Hours before Jo Rae Perkins won 49.7 percent of Republican votes and the party's nod to face U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in November, she posted on social media a now-deleted video of herself espousing support for the baseless right-wing conspiracy theory QAnon.
"Hi, my name is Jo Rae Perkins, candidate for the U.S. Senate in Oregon," Perkins says in the May 19 video, while seated in front of a bookcase. She then recites the QAnon slogan—"where we go one, we go all"—while holding up a sticker of an acronym of said slogan.
"I stand with President Trump," Perkins continues in the video, which was first reported by The Washington Post. "I stand with Q and the team. Thank you, anons, thank you, patriots. Together, we can save our republic."
Reached by phone Wednesday, Perkins said she did not have time to discuss the video, and instead referred WW to her communications team. Her campaign then sent out a prepared statement from Perkins, in which she partly disavowed the conspiracy theory.
"I'm disheartened that less than 24 hours after my win, my words were already being spun through the fake news machine and taken out of context," Perkins said. "I was not endorsing QAnon, but rather stating that I appreciate the fact that there is still free speech in this country that allows for voices—including whistleblowers from both sides of the aisle—that may, or may not, bring to light issues Americans need to be aware of."
Perkins has deleted the video. But WW recorded it.
QAnon is a right-wing conspiracy theory that falsely alleges that leaders of the Democratic Party are running a child sex trafficking ring and that a "cabal" of famous people is seeking to destroy President Donald Trump. More recently, QAnon has posited that the COVID-19 pandemic is a hoax created by Democrats to exert control over the general population.
The QAnon movement has gained a higher profile in Oregon in the past year, thanks in part to its presence at conservative protests of Gov. Kate Brown. QAnon slogans were displayed on the Oregon Capitol steps twice: at Timber Unity protests of a carbon emissions cap in 2019, and at a rally against stay-home orders on May 2.
But Perkins' open support of QAnon raises concerns among watchdogs of extremist groups, because it indicates the increasing normalization of what was once considered to be a fringe conspiracy group.
"It would be particularly worrisome for any elected official to endorse the QAnon conspiracy theory," Lindsay Schubiner, program director for the extremism watchdog group Western States Center, tells WW. "We've seen during this pandemic that conspiracy theories can have deadly consequences, as the viral 'Plandemic' video instructs people to avoid taking basic precautions against COVID-19. One really has to question the judgment of any public leader that endorses QAnon. If they're willing to believe that, what else might they be willing to believe?"
Perkins does not represent a serious challenge to Merkley, who has held his U.S. Senate seat since 2009. Democrats have a sizable registration advantage in this statewide race.
Perkins faced three other Republican contenders in the Republican Party primary, including Paul Romero Jr., who won 28.5 percent of the vote, Robert Schwartz with 10.5 percent, and John Verbeek with 8.9 percent.
Before her win last night, Perkins ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2014, and for Oregon's 4th Congressional District in 2016 and 2018.
Perkins' LinkedIn account says she's worked as an independent insurance agent since August 2018. She's also been a real estate agent, personal banker and a financial adviser, according to her campaign website.
Perkins held an election night event at the Garages in Beaverton, according to her campaign website.
It is unclear how such a gathering squares with Gov. Brown's stay-home orders, which still prohibit bars and restaurants in the Portland metro region from reopening to dine-in service or group gatherings. Perkins' campaign did not respond immediately to questions from WW about the event.