A protester wears a QAnon sweatshirt during a rally in...

A protester wears a QAnon sweatshirt during a rally in support of President Donald Trump in Staten Island on Oct. 3. Credit: Getty Images / Stephanie Keith

A friend pulled into a gas station near his Peoria, Illinois, home a month before Election Day.

At an adjoining pump sat a well-seasoned pickup truck festooned with Trump and QAnon stickers. What the adornments should have communicated, collectively, was "Don’t Engage!" But Tim, an inquisitive fellow and a consummate Midwesterner, either missed the cue or couldn’t hold his neighborly tongue.

"Whaddya think?" he asked the man filling up, with a broad smile and a nod toward the truck. "Will it be close?"

Twenty minutes later, he felt lucky to pull away.

The man was gobsmacked by my friend’s question: Does he not read? Of course Trump would win, he insisted, as if lecturing a dimwitted grade schooler. But the President wouldn’t serve a second term: John F. Kennedy Jr., who had been sequestered by the military since "faking" his death in 1999, would be next in the Oval Office. This was all arranged — obviously — by former President Barack Obama, a bastard grandson of the late Argentine Adolf Hitler. How could Tim not know all this?

In normal times one might wonder whether asenapine or brexpiprazole would be the preferred course of (initial) treatment for this tortured soul, but Tim assures me that mental wellness, to be taken seriously, wasn’t the issue. These weren’t hallucinatory delusions, they were popular online conspiracy theories regurgitated verbatim across a gas station island. The man generously told Tim where he, too, could become edified online before driving away, flags fluttering, stickers gleaming in the October Illinois sun.

I don’t know whether Gas Station Man was present at this weekend’s "Stop the Steal" rallies in Washington, D.C., New York or in some other city, but many of his digital confederates sure were. They were there with the Proud Boys and the rest of the alt-right lunatic fringe demanding cancellation of a legitimate American election.

Six months ago, it could be said that these protesters, few as far gone as Gas Station Man I should note, had "watched too much Fox News." But Fox is now the enemy as well. The cable network called the election for President-elect Joe Biden in Arizona, so it can no longer be trusted. (Psst: Biden did win Arizona, something normal Trump voters lament but accept.)

Now comes news of a possible alt-right "news" network financed by wealthy Trump supporters looking to cash in on the madness and to spread it. The station would presumably tell viewers whatever they want to hear, 24 hours a day.

Donald Trump wouldn’t run or finance the endeavor — recall Trump Vodka, Airline, University, Magazine, Steaks, Mineral Water — but as with his successful real estate licensing deals, he would loan the new network his name. As dubious as that might sound, it could work.

Republican leaders used to laugh off right-wing crackpots as necessary fellow travelers (just as Democrats did with socialists), but the constituency is now a powerhouse in its own right, leading one to ask: "Who’s the boss now, the party or its newfound "base"? Add a validating TV network into the mix, and the GOP may be looking at real problems going forward.

American conservatism thrived in the second half of the 20th century because it expelled racists, anti-Semites and John Birchers from its movement, allowing important, time-tested conservative ideas to flourish again in the public arena.

Seventy years later, another targeted expulsion is required, beginning with the Trump Family, its sycophantic inner circle and anyone with a QAnon sticker on his car.

It’s fantastical to think things will iron themselves out on the political right sans considered intervention.

The alt-right’s not going away.

It’s purge or be purged.

William F.B. O’Reilly is a consultant to Republicans.

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