Conspiracy theorists are on the rise in Colorado

QAnon candidates gain power, risk integrity of state and national politics

Denver International Airport has long been the subject of conspiracy theories. (flydenver.com)

If coronavirus made toilet paper a hot commodity, conspiracy theorists may soon leave us with a growing shortage of aluminum foil.

Conspiracy theories in Colorado used to be (almost) fun. From wild tales of a 32-foot demon stallion nicknamed Blucifer, to decades of speculation on airport tunnels, the Illuminati, hidden secrets of mountain defense centers and more, Coloradans have long demonstrated a proclivity for, well, creative thinking. But as several extreme conspiracy theorists hit the ballot box this November, suddenly it feels neither creative nor funny.

The rapid growth of conspiracy theories to mainstream consumption has more than a few experts worried. Rooted in non-falsifiable, anti-science sentiments, conspiracy theories have typically remained on the fringe. Yet research shows that erosion of trust in public institutions and general political instability can instigate the acceptance of conspiracy theories as individuals desperately seek to regain control during uncertain times. With political instability and erosion of institutional trust at an all time high, alongside technology that rapidly and indiscriminately can spread false information, America has become primed for such fringes to take hold.

In Colorado, we’re reaping what has been sown. Although overall numbers remain relatively low, at least for now, extreme conspiracy theorists have landed. In 2018, Colorado became the host of the Flat Earth International Convention, a society for those who incomprehensibly believe the Earth is flat. In 2019, a far-right wing circular, which regularly espouses conspiracy theories, was spotted in the mainstream news racks at the Colorado Capitol. By 2020, QAnon supporters have routinely marched in protest, all in addition to the state being home to some of the nation’s strongest anti-vaccination, natural remedy and 5G conspiracists. Yet none of these groups had any real power — until now.

This November, Colorado has not one but multiple QAnon-related conspiracy theorists on the ballot statewide. All are Republicans. Some are expected to win.

This is nowhere better illustrated than in Colorado’s now infamous 3rd Congressional District. Republican nominee Lauren Boebert has been given an outsized microphone, one that she eagerly uses to acknowledge her affinity for QAnon. On Twitter she parrots QAnon sentiments of “researching your own truth” with tweets like, “Who fact checks the fact checkers?” and “universities are indoctrinating our youth.” (Boebert, who holds a high school GED, is very vocal in her anti-higher education platform.) In a YouTube video that has since been removed, Boebert reportedly touted the QAnon “plandemic” theory, which falsely claims the coronavirus pandemic was planned, and has been a regular at tweeting false COVID-19 claims, including “Fauci wants us in our houses until 2040” and fake statistics — claims that often trace back to QAnon-associated accounts. All told, her upset win against five-term incumbent Rep. Scott Tipton has ensured Colorado’s 3rd District — a long standing Republican stronghold — is now a national litmus test for whether Republicans will “fall in line” at the expense of open conspiracy theorists entering our government’s highest ranks.

But Boebert’s not alone. Randy Corporon, a top Republican National Committee official from Colorado, has long been documented in the spread of conspiracy theories, and lesser known Colorado Republican candidates, such as Hannah Hannah for Chaffee County Commissioner and Samantha Koch for House District 1, have joined the bandwagon, the latter flagged on Facebook for spreading fake COVID-19 QAnon-related theories. For now, no QAnon conspiracy theorists are known among Colorado’s Democratic candidates, further emphasizing the power of susceptibility to conspiracy theories when it comes from the top. 

All of this makes the rise of conspiracy theorists to positions of power in Colorado even more terrifying to anyone who values truth and objectivity. It is well documented that belief in one conspiracy theory opens the door to others, a floodgate to extreme thinking. Combined with powerful platforms such as House representative or county commissioner, the outcomes could be disastrous. QAnon is especially dangerous for its significant overlap with other conspiracies, all of which feed directly into Russian interests on democratic interference — a nod to the ongoing national security risk and domestic terrorism watch of QAnon by the FBI

These are no longer quaint theories of a neon blue horse. They are indoctrinated beliefs that damage our economy and national security, and they risk lives. Recovering as a nation from these tumultuous political times will require eliminating conspiracy theorists from platforms of power. Arguments of supporting such candidates on the basis of party affiliation fall short, as a win would only serve to legitimize QAnon and related conspiracy theories and expand the base. Rejecting conspiracy theorists must therefore supersede political ideology.