Riggleman, Malinowski introduce resolution condemning QAnon

Taking a Stand

A bipartisan group of congressmen are pushing back against the conspiracy theory as it gains prominence

Gage Skidmore

Denver Riggleman speaking with attendees at the 2018 Young Americans for Liberty National Convention at the Sheraton Reston Hotel in Reston, Virginia.

The QAnon conspiracy theory has seen a massive surge in public attention in the month since Marjorie Taylor Greene, a promoter of the conspiracy theory, won the Republican run-off in Georgia’s 14th congressional district, all but ensuring she will be in Washington come January. But a bipartisan group of congressmen is trying to push back.

Reps. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) and Denver Riggleman (R-VA) have introduced a resolution, co-sponsored by Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), condemning the conspiracy theory. The resolution enumerates a series of concerns, including the numerous violent and criminal acts which have allegedly been inspired by the conspiracy theory, as well as the antisemitic elements central to QAnon.

Both Malinowski and Riggleman told Jewish Insider that QAnon’s increasing prominence — including Greene’s primary victory and President Donald Trump’s recent approving comments — convinced them to take congressional action.

Malinowski emphasized that parts of QAnon’s central conspiracy theory — which claims, falsely, that wealthy political, financial and media elites are part of a cabal that sexually abuses and eats children — constitute “the ancient blood libel in new guise.” Riggleman noted that QAnon also echoes the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

The conspiracy theory seems to have become increasingly mainstream amid the pandemic. A recent Civiqs poll found that more than half of Republican voters believe QAnon is mostly or partly true. It has also found traction in alternative health spheres.

Riggleman said he was shocked by those poll results — although he questioned their accuracy. If they are true, he added, “the Republican Party’s in trouble,” and “we need a massive education effort in the Republican Party to identify what’s ridiculous about QAnon.”

While several Republican leaders — including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) — have condemned QAnon, Riggleman and Kinzinger have been more outspoken than most of their colleagues on the issue. And many Republicans — including McCarthy — have declined to distance themselves from Greene.

“There’s gonna be people who don’t want to sign on to this, obviously, but I really don’t care about that,” Riggleman said. “There’s certainly Republicans that have jumped on this… but there certainly hasn’t been enough and I believe a lot of it has to do with — they’re scared of voters or they’re scared of the backlash that they might have going out against something like QAnon.”

Voters will not have an opportunity to punish Riggleman electorally for this resolution — he already lost his Republican primary to a religious conservative challenger in June. But he is considering running for Virginia governor in 2022, possibly as an independent.

Riggleman said the president’s recent comments about QAnon — Trump said last month: “I don’t know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate” — shocked him.

“I think a lot of that has to do with, there’s so many conspiracy groups out there,” he said. “And I would hope once the president learns more about QAnon and what they’re talking about… that he would see that and eventually come out and condemn it.”

Riggleman is also a member of the House Freedom Caucus, a strongly conservative group of House Republicans, several of whom supported Greene. The Caucus’s affiliated PAC, the House Freedom Fund, donated more than $200,000 to the Georgia congressional candidate.

Riggleman said he does not have any input on the PAC’s spending, but he would not have given Greene “a penny.” 

“Maybe those endorsements are because 80% of what she believes is in line with fundamental conservative principles on spending and things like that,” he said. “But I do think we have to draw a line when you have those who espouse conspiracy theories.”

Malinowski said he’s found his Democratic colleagues are now taking the QAnon threat seriously. “We’re all catching up to the reality that this is extremely dangerous, that it’s not a fringe movement anymore,” he said. “At this point, it is easier to get Democrats to want to do something about QAnon, partly because it’s been associated with the right. The important thing is to demonstrate that there is bipartisan rejection.”

Although only two additional backers have signed onto the resolution so far, Malinowski said he expects that “the overwhelming majority of members” will support the bill if it makes it to the floor. But he acknowledged that the window for that is closing.

“I’m hoping that we will [get a vote],” he said. “If we do, I think you will see a pretty solid bipartisan vote on this.”

But Malinowski acknowledged that this resolution will do little to shake QAnon believers from their views. He plans to introduce legislation addressing social media companies’ recommendation algorithms, noting that his experience in international human rights work showed him how social media can foment violence, extremism and social strife.

“I think that they need to fundamentally change the way their algorithms work,” he said. “The algorithms are designed to keep us glued to our screens by feeding us information that engages our basest emotions. That’s a problem and the companies have been protected from any liability for the harm they cause by encouraging this kind of content to spread, and I think we need to look at them.”

Riggleman — whose background is in military intelligence — said he’s considering legislation boosting funding and information sharing for FBI and Department of Homeland Security operations to counter domestic extremism.

“We need to have a larger cyber presence. They’re using the same type of methodology that radical Islamic terrorists use,” he said. “I think we need to utilize some of the protocols that we perfected to track terrorists and actually use that to identify those who are using coded language to go after law enforcement or to go after innocents.”

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