Republican congressman Adam Kinzinger has a message about the QAnon conspiracy theory: It is a fabrication that must be denounced by political leaders in his own party.
Kinzinger, who represents the 16th district of Illinois, is pairing that message with one that’s equally important: “If you know someone who buys into these theories, don’t hate them.” Instead, he said, have respectful conversations that are rooted in reality.
The congressman released a YouTube video about QAnon on Sunday and elaborated on his views during Sunday’s “Reliable Sources” telecast.
“You’re never going to offend somebody onto your side,” he said. “You’re never going to offend somebody away from something they believe. In fact, it emboldens them. So, I think it’s understanding that they’re still human.”
Kinzinger urged people who “believe in this conspiracy theory stuff” to “do some independent research.”
QAnon is a virtual cult that celebrates President Trump and casts Democratic politicians and other elites as evil child abusers. Specific claims relating to QAnon have been debunked many times and many specific predictions “didn’t come true.”
“Now,” Kinzinger said, “the new Q stuff reads like a tarot card reader who gives you something so vague that it will absolutely fit into something that happens in the next months.”
That’s all part of the con, according to experts who study the online information space.
In media and tech circles there is growing concern about the appeal of QAnon, aspects which are downright delusional. Yet it is cropping up in congressional races and national news coverage.
Last week NBC reported that Facebook contains thousands of QAnon-aligned groups with “millions of members and followers.” The social media firm is weighing taking action against its QAnon community.
Some Trump aides have flirted with the conspiracy theory and the president himself has retweeted accounts with QAnon language. When asked about the cult on Friday, Trump refrained from disavowing it.
Kinzinger is virtually alone, among Republican elected leaders, in doing so.
He initially spoke out after Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has a history of embracing the theories, won a GOP congressional primary runoff in Georgia on Tuesday.
Following Greene’s victory, Kinzinger tweeted that QAnon “could be Russian propaganda or a basement dweller. Regardless, no place in Congress for these conspiracies.”
“I think up to maybe about a week ago, there wasn’t a reason to denounce it because it didn’t need the attention,” he said on “Reliable Sources.” “But now that it’s made mainstream — we have a candidate that embraces it that won a primary.”
Kinzinger noted that he supported Greene’s opponent in the primary. Because the Georgia district is heavily Republican, Greene is expected to win her general election race.
Kinzinger, who has a history of criticizing Trump when other GOP lawmakers remain silent, said on Sunday that “the president hasn’t fully denounced it or denounced it at all. Now, it’s time for leaders to come out and denounce it.”
He observed that, “Democrats and Republicans have to denounce extremism in their own party because that’s where it’s effective,” adding, “It’s not going to be effective from the other side denouncing it. Again, it just emboldens them.”
In a YouTube video that was shared by the congressman’s account on Sunday, Kinzinger walked through the creation of QAnon and explained how its ideas have been debunked in the past. He spoke respectfully about people that embrace, or get fooled by, conspiracy theories, even ones like QAnon that depict fellow Americans as satanists and pedophiles.
“I remember being astounded at the evidence that the moon landing was faked — for a whole day,” he said in the video. “There’s nothing wrong with people who believe them. They’re not crazy. They’re not bad intentioned.”
On “Reliable Sources,” he said people often embrace such theories “out of an interest of, if only the truth is known, life would be better for me and other people. So, everybody thinks they’re the good guy. Everybody wants to do right.”
Kinzinger also reacted to a tweet from Trump campaign official Matt Wolking, who called him out for denouncing QAnon and not “conspiracy theories pushed by Democrats.” He called the whataboutism by Wolking “pretty surprising.”
Kinzinger said he thought the decision to go after him on Twitter was made by Wolking and not the Trump campaign as a whole.
“It was a decision by that staffer. The campaign has to, you know, deal with that and I’m sure they are. It was probably not a really good political move on that staffer’s part,” Kinzinger said.
- CNN’s Ali Main, Austen Bundy, and Betsy Klein contributed reporting.