Republican Senator Ben Sasse believes the Republican Party is facing an existential threat from a delusional cult infecting conservative America.
In a recent op-ed published by The Atlantic, Mr Sasse points to the QAnon conspiracy theory as the heart of the rot in the modern Republican Party, and blames the fringe group for the violence that occurred at the US Capitol during the insurrection on 6 January.
QAnon is a conspiracy theory that began in 2017 and baselessly claims that a cabal of Satanic paedophile Democrats and Hollywood celebrities secretly rule the world and engage in child sex trafficking and cannibalism. Believers think that a rogue "deep state" operative is using anonymous internet image board 8chan to give them inside information into the alleged deep state plot to undermine the actions of Donald Trump, who – along with the disguised and not dead JFK Jr - are the only ones who can stop their plan. That operative allegedly has a "Q" level security clearance, hence the name "Q."
The conspiracies have included stories of body doubles, clones, child gland harvesting, secret tribunals, mass arrests and clandestine government shootouts between US government agencies. Adherents look forward to an apocalyptic event called "The Storm" in which Q, Mr Trump, and presumably JFK Jr will unveil their plan to save America by rounding up, trying, and executing all of the aforementioned satanic child-eating Democrats and celebrities.
Mr Sasse believes that the growing number of Republicans embracing these beliefs may be a problem for the party.
"The violence that Americans witnessed – and that might recur in the coming days – is not a protest gone awry or the work of 'a few bad apples'. It is the blossoming of a rotten seed that took root in the Republican Party some time ago and has been nourished by treachery, poor political judgment, and cowardice," Mr Sasse wrote.
He praised Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman, who lured a mob of QAnon and Trump supporters away from the Senate chambers during the insurrection, and insisted that conservatives could not both claim to respect and honour the police while also believing them to be puppets of an evil paedophile cabal.
"We can dedicate ourselves to defending the Constitution and perpetuating our best American institutions and traditions, or we can be a party of conspiracy theories, cable-news fantasies, and the ruin that comes with them," he said. "We can be the party of Eisenhower, or the party of the conspiracist Alex Jones. We can applaud Officer Goodman or side with the mob he outwitted. We cannot do both."
Mr Sasse makes note of at least one QAnon believer who was in the Capitol legally on 6 January; Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is a known adherent to the conspiracy theory.
Her colleague, Rep. Lauren Boebert, has also said that while she was not a believer, she hoped it was true that investigations into alleged deep state activity of the kind described by QAnon was occurring. Critics of the congresswoman said she put House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's life in danger by tweeting her location during the lockdown at the US Capitol.
Mr Sasse called Ms Taylor Green "cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs" and said QAnon's expansion into mainstream conservativism is a result of Americans' "junk food" media diet.
The senator noted the growing division in the party between Trump loyalists and more traditional Republicans. He counts himself among those in the Senate who will vote in favour of Mr Trump's impeachment following his trial.
Mr Sasse called on his colleagues to show courage and reject QAnon.
"Until last week, many party leaders and consultants thought they could preach the Constitution while winking at QAnon. They can't," he wrote. "The GOP must reject conspiracy theories or be consumed by them. Now is the time to decide what this party is about."
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