In our two-party system, both parties are big tents. The Democratic Party includes budget hawks and socialists, veterans and pacifists, scientists and Christian Scientists. There’s also ideological diversity within the Republican Party: some are relatively moderate; others believe that Donald Trump, Robert Mueller, and an anonymous intelligence agent known as Q are secretly working together to bust a global crime ring involving Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Tom Hanks, and hundreds of other prominent liberals, all of whom are actually pedophiles who routinely kidnap children, smuggle them across international borders, and harvest their adrenal glands for occult rituals. This, and much more, is the canon of QAnon, a bizarre, ever-expanding conspiracy theory that might be worth ignoring were it not for the fact that it has adherents in high places. “Q is a patriot, we know that for sure,” Marjorie Taylor Greene said, on a Facebook Live stream, in 2017. “There’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take this global cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles out, and I think we have the President to do it.” Last year, Greene announced that she would run for Congress, as a Republican, in Georgia’s Fourteenth District, which was created about a decade ago. In every congressional election since, a Republican has either run unopposed there or has won more than seventy per cent of the vote.
Greene co-owns a construction company; apart from posting pro-Trump blandishments on the Internet, she has no political experience. (She described the election of two Muslim women to Congress, in 2018, as “an Islamic invasion of our government.”) In one of her campaign ads, she sits cross-legged on the bed of a Jeep truck and uses a bipod-mounted assault rifle to blow up a placard labelled “Socialism.” She won the Republican nomination, in August, by double digits. “Congratulations to future Republican Star Marjorie Taylor Greene on a big Congressional primary win in Georgia,” President Trump tweeted. “Marjorie is strong on everything and never gives up—a real WINNER!” (Last week, during a town hall on NBC, the broadcaster Savannah Guthrie invited Trump to “disavow QAnon in its entirety.” He declined. She asked whether he believed conspiracy theories about “a satanic pedophile cult.” He responded, “I have no idea.”)
Greene’s Democratic challenger, Kevin Van Ausdal, a thirty-five-year-old I.T. specialist, has never held elective office either. Not long ago, he hosted a Zoom town hall. “Glad to see everyone tonight,” he said. “I see a lot of familiar faces, which is great, and I see a lot of new ones, which is just as amazing.” There were eleven people, eight of whom had their cameras off. The three visible supporters were a woman named Amanda, who sat in front of a poster of a bald eagle; a woman named Wendy, whose couch had a pillow embroidered with a kicking donkey; and a man with a long white beard, identified only as “iPhone.” Van Ausdal, who plays a lot of video games, sat in front of an elaborate computer setup, including a flashing keyboard. He began with a spiel about why he was running (“We need someone who will represent our values”) and talked about growing up in Indiana. Then he opened the floor for questions.
“I am worried about your opponent,” a woman typed in the Zoom chat. “She is working hard to appeal to the very far right that I find a bit frightening.”
“It frightens me as well,” Van Ausdal said. (He described Greene’s beliefs as “divisive,” but did not go into detail.) One supporter asked how she could help Van Ausdal win. The candidate said that his campaign hadn’t organized any phone banks yet and encouraged her to use “word of mouth.” Later, in another Zoom discussion, someone asked him whether he had any chance of winning. “You never know,” he said. “Surprising things do happen.”
Last month, Van Ausdal was at home cooking dinner when a police officer rang his doorbell and served him with divorce papers. Van Ausdal said that he and his wife had been having issues, but that “the plan was to wait until after the election and then separate.” (The couple has a young daughter.) The divorce papers required him to leave his house immediately. He spent a few nights in a hotel, but soon ran low on cash. His advisers, in consultation with the Federal Election Commission, determined that he could not use campaign funds to rent an apartment; even sleeping on a friend’s couch might be construed as an illegal campaign contribution. So he drove ten hours, to Indiana, to stay with his parents.
Since he no longer lives in Georgia, Van Ausdal is now ineligible to represent the Fourteenth District, and he has suspended his campaign. His advisers wrote to Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, asking that Van Ausdal be disqualified, which would have allowed the Democratic Party to put forward another name. Raffensperger, a Republican, did not grant the request. Now Greene is running unopposed. Van Ausdal insists that his sudden departure from the race was due to a coincidence, not a conspiracy. ♦