A clear indication that Marjorie Taylor Greene was more than a dabbler in QAnon was her 2018 endorsement of “Frazzledrip,” one of the most grotesque tendrils of the movement’s mythology. You “have to go down a number of rabbit holes to get that far,” said Mike Rothschild, whose book about QAnon, “The Storm Is Upon Us,” comes out later this year.
The lurid fantasy of Frazzledrip refers to an imaginary görüntü said to show Hillary Clinton and her former aide, Huma Abedin, assaulting and disfiguring a young girl, and drinking her blood. It holds that several cops saw the görüntü, and Clinton had them killed.
When Greene posted a picture of Donald Trump with the mother of slain N.Y.P.D. officer Miosotis Familia on Facebook, one of her commenters described Frazzledrip and wrote, “This was another Hillary hit.” Greene replied, “Yes Familia,” then continued, “I post things sometimes to see who knows things. Most the time people don’t. I’m glad to see your comment.”
Contemplating Frazzledrip, it occurred to me that QAnon is the obscene apotheosis of three decades of Clinton demonization. It’s other things as well, including a repurposed version of the old anti-Semitic blood libel, which accused Jews of using the blood of Christian children in their rituals, and a cult lusting for mass public executions. According to the F.B.I., it’s a domestic terror threat.
But QAnon is also the terminal stage of the national derangement over Clinton that began as soon as she entered public life. “It’s my belief that QAnon really took off because it was based on Hillary Clinton,” said Rothschild. “It was based specifically on something that a lot of 4chan dwellers wanted to see happen, which was Hillary Clinton arrested and sort of dragged away in chains.”
I was curious what Clinton thinks about all this, and it turns out she’s been thinking about it a lot. “For me, it does go back to my earliest days in national politics, when it became clear to me that there was a bit of a market in trafficking in the most outlandish accusations and wild stories concerning me, my family, people that we knew, people close to us,” she told me.
The difference is that, even if Fox News or Rush Limbaugh spread demented lies about the Clintons, there was no algorithm feeding their audience ever-sicker stuff to maximize their engagement. For most ordinary people, there were no slot machine-like dopamine hits to be had for upping the ante on what might be the greatest collective slander in American history.
Looking back to the 1990s, it’s easy to see QAnon’s antecedents. In “Clinton Crazy,” a 1997 New York Times Magazine story, Philip Weiss delved into the multipronged subculture devoted to anathematizing the first couple. He described “freelance obsessives, the people for whom the Internet was invented, cerebral hobbyists who have glimpsed in the Clinton scandals a high moral drama that might shake society to its roots.”
The people Weiss wrote about targeted both Clintons, but there was always a special venom reserved for Hillary, seen as a feminist succubus out to annihilate traditional family relations. An attendee at the 1996 Republican National Convention told the feminist writer Susan Faludi, “It’s well-established that Hillary Clinton belonged to a satanic cult, still does.” Running for Congress in 2014, Ryan Zinke, who would later become Trump’s secretary of the interior, described her as “the Antichrist.” (He later said he was joking.) Trump himself called Clinton “the Devil.”
For Clinton, these supernatural smears are part of an old story. “This is rooted in ancient scapegoating of women, of doing everything to undermine women in the public arena, women with their own voices, women who speak up against power and the patriarchy,” she said. “This is a Salem Witch Trials line of argument against independent, outspoken, pushy women. And it began to metastasize around me.” In this sense, Frazzledrip is just a particularly disgusting version of misogynist hatred she’s always contended with.
Nor is the claim that she’s a murderer new; it’s been an article of faith on the right ever since the 1993 suicide of Vince Foster, an aide to Bill Clinton and a close friend of Hillary’s. Recently I spoke to Preston Crow, who, when he was a graduate student in 1994, created one of the first anti-Clinton websites, where he posted about things like the “Clinton body count.” (He’s since become a Democrat and voted for Hillary in 2016.) “Once you start following the conspiracy theories, it’s fairly similar,” he told me. “QAnon took it several steps farther.”
Greene now claims that she no longer believes in QAnon. In a speech on Thursday, before the House voted to strip her of her committee assignments, she blamed her claims that leading Democrats deserve to die for their role in a diabolic pedophile ring on her inability to trust the mainstream media. “I was allowed to believe things that weren’t true,” she said.
To my surprise, Clinton thought Greene’s passive account of her own radicalization wasn’t entirely absurd. “We are facing a mass addiction with the effective purveying of disinformation on social media,” Clinton said. “I don’t have one iota of sympathy for someone like her, but the algorithms, we are now understanding more than ever we could have, truly are addictive. And whatever it is in our brains for people who go down those rabbit holes, and begin to inhabit this alternative reality, they are, in effect, made to believe.”
Clinton now thinks that the creation and promotion of this alternative reality, enabled and incentivized by the tech platforms, is, as she put it, “the primary event of our time.” Nothing about QAnon or Marjorie Taylor Greene is entirely new. Social media has just taken the dysfunction that was already in our politics, and rendered it uglier than anyone ever imagined.
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