Arizona Republicans are hosting a two-day, QAnon-inflected, anti-vaccine circus at the statehouse — focused on supposed “atrocities” committed by public health officials in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The hearings, which began this morning, are organized by a new state Senate body, the Novel Coronavirus South Western Intergovernmental Committee. The committee’s chosen acronym — NCSWIC, which has been plastered on posters promoting the hearings — offers unusual cross-branding. It shares the abbreviation of an infamous QAnon catchphrase, “Nothing Can Stop What Is Coming.”
QAnon is a dark, catch-all conspiracy theory based around the idea that Democrats are demonic child sex-traffickers who are obedient to a nefarious “Deep State” that secretly controls the world. In some versions of the conspiracy theory — which heavily overlaps with anti-vaxxer beliefs — the Deep State has intentionally corrupted our health system to poison and control the populace, either with the pandemic itself, the mRNA vaccines, or both. In QAnon jargon, “NCSWIC” is a battle cry, referring to the inevitable downfall of the Deep State after MAGA Republicans and brave QAnon sleuths finally succeed in exposing and dismantling its evil ways.
The Arizona Senate hearings tout appearances from a murderers’ row of hard-right federal congressmen, including Reps. Paul Gosar, Andy Biggs, and Eli Crane. (The GOP House members did not respond to requests for comment.) The NCSWIC committee will take testimony from a panel of notorious doctors who have touted unproven and discredited treatments for Covid — including one doc who preaches that Covid public-health restrictions were, in fact, “Satan’s Wholistic Health Care Plan.”
Arizona state Republicans are infamous for putting spectacle above serious governance, including by putting the state through a farcical audit of the 2020 election results that only served to pad Joe Biden’s margin of victory in the state. But the NCSWIC hearings mark a new low, turning the state Senate into what resembles a two-day, taxpayer-funded pit stop of the conspiracy-laden Re-Awaken America tour.
The NCSWIC hearings will be livestreamed, not just by the government, but by a “sponsor” of the hearings, The America Project — a dark-money activist group founded by Trump-pardoned felon Gen. Michael Flynn and Overstock.com founder Patrick Byrne. Both men are devoted 2020 election deniers, and each is fluent in the language of Deep State conspiracies. (Flynn once filmed a video in which he used the QAnon cry, “Where We Go One We Go All!”)
TAP’s national political director Steve Montenegro is also an Arizona state legislator, and will appear at the NCSWIS proceedings. In its billing of the hearings, TAP writes: “Covid-19 Handlers To Be Held Accountable!” The most detailed agenda of the hearing is posted on TAP’s website. The panel titles include: “Public Health Incompetence”; “Death by Protocol”; and “Medical Extremists: Repression & Oppression.” (Neither Montenegro nor TAP responded to requests for comment.)
Other “sponsors” of the proceedings include Robert F. Kennedy’s anti-vax nonprofit Children’s Health Defense, and a little-known group calling itself 1,000 Widows, which seeks testimonies from families of Covid victims. “Whistleblowers who know the truth about what really happened to our loved ones at the hands of the hospitals carry the greatest responsibility than anyone on earth,” says a statement on its website.
The hearings are chaired by state Senate president pro tempore T.J. Shope, and fellow Sen. Janae Shamp. In a video previewing the hearings, Shope promised they would “expose all the atrocities committed during the pandemic response.” Shamp, a former nurse, said she lost her job for refusing to take the “jab,” insisting that “lives and livelihoods were lost for no other reason than horrific government overreach.”
Shope declined to answer questions about what he meant by “atrocities.” Shamp also declined to be interviewed, but responded to an Arizona Republic reporter, who called NCSWIC “a dog whistle for Q followers,” as if she were offended, tweeting: “What a goofy accusation!”
The QAnon conspiracy theory wormed its way from the far-right fever swamps into the heart of the GOP, in large part because it cast Donald Trump as a conquering hero who would slay the Deep State. The conspiracy was originally orchestrated by someone posing as Q — a supposed high-level intelligence operative who shared clues and covert signals with avid followers.
Those included lawmakers — Gosar has spread QAnon clues on Twitter — and Marjorie Taylor Greene, who infamously espoused QAnon beliefs before heading to Washington. The conspiracy also has links to Arizona: Ron Watkins, the man widely suspected of posing as Q, ran for the House from the Grand Canyon State, but lost his GOP primary bid.
In recent years, QAnon has transcended its origin story, and now lives on as a belief system for nearly anyone who believes that the world is run by nefarious, powerful forces who pose as virtuous, but are actually pure evil, whether they be in government, Big Tech or, specifically, Big Pharma.
Kim Quintero, spokesperson for state Senate Republicans, would not answer written questions about the hearing, and suggested Rolling Stone’s interest revealed a disqualifying bias. “Instead of asking: ‘Why the QAnon-cross branding?’” Quintero wrote as a “pro tip” to this reporter, “You could instead ask, ‘Why is there a conspiracy theory floating around that your committee purposely created QAnon-cross branding? Was this your intent when coming up with the committee name?’” (Quintero did not actually answer this hypothetical question.)
A look at the “expert panelists” engaged by the committee does not reveal a lineup of overt QAnon proponents. But it shows the NCSWIC committee’s abiding interest in unproven cures and treatments for Covid, as well as the unhinged belief that public health interventions to curb the pandemic were more harmful than the disease itself, which has killed more than a million Americans.
Witness Dr. Pierre Kory, for example, has touted the horse dewormer ivermectin is a covid “wonder drug” whose efficacy was supposedly covered up by the medical establishment. Similarly, Dr. Richard Urso was a top champion of the malaria med hydroxychloroquine as a covid treatment. Another touted panelist is Dr. Lela Lewis, who bases her objection to Covid vaccines on a message from heaven, and who decries pandemic-era restrictions like mask mandates and bans on large gatherings as serving Satan’s plan to “break” Americans’ “relationship with God — the ultimate goal being, of course, worshiping the Beast.”
Appealing directly to the mindset of conspiracy theorists, the NCSWIC hearings promise to reveal hidden truths about the dark reality of the medical establishment, and implore viewers to trust their guts over mainstream scientific evidence.
As state Sen. Shope told viewers in his teaser video: “Many of our citizens have had an evolution of thought on the pandemic — myself included. And that is why I believe it’s so important for those of you feeling this way to tune in. You’re not alone.”