Oregon Republican Senate nominee Jo Rae Perkins on Thursday defended her interest in QAnon, a loose-knit group that’s promoted a number of conspiracy theories.
Perkins told OPB in a lengthy interview that she regretted allowing her campaign consultants to take down a video she posted on primary election-night Tuesday in which she praised QAnon and said, “I stand with Q and the team.”
“Am I bummed I took it down?” said Perkins, a semi-retired insurance agent from Albany, Oregon. “Yeah, I am really bummed. But I also hired a consultant whose job it is to ‘protect me.’”
Perkins' election-night video received national attention this week in such media outlets as The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Guardian. She insisted she goes to QAnon message boards as merely a "source of information" and that the news media focuses too much on the group.
The 64-year-old ran for the Senate in 2014 and for the U.S. House in 2016 and 2018, all while receiving scant attention and failing to win primary contests. This year, Republicans were unable to recruit a strong challenger to Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, and Perkins won 49% of the Republican vote against three other little-known challengers.
In the now-deleted video, Perkins held up a sticker promoting a QAnon slogan – “Where we go one, we go all” – and said, “Thank you anons. Thank you, patriots.”
Critics of QAnon say followers have promoted a number of baseless and sometimes dangerous conspiracy theories. One FBI report said QAnon had inspired domestic terror threats, including one involving a man arrested in 2018 for planning a bomb attack on the Illinois state Capitol. The movement was started by someone posting under the letter "Q" claiming to have inside knowledge of high-level conspiracies aimed at taking over governments and major businesses – while also alleging prominent Democratic figures run pedophilia rings.
President Donald Trump on several occasions has retweeted QAnon messages. And his repeated insistence that he’s taking on the “deep state” has resonated with many QAnon followers.
Perkins said she first started looking at QAnon messages on Nov. 20, 2017 – she said she knows the date because it is on her computer. That’s about a month after “Q” first posted. And she said she appreciates that QAnon followers are trying to “look behind the proverbial curtain to see if there’s anything there.”
Perkins called the QAnon message boards "Socratic" in the way they pose questions that encourage further research. She said some people may take the posts as gospel, but she said she doesn't agree with everything she sees there. She said she also relies on numerous other sources for inspiration and information, including the Bible and an online course from Hillsdale College, which has gained a national following among staunch conservatives.
Perkins said holding up the QAnon sticker was a “shout out to all of the people that have supported me.” She said it was akin to being in a “room full of Beaver fans or a room full of Ducks fans” and saying “Go Beavs,’ ‘Go Ducks.’”
Like many QAnon readers, Perkins said she believes Trump agrees with much of the thinking on QAnon. She said she’s several times seen Trump draw “Q” marks in the air during a public appearance.
“He did it in the Oval Office the day before that he said, ‘This is the calm before the storm,’” said Perkins, referring to Trump posing with several military leaders before suggesting that it might represent the calm before the storm.
However, Perkins repeatedly said journalists and voters should instead be focusing on her longtime beliefs that the federal government needs to be dramatically reduced in scope.
“I don’t need the U.S. Forest Service on our land,” said Perkins. “It is unconstitutional.”
She added that she wants voters to know she will work to ensure they are “going to be able to keep all their rights and freedoms as outlined in our Constitution. That’s my takeaway, and I will fight for that.”
Perkins is particularly insistent that both the state and federal governments have been overreaching during the current pandemic. She’s participated in protests against Gov. Kate Brown’s shutdown orders aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus.
The government should “get out of the way and let people live their lives,” said Perkins, adding that people who drink, smoke and eat a poor diet make themselves more susceptible to the disease. “They have to take responsibility for their own lifestyles.”
Health officials in Oregon and nationally have said stay home orders have been successful in preventing more deaths related to COVID-19.
Perkins said forcing people to stay locked down at home is “not America. That is a communist country. And I don’t live in a communist country.”
Merkley spokesman Ray Zaccaro said the senator would not have any comment on Perkins. Oregon Republican Party spokesman Kevin Hoar also declined to talk about her comments, saying that any statements should come from the party’s new Senate nominee.
After running for office several times, Perkins said she understands why her advisers are worried about some of her statements.
She noted candidates are typically advised to shift to the political middle once the primary is over.
“You know all campaigns pivot, right?” she said. “I don’t pivot very well. I’ve not been much of a good dancer all my life.”