The election denial movement — and Trump — have become increasingly intertwined with QAnon
QAnon now offers a broad extremist network for election denialists to promote themselves and spread conspiracy theories to receptive listeners
Last December, while discussing supposed “election integrity” efforts, Gregg Phillips, a leader of the election denial organization True the Vote, told an attorney for former President Donald Trump that “people want to come in and help,” and “that’s what this Anon movement is about.”
And “help” it has. Five years after “Q” began a movement based on a conspiracy theory that Trump would crush his supposed enemies and a cabal of pedophiles with mass arrests, QAnon had evolved into an online anti-reality network that has shifted much of its focus to boosting other conspiracy theories, including anti-vaccine misinformation and, increasingly, election denial. It is now an online distribution system that the election denial movement and other conspiracy theorists can exploit to spread their false claims and gain attention for their organizations.
QAnon was born out of far-right message boards and grew as supporters repeatedly helped spread misinformation online during years of inaction from social media platforms. The movement became so much of a threat that multiple government agencies issued internal warnings on its supporters, who have committed multiple acts of violence, including the January 6 insurrection.
During the 2022 election cycle, the QAnon community saw a closer level of association with the election denial movement — including Trump and his associates — providing a broad extremist network for denialists to easily promote themselves and spread their conspiracy theories to people primed to support them.
QAnon influencer Juan O. Savin’s election-denial candidates coalition
Leading up to the midterm elections, QAnon influencer Juan O. Savin (whose real name is Wayne Willott) and Nevada secretary of state candidate Jim Marchant recruited election denial candidates for positions where they would be in charge of election administration. Savin boasted of his involvement, claiming that every week he would “have a call to all my candidates from around the country,” including discussing fundraising.
Savin also said he had created the “largest election integrity presentation groups in the country" -- events where denialists, sometimes including coalition members, discussed supposed evidence of voter fraud -- and that he was working “behind the scenes” and hiring QAnon sympathizer Lara Logan to “host” them.
Following the midterm elections, Savin moved to another election denial effort, teaming up with a pair of brothers to promote a long-shot challenge to the 2020 election, which the Supreme Court declined to hear.
Savin detailed some of his efforts with his coalition during interviews, on QAnon-supporting shows, suggesting, for instance, that he helped convince Tina Peters — the Mesa County, Colorado, clerk who was criminally charged for a security breach of election equipment — to run for Colorado secretary of state. One of Peters’ primary opponents also revealed that Savin encouraged him to drop out of the race and endorse her.
After losing the Republican primary, Peters refused to concede, eventually becoming part of another Savin-linked coalition of Republican candidates in Colorado claiming that they lost their primaries due to voter fraud. Over the following months, these failed candidates went on QAnon shows to promote and fundraise for the coalition and amplify false claims of fraud in their primaries. A member of Peters’ coalition even invoked the QAnon slogan in a July interview on election denier Joe Oltmann’s podcast: “Where we find fraud in El Paso, we find fraud in Colorado, we find fraud nationwide. This is all national security.” “Where we go one,” she said, pausing; the other coalition members joined her in finishing it. “We go all.”
Kari Lake and Mark Finchem
Other candidates in Savin’s coalition also appeared on QAnon-promoting shows during the 2022 election cycle. Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake fundraised and promoted her campaign on a QAnon-supporting show right before the Republican primary, and Arizona secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem also appeared on that same QAnon show during his campaign. Finchem also had a QAnon influencer at one of his fundraisers, which featured a performance of a QAnon song. Both Finchem and Lake also appeared with other QAnon figures during their campaigns.
Election denial groups teamed up with the QAnon community
True the Vote
The long-standing organization True the Vote — whose founder, Catherine Engelbrecht, has been called “the godmother of the election integrity movement” — grew particularly close with the QAnon community in 2022, using its members and infrastructure to spread nefarious allegations about election software company Konnech.
Following the release of its debunked election denial movie 2000 Mules, True the Vote’s Engelbrecht and co-founder Gregg Phillips both began to cultivate relationships with QAnon figures, repeatedly appearing on QAnon shows. They praised the QAnon community’s “spectacularly good” “open source intelligence,” while also recruiting multiple QAnon figures to help with their efforts, such as Phillips’ podcast and “research team.” They also promised to hand off supposed information from the “Anons” to law enforcement that they had partnered with.
At a True the Vote event in August called “The Pit” — which featured QAnon attendees — the group presented allegations that the Chinese Communist Party rigged elections through Konnech. Attendees were encouraged to further research and spread the claims, which they did, earning praise from True the Vote for their “brilliant” and “great work.” According to The New York Times, Konnech’s CEO and his family were subsequently forced to go into hiding, and other Konech employees “feared for their safety and started working remotely.”
In October — less than two months after an investigator in the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office attended “The Pit,” according to Phillips — the district attorney arrested Konnech’s CEO over allegations similar to True the Vote’s claims. (Charges were dropped in November.) The arrest was fodder for right-wing media to widely spread True the Vote and QAnon supporters’ claims about Konnech, calling it evidence of election fraud, and the story led to local governments announcing they would cancel contracts with the company. A Virginia county “election integrity” task force even gave some of those QAnon influencers’ materials about Konnech to its county election board. Phillips would go on to credit “the Anon community” for having “dug in” on Konnech and creating “focal points … of interest that [Konnech’s CEO is] ultimately going to have to answer to.”
Clean Elections USA
Another figure who attended The Pit was Melody Jennings, a QAnon supporter who had created a group inspired by 2000 Mules called Clean Elections USA, which focused on having people “monitor” ballot drop boxes for supposed fraud. She connected with several QAnon influencers at the event, later appearing multiple times on a show hosted by conspiracy theorists she met there. She credited those QAnon figures with helping her group and connecting her with others. Jennings regularly asked her “team” of QAnon influencers to promote her efforts, which led to complaints of voter intimidation in Arizona and landed Clean Elections USA in court there.
New York Citizens Audit
Another person who networked with QAnon figures at The Pit was Marly Hornik, who founded the election denial organization New York Citizens Audit. Hornik met the hosts of a QAnon show at the event and then repeatedly appeared on their program. There, Hornik promoted her organization and lauded what “the Anons are doing with Konnech,” calling them the “citizen intelligence army.”
Other election denial groups and activists
Election denial organizations also associated themselves with the QAnon community outside of The Pit:
- Members of a Florida-based “election integrity” group called Defend Florida connected with QAnon-supporting show host Zak Paine at an event hosted by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell. The members later went on Paine’s show to promote the group and say they asked Paine if they could “come on your show” rather than appearing in mainstream outlets because of “the great work that you’ve been doing for years.”
- A Florida “election integrity” activist told a QAnon influencer that he was a “big fan” of his and of Savin.
- Paine also connected with a Nebraska election denial group founder at Lindell’s event.
- A duo who had filed a class action lawsuit against election software company Dominion, which was a target of election denialists after the 2020 election, told Paine that “everybody loves you” and that their lawsuit would be more popular if Paine was on Twitter.
Well-known election deniers Patrick Byrne and Michael Flynn grew closer to the QAnon community
Patrick Byrne and The America Project
Former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne, who is a co-founder of election denial organization The America Project, is one of the country’s central election denial funders. Prior to the January 6 insurrection, Byrne met with Trump and fueled his voter fraud grievances. Since then, he has continued election denial activities and cultivated ties to the QAnon community. During the midterm election season, Byrne’s The America Project even funded an effort to recruit veterans to monitor polling sites for supposed fraud.
Byrne has previously suggested that he relied on the “digital soldiers” in the QAnon community and that they were his allies. He went further in 2022:
- He directly invoked Q’s call in 2020 for supporters to deny that QAnon exists.
- He pushed an effort to harass schools popularized by a QAnon-supporting group.
- He furthered his very close relationship with Terpsichore Maras-Lindeman, a QAnon influencer known online as “Tore” who ran for Ohio secretary of state. He offered to aid her activities, including monetarily, and announced that he was working with her on “election integrity” efforts and lawsuits.
Byrne and Savin — both of whom have previously mentioned being connected — disclosed their further ties over the course of the year:
- Savin said they worked together in 2020, said they talked “very frequently” with each other, and suggested that Byrne had “helped us out tremendously in the election integrity stuff.”
- Byrne lauded Savin as “sophisticated,” “very helpful,” and said they had spent “some good times” together. He also invoked Savin by name to promote a legal case to overturn the 2020 election.
Additionally, some of The America Project’s work and activities during the year were explicitly tied to QAnon supporters. Byrne used multiple QAnon shows to recruit people for the organization’s plan to monitor polling sites. The America Project also brought on QAnon sympathizer Lara Logan, as well as an attorney who has represented Tore, who became The America Projects’s “chief legal strategist.”
Michael Flynn, The America Project’s other co-founder and fellow Trump voter fraud adviser, also continued to develop ties with the QAnon community:
- He hung out with members of a QAnon influencer collective known as We The Media, including on a Zoom call, according to one of We The Media’s members.
- Flynn’s other organization, America’s Future, recruited Liz Crokin, a fellow QAnon conspiracy theorist.
Flynn, along with Lindell of MyPillow, attorney Sidney Powell, and some members of Savin’s coalition, also appeared on a relatively new QAnon channel on Election Day 2022 to push fraud claims.
Trump and his orbit grew closer to the QAnon community, explicitly embracing and lauding the movement
Trump, the leader of the election denial movement, also embraced QAnon more closely during the past year, as did some of those in his orbit — including associates of his social media company Truth Social, one of his attorneys, and his son.
Trump’s associates claimed in 2021 that they were trying “to weed out any QAnon influences — both adherents and postings — getting close to him,” but the former president and now-2024 presidential candidate only stepped up his association with the QAnon community. (He had also publicly and privately praised QAnon supporters multiple times during his presidency.)
- According to a Media Matters count, Trump amplified QAnon-promoting accounts nearly 400 times on Truth Social in 2022 — far outpacing the pace of his QAnon account amplifications when he used Twitter. That Truth Social activity included repeatedly amplifying explicit QAnon content.
- Trump met with Crokin, the QAnon influencer, at Mar-a-Lago, and another QAnon influencer claimed to have met with Trump while visiting Mar-a-Lago.
- Trump used a song associated with QAnon on his social media and at multiple rallies. During some of the rallies, people would hold up one finger in the air in response, possibly referring to the “one” in “Where we go one, we go all.” Trump would continue to use the song at rallies even after media and others flagged its background.
Truth Social and its leadership
Truth Social also came to embrace QAnon as part of its business model. One of the first accounts to reportedly sign up on the platform, which launched in February, was an account called “@Q” that tied itself to the conspiracy theory. Kash Patel, a former Trump administration official and member of the platform’s board of directors, and Devin Nunes, the platform’s CEO, repeatedly amplified the “@Q” account. The platform also featured QAnon ads and verified QAnon influencers. And the CEO of a shell corporation formed to merge with the company running the platform even went on a QAnon show to advocate for his own shareholders to delay the merger. The platform also helped QAnon figures and election denial activists network.
Patel also went on numerous QAnon shows on behalf of Truth Social, telling the community that “we try to incorporate” QAnon “into our overall messaging scheme to capture audiences” and praised the “good” coming from it. He also signed copies of his book with the QAnon slogan, asking, “What's wrong with it?” and he said he and Trump were “blown away” by the “acumen” of some QAnon supporters.
A Trump attorney and Eric Trump
One of Trump’s attorneys, Peter Ticktin, repeatedly went on QAnon shows to push election fraud claims. On one of those shows Ticktin even asked the audience to send him “evidence in regard to January 6,” the “fake election,” and “the election fraud.” He also seemingly invoked Q’s 2020 call for supporters to deny that QAnon exists.
Trump’s son Eric Trump, who had posted a QAnon image on social media in 2020 — also went on multiple QAnon shows, and a QAnon show host Eric Trump met with claimed that Trump told him that “his Dad loves what we’re doing.”
Increasingly, where election denial goes one, QAnon goes all
Savin’s swing state coalition members failed to win election and the GOP had disappointing midterm results, but that did not deter the growing bond between the QAnon community and election denial movements. The connections reached a new level this past year, even after the midterms.
The movement continues to grow and metastasize beyond the original Q and its focus, even when Q resumed posting during the year after an 18-month absence. And with the rise of platforms like Truth Social, and Twitter increasingly reversing its QAnon crackdown under Elon Musk, the QAnon community could become even more interconnected with election denialists and other conspiracy theories. That could help grow the dangerous and antidemocratic denialist movement, making it easier to spread its misinformation faster and more broadly.