How deeply far-right conspiracy theories take hold within the Republican Party, and what the party does to either embrace or reject them, will have major consequences for the future of the GOP and American politics.
Meijer is far from the only Republican in Congress disturbed by the rise of QAnon, but he is one of a rare few willing to publicly and repeatedly denounce it.
CNN reached out to the offices of more than a dozen GOP members of Congress to request interviews for this story, and only two agreed to participate.
The lonely voices within the GOP who continue to take a stand must now grapple with what it would take for the party to turn away from conspiracy theories.
Most recognize they face a difficult fight, but some hope they may be able to grow their ranks in Congress in the future, and one upcoming congressional election in Texas will serve as an early test of whether an anti-conspiracy theory message can resonate in a red district.
‘A long-term battle for the soul of the party’
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who also voted to impeach Trump, may be the loudest voice within the Republican Party taking on QAnon.
“I think he bears direct responsibility for the rise of conspiratorial thinking in the Republican Party and the conservative movement as a whole,” Wood said in an interview. “The big lie that he promulgated after Election Day did a whole lot of harm to our civic institutions.”
Kinzinger hopes that whatever the outcome in the special election, his endorsement will show like-minded Republicans they’re not alone and encourage others to run for office on a similar platform.
“I think what’s important is that people see there are people out there that support you, that will back you if you do the right thing,” he said. “It’s a long-term battle for the soul of the party.”
The Illinois congressman describes the danger he believes QAnon poses in stark terms, saying he’s concerned its corrosive impact threatens to pull apart the very fabric of American democracy.
“Do I think there’s going to be a civil war? No. Do I rule it out? No. Do I think it’s a concern, do I think it’s something we have to be worried about? Yeah,” he said.
‘We’re facts-based pariahs’
Former GOP Rep. Denver Riggleman of Virginia is outspoken in his opposition to QAnon, and he believes that is part of the reason he was voted out of office.
The former congressman said Republicans frequently try to make it look like they’re standing up for principle, while at the same time “winking and nodding” at conspiracy theories in an effort to get more votes.
Riggleman believes a major problem right now is that there’s a strong “contingent of GOP voters who have completely lost themselves in the rabbit hole of conspiracies, disinformation and grievance politics,” and most Republican lawmakers “want to get re-elected so they would rather have people like me shut the hell up, even though they know I’m right.”
“It’s almost like we’re facts-based pariahs that are trying to sort of rein in this insanity that’s gone on,” he said.
“It does feel lonely sometimes in terms of being the outspoken voice,” Kinzinger said. “The reality is I think if you’re a sitting member of Congress it’s easy to say, I’m going to ignore this.”
Wood, the Texas congressional candidate, is frustrated that, in his view, most GOP congressional leaders have not done enough to denounce QAnon conspiracy theories.
“Kevin McCarthy has been a giant disappointment. He was elected leader for a reason and he hasn’t acted like a leader at all over the past few months,” he said.
‘An apocalyptic, messianic conspiracy theory’
As the GOP charts a path forward after Trump lost the White House, Kinzinger said he does not want to see Republicans push voting laws based on false claims of widespread election fraud.
“The narrative is almost we have to tighten our election system so that the next election isn’t stolen again, and that is garbage,” he said.
The Illinois congressman said that he hasn’t followed the details of the Georgia law closely and thinks that some of the Democratic pushback has been “overblown,” but he also believes there is valid criticism that it was enacted in reaction to false claims of widespread voter fraud.
Kinzinger hopes that the January 6 Capitol attack will ultimately prove to be a “turning point” for the Republican Party, but thinks it may take quite some time to undo the damage that was done.
“I think it will be a turning point in the long run. I think in the short-term there were a number of people who have kind of woken up to it, but there’s a number who haven’t,” he said.
Riggleman thinks QAnon has taken hold because it gives people something to believe in. “It’s an apocalyptic, messianic conspiracy theory that allows people to almost play act in this good versus evil battle against the global forces of evil,” he said, adding that people become “wrapped up in that” and it becomes “difficult to disentangle them from those theories.”
Meijer is concerned that embracing conspiracy theories like QAnon could make it harder for the GOP to recalibrate and rebuild after losing the White House and being in the minority in both chambers.
“I think it’s all part of this broader trend of blame casting,” the congressman said. “In the case of QAnon, it’s well, why am I in the position I’m in? Well, it’s because others are holding me down. Why did we lose this election? Well, it wasn’t because our candidate wasn’t the best or had made mistakes, it was because it was stolen. It’s these ways of distancing oneself from responsibility and accountability.”
As one of the Republicans warning about the dangers of QAnon and conspiracy theory thinking, Meijer understands what he’s up against, but he says he’s determined to keep speaking out.
“It’s important to not let the record go uncorrected and to continue to speak the truth,” Meijer said. “It’s something I definitely do at my peril, both politically and otherwise, but I didn’t run for office to seek the easy path and I’m certainly not going to cower away from what I think is an important responsibility.”
CNN’s Kelly Mena contributed to this report.