We live in the age of the accidental conspiracy theory tweet.
The head of a Florida county GOP found himself in the hot seat last month for a July 4 tweet inviting voters to learn more about the “cryptic” QAnon conspiracy.
“You may have heard rumours about QAnon, also known as Q, who is a mysterious anonymous inside leaker of deep state activities and counter activities by President Trump,” the Hillsborough County GOP’s since-deleted tweet read.
It linked to an hour-long YouTube video called “Q Anon for Beginners.”
Hillsborough County GOP chairman Jim Waurishuk rushed to tamp down the ensuing media controversy, assuring publications that his group did not endorse the bizarre strings of hidden clues and associations that compose the fringe conspiracy.
But Waurishuk’s own Twitter account includes several posts about QAnon, and his blog posts for far-right news site “America Out Loud” routinely reference the sorts of deep state anti-Trump conspiracies that QAnon followers believe should land members of the Obama administration in jail. Both Waurishuk and QAnon adherents, for example, put stock in President Trump’s claim that there was a spy embedded in Trump’s 2016 campaign and think that Hillary Clinton committed treason.
Reached by telephone Friday, Waurishuk reiterated that he does not believe in “conspiracy theory stuff.”
Asked about the tweets on his page referencing QAnon, he said, “I have no idea how that happened.”
The Hillsborough County GOP’s QAnon problem started back in mid-July, when reporter Will Sommers noticed its pinned tweet. The Tampa Bay Times subsequently did a story on the post, which was also pinned to the top of the group’s Facebook page, and the national media latched on to the controversy, publishing stories of their own.
Waurishuk said the group’s posts were merely meant to be “informational” and removed them.
Then, this week, the QAnon phenomena rocketed from the fringes of Twitter and 8Chan to the national stage thanks to Trump’s rally in Tampa. Supporters carrying “Q” signs cheered from the stands at the Florida State Fairgrounds, where the President was introduced by Waurishuk.
The next day, dozens of publications posted explainers on the baffling conspiracy theory, which holds that the mysterious U.S. intelligence official, who holds a “Q”-level security clearance, is doling out “breadcrumbs” of information to his followers to prepare them for the coming “Storm.” The storm, according to Q’s followers, will be a Trump-imposed coup in which all of the President’s enemies—deep state-rs, globalist elites, and pedophiles masquerading as Democratic politicians—are arrested.
Those stories resurrected the Hillsborough County GOP’s tweet, prompting a fresh wave of calls to Waurishuk, who was asked to explain, again, how this post came to be on his group’s page.
“We try to watch all the different groups on social media that are involved in conspiracy theory stuff and bizarre kind of stuff, because part of our job as a local party is to educate voters,” Waurishuk told TPM.
He said a board member who tracks these “far-out, extreme kind of things” found this video to be “probably the most accurate,” and decided to share it “for informational purposes.”
“It was just: here’s an article that may help you understand more about who QAnon is,” he said. “Because as I recall about a month ago there were people in our party who were questioning who is this individual or group or entity so he saw it and put it out there.”
The chairman’s own Twitter feed features several tweets referencing the conspiracy.
On July 15, Waurishuk retweeted a pair of posts praising one of his America Outloud articles. Both include the hashtag #WWG1WGA, social media shorthand for QAnon slogan “Where we go one, we go all.” One also includes the hashtags #Qanon and “TheGreatAwakening,” a reference to an event preceding the “storm” that will come to fruition once Q’s followers solve the puzzle pieces Q has laid out for them. Waurishuk also retweeted a post from a user with the handle “Qanon Freedom Fighter.”
Waurishuk retweeted another message that actively promoted the QAnon phenomenon.
“Thank you for your service sir,” user Sheila Ryman wrote to Waurishuk, a retired U.S. Air force colonel. “Are you familiar with “Q” and #TheGreatAwakening #QAnon.
The video that the Hillsborough County GOP shared to inform local voters about QAnon was also created by a true believer: an Arizona-based paramedic and leading Q propagandist who goes by the handle “Praying Medic.” He opens the “Q Anon for Beginners” video by saying his intention is just to explain the phenomenon and “help you decide for yourself whether Q is worth your time,” but quickly discloses that he, personally, is “following Q.”
With the exception of one Etsy post promoting a “Scone of the Month” club, Praying Medic’s Twitter feed is a fever dream of warnings and predictions about the “coming” storm.
Waurishuk insisted that neither he nor the Hillsborough County GOP endorsed this type of outlandish conspiracy: “There are people out there that are literally crazy.”