Former Utah lawmaker calls on RNC to remove Burgess Owens’ speaking slot claiming QAnon ties

(Rick Bowmer | AP file photo) Burgess Owens looks on during a "Blue Rally" to support men and women of law enforcement on Saturday, June 20, 2020, in Salt Lake City. Owens, the Republican former football player who is challenging Utah's lone congressional Democrat will speak at the Republican National Convention this week.

Sheryl Allen, a former Utah lawmaker and lifelong Republican, is calling on the Republican National Committee to strip 4th Congressional District candidate Burgess Owens of his speaking platform at this week’s party convention.

Her concerns rest with Owens’ ties to QAnon, a baseless pro-Trump conspiracy theory that the candidate has said he does not believe in after appearing on a YouTube show connected with the group earlier this summer.

But Allen, who spent 16 years in the state Legislature and once served as a national Republican delegate, says that “even occasional acknowledgment and participation in anything related to QAnon is irresponsible and does not at all represent what mainstream Republican values ought to be.”

The Republican National Committee, she said, “shouldn’t be inviting anyone to speak who has any affiliation with any of these groups or has participated with them.”

Owens, a frequent commentator on Fox News, is slated to participate in the convention Wednesday, the same day Vice President Mike Pence, second lady Karen Pence and President Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara, will speak.

Allen’s comments come less than a week after Rep. Ben McAdams’ campaign criticized Owens for appearing in May on “The Common Sense Show,” a YouTube program that is part of the Patriots’ Soapbox News Network Archive and is affiliated with QAnon.

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Sheryl Allen speaks at a news conference in Salt Lake City, June 27, 2017.

At the end of his interview, which did not discuss any of the tenets of QAnon, Owens thanked the hosts “for all you guys are doing, because I’m just part of the team.”

“Why does he believe he is on their team?” Andrew Roberts, McAdams’ campaign spokesman, said in a news release last week calling on Owens to take a stand against QAnon. “Does he, like the President, welcome QAnon’s support? Does he believe the President is saving the world from Satan’s influence? What proof does Burgess have that such activity exists and will he share it with the voters of Utah’s 4th Congressional District?”

On Monday, Roberts noted that the FBI has said QAnon poses a domestic terrorist threat.

“It’s up to [the Republican National Committee] to decide if they want to spotlight a speaker who proudly said he was ‘on the team,‘” he continued. “This political extremism just isn’t what we’re about here in Utah.”

Owens’ campaign said in a statement last week that he “does not believe” in the platform of QAnon and that he was unfamiliar with the group when he went on the show, which was one of hundreds of campaign speaking engagements he’s participated in over the past few months.

His team also criticized the McAdams campaign, which pointed The Salt Lake Tribune to Allen, for hiring “trackers to stalk Burgess” and floating “any story he can to the press.”

“Burgess didn’t even know what Qnon [sic] is and has never spoken favorably about it,” said Jesse Ranney, Owens’ campaign spokesman, in a statement. “When asked about it, he said on [the] record that he does not believe in their platform. Ben McAdams knows this better than anyone, especially after the countless hours his campaign has spent digging through everything Burgess ever said and all the money they’ve wasted paying people to track his every move.”

In a follow-up question from The Tribune, the Owens campaign did not respond to Allen’s comments about the convention and instead called on Utahns to “focus on the facts here — and the facts are that Ben McAdams is a Nancy Pelosi Democrat who is out of touch with Utah.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Congressman Ben McAdams, D-Utah, holds a press conference on Midvale City's Main Street amongst shuttered businesses on Wednesday, April 29, 2020.

Owens’ disavowal of any knowledge about QAnon follows the same template used by White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in an interview Sunday, days after President Donald Trump last week described the supporters of the QAnon conspiracy as “people that love our country.”

“You can end this controversy right now,” Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace said in an interview with Meadows. “Does the President disavow, does he condemn QAnon?”

“We don’t even know what it is,” Meadows responded. “I can tell you you’ve spent more time talking on it, Chris, than we have in the White House. I find it appalling that the media, when we have all of the important things that are going on, a list of top 20, that the first question at a press briefing would be about QAnon that I had to actually Google to figure out what it is.”

Trump has retweeted QAnon followers at least 201 times, according to an analysis by the progressive group Media Matters. Members of his family, as well as his personal attorney, current and former campaign staffers, and some current and former Trump administration officials have also repeatedly amplified QAnon supporters, the organization noted in a piece published earlier this month.

The QAnon conspiracy, once relegated to fringe corners of the internet, has become more mainstream over the past few months, aided in part by the coronavirus pandemic pulling more people into virtual spaces. Its followers broadly believe Trump is secretly battling an unsubstantiated worldwide child sex-trafficking ring run by powerful politicians and Hollywood stars alike.

At least a half-dozen Republican candidates on November’s ballot have professed QAnon theories, according to a recent report by NBC.

Utah’s 4th Congressional District race between Owens and McAdams is expected to be among the most competitive in the nation. Handicappers at the Cook Political Report say the race between them is a toss up, and recent polling from The Deseret News and the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah have indicated it would be a close race.

Allen, who does not live in the district, won’t have to make a choice between the two candidates this November. But she felt compelled to speak out about the dangers of QAnon because of her “disgust” at the extremism she’s seeing crop up within her party and said she would still like to see a stronger disavowal of QAnon from Owens, as well as an apology to voters for appearing on the YouTube program.

“In my political career, I’ve never hesitated to be outspoken,” said Allen, who in 2010 ran for lieutenant governor in tandem with Democrat Peter Corroon while remaining a registered Republican. “And frankly, I think that we all ought to care about these issues, no matter where we live in the state, if we love this state. And Utahns do love their state.”

Editor’s note: 11 a.m. Aug. 25, 2020. This story was updated to note that Allen once ran as lieutenant governor with a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, but said she remained a registered Republican throughout.