Last month, Georgia construction executive Marjorie Taylor Greene won the Republican primary in Georgia's heavily red 14th congressional district, all but ensuring Greene a seat in Congress.
The victory was notable because Greene is a believer in QAnon, the widely debunked conspiracy theory that President Donald Trump is secretly working to expose a ring of satanic, cannibalistic pedophiles operating at the highest levels of government and entertainment.
Greene's victory and Trump's near-immediate endorsement signaled that the far-right conspiracy theory was seeing greater legitimization within the Republican party.
This week, Republican Iowa Senator Joni Ernst bolstered that criticism when she floated another false QAnon conspiracy: that doctors were secretly inflating virus deaths for financial gain.
According to the Cedar Falls Courier, Ernst said she was "so skeptical" of the current death toll, which is over 180 thousand people and rising every day.
"They're thinking there may be 10,000 or less deaths...I'm just really curious. It would be interesting to know that. These health care providers and others are reimbursed at a higher rate if [the virus] is tied to it, so what do you think they're doing?"
Several prominent QAnon accounts have put forth the false claim that fewer than 10 thousand people have "actually" died due to the virus—one of the claims was even retweeted by Trump himself.
The claim that healthcare workers are falsely reporting cases and deaths of the virus in order to make more money has been largely debunked as well.
People took Ernst's claim as another signal of QAnon's growing representation in the Republican party.
The fact that Joni Ernst, who was seen as a respectable mainstream Republican, echoed a QAnon theory, I maintain my belief that it's entirely likely that in 2024, we will see at least one QAnon presidential candidate.https://t.co/cTgdvF0h8g
— Eric Michael Garcia (@EricMGarcia) September 2, 2020
Joni Ernst is going QAnon. Not surprised. Super. https://t.co/NhwZvHginK
— Bryan Campen (@bryancampen) September 2, 2020
QAnon continues its journey toward Republican Party orthodoxy, apparently.https://t.co/NCObhr0V4W
— Cameron Peters (@jcameronpeters) September 2, 2020
QOP not GOP. Conspiracies and QAnon nuts.
GOP Sen. Joni Ernst Pushes Conspiracy Theory About COVID Death Count https://t.co/bhpi1Simrz via @thedailybeast
— wilfidde (@wilfidde) September 2, 2020
The @GOP is going full QAnon. This can only end horrifically.
Joni Ernst said she was "so skeptical" of the U.S. COVID-19 death count, was "really curious" about a debunked QAnon theory and suggested doctors were lying about COVID cases https://t.co/MbO6XXzyGB
— Marc Love (@marcslove) September 2, 2020
QAnon is no longer just a domestic terror threat.
It is actively undermining the fight against COVID-19. And Hill Republicans are giving it a megaphone. https://t.co/TbIgVfCapD
— Robyn Patterson (@RM_Patterson) September 2, 2020
People slammed the Senator's comments.
Joni Ernst thinks our Iowa frontline workers are lying and are all engaged in a huge conspiracy. My family and friends are not and would not do that. Shame on Joni https://t.co/D97HQjQUP9
— JSCordon (@js_cordon) September 2, 2020
Dr. Fauci and others have debunked this garbage usually expected to come from a crackpot or Russian bot, not a US Senator.
The GOP strategy is apparently to sow as much confusion, division and hate that the system just collapses in to dictatorship. This is not leadership. https://t.co/tc0BoTVhEj
— cornandbeans (@gravelmath) September 2, 2020
Ernst is currently in the midst of a reelection campaign against Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield.