Protesters call for an audit of the 2020 presidential election outside of the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing on October 12, 2021. (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images)
A Michigan Republican lawmaker wore a pin with a flag with a “Q” on it as she addressed demonstrators at an election protest Tuesday in Lansing supported by former President Donald Trump—and made clear she buys into the sprawling conspiracy theory.Michigan Rep. Daire Rendon told VICE News that the Q represents “a group of people who are digital warriors,” who “pass information around and reveal information that’s been kept hidden for a very long time,” based on information from the “highest level of intelligence in the United States government”—tropes of the false conspiracy theory central to QAnon.
Rendon confirmed to VICE News that she wore the pin, an American flag with a gold Q on it that was spotted by the Detroit News’ Craig Mauger, during her speech, and said that she wore it partly because she knew there’d be plenty of like-minded people in the crowd.“A lot of the people that are here today follow the same channels, and they understand,” Rendon said. “They’re not buying the same mainstream pablum that gets fed to us every day by the mainstream media.”Her open embrace of the movement is the latest evidence of how mainstream QAnon has become within the Republican Party, especially among pro-Trump supporters.Trump endorsed the rally, which pushed widely disproven claims that the election was stolen from him.“Big Michigan rally coming up on Oct. 12th, on the Capitol steps in Lansing, where patriots will demand a forensic audit of the 2020 presidential election scam,” Trump said in a Friday statement. “The voter fraud is beyond what anyone can believe. Anyone who cares about our great country should attend, because unless we look to the past and fix what happened, we won’t have a future or a country.”Trump’s claims have been debunked extensively, including by a report conducted by Michigan Senate Republicans that found there’d been no systemic fraud in their state’s election, which Biden won by more than 150,000 votes.
But that’s not enough for Rendon, who told the crowd of hundreds that Michigan needed to have a “forensic audit.”“We need a forensic audit, and we need it now. You prove Biden won. It’s time to take a stand and we can’t be the only state left out,” she said.
Trump has repeatedly flirted with QAnon supporters, refusing to condemn or distance himself from the movement in the run-up to the 2020 election, and Q flags and T-shirts are a common sight at Trump rallies. This has emboldened its supporters.Members of the QAnon community were some of the earliest and loudest proponents of the “Big Lie” that Trump was the real winner of the election. A survey from March found that almost a quarter of Republicans believed that “a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation” controlled the government, the banks, and the media in the U.S. And their power seems to only be growing within the GOP: At least 45people who have expressed support for QAnon have already announced bids for Congress in 2022, according to a tracker by Media Matters for America, and others are running for statewide positions—some with Trump’s explicit endorsement.
QAnon is the name of the sprawling, cult-like community of conspiracy theorists, which grew out of a single post titled “Calm Before the Storm,” on the image-board site 4chan in October 2017. The anonymous poster claimed to have a top-level Q security clearance, and was thus privy to highly classified information. The central claim made by the eponymous “Q” was that Special Counsel Robert Mueller was working alongside Trump to take down a global cabal of pedophiles and child sex traffickers, including many prominent Democrats and celebrities. Rendon claimed she’s “never heard of QAnon as being an existing entity” but broke it down into Q, which she insisted was “the highest level of intelligence in the United States government,” and “Anon, people who are digital warriors.”When VICE News asked Rendon if she believed that top government officials were involved in a child sex ring, she said, “That’s part of it.” But she pivoted to other topics, including the false claim that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.“I think a lot of things happened in the last election. President Trump told us they’re going to cheat, they’re going to cheat. We realized that was the plan. And we knew that because it had happened before— only this time it was done at just a much higher level,” Rendon said.Rendon was one of two Republican Michigan lawmakers who initially supported a late-December lawsuit that challenged President Joe Biden’s election wins in five swing states based on the argument that state legislatures hadn’t confirmed his wins. But she’s not just some fringe lawmaker in the statehouse: Rendon chairs the Michigan House of Representatives' Insurance Committee.
Some of QAnon’s followers have been linked to violent acts. QAnon believers are among those facing charges for violent crimes committed during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. A devout Christian surfer allegedly murdered his two young children with a spear gun—and told the FBI that he had been “enlightened” by QAnon, which led him to believe that his children were going to “grow into monsters.” QAnon has also been associated with at least six kidnapping plots in the U.S. and one recently in France. Michigan has emerged as a hotbed of violent extremism and conspiracy theories over the last year, even though some of that activity hasn’t been explicitly linked to QAnon. Some of the most unruly anti-lockdown protests unfolded at Michigan’s state Capitol—where Rendon spoke on Tuesday. Last April, armed protesters and militia members swarmed the building, adding an uneasy element to an already fraught political situation. Months later, several Michigan men who adhered to the anti-government Boogaloo movement were accused of plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and put her on trial for treason. What’s more, a handful of Michigan’s sheriffs are openly aligned with the anti-government “Constitutional Sheriffs Movement.” Sheriff Dar Leaf of Barry County tried to coordinate with Trump advisers to “seize” Dominion voting machines. He also hired a private detective to go county to county to sniff out evidence of voter fraud. In early summer, the FBI warned lawmakers that they should brace for the possibility of further acts of violence from the community’s more militant actors, especially as many struggle to cope with the reality that Joe Biden won the 2020 election. Rendon said she didn’t consume everything the QAnon community put out—but she made it clear she was involved in certain channels, including ones pushing the idea that the U.S. government was complicit in the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert F. Kennedy in the 1960s.“I follow Q a little bit. I don’t have time to follow them too closely. Information comes out of a lot of their channels frequently, but it takes a lot of time, and I don’t have that kind of time. I follow those things that interest me. I’m one of those Americans who remember the day President Kennedy was shot. I’m that America. What am I interested in? I’m interested in the truth. And the truth is not pretty,” she said.