushed temperatures past 125 degrees, three southern provinces failed to even keep the lights on, as the extreme heat pushed an already shaky power grid to the breaking point.

Iraq broils in dangerous 120 degree heat as power grid shuts down

Iraq’s last elections took place several months early, as a response to mass protests that demanded the overthrow of the political system. The young and mostly Shiite demonstrators were met with brutal repression, and Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi was forced to step down after almost 600 people were killed.

In October, fresh polls left Sadr with the largest bloc in parliament, and Maliki with the second, as historically low voter turnout left powerful parties with large bases as the biggest winners. Many Iraqis viewed the polls as an exercise in reshuffling the political deck chairs, and said that none of the major factions represented them.

But the atmosphere was festive outside Baghdad’s parliament on Friday as men in black T-shirts streamed through the streets carrying photographs of Sadr and his father, a revered cleric killed by dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime, to demand more elections, and the sidelining of all the “old faces” — apart from Sadr.

A tinny loudspeaker blasted music through the air as bands of protesters sang and swayed, others enjoyed free kebabs or large chunks of melon. “We’re here to dissolve the parliament and to stand with Sayeed Moqtada’s demands,” said Hassan al-Iraqi, a religious studies student in his 30s who said that he had made the five-hour journey from the northern city of Mosul.

Sadr derives his strength in part from millions of impoverished supporters who view him as a sacred figure of storied lineage, and as someone who has resisted occupation and injustice. For weeks, he has used his Twitter account to praise his supporters’ efforts on the streets, likening their efforts to a “revolution.”

The messages have been received with a mix of excitement and reverence, as bands of teenagers pass around cellphones to read his posts.

By nightfall Friday, politicians from the opposing bloc were tweeting statements in praise of their own supporters too.

Maliki called the rallies “massive” and peaceful.

“Today you have brought joy to the hearts of Iraqis,” wrote Qais al-Khazali, a Shiite cleric aligned with Maliki. “The martyr Muhandis is all happy when he sees his sons defending Iraq and the interest of the people and the state with courage and awareness,” he wrote, in reference to a powerful militia leader killed alongside Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a January 2020 drone strike ordered by President Donald Trump.

Experts point to that drone strike as a seminal moment in Iraq’s latest unraveling — both of the slain men were pivotal figures in maintaining unity among the country’s now divided Shiite factions.

In Baghdad’s city center, another group also gathered Friday as the heat ebbed and traffic snarled the streets. They were secular activists, and they had planned their own protest in a place etched in the annals of the American invasion: Firdoos Square, where U.S. troops once pulled down a statue of Saddam Hussein.

“This whole system was built on a mistake,” said Najad al-Iraqi, an activist, who said he had not voted in a single election since Saddam’s fall. “None of these parties have ever worked for us,” he said. “They’re all corrupt, every one of them.”

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Quebec Premier François Legault promises more affordable housing ahead of fall election campaign

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LAVAL, Que. — Quebec Premier François Legault is getting an early jump on the fall election campaign with a promise to build thousands of new social and affordable housing units if re-elected.

The leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec promised today to fund 11,700 new units in the next four years if his party wins a second term on Oct. 3.

He says that amount will bring the province about halfway to filling the estimated shortfall of social and affordable units over the next 10 years, which his government pegs at 23,500 units.

Legault says his party would also subsidize rent supplements for 7,200 housing units, for a total investment of $1.8 billion.

While Legault has yet to announce an official start date for the fall election campaign, the main party leaders have been criss-crossing the province for weeks to hold public appearances and name candidates.

Recent polls suggest Legault’s party has a commanding lead, with more than double the support of his nearest rival.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 12, 2022.

 

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