One-time QAnon supporter Lauren Witzke won the Republican Senate primary in Delaware on Tuesday, campaigning on a pledge to institute a decade-long moratorium on all immigration and beating a rival candidate endorsed by the state GOP by nearly 14 percentage points.
Witzke’s win marks the second time a fan of the dangerous pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy theory has won a GOP Senate nomination this cycle, although Witzke said in January that she no longer promotes QAnon. But while Witzke has been photographed wearing a QAnon T-shirt and has repeatedly posted QAnon hashtags on social media, even as she now claims not to believe in the theory, her connections to the right’s darkest internet fringes go far beyond QAnon. And she’s not particularly inclined to hide them either.
With her victory still just hours old, the newest Republican Senate nominee publicly thanked a white nationalist leader who marched in the “Unite the Right” rally and has questioned the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust.
“Thank you, Nick!” Witzke tweeted in response to a tweet from Nick Fuentes, a Charlottesville participant who has become the face of the far-right angry, young white nationalist fringe.
It’s not just Fuentes with whom Witzke communicates. She also is regularly in contact with anti-Semitic and white nationalist figures in the “America First” faction of the pro-Trump right. Witzke has posted racist messages of her own on social media, calling Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) “third world” and “tards.”
Witzke has also more or less endorsed the idea of Trump becoming a lifelong king of the United States, and said she believes that the earth is flat.
Witzke is unlikely to win her general election bid against Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE). It’s not just that Coons’ campaign had $2.7 million cash on hand as of August, compared to the less than $30,000 that Witzke enjoys. It’s that Witzke’s candidacy makes Coons’ prior opponents, including Christine O’Donnell—who once quipped that she had “dabbled” in witchcraft—look downright mainstream.
Witzke’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment. Neither did the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the campaign wing for the Senate GOP. But the story of how, in just a few years, Witzke went from being a drug-dealing heroin addict to a QAnon-believing, racism-spewing, Flat Earth-believing nominee for federal office illustrates both the tumultuous politics of 2020 and the conspiracy theories and racist beliefs gaining traction in the GOP.
Witzke’s rise through the right has been rapid, even by the social media-charged standards of the Trump era.
Witzke, a 31-year-old Delaware native, earned an undergraduate business management degree at Delaware’s private Goldey-Beacom College. By 2016, though, she was addicted to opioids and methamphetamine and living in Tennessee.
In interviews she’s given to other media outlets and podcasts, Witzke has claimed to have worked for Mexican drug cartels or “cartel families” as a “low-end drug-runner” or drug dealer transporting drugs between Detroit and Tennessee.
“I was running drugs, actually, for the Mexican cartels,” Witzke told a Delaware radio station in May.
Witzke claims that she also bought identifying documents like birth certificates from other drug users before trading them to the “cartel families” who employed her in exchange for more drugs, in what’s now become part of her pitch for a decade-long immigration ban.
“Fast forward eight years later, I was selling drugs for the cartels, I was selling people’s identities, as in their birth certificates, in exchange for drugs, in exchange for the Mexicans to come here and live here and basically take our identities,” Witzke said in a May 2019 podcast interview with Michael Sisco, a self-described monarchist who became her campaign manager in January.
In August 2017, according to a police blotter published in a local newspaper, Witzke was arrested in Tennessee on a series of charges. The newspaper noted that a woman named Lauren Witzke had been arrested on violating both heroin and methamphetamine laws, charges of driving under the influence, resisting arrest, and introduction of contraband into a penal facility.
In a radio interview, Witzke claimed that the charges against her were dropped. The Daily Beast was not able to access Witzke’s criminal record to confirm her claims.
“If I’d gotten everything I deserved, I would be dead,” Witzke said in a radio interview for her campaign.
Witzke claims Trump’s 2016 election win eventually inspired her to quit drugs. By 2019, she had gotten sober and started to work as a conservative operative. She appeared at a quasi-religious revival at Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel, where Right Wing Watch reported that she used her experience with drugs to argue for a southern border wall and described Trump as “anointed” by God.
Witzke also has a mind for conspiracy theories. At some point in her life, she had watched the 9/11 conspiracy theory video Loose Change, which argues that the United States government knew about the terrorist attacks in advance. Witzke has described the film as a turning point in her thinking about the world.
“Loose Change changed everything for me,” she said in an October podcast, calling it her “great awakening moment.”
Witzke started to make appearances on a pro-Trump event tour with a rotating cast of pro-Trump internet personalities, during which she would talk about her recovery. The group’s most prominent members included conspiracy theorist Liz Crokin, who Witzke described in 2019 as “the journalist who uncovered Pizzagate,” and Dylan Wheeler, a QAnon promoter who goes by the handle “Education 4 Liberals,” and who has referred multiple times to the “Jewish Question,” the same phrasing used by white supremacists to refer to Jewish people.
Witzke also posted about QAnon, which posits that Donald Trump is engaged in a secret war against pedophile-cannibals in the Democratic Party and Hollywood and will soon order their mass arrests and executions. In May 2019, she twice tweeted #WW1WGA, a reference to a QAnon slogan. On June 6, 2019, Witzke posted an edited picture of Queen Elizabeth II wearing a MAGA hat and a Q-shaped broach, writing in her caption that “even the Queen knows what time it is.” A few days later, Witzke posted an Instagram picture of Trump and added the hashtag “#Qarmy.” And in the most visible sign of her interest in QAnon, Witzke posted a picture of herself wearing a shirt that said “We Are Q” and “WWG1WGA.”
By October 2019, though, Witzke was growing frustrated with QAnon after the jailhouse death of wealthy sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.
“I’m frustrated with the whole Q movement, you know, Q says that he has everything,” Witzke said in another appearance on Sisco’s podcast, this time in October 2019, speculating that we have a “really arrogant guy behind Q.”
Later in the podcast, Witzke referred to a mythical folder on Anthony Wiener’s laptop that QAnon believers think holds proof that, as Witzke puts it, implicates “Hillary Clinton and Huma Abedin for child sacrifice, child sex trafficking.”
“I don’t understand why we’re waiting on Q to pull the trigger,” Witzke said. “He’s apparently part of the NSA or whatever, then it’s time to release the documents, release everything.”
As Witzke entered the Senate race, she told the Associated Press that she didn’t promote QAnon anymore. Witzke isn’t the first QAnon-friendly Republican candidate to disown the conspiracy theory amid more mainstream political attention. The campaign of Oregon Senate nominee Jo Rae Perkins initially claimed she didn’t support QAnon after she won the GOP nomination, only to see Perkins backtrack and claim she was “in tears” over the disavowal of Q, the mystery figure behind QAnon. Lauren Boebert, a Republican House nominee in Colorado, once said that she hoped QAnon is real but ditched the conspiracy theory after winning the primary.
Still, Witzke maintained some of her QAnon connections.
In June, Witzke’s campaign posted a Facebook video of Wheeler urging his followers to donate to Witzke’s campaign and calling her “one of my best friends.” When Wheeler’s account was banned from Instagram, Witzke posted that she suspected it was because Wheeler “got a little too close to the truth about vaccines again.”
Witzke’s campaign has also organized a rally to “Save The Children,” a term that has become a gateway for QAnon even though it isn’t connected to an actual anti-trafficking group called Save The Children.
On August 17, Witzke’s campaign organized a rally to “Save The Children” in front of the University of Delaware’s Biden Institute. Witzke didn’t mention QAnon or conspiracy theories in her speech, but another speaker claimed that the Democratic Party is funded by human trafficking. A protester whose sign was promoted on Witzke’s campaign Facebook livestream held a sign demanding an end to “Satanic Ritual Abuse” and mentioned a fringe anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist who has written about the Illuminati.
But Witzke’s interest in conspiracy theories doesn’t stop with QAnon, judging by her Pinterest account. Amid ideas for clothes and interior design, Witzke has tagged images purporting to explain the structures of the Illuminati, promoting various 9/11 conspiracy theories, claiming that the Sandy Hook shooting was staged, and even one, illustrated with Israeli flags, suggesting that the Jewish Rothschild family had advance warning of 9/11.
In her “political” section on Pinterest, Witzke also saved an image suggesting African-Americans haven’t been grateful enough for white soldiers’ deaths in the Civil War.
“Over 620,000 white people died to free black slaves,” the image text reads, over a picture of Civil War dead. “And still to this day not even 1 thank you.”
In December, Witzke claimed to believe that the earth was flat in another episode of a podcast hosted by Sisco, who has a history of making anti-Semitic statements.
“I’m a flat earther,” Witzke said.
“Don’t say that,” said another podcast guest, identified as “Nick Leonard.”
“I am such a flat earther,” Witzke insisted.
“That’s so dumb,” Sisco said.
Witzke has extended her flat-earth promotion to Pinterest, tagging a meme about flat earth on the site.
Witzke’s ongoing ties to her party’s anti-Semitic fringe have received less attention than her QAnon views. But on the day of her primary win, Witzke reposted a message from Fuentes on the social media app Telegram: “Nothing and no one will stand in the way of the triumph of America First…nobody.”
Witzke is open about her far-right politics. In a Ballotpedia candidate questionnaire, Witzek recommended that people read Pat Buchanan’s 2001 book Death of the West to understand her political philosophy.
In Death of the West, Buchanan posits that the West is on the verge of a disastrous demographic shift because of immigration. He also describes feminism as a sign of “the death of the nation and the end of the West,” calls homosexuality “slavery” and a “death style,” and writes, in references to Mexican immigrants, that “different races are far more difficult to assimilate.” Buchanan also includes a citation in the book to the author of The Turner Diaries, a race-war novel that has become a foundational text for white supremacist terrorists.
In the place of new immigration that would be blocked under her decade-long moratorium, Witzke’s campaign website proposes an elaborate scheme to promote married couples raising more children and ending no-fault divorce.
“Those who divorce will lose all benefits,” the policy platform reads. “These benefits will far surpass any potential child support received after. Single parents who marry will be grand fathered into the program for a period for 10 years, after which the benefit will only be applied for those who marry and have children together.”
Witzke has also praised and appeared in a livestream with far-right columnist Michelle Malkin, whose embrace of Fuentes’ group of “groypers”—a reference to a cartoon of an obese toad meant to play on Pepe the Frog—earned her backlash from her conservative media peers.
In a Facebook video, Witzke praised Malkin as a “leader of the America First movement” and said she was “blessed” to have Malkin’s support.
Another connection between Witzke and the far-right comes through Sisco, the one-time campaign manager who her campaign paid $8,925. In December 2019, Sisco was fired from an unrelated Republican House campaign in Iowa for arranging for Fuentes to appear at a campaign event.
Right Wing Watch reported in May on Sisco’s history of anti-Semitic remarks. In a May 2019 episode of his podcast, Sisco posited that the monarchy he wants for the United States would somehow drive Jews out of the country. Sisco also reviewed a manifesto purportedly from the Poway synagogue shooter alleging that Jewish people prop up “debt-based currency that Jews like to pretend is money” and said, “I kind of agree with him on the money thing.”
In a May 27, 2019 appearance on Sisco’s podcast, Witzke basically endorsed the idea of a Trump kingship.
“Would you like to see Trump as the king of the United States?” another podcast host, whose name isn’t given on the show, asked Witzke.
“You know, that would be really cool because I really think that he is a man who puts America first, and he is the first president I’ve seen in my lifetime who really puts America first and the people of America first,” Witzke said, in remarks first reported by Right Wing Watch. “I guess I could get behind Trump, lifelong term, I guess.”
In her December appearance on Sisco’s podcast, Witzke claimed that Fuentes had been “well received” at the campaign event that prompted Sisco’s firing from the Iowa House race.
Witzke then stayed quiet during the podcast as Sisco and Leonard said they didn’t get why it was a big deal that Fuentes had once doubted the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust, comparing the deaths to the Cookie Monster baking cookies and saying the figure “just doesn’t make sense.”
Sisco left Witzke’s campaign in June. But Jeremy Abbott, described in FEC filings as a field organizer for the campaign, has continued to praise Fuentes.
“Nick Fuentes is a genius and is right about everything he says,” Abbott tweeted on July 4, adding that Fuentes was “right socially and politically.”
As Witzke’s primary victory became clear, Abbott celebrated in a tweet to Fuentes and Witzke.
“We fucking did it,” he wrote.