Lucas Hartwell couldn’t wait to vote in his first election last November.
To prepare, the then-Grand Blanc High School senior researched all candidates on the ballot, but could find very little information about one of the individuals running for the Grand Blanc Board of Education, Amy Facchinello. So he turned to her social media.
That was when he became alarmed.
“I started going through her tweets, and they got worse and worse,” said Hartwell, who has since graduated from high school. “She had been tweeting about the coronavirus being a hoax, about QAnon, off-the-deep-end stuff.”
Facchinello’s Twitter account, which has since been deleted, was filled with posts about QAnon, a right-wing conspiracy theory that’s rooted in anti-Semitic tropes hundreds of years old and revolves around former President Donald Trump hunting down and eventually killing Democratic politicians and wealthy liberals who lead double lives as Satan-worshipping cannibals running a child sex trafficking ring.
Her tweets, screenshots of which Hartwell compiled, were brimming with images of flames and skulls, as well as photos of Michael Flynn, a former national security adviser under Trump who is now selling QAnon merchandise, and phrases like, “the forecast calls for pain” and “we have an army of digital soldiers.” One tweet claimed QAnon was “confirmed” by Trump, and numerous of the tweets used the hashtag “WWG1WGA,” an abbreviation of QAnon’s rallying cry: “Where we go one, we go all.”
“I was familiar with QAnon before she ran; it would pop up in an article here or there, and, reading about it, I’d find it entertaining — what type of people could possibly believe this?” Hartwell said. “You don’t think it’ll ever affect your life, and all of a sudden it’s at your doorstep.”
“It’s very concerning,” he continued. “I don’t think she should have any role in education whatsoever.”
QAnon began in 2017, when an anonymous account claiming to be a high-ranking U.S. government official with access to classified information posted on 4chan, one of the internet’s oldest and most infamous message boards, and began writing about Trump’s so-called secret war against pedophiles and sex traffickers.
After receiving a little more than 10,000 votes in the November 2020 election, Facchinello is a first-time board member who now plays a major role in creating policy governing Grand Blanc’s public schools — and her past social media posts have catapulted her into a spotlight that the board member said is rooted not in her critics’ disdain for QAnon but to silence conservative and Christian voices in politics.
“I’m a victim of cancel culture,” Facchinello said during a May 24 protest against her QAnon posts outside Grand Blanc High School, invoking the term that’s been embraced by right-wing politicians and other leaders who accuse liberals of being intolerant to conservative views.
“I think they’re using the QAnon narrative to cancel conservatives,” she continued. “If you question their narrative, they label you a QAnon conspiracy theorist.”
The board member, who was also one of 16 people nominated by the Michigan Republican Party to be a presidential elector for the 2020 election, said she was voted into office because of people’s support for her conservative and Christian values.
Hartwell disagreed, saying she landed backing from low-information voters who thought she was a moderate Republican.
“I think she won because people vote straight ticket, and I think she had some nice yard signs and people don’t really research their candidates,” Hartwell said.
Instead of having a moderate Republican on the board, Hartwell said it now has a member who espouses conspiracy theories.
“A lot of her retweets were attacking Muslims and even figures like the pope,” Hartwell said. “We have a very diverse school district at Grand Blanc, and she’s supposed to make policy related to education here? It’s absurd to me, and it’s very upsetting that she went through this [election] without anyone noticing this.”
People are, however, noticing now.
On May 24, a crowd of about 100 students, retired educators and other community members protested Facchinello’s QAnon posts on social media. Many of those attending the protest called on her to resign, and others said they’re gearing up for a recall effort in August to oust her from the board.
They carried signs emblazoned with “getting rid of Q is overdue” and “no more Q in our school” and shouted “Q is un-American” as they made their way towards a smaller group of people sporting posters that read, “Christian and conservative voices won’t be cancelled” and “Defund cancel culture.”
“This is a wakeup call; we don’t want her in our community at all,” Hartwell said at the protest.
“If she resigns, that would be the best scenario,” Hartwell continued.
But Facchinello said at the event that she would not resign.
“I want to represent the views of the people who voted for me,” she said. “I’m a Christian conservative woman, and the voters wanted that voice to be heard.”
When asked about the QAnon social media posts she shared and if she believes in the conspiracy theory, Facchinello said, “There’s no such thing as QAnon.”
“They’ve built this whole narrative around it, but there’s no such thing; there’s no group think happening,” she said.
