This story has been updated.
A Republican state senator in Connecticut is facing questions after a photo posted on social media showed his vehicle with a sticker that is a nod to the QAnon conspiracy theory movement.
Sen. Eric Berthel (R-Watertown) confirmed Friday that both the car with his legislative license plate and the sticker reading #WWG1WGA are his. And while he distanced himself from some of the more extreme theories associated with the QAnon movement, he nevertheless defended QAnon’s messaging -- arguing that it has inspired more people to participate in policy and government.
“I don’t believe in many of the wild-eyed theories reportedly associated with the QAnon movement about pedophile conspiracies or satanic cults,” Berthel said in a statement to Connecticut Public Radio. “However, stopping corruption in politics, holding government accountable and protecting individual freedoms are values I do believe in which the movement has come to represent. Like many movements occurring across our nation today, I think it has allowed for people who have previously felt disconnected from public policy and government to be part of the conversation.”
Would State Senator Eric Berthel like to explain why he has a QAnon decal on his car? It’s very concerning that an elected official is supporting what is essentially a cult.
Submitted by one of our followers. pic.twitter.com/Y2JEMYulw2
— Yung Nutmeg (@yungnutmeg) September 10, 2020
According to the Associated Press, the QAnon conspiracy theory centers on the baseless belief that President Donald Trump is waging a secret campaign against enemies in the “deep state” and a child sex trafficking ring run by satanic pedophiles and cannibals. While many Republicans have dismissed QAnon, the conspiracy theory has gained a foothold in the party and among some extreme Trump supporters.
The movement is often likened to a right-wing cult. Some followers have run for office, primarily in the Republican Party, though some have been independent or run as third-party candidates. Trump has refused to denounce QAnon or say its theories are false.
Jeff Desmarais is a Democrat running against Berthel in November.
“I think this is signaling to his far-right supporters that he’s one of them. It’s a secret handshake-type thing,” he said. “QAnon is not about holding government accountable. That’s not what it’s about. No rudimentary investigation into what QAnon is about will tell you that’s what it is. It’s a far right-wing, over-the-edge conspiracy theory group … This is something where you’re taking gutter politics, gutter discussion, poisonous stuff and promoting it as an elected official with your elected official’s license plate -- to me, as I said, that’s disqualifying for public service.”
Berthel has served in the Senate since 2017 and was previously a state representative.
Information from the Associated Press is included in this report.