Rep. Ilhan Omar’s Republican Challenger Appears to be a QAnon Conspiracy Theorist

By William.Sommer@thedailybeast.com (Will Sommer)
via Twitter

A Republican House candidate challenging Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) has made frequent references to the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy theory, potentially making her the latest QAnon believer to run for federal office in 2020.

Danielle Stella, a Minneapolis special education teacher, made a stir on the right-wing internet in June when she launched her campaign against Omar, a frequent target of President Donald Trump. But her campaign strategy appears to include outreach to QAnon fans, with Stella’s Twitter account posting twice last week using the hashtag “#WWG1WGA” — a reference to the QAnon motto “Where we go one, we go all.”

Stella’s Twitter account also follows a number of prominent QAnon promoters.

Stella went further on Monday, tweeting a picture of herself wearing a “Q” necklace in a tweet that was first reported by QAnon tracker and podcast host Travis View.

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While Stella didn’t clarify the meaning of the necklace, her campaign account favorited a series of tweets from QAnon believers who took the necklace as a sign of support for QAnon. One of the favorited tweets included a series of pictures of QAnon believers at Trump rallies. Another warned Stella to “be stealth about certain symbols and things” — apparently a suggestion that she downplay any belief in QAnon.

While someone who appeared to work for the campaign told Right Wing Watch that Stella stood “100 percent” behind Q, former aides told The Daily Beast it was actually a ruse. Jodi Larson, a former Stella campaign staffer who has since backed another candidate, said Stella is just posing as a QAnon believer to gain campaign support.

“She tries to portray herself as she supports it, but she doesn’t even understand it,” Larson said.

Larson accompanied Stella on a trip to Washington, D.C. early this month, where she claims Stella wore the QAnon necklace.

“She just wears it to get attention,” Larson said.

Stella didn’t respond to a request for comment.

QAnon believers have become convinced—through a series of cryptic clues posted online by an anonymous figure known as “Q”—that top Democrats are engaged in a Pizzagate-style pedophile conspiracy and will soon be arrested and either imprisoned or executed by Trump.

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A Republican House candidate openly embracing QAnon marks the conspiracy theory’s latest progress within the GOP tent. For over a year, QAnon believers have been showing up at Trump rallies. And the president even invited QAnon promoters to the White House for a “social media summit.” A South Carolina state representative endorsed QAnon in March, although she later claimed she didn’t believe in it anymore, while a California councilmember quoted from the conspiracy theory in the council dais. There is no member of Congress who openly believes in QAnon, though there are several individuals who are trying to make such history. In addition to Stella, Matthew Lusk, a longshot Republican House candidate in Florida, voiced his support for the conspiracy theory in April.

Stella’s tweets aren’t her only interactions with the world of QAnon conspiracy theorists. Shortly after launching her campaign, she appeared on Patriot’s Soapbox, a 24-hour QAnon YouTube channel that has become one of the most popular gathering places for QAnon believers.

While Stella didn’t explicitly mention QAnon in her Patriot’s Soapbox appearance, she did promote the baseless smear that Omar’s ex-husband is secretly her brother. That claim, which has also been embraced by Fox News and Trump himself, is based on no evidence besides an anonymous, three-year-old message board post.

“She was in fact married to a gentleman who I believe to be her brother,” Stella said of Omar on Patriot’s Soapbox.

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QAnon fans insist their movement is non-violent. But QAnon believers have been charged with two murders in 2019, including the March slaying of a top leader in the Gambino mafia family. Another QAnon believer is charged with using an improvised armored truck to shut down a bridge near the Hoover Dam last year, after one of Q’s clues failed to be proven true.

Stella has managed to gain some traction in right-wing media, appearing on a show hosted by Todd Starnes, a host on Fox News’s streaming platform.

So far, Stella faces two declared primary challengers. But whoever wins the Republican primary will likely face long odds in the general election — Omar won the seat in 2018 by beating her Republican challenger by more than 50 percentage points.

Stella’s campaign also appears to have been beset by turmoil that has nothing to do with QAnon. Her federal candidate registration form lists her treasurer as a man named Scott Kartman. Reached by The Daily Beast on Tuesday, however, Kartman said he’s no longer with the campaign after being ousted in an internal power struggle.

Since then, Kartman said, the campaign’s current staffers have “made a mess of things.” Kartman said he was considering filing a police report against Stella in an attempt to get back what he describes as property that Stella still has of his.

“She’s got a laptop that belongs to me that I’m trying to get back,” Kartman said.

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