Jo Rae Perkins is already counting on being called crazy for believing in the QAnon conspiracy theory, but it’s a risk she says she is willing to take while she campaigns for a third time to represent Oregon’s 4th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.
“It’s a very, highly calculated risk that I’m taking. Most people play it a lot safer than I do,” Perkins said in a phone interview with Right Wing Watch Friday. “It’s either pure genius or pure insanity. It’s one of the two. The voters are going to have to be the ones that make that decision,” Perkins added.
QAnon is a conspiracy theory that alleges President Donald Trump is working in secret to destroy a network of corrupt government officials and satanic child sex traffickers that include elite Democratic politicians, business leaders, and Hollywood figures. Supporters of the conspiracy theory get their updates from cryptic messages posted on anonymous forums by “Q,” who many QAnon followers believe is a high-ranking government official. Qanon followers believe that decoding the messages will reveal information about the Trump administration’s undisclosed plans.
Despite QAnon believers’ assertions that the person or people writing the mysterious “Q” messages online are connected to the Trump administration, the White House has refused to explicitly denounce the conspiracy theory and its followers. Instead, Trump’s Twitter account routinely retweets QAnon fans, doing so more than 20 times one day in late December.
While Trump was busy retweeting QAnon followers over the holidays, Perkins was sharing her own slew of pro-QAnon posts and defenses of the conspiracy theory. On Dec. 21, Perkins copied and pasted to her publicly viewable Facebook page a post authored by “Q.” After a person thanked her for sharing the post, she replied: “I wonder how many other Congressional Candidates have the intestinal fortitude to share #QPosts?”
Perkins’ interest and belief in QAnon is hardly new, even if her defense of the conspiracy theory in her campaign messaging is. Perkins told Right Wing Watch that she first encountered QAnon in November 2017 when she saw some comment the letter “Q” on a video she was watching. After watching the video, Perkins saw a Facebook friend’s post asking people to speak about Q. On the night of Nov. 19, 2017, Perkins said she sent a message to her friend on Facebook about Q, and though she was initially skeptical of QAnon, she says she was eventually convinced “that there’s more legitimacy than not” to the conspiracy theory.
Now, Perkins says she watches and has occasionally interacted online with pro-Q content creators online and has shared that content on the verified Twitter account associated with her campaign. On Dec. 30, Perkins tweeted a video from QAnon content creator Dave Hayes, known as the “Praying Medic,” and asked: “Did I strike a nerve? For those who state Q is conspiracy, rhetorical question for you; what if you are wrong? If I am wrong, than the mathematical improbability of coincidences failed! We’ve been fed many lies for years, are YOU too afraid to look behind the curtain. I’m not!” A Twitter user asked Perkins in a reply to her tweet whether she had personally done the math to support her claim about “mathematical improbability,” to which she replied that she had not.
The next day, Perkins agreed with a user that even if “Q” wasn’t really an administration official, that the phenomon was still good because it forced people to look at the world from a different point of view. “For too long, many of us suspected something was askew – Now we know it is unfortunately true. We have 3 to thank, God, President Trump and Q!” Perkins wrote.
Yahoo News reported in August that the FBI believes that the conspiracy theory may be a source of domestic extremist attacks, and that the threat would likely increase during the 2020 elections. Despite this, Perkins said she did not believe it was irresponsible to share QAnon material while pursuing public office.
“I think that there’s probably a lot of us out there, but I just happen to be bold enough to say, ‘Hey, I’m following Q because I want to know, because if the Q team is real, I want to know about it,’” Perkins said. “If the Q team is not real and it’s fake, I want to know about it, because we have to be willing to look at both sides of the issue.”
Throughout her 2018 bid for Congress, Perkins posted dozens of tweets that contained QAnon messages or hashtags, but she has since grown more vocal about her support for Qanon. Perkins lost her primary that year but managed to earn 21 percent of the Republican vote.
The most recent FEC filing available online for Perkins’ 2020 campaign was turned in on Oct. 16, 2019. At the end of that quarter, Perkins’ campaign reported raising only $514 and having just $2,584 cash on hand. But Perkins appears to have a foothold in local Republican politics.
Perkins served as chairwoman for the Linn County Republican Party in Oregon from January 2009 to November 2012, according to a filing listed on the Oregon Secretary of State’s website, and Perkins told Right Wing Watch she is a delegate for Linn County GOP Central Committee to the State Central Committee. The Linn County Republican Party did not return Right Wing Watch’s request for comment, but it did host a meet and greet event that featured Perkins in November.
Perkins said she that “pre-Q,” she had served on state-level GOP committees, and that she shared a plank for the state GOP’s platform convention last year “post-Q.” Perkins said that she had never been questioned by the Oregon Republican Party about her beliefs in QAnon. The Oregon Republican Party declined to return an emailed inquiry from Right Wing Watch.
After her time as chairwoman, Perkins sought election to the U.S. Senate in 2014 but lost the Republican primary. In 2016 and 2018, she made and lost bids to represent Oregon’s 4th District in the U.S. House, according to Ballotpedia. If Perkins is successful in her 2020 primary on May 19, she would likely challenge Democrat incumbent Rep. Peter DeFazio, who has been in office since 1987.
Perkins is one of many Republican candidates seeking elected office reported to be promoting pro-Q messages online.