Dispatches from the Q-fevered anti- “abortion capital”
Conspiracy theories and religious fervor fuel ongoing extremism
David Reinert holds up a large “Q” sign while waiting in line to see President Donald J. Trump in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania in 2018. (Photo by Rick Loomis / Getty Images)
Most people regard the dangerous QAnon conspiracy theory with either dismay or dismissal. Yet the depth and breadth of its reach has taken on bleak salience during this moment in history.
What began as ambiguous, nameless postings signed “Q” on unmoderated message board websites that host anything from anime fandom and fitness advice to child pornography and white supremacist rhetoric now bears international and at times deadly implications.
The QAnon network of followers and opportunistic promoters has touch points close to home. During the simmering lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, even a friend of mine who’s a devout evangelical Christian was convinced that the earlier “Pizzagate” version of the same basic conspiracy theory was valid. Today the QAnon belief system — that a shadowy cabal of celebrities and Democratic politicos are actually Satan-worshipping pedophiles — extends to some of the most influential figures in contemporary right-wing politics.
Hardline anti-abortion activists are rampant among those fervently attached to the fundamentally anti-Semitic conspiracy. Some were also active participants in the mob attack of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 to overthrow the valid 2020 presidential election results.
One of QAnon’s early adherents here in New Mexico was Bud Shaver, who alongside his wife Tara, was trained by an organization with a long history of extremism before they declared Albuquerque their “mission field” as a so-called “abortion capital” about 10 years ago.
These interlinked events are especially on my mind this week as abortion opponents like the Shavers fervently celebrate commencement of oral arguments before the Supreme Court today in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health.
A SCOTUS decision in favor of abortion opponents in the Mississippi case “will amplify and accelerate the human rights crisis unfolding in Texas thanks to SB 8,” wrote attorney Jessica Mason Pieklo in June. According to a report published in September by the Center for American Progress, as more people in states with restricted access to abortion are forced to travel for the medical procedure, providers in places with fewer restrictions may become overwhelmed with patients, undermining accessibility even where abortion is still legally permitted. Local clinics and reproductive justice organizers here are already reporting a significant rise in the number of people from Texas seeking abortion care.
Devoted churchgoers — particularly white evangelicals — are the most dedicated supporters of both Trump and the GOP, and opposing abortion is today one of the central tenets of their worldview and organizing. Reflecting on the Jan. 6 mob attack on the U.S. Capitol, journalist Sarah Posner, whose work centers on the U.S. religious right, wrote that “just as the right has defamed Planned Parenthood, portraying it as a perverted and murderous miscreant, QAnon targets another public servant — the federal government — and similarly demonizes it as a ‘deep state’ molester of innocent children and a mortal enemy of the Christian nation.”
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In a similar vein, after Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn’s rapid downfall from his position as the Trump administration’s national security advisor, QAnon adherents deemed him an ally, convinced for a while that he was working behind the scenes with Special Counsel Robert Mueller to help Trump enact justice against this imagined cabal of Satanic pedophiles.
But in recent days, the Q movement has been riven with internal conflicts sparked when Kyle Rittenhouse publicly distanced himself from Georgia attorney Lin Wood, who’s yet another QAnon-attached figure. Even fired New Mexico State University law professor David Clements, a twice-featured guest on the Rio Grande Foundation’s podcast, has embroiled himself in the infighting, using his Telegram messaging channel to proclaim repeatedly to his 140,000 subscribers that “#IStandWithLin.”
Back in Albuquerque, the Shavers haven’t openly promoted the Q conspiracy for several years, though they remain ardent fans of Infowars, where one of the earliest proponents of QAnon was hosting Q “decodes” before an early bout of dirty trickster discord broke out. A couple of other Infowars hosts invited both Bud and Tara on the show to talk about their activism in New Mexico, and Bud has been encouraging followers to buy holiday gifts from the Infowars store.
In recent days, the Shavers have joined forces with local and national anti-abortion groups to organize a series of prayer rallies in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Dobbs case. They’re networking closely with other GOP operatives such as party leader Steve Pearce, leftwinger-turned-rightwing-broadcaster Dinah Vargas, retired police officer and dogged Republican candidate Michelle Garcia Holmes, and a pastor from Calvary megachurch.
An ethnographic researcher told The New Yorker in March that during her recent work with abortion providers in New Mexico, “a few of her interviewees found it striking that their patients were forced to violate stay-at-home orders to obtain an abortion, only to arrive at a clinic to see lines of pro-life protesters defying the same orders.”
Furthermore, wrote journalist Jessica Winter, “the nativist, anti-Semitic tropes that dominated anti-abortion extremism for decades had an awful clarity. Those sentiments are still present among extremists today, if slightly harder to isolate amid the churn of floating signifiers (“Rothschilds”) and conspiracy theories that dominate the rhetoric.”
As oral arguments over the Mississippi abortion ban begin, the Shavers and their far-flung network of Christian fundamentalists pray their chosen mission field here in New Mexico will be rendered an even more embattled focal point in their crusade to criminalize abortion completely.
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