But when asked at another point during the rally if there’s anything she agrees with QAnon on, Facchinello said the “one thing I like is they don’t like pedophiles much.”
Facchinello and many of the approximately 25 people who came out to support her last week repeatedly said the new board member is being bullied for being conservative and Christian.
Cross Dobbs, an incoming senior at Grand Blanc High School, said Facchinello “doesn’t deserve the hate she’s getting.”
“The moment someone speaks their mind, they’re immediately attacked,” Grand Blanc High School senior Carson Baker added.
Other students, retired educators and community members who want Facchinello off the board, however, said their views have nothing to do with wanting to silence conservatives. Instead, they said they are concerned that someone who has promoted conspiracy theories and has been vocally opposed to incorporating into schools the 1619 Project curriculum, which features lessons about slavery and systemic racism in the United States, is now in charge of crafting education policy that impacts thousands of students.
“It’s not about suppressing conservative viewpoints,” said Micah Johnson, who just graduated from Grand Blanc High School. “It’s about conspiracy theories and that she’s only concerned about white students’ point of view. I’m biracial and the oldest of four, and I want my siblings to know what actually happened in our country.”
The 1619 Project began as an initiative from the New York Times Magazine in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. The project, which has been shared with educators around the country, “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of our national narrative,” the magazine wrote.
Patty Duffy, a retired public school teacher and an English instructor at Mott Community College in Flint, too said much of her concern is rooted in Facchinello’s dismissal of the 1619 Project, as well pushing conspiratorial beliefs.
“This is about American history and how she wants it taught,” said Duffy, who organized the May 24 protest. “She’s talking about Black history; she wants a more whitewashed version.”
Facchinello, who noted she has voted with the school board 100% of the time since assuming her position, said she does not support the 1619 Project because she wants “students to feel good about their country.”
Grand Blanc schools do not incorporate the 1619 Project into their curriculum, students and Facchinello said, but the board member said she has been vocal about the issue because “they’re trying to push 1619 nationwide.”
Although there’s no 1619 Project in Grand Blanc schools, the fact that it was a focal point for Facchinello’s campaign and was featured prominently during Monday’s events was emblematic of how local politics have increasingly become rooted in larger national discourses. Participants repeatedly raised ideas and phrases embedded in recent national events — many of which would have made zero sense to the general public just a matter of years ago, from QAnon to Facchinello supporters saying “cancel culture is the real bully.”
There was repeated talk of QAnon supporters packing the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., MAGA — an acronym for Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again” — were letters that dominated signs and clothing, and others wore paraphernalia advertising InfoWars, a far-right conspiracy theory and fake news website.
The realities agreed upon by the participants of the May 24 events were starkly different. Every Facchinello supporter interviewed by the Michigan Advance either outrightly dismissed that Facchinello had shared QAnon memes, despite evidence to the contrary, or said the fact she did was not synonymous with supporting the conspiracy theory. A couple of Facchinello’s supporters called QAnon “crazy.”
Caren Arion, a Burton resident who grew up in Grand Blanc, said she’s supporting Facchinello because “she’s fought for what we want for our kids.”
“The fact that she shared QAnon memes doesn’t mean she’s QAnon,” Arion said. “She’s being bullied.”
Sherri Ruth, of Holly, agreed and emphasized her own opposition to the 1619 Project for being one of the reasons she supports Facchinello.
“Absolutely no 1619,” she said. “They’re trying to cancel our history.”
While a number of supporters said they hadn’t known what QAnon was before the publicity surrounding Facchinello, critics said they have been aware of the conspiracy theory, particularly as its supporters became increasingly vocal during the 2020 presidential election.
Jacob Hernandez, who graduated from Grand Blanc High School in June, said he has been aware of QAnon for about a year and a half and is terrified a school board member would share social media posts promoting it.
“These are dangerous views that can spread from people who have no credibility,” Hernandez said at the protest, referring to the anonymous poster, or posters, behind QAnon.
“I came out today because I wanted to kick that lie to the curb,” Hernandez added.
Joshua Ennis, who just graduated from Grand Blanc High School, agreed, saying he’s “deeply worried she supports something that’s so wildly out there.”
“We want people to know that, in the community of Grand Blanc, we are people who don’t support this baseless conspiracy theory,” Elijah Koolthong, also a recent graduate of Grand Blanc High School, added as people began to pack up their American flags and handwritten signs, heading to a parking lot where several individuals continued to clash over the day’s events.