The QAnon movement is based on the belief that US President Donald Trump is waging a secret fight against pedophiles – a global network of Democrats, elites and Hollywood stars – and Q, a person with alleged access to classified information, leaves clues about behind the scenes. A prophecy with apocalyptic accents is the core of this conspiracy theory: The storm, tens of thousands of arrests of American “enemies”, will establish a new social order that will mark the Great Awakening. It all depends on the re-election of Trump and the followers who have to decipher his messages. Launched for the first time on the 4chan forum, in 2017, they continued on 8chan and then 8kun – the platforms are anonymous, users identify themselves by a unique code – being later disseminated by influencers and on aggregator sites, from where they reach millions of followers .
The men behind the QAnon phenomenon
Two men control the anonymous media – James Arthur Watkins, 56, and his son Ronald – being founded in the Philippines.
Fredrick Brennan, the creator of 8chan and a former business partner of the two, has become their strongest critic and they are all involved in defamation lawsuits resulting in their self-exile in the Philippines.
“If he’s not really Q, he can always find out who he is, being the only person in the world who can get in touch with Q – the only one who can send him a private message,” he told ABC News.
In 2014, Brennan moved from New York to Manila, and their collaboration lasted until 2018, when relations became poisoned, the former business partner motivating the content of violence on the forums.
Watkins denied in interviews that he is Q and refused to close his platform even claiming the existence of a parallel state. At the hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, after a series of attacks by white supremacists, resulting in several victims, Watkins appeared with a Q brooch around his neck.
Last month, Brennan set fire to the phenomenon by publishing evidence that the new platform, 8kun, has the same IP address as Q’s largest messaging site, QMaps, which has reached 10 million visitors in recent months – meaning that Watkins controls both, he says. But specialized sites have identified the QMaps developer in the person of an IT expert in New Jersey, who denied the association with Watkins. The platforms shared the same hosting service.
Brennan explained that it was created in October 2019, just a few weeks before the launch of the new 8Kun platform.
The movement’s certifiers recognize in the evidence of the former collaborator new elements that indicate the connections between Watkins and Q. they are convinced that he has access to information about Q.
“Whether or not he makes the posts himself, or just encourages the content, the Watkins family and the 8kun team have a remarkable level of control over a movement that becomes international,” said Brian Friedberg, a researcher at the Shorenstein Center for Media, Politics and Public Affairs. of Harvard University.
Brennan, 26, began a partnership with Watkins in 2014, at his invitation in the Philippines to jointly develop 8chan. Watkins contacted him following an Al Jazeera documentary about Brennan, suffering from glass bone disease, who lived in New York, where he had to travel in a wheelchair. Brennan handed over control of Watkins’ site in 2016 and two years later entered into a dispute with the Watkins family over the increasingly violent content on the forums.
He said the attacks in El Paso, Texas and mosques in New Zealand by users of these platforms opened his eyes to the consequences of online hatred, and he has since become a staunch critic of the culture of these online environments.
In his opinion, QAnon is becoming more and more individualized in the right-wing extremist online landscape, being more than a simple theory of white supremacy or neo-Nazism, but a phenomenon in itself.
And a possible loss of election by Trump – as a “crucified god” – can provoke revenge.
“Despite the fact that probably 99% of the followers will come up with a new narrative and still believe in Q’s theory, it is quite certain that the remaining 1%, maybe even better, will feel betrayed, left staring at the sun. and even deceived not only by Watkins, but by all those involved in QAnon. ”
A process of slander
After the attack in El Paso, 8chan was sent offline and Watkins was called to testify in Congress. Brennan rushed at him, asked him to close the platform and made him “senile.” Watkins filed a cyber defamation lawsuit against him in the Philippines and an arrest warrant was issued on behalf of his former business partner. A month later, Watkins released 8kun.
Fearing that he would die in prison because of his genetic disease – glass bone disease – he hurried to the United States, leaving his wife behind.
“It simply came to our notice then. I had to give up everything and I only had a few hours to escape, “said he, who took refuge on the west coast of the United States.
Philippine lawyers told ABC News that Internet libel is extremely rare in the Philippines (up to 20 a year), with a Filipino journalist recently convicted of criticizing Rodrigo Duterte’s administration for its website.
“Disarm the Parallel State”
In March, Watkins denied in a direct message on Twitter that he had entered into any private connection with Q, him or his team. However, it also benefits financially from the association with Q – sometimes with great nonchalance. Last year, Watkins appeared at a closed-door hearing in Congress with a Q brooch on his collar. He then distributes products with Q and promotes influencers who also benefit while messages from Q are propagated to more and more users. Watkins went so far as to register a Political Action Committee to raise funds in the name of a campaign to expose the Parallel State alongside politicians fighting against it.
In a press release before the hearing, Watkins defended the platform as the only “fully committed to freedom of expression”, where users share from tactics of protest (referring to France) and fake censorship in dictatorial regimes to strategies for games, and in a big motley of discussions there is a “minority” with hate posts.
He explained that moderation is done by volunteers and automatically by filtering keywords and that by the date of the statement – October 2019 – it has blocked tens of thousands of users and deleted over 100,000 messages.
Watkins was born in 1963 in Dayton, Washington, and grew up on his family’s farm north of Seattle. His mother worked for the aeronautical giant Boeing, and his father for a local telephone company, as he said in an interview for the Splinter website. He enlisted in the army at the age of 18, served in the reserve forces, and between 1985 and 1999 served in the US army. He worked as a helicopter mechanic and then as a recruiter and had the rank of sergeant. In 1987, the military sent him to IT classes in Virginia, and in the 1990s he launched a website for the Asian porn industry. NT Technology Inc. was founded in 1998 in Washington State with two Japanese and sold advertising and then hosting services. The company was moved to Nevada in 2005. The current president revealed that Watkins is a pioneer in finding “a loophole in Japanese censorship rules”: the population “can access adult content offered from outside Japan. Bingo “.
Watkins arrived in the Philippines in October 2001 and lived in Manila until recently. The Philippine Bureau of Investigation (NBI), as well as the police, opened an investigation last year into the controversy surrounding these platforms following the mass killings in El Paso, Texas.
However, since the beginning of the year, the Philippine authorities have been targeting Watkins, following complaints submitted to the Office of Immigration (BI), declaring him a risk to the public interest, namely “undesirable alien”.
Watkins is “the owner and operator of 8chan, a hateful forum / website that hosts trolls and hosts a resource for violent extremists and white supremacists,” BI said.
The qualification is administrative, not criminal, but it means that someone can be deported, lawyers say, noting that it is very common in the Philippines – where anyone can file a complaint against someone who may have been drunk or mistreated. BI decides what happens to them.
Watkins asked permission to leave for the United States – he was granted a travel window and left on September 4, 2020. It is unknown where he lives and whether he will return to challenge the allegations. Contacted this month, his brother-in-law confirmed that he had returned to the United States following his son and that Watkins had sold a pig farm south of Manila – where he lived with his family.
The mystery of Watkins’ departure was clarified by his former associate, who was amazed that his efforts had paid off. Brennan said he hired a lawyer to accompany his immigrant wife to the Philippines for immigration, where he filed several complaints.
“I basically turned his own game against him, because he took me out of the country first,” Brennan explained.
If Watkins does not return to the Philippines by January 31, he risks being barred from re-entering the country.
The theory has penetrated American politics
Experts say it is the first predominantly right-wing extremist conspiracy theory to penetrate American mass culture and politics. A number of 24 candidates for Congress, including 22 Republicans at one point, showed support for the conspiracy, and Donald Trump himself distributed content to groups of supporters.
Asked about the move recently, Trump said: “I don’t know much about her other than the fact that I understand that I like her very much – and I appreciate that. I heard that there are people who love the country “.
Asked if he was considered a secret savior of the world by a satanic cult of pedophiles and asked if he could support that, Trump said: “I have not heard that. But should it be a bad thing or a good thing? I mean, if I can put my shoulder to the rescue of the world of problems, I’m willing to do it. “
Recently, Vice President Pence, who publicly said he rejected it, was described as an agent of the parallel state agent.