‘The difference is QAnon’: how a conspiratorial hate campaign upended California politics

A lawmaker’s LGBTQ+ bill led to antisemitic attacks calling him a pedophile: ‘The GOP has been infected by QAnon’

Catie Stewart was on her way home from a vacation in early August when her phone reconnected to cell service and she realized something was wrong. As the communications director for Scott Wiener, a California state senator, Stewart manages her boss’s Instagram account, a task that usually involves responding to a handful of messages each day. But while Stewart had been out of cellphone range, a bill authored by Wiener had become the target of a misinformation and harassment campaign by activists who oppose coronavirus public health measures and followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory.

“FUCKING FILTH. BLOW YOUR HEAD OFF,” read one representative message that accused Wiener of “creating a law to allow pedophiles to be charged on a lesser degree”. Others fantasized about dragging Wiener’s body behind a car until he died, accused him of worshipping “Moloch”, or declared an intention to find and kill him. One meme posted on Instagram featured an image of Wiener photoshopped to enlarge his nose and add sidelocks, a yarmulke and a Jewish prayer shawl. Over the next month, Stewart and Wiener were left to confront a constant digital onslaught of death threats, homophobia, antisemitism and baseless allegations of pedophilia.

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