Dispatches From Q-Land is a monthly Paste series delving into the seamy underbelly of the QAnon conspiracy theory on right-wing social media platforms such as Parler, Gab and Telegram. It’s a disturbing task, but only by paying attention to these dangerous extremists can we understand the nature of their ever-evolving delusion at any given moment, and hope to understand what they might do next.
One of the most impressive (and infuriating) things about online communities revolving around QAnon conspiracy theories—they call themselves “Anons” and howl about how the term “QAnon” is all wrong because “there is Q, and there are Anons”—is the way they manage to efficiently and almost completely block any outside information from penetrating the circle of delusion. If, for example, a mass shooter went on a rampage tomorrow (which will almost certainly happen somewhere in the U.S., which is averaging 1.5 mass shootings per day right now) dressed in QAnon paraphernalia from head to toe, all the resulting news coverage of that event would be completely and utterly ignored in a setting such as Gab or Parler. Even if that shooter was taken alive, and professed their love of Q and Trump, in fact, the few Anons on Gab who were even aware of the event would simply dismiss it as a hoax. The only information that members of these groups are willing to accept as potentially valid is information that comes in the form of a conspiratorial YouTube rant, decryption of nonexistent coded phrases in a tweet, or a low-res, crudely edited meme.
Given that, it’s hardly any surprise that HBO’s documentary series Q: Into the Storm really didn’t receive all that much attention or discussion in the Q-sphere on sites like Gab. One might expect that such a publicly visible exposé would cause a whirlwind of attention, condemnation and impassioned defenses from Anons, but assuming those Anons can be reached in the first place by anything airing on HBO would be your first mistake. The truth of this community is that it’s entrenched so deeply in its own safe spaces that it’s barely even interested in how it’s being depicted elsewhere. For an Anon, the world outside of Q-Land barely even exists. Waiting for “The Storm,” the always delayed extermination of all their political enemies, is all that matters.
And so, the moment that an outsider would probably have expected to be the death knell of a group like QAnon—the exposure of the most likely identity of Q himself—passed by with barely a murmur of unease from Anons. This month, we found out where Q most likely came from, and QAnon didn’t even care.
I have been deeply plugged into the conversations being broadcast by Anons on the web since well before the Nov. 2020 presidential election, and in that time I’ve long since come to the following conclusion: The literal identity of “Q” is not a topic of any particular importance. Perhaps it would have been at one point, and I can’t blame Q: Into the Storm director Cullen Hoback for focusing on it, particularly given that he was working on his film for three years. When he began, the identity of Q—a supposed government intelligence insider secretly leaking information to the faithful on the web—probably seemed of utmost importance. The period since the election, however, has increasingly shown that Q himself no longer matters. The movement, though crippled in some ways by a lack of consensus and organization, has become totally self-sustaining without any input from Q at all.
It has now been almost five months since the last “Q Drop” of any kind, and it’s closer to six months since the last time he posted an actual sentence, in the days immediately after Trump lost the election. That’s almost half a year we’re going on since the last time Q offered his followers the sort of commune/brainwashing to which they’d become accustomed, and yet you don’t see anyone in the Q community freaking out these days about Q’s absence—despite the fact that he’d never disappeared like this before, and did so immediately after Trump lost the election, like a person in full retreat.
This hints at the ossification of the Q movement, from “insurgency” to a more traditionally stuffy quasi-religion. Increasingly, these folks don’t see their role as soldiers on standby, waiting for marching orders to go “take back the country” and reinstill their God Emperor Trump. Instead, they’re settling into the mold of evangelical, prosperity-minded Christians, believing that Q’s promised salvation will come “eventually,” and simultaneously hurling scorn at members of their own community who try to set exact dates for when that might be. In short, Anons are starting to get comfortable with the thought that The Storm isn’t coming anytime soon, but they’re rationalizing it with the same sort of faith displayed by your average Christian judgement day proclaimer. Q, in this scenario, is no longer expected to be an active participant—instead, he’s a glorified prophet who paved the way, before being allowed to drop out of sight.
The smarter and more insidious Q influencers warn their followers not to post expectations for specific dates, calling it “datefagging,” because they know that the constant failed predictions make them look bad.
As such, the revelations presented by Q: Into the Storm about the identity of Q never truly had much likelihood of causing a big stir among the Anon faithful, because even they aren’t particularly concerned about Q at this point—not when there are memes about the Suez Canal and COVID vaccines to be shared.
Let’s get it all out in the open, though. If you watch Into the Storm, the most logical conclusion to draw is that the earliest era of “Q” posting may have come from none other than Steve Bannon, the former White House Chief Strategist who co-founded Breitbart, was indicted on mail fraud and money laundering charges connected to the Mexican border wall, and was eventually pardoned by Trump before he left office. Control of the Q account then eventually shifted when it moved from its original home on the 4chan imageboard to splinter site 8chan, eventually renamed 8kun. There, Cullen Hoback’s research points squarely at site owners Jim Watkins and his son Ron Watkins as the most likely source of subsequent posts from Q, something that Ron Watkins slips up and more or less confirms on camera at the end of Into the Storm. Which is to say, this entire online phenomenon was most likely the work of some guys on a pig farm in the Philippines, whose main mode of income was hosting porn domains.
This was treated as a major revelation across the media when the episode premiered a few weeks ago, but here’s the thing—it really wasn’t a revelation or surprise to anyone who had been paying attention to this community. The Watkins had already been seen as by far the most likely suspects for writing the Q drops for the last few years. Back in October, in fact, a month before the election, Mother Jones published the following investigative piece that tracked the various child pornography domain names hosted by the Watkins—because of course they’re involved in that—and concluded that the Watkins were at the very least instrumental in the dissemination of Q’s posts, and could very well be Q. That’s in addition to being hypocritical assholes, mind you.
And indeed, Ron Watkins certainly acted like a guy who was hanging up the mantle of Q when he essentially waved farewell to the movement after Joe Biden’s inauguration as President on Jan. 20. At the time, he wrote the following on Telegram under his online pseudonym, CodeMonkeyZ: “We gave it our all. Now we need to keep our chins up and go back to our lives as best we are able. We have a new president sworn in and it is our responsibility as citizens to respect the Constitution regardless of whether or not we agree with the specifics or details regarding officials who are sworn in.” This sentiment, from the man who was very likely posting as Q for the last few years, is pretty unbelievable—but it does jibe perfectly with the fact that Q stopped posting entirely after Trump’s defeat.
In most of the Anon community, this revelation about the Watkins was ignored entirely. Those who did deign to acknowledge it simply brushed it off for the most part, insisting that the Watkins couldn’t have been posting as Q because they wouldn’t have had Q’s access to classified military intelligence secrets. You know … the classified secrets that insisted Hillary Clinton was arrested and executed back in 2017. Those classified secrets. And so, we end up right back where we began. The identity of Q is likely no longer a mystery, but Anons can’t be bothered to notice or care. They’re still busy on whatever has been designated the Conspiracy of the Week.
An evergreen Anon statement—the “next few days” are always “crucial.” Repeat the statement next week, for the next four years.
And speaking of …
Here are some more topics that have been catching the eyes and overactive imagination of Anons lately.
When the Ever Given container ship became stuck in the Suez Canal, decimating world shipping and causing a ripple effect of delays and monetary losses, Anons were clinging to the story like grim death. Seizing upon a few coincidences, such as the fact that the Taiwanese shipping company owning the ship was named Evergreen—Hillary Clinton’s secret service code name as First Lady—Anons jumped to the only logical conclusion, that the ship must be filled with HRC’s own personal cadre of sex slaves and abducted children. In the minds of Anons, the entire Ever Given situation became the work of “white hats,” those mysterious and beneficial hackers and operatives who are guiding the predictions of Q to the satisfying, promised outcome. It was theorized that the interior of the ship would be laid bare, shining light into a massive international child trafficking operation at the heart of the mythical “Deep State.”
… and then the ship got unstuck, and the rest of the world moved on with its business, while most Anons promptly forgot about it and moved on to the next news headline of the day. This is a prime example of the way this community seizes upon literally any news story that is making headlines at any time and finds a way to infuse bombshell meanings into it in order to whip up their base of fanatics. Literally anything can be made out to be not only relevant, but crucial to the cause. In the eyes of an Anon, a librarian being caught embezzling funds in Denmark, or a doctor ordering a slice of pizza in Guam are obvious signs that “IT’S HAPPENING!”
This guy, whose average post sounds like it should be delivered as a howl from within a room with padded walls, has more than 27,000 followers on Gab.
This is the nature of confirmation bias pushed into the realm of lunacy: Any event that happens only makes an Anon more certain of their convictions.
Modern politics can truly make the strangest of bedfellows. If you’d told me even a few months ago that a situation would come along where Anons were praising the British royal family—who many of them have contended for years are shapeshifting reptilian monsters—I would not have believed you. But then that Meghan Markle/Prince Harry/Oprah interview came along, which resulted in Trump and the right-wing allying with the British monarchy against an American citizen, and subsequently resulted in the “America first” Anons who are fond of chanting “1776” finding reasons to align with the same monarchy we declared independence from in 1776. Naturally, the irony of this was completely lost upon Anons in places like Gab, who are utterly incapable of that kind of self awareness.
Royal consort Prince Philip then passed away in April at the ripe old age of 99, which sent Anons on Gab into a tizzy of speculation on the pressing topic of how a 99-year-old man could possibly have died. Plenty of wonderful, outlandish theories were espoused: He couldn’t access adrenochrome because of the shipping backlog caused by the Ever Given (QAnon conspiracy synergy!); he had to return to his alien lizard people; and of course the popular theory that he was killed by the COVID-19 vaccine. To repeat: QAnon followers felt like they had to come up with theories for why a 99-year-old, extremely frail, sickly man could possibly have passed away.
The breaking news story of a federal investigation into a sitting Congressman, with at least part of said investigation focusing on sex trafficking of minors, was the kind of revelation that Anons had been waiting for ever since Q first came onto the scene. This was precisely the kind of potential corruption and depraved action that Anons have been screaming about for the last four years. Just think—we might see a sitting Congressman get indicted for sex trafficking! Trust the plan, folks!
Except … oh, he has an “R” next to his name and is a vociferous Trump supporter, so Anons actually aren’t all that concerned about sex trafficking after all. Yes, even though the revelations of the justice department’s investigation into Florida Representative Matt Gaetz were exactly the sort of thing that Anons had been seeking for the last few years, they quickly fell all over themselves to defend him on platforms like Gab. These folks, who loudly and wantonly accuse random Hollywood celebrities and anyone who disagrees with them online of being pedophiles, suddenly don’t want to “rush to conclusions” or “protect the children” when an actual investigation begins into one of their own. Of course this is par for the course with the GOP, an organization staunchly in favor of issues such as child marriage, which it has fought to preserve at every conceivable turn in the U.S.
I love how this guy’s defense of Gaetz is just “Sex trafficking? Probably not.”
We won’t mince words: Anons tend to harbor racist beliefs—sometimes very openly, and other times while merely insisting that Black folks are all “thugs,” but they’re totally not racist. As a result, they aligned on the Derek Chauvin murder trial for the death of George Floyd in exactly the array that you would expect, solidly in Chauvin’s corner. Anons love the idea of championing police officers, after all—when they’re not beating them with flagpoles at the Capitol insurrection—because they assume/hope that the police would be on “their side” when The Storm happens, or when the country descends into a state of chaos or civil war that is perpetually just around the corner. As with the military, Anons often look to cops and hope they’ll assist in installing an authoritarian state where Trump magically comes back to power.
But in a trial like that of Derek Chauvin, Anons can’t simply “support police,” or throw themselves into garden variety white supremacy. That would be too blasé for an Anon skilled in the art of conspiracy thinking. Merely advocating for racist ideals isn’t enough to hold the Anon attention span captive. Instead, they need to also come up with far more detailed conspiracy theories involving Floyd and Chauvin, in order to tie it all back in some way to the larger narrative. The entire event becomes pre-planned, as Anons assume every event of any significance is, in order to serve the Deep State’s nefarious plan. Check out this unhinged rant on the subject:
That image is really the perfect storm of Anon conspiracy gibberish, referencing fake George Floyd mannequins and caskets, secret child trafficking tattoos, fake funerals and so much more. It boggles the mind, but the thing that really gets me most in these scenarios is the way the most dedicated of Anons throw even the people that most of them are supporting—like Derek Chauvin—directly under the bus by claiming they’re “Deep State crisis actors” serving an even grander illusion. Never mind the fact that Chauvin