Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams challenged his Republican rival Burgess Owens to disavow the sweeping QAnon conspiracy theory after Owens appeared to embrace the group in a radio interview last week.
Owens was a guest on the syndicated “REELTalk with Audrey Russo” program when he was asked about the issue of child sex trafficking, which he has made a centerpiece of his campaign. Unprompted, Owens brought up QAnon.
“What I find interesting is anytime you bring up child trafficking, we get from the left a word called QAnon,” said Owens.
Owens then said he thinks the idea is at least worth a closer look.
“One of the things we need to recognize with the left is if they ever say the word conspiracy, let’s look into it much deeper because there’s something they’re trying to keep us away from,” added Owens, who then backed away slightly by adding: “Whatever this other group is, I have no idea.”
Owens did not disavow the conspiracy theory which claims a cabal of Democrats and Hollywood celebrities are Satan-worshiping pedophiles who operate a global child sex-trafficking ring. The FBI has labeled QAnon a potential domestic terror threat, and a report earlier this year linked the movement to several incidents of violence.
During a Wednesday news conference, McAdams said Owens should “once and for all condemn the baseless, dangerous conspiracy theory."
“I think his words were very clear and lent legitimacy to QAnon. Yet, the only thing we’ve heard directly from Mr. Owens is his continued assertion that he doesn’t know what it is. I would suggest he should spend a little bit of time and Google it to understand what it is, then denounce it," said McAdams.
Another belief central to QAnon is President Donald Trump is secretly leading the fight against these evildoers. Trump has repeatedly refused to distance himself from the fringe theory.
Owens' comments were first reported by the liberal Media Matters for America.
The candidate’s campaign said in a statement that Owens has “denounced all radical groups.”
“Burgess even mentioned this during the debate with Ben McAdams,” the campaign said. “Ben must not have been paying attention."
When asked at the candidates' one and only debate last month about his appearances on programs affiliated with QAnon and whether they indicated he was embracing the theory, Owens said that was “as silly as it comes.”
“I think it’s interesting in my mind, that whoever talks about child trafficking, whether it be Tim Tebow, Tim Ballard, myself, all of a sudden everything we do is clouded in conspiracy," he added. "Up until this came out, I still don’t know what QAnon means or what they’re all about. It doesn’t matter because it doesn’t reflect on anything I’m doing right now.”
Owens has twice appeared as a guest on obscure internet-based programs in which the hosts have voiced public support of the theory, although the subject of QAnon did not come up during those interviews.
McAdams said at that debate that Owens' appearances on those programs represented a “pattern of bad judgment" and he asked, “At what point are you responsible for the decisions you make?”
Owens also tweeted his support of Colorado congressional candidate Lauren Boebert who has spoken favorably about QAnon in the past.
During the most recent interview, Owens bemoaned that the “craziness of politics” has taken over sports, and said the commissioners of the NBA and NFL were "traitors for allowing that to happen.
“They’re traitors and they know exactly what they’re doing," he said. “They care more about their fame and fortune and moving to China than the unity of our country.”
Owens also detailed the danger from the “far-left,” suggesting they are “pure evil” and needed to be purged from American politics.
“What they attack us on is our culture. They take away our education, our faith in God, in the family unit. That’s what they’re after. Just know this: There’s nothing too dark that these guys wouldn’t drift toward,” said Owens.
“We’ve had termites in every single institution of our country that’s made us great and have been there for decades. Now that we see it, we can eradicate it,” he added.
Owens, a frequent guest on Fox News and other right-wing media outlets, has often made controversial statements during those appearances. He has criticized Sen. Mitt Romney as not “representative of Utah values.” Earlier this year he said Romney should become a Democrat for voting to remove Trump from office during his impeachment trial.
The 4th District race between Owens and Democrat Ben McAdams is one of the most fiercely contested congressional battlegrounds in the nation. More than $19 million has already flooded into the district through campaign donations and from outside groups.
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report says the race is a “toss-up” while FiveThirtyEight gives McAdams a 53 in 100 chance of winning on Election Day.
- Salt Lake Tribune reporter Taylor Stevens contributed to this report