WASHINGTON — Last month, the House Republican campaign committee falsely accused Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski of lobbying to “protect sexual predators.”
On Tuesday, followers of QAnon — a collective delusion that alleges President Donald Trump is fighting a Satanist cabal of elites who abuse children — targeted him, leading to death threats.
Malinowski had coauthored a bipartisan resolution last month that would have the House formally condemn QAnon and on Tuesday he was the subject of a “Q drop” — conspiracy-filled, false messages posted to message boards from the self-proclaimed US government insider to their followers. The post included a screenshot of Malinowski’s resolution, but it also capitalized on a press release from the National Republican Campaign Committee that falsely alleged that Malinowski “lobbied to protect sexual predators,” along with the message, “Those who scream the loudest…”
Malinowski received multiple death threats on Tuesday after the Q post went up, he and his office told BuzzFeed News. The NRCC’s press release — as well as a TV ad the group is running against the New Jersey Democrat falsely accusing him of “helping sexual predators hide in the shadows” — echo a baseless conspiracy theory frequently used by QAnon followers that powerful Democrats and global elites are engaged in child trafficking. The ad, which has been repeatedly debunked, includes a narrator saying, “Tom Malinowski chose sex offenders over your family.”
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In an interview with BuzzFeed News Tuesday night, Malinowski said the NRCC bears responsibility for playing into QAnon’s hands and inspiring the violent threats against him. “I think they knew exactly what they were doing. They knew they were playing with fire,” he said in a phone interview.
Malinowski’s campaign, as well as six current and former Republican officials in his district, have called on the NRCC to take the ad down. The group has refused. The New Jersey Star-Ledger has twice called the ad a lie.
Malinowski told BuzzFeed News that he has also personally confronted Rep. Tom Emmer, who chairs the NRCC, about the attacks, pointing out their connections to QAnon theories. “He said, ‘I don’t know what Q is’ and walked away. … He said, 'I can’t be responsible for, you know, how people use our stuff and I don’t know what that is,'” Malinowski said.
Emmer’s office did not respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment for this story.
Both the ad and the press release were still live at the time of publication. After this story was published, the NRCC retweeted it, doubling down on the false claims about Malinowski, without addressing the death threats against him. Later, the NRCC sent BuzzFeed News a statement again repeating the false claims and adding that Malinowski "must live with the consequences of his actions."
Malinowski told BuzzFeed News he hadn’t expected to be the target of a Q post, but “it makes sense now.” The post linked his anti-QAnon resolution with the NRCC attacks, he said, “in ways that from a QAnon-conspiracy-minded point of view are obvious and sent his millions of people who follow this crazy, anti-Semitic cult to come after me.”
QAnon followers have followed through on threats of violence, including a man who blocked off the Hoover Dam with an armored vehicle and was arrested after an armed standoff. The FBI has labeled the group a domestic terror threat. President Donald Trump has praised it.
The NRCC has run several ads against Democrats during this election cycle that play on QAnon’s sex trafficking conspiracy theories, Yahoo News reported, including calling a gay Democratic candidate in Michigan a “pedo sex poet” in campaign materials. The NRCC denied to Yahoo News that it was trying to reach QAnon followers.
The NRCC’s ad and press release against Malinowski are based on an article from the conservative Washington Free Beacon, which draws a line between the New Jersey Democrat’s work for Human Rights Watch and that group’s opposition to a 2006 crime bill, in part because it expanded the registration requirements for sex offenders, including low-level and misdemeanor offenders “regardless of whether they have lived offense-free for decades.” The group did not oppose the national sex offender registry. Malinowski was registered as a lobbyist for the group at the time, but both he and Human Rights Watch said he did not work on the bill and his job focused instead on foreign affairs. A letter the group wrote to Congress opposing the bill is written by another staff member. (The Washington Post has a great breakdown of the facts.)
A Malinowski spokesperson said their office has received “hundreds of harassing messages” and that “the vast majority of them are just threatening and disturbing.” The office has reported “explicit death threats” to the Capitol Police, they said. A spokesperson for Capitol Police declined to comment for this story, saying the agency does not comment on “ongoing investigations.”
“The combination of [our House Resolution and] the NRCC ad is like perfect fuel for the paranoid mind of a member of this cult. And they knew it,” Malinowski said.
Malinowski’s office provided BuzzFeed News with some of the threats the Democrat has received since the Q post, including a DM that read in part, “Hope I turn on the news there at your door and put a bullet in your head and 20 fucking illegals raped your ugly ass wife.” A man who left the office a voicemail, which was also shared with BuzzFeed News, told Malinowski that he will soon be arrested, and “if you’re not rotting in a prison cell somewhere, you’ll never be safe on the streets, mark my words. You will have a target on your ass for the rest of your life and there’s nothing you can do about it. Fuck you, die, rot in hell. We cannot wait to destroy you. Fuck you and your families. Fuck you.”
Malinowski’s Facebook page was also filled with comments from QAnon supporters spouting hate and accusing him of protecting pedophiles.
“So that’s it. They’ve done what they’ve done and these are the consequences,” Malinowski said of the NRCC.
The Democrat introduced his resolution condemning QAnon in August along with Republican Rep. Denver Riggleman. Riggleman was not mentioned in the Q post on Tuesday and his office didn’t respond to a request for comment about whether they’ve encountered similar threats.
Malinowski and his office said they had received threats and vitriol from QAnon supporters since he introduced the resolution, but that it “didn’t seem like an organized effort” at the time. The volume of hate and violence increased massively after the Q drop on Tuesday.
Asked if he feared for his safety on Tuesday night, Malinowski said that since reporting the threats to law enforcement, he and his staff “haven’t really had any conversations about the implications. It’s all just starting to happen right now.”
“I’ll handle whatever comes my way,” he said. “What I find really troubling here is that the Republican Party is amplifying QAnon-style messaging, and now QAnon central is amplifying one of their press releases and they don’t seem to care.”
The Democrat said he’s focused on countering extremism since joining Congress in 2018, noting that the Department of Homeland Security has recently listed the threat of white supremacist and other domestic extremist groups as the greatest threat to the US. That’s what got him interested in countering QAnon, he said. “QAnon encompasses and amplifies all of that. There’s a central conspiracy theory, but it brings together every conspiracy theory, it’s kind of a do-it-yourself conspiracy theory making kit. And that makes it very dangerous,” he said. “You’ve seen the FBI express growing alarm about the potential of these conspiracy theories to inspire acts of violence, there have been acts of violence committed by people radicalized by QAnon.”
The Anti-Defamation League has said most QAnon followers are not violent, and some sincerely, credulously believe that QAnon is combatting rampant child sex trafficking across the globe. “But then again,” Malinowski said, “I suppose if you hear the anti-Semitic blood libel that Jews are drinking the blood of our children and you’re concerned about the safety of children and you believe that, what does that make you?”
And the movement is widespread. One avowed QAnon believer is already poised to enter Congress next year — Marjorie Taylor Greene won the Republican primary for a seat in Georgia earlier this year. Earlier this month, Greene posted a photo of herself with a gun next to Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib, calling herself the “Squad’s worst nightmare.”
“I’m concerned about what it means for the country … that these conspiracy theories are spreading to the point where millions of Americans are losing the capacity to distinguish truth from falsehood,” Malinowski said. “Political candidates getting elected is just a symptom of that.”
Malinowski and Riggleman’s anti-QAnon resolution has four other cosponsors, evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, and Malinowski said Tuesday he expects that it will pass with a “strong, bipartisan vote” if it gets to the House floor.
After briefly being interrupted by colleagues on Capitol Hill Tuesday night who were “commiserating” with him, he said, Malinowski concluded the call. “So there it is. Fun, fun stuff. … You know, this is the profession we have chosen.
This story was updated with a statement from the NRCC.
This story was updated after the NRCC doubled-down on its false claims about Malinowski.