By Calvin Pynn, contributor
After facing criticism for her Facebook posts promoting QAnon and far-right political memes, council candidate Kathleen Kelley has set her once-public profile to private. Kelley said she did so after the backlash reached those close to her.
“I made my Facebook page private because I didn’t want my friends harassed, my family harassed, and friends of my family harassed,” Kelley told The Citizen.
Kelley – a local physician – is the only Republican candidate in this year’s five-way race for three seats on the Harrisonburg City Council, and the first the city GOP has fielded in six years. With campaign materials heavy on hopeful language, Kelley promotes herself as an advocate of families, opportunity for local business and lower taxes.
Some in town, however, feel that her social media activity stands in contrast to that positive narrative. One is Brent Finnegan, a two-time Democratic candidate for the House of Delegates, who has tweeted screenshots of several 2019 posts from Kelley, calling her “a conspiracy theory nutcase.”
Among the screenshots recently posted to Twitter are memes and links to YouTube videos involving frequent targets of QAnon ire, such as investor George Soros and Rothschild family.
This vilification of Jewish people has also led to accusations of anti-Semitism – something Kelley was quick to deny.
“They’re just cartoons, I don’t know how you could see anything anti-Jewish in them,” Kelley said, referring to the memes.
Neither the state nor local GOP responded to The Citizen’s request for comment.
One of those memes Kelley has shared shows members of the Rothschild family playing a game of Monopoly on a board held up by several people underneath it, with text that reads: “All we have to do is stand up and their little game is over.”
Kelley said she did not recognize the people caricatured in the picture and that she shared it for the message.
“I don’t know who those people are,” Kelley said. “If you stand up the game topples over – it shows that we don’t work for the people in power, the people in power work for us.”
Furthermore, she said that along with her other posts, any accusation of anti-Semitism in QAnon is a misinterpretation.
“I don’t think they actually read it,” Kelley said of her accusers. “I’ve never seen anything hateful with QAnon.”
The conspiracy theory at the center of QAnon started on the social networking site 4Chan in 2017. It alleges that a cabal of Democratic politicians, liberal Hollywood actors, and other high-ranking officials run a sex trafficking ring and are conspiring to bring down President Donald Trump.
Since QAnon has spread across the web, it has also become part of the platforms for several conservative candidates running for public office in the last couple of years. President Trump has also retweeted videos and other content from accounts promoting QAnon several times in the past year.
Multiple online platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, have made efforts to removed QAnon-related content since May. Since its inception, no part of the QAnon movement has been proven to be factual.
Harrisonburg Democratic Committee Chair Alleyn Harned condemned Kelley’s posts, calling QAnon a terrorist threat linked to violence and misinformation that has no place in City Hall.
“Q[Anon] is a baseless conspiracy theory, and that it serves so prominently in her values is truly shocking,” Harned told The Citizen. “We see it, and she tried to hide it, and it is very disturbing.”
Harned said he noticed that the posts on Kelley’s Facebook page received little interaction from others.
“I knew about the posts and what I saw was prolific and awful, and also mostly not supported even by her social media followers,” Harned said. “I am grateful that the dangerous extremist values are not shared or ‘liked’ by members of our community.”
Democratic Council Candidate Charles Hendricks said he is focused on his own campaign, and has never seen Kelley’s posts nor met her in real life.
“I am not sure of her positions on QAnon,” Hendricks said. “I am working on understanding the challenges in our community and how we can work together to create a more resilient city that is welcoming to all.”
To Kelley, the QAnon movement is about about peace and unity in the world. She said she first came across it through her habit of reading widely.
“I read a lot, including newspapers from around the world – newspapers in Australia, the BBC, all over the world to get other points of view,” Kelley said. “[QAnon] is more of a free-thinking movement, it’s like: ‘here’s some information, what do you think of it?’”
With her posts visible to only her friends and family she has connected with on the platform, Kelley says she anticipates some backlash from her decision to close off her personal Facebook profile between now and November. Kelley had wanted to keep it public for the sake of transparency, but said she changed her mind after people who engage with her on Facebook were receiving insults as a result of those posts.
“I don’t want innocent people getting dragged into nasty, nasty politics,” she said.
However, she acknowledged that it’s a world she’s venturing further into as Election Day approaches.
“Welcome to the world of politics, and welcome to the world of the left,” Kelley said.
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