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OPINION

Members of Kansas congressional delegation helped spread conspiracy theories and harmed democracy

By Michael A. Smith
Special to Gannett Kansas
Michael A. Smith

Conspiracy theories have taken root in Kansas. Reporter Jim McLean discovered this while visiting the town of Protection for a story. In 1957, this Comanche County community became the first town in the U.S. to be fully vaccinated against polio. Back then, vaccinations were a community event with widespread public support. According to McLean, “It’s a different story today.”

McLean found today’s Protection deeply divided over the COVID-19 vaccine. Refusers and skeptics gave many reasons, including a vague sense of distrust. However, some people he interviewed expressed a more-specific belief, that the government puts a tracking microchip in each dose. This particular belief is not only baseless, it is also a component of a larger conspiracy theory called QAnon.

When citizens and public officials tacitly endorse components of larger conspiracy theory narratives, they put public health in danger by raising the percentage of those not vaccinated. They also make it more difficult to properly allocate supplies so that doses do not get wasted. Finally, they help spread the conspiracy theory itself.

Conspiracy theories also endanger our democracy, and Kansas’ elected officials are the culprits. Led by Trump appointee Christopher Krebs, the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency reported that the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election was “the most secure in U.S. history.”

So, why did Sen. Roger Marshall and Reps. Tracey Mann, Jake LaTurner and Ron Estes refuse to certify the results? Each was vague, but one of the most popular narratives defending this decision was the belief that Dominion Voting Systems machines were “rigged” to change votes from Trump to Biden. This too is linked closely to QAnon, and it too is false.

What follows is an actual description of what these deniers are helping to spread. This is a brief primer on QAnon, which is taken seriously by an estimated 1 million Americans.

QAnon backers were heavily involved in the U.S. Capitol rioting on Jan. 6. QAnon believer Ashli Babbitt was shot and killed by capitol police while leading a mob. The shirtless rioters wearing horned headdresses were also QAnon followers. Other QAnon symbols spotted that day include logos incorporating the capital letter “Q,” references to John F. Kennedy Jr., and the hashtags #WWG1WGA (Where We Go One We Go All) and #Savethechildren.

QAnon followers believe that leading members of the Democratic Party worship Satan and operate a child trafficking ring because they want to get high from a chemical in the children's blood. QAnon draws heavily upon an anti-Semitic (anti-Jewish), Medieval European conspiracy theory called blood libel. Openly endorsed by two U.S. representatives, QAnon anticipates the storm, when former President Trump will incarcerate or execute the alleged cabal.

QAnon followers also believe that John F. Kennedy Jr. is still alive and that home goods retailer Wayfair.com is a front for the child trafficking. Followers are linked to stalking, kidnapping, an attack on the Canadian Prime Minister’s home, at least two murders, a blockade of the Hoover Dam and a train derailment.

Last year, heavily armed QAnon believers were arrested on their way to the Philadelphia Convention Center while ballots were being counted. I recently wrote up my more-detailed deep dive into QAnon on the Midwest Political Science Association’s blog site, available at mpsanet.org/mpsa-blog.

When Kansas politicians and citizens endorse factually baseless components of conspiracy theories, they encourage the whole toxic narrative. They disrupt public health, endanger democracy and even threaten to undermine our understanding of reality itself. It needs to stop, right now.

Michael A. Smith is a professor of political science at Emporia State University. He can be reached at muphd@sbcglobal.net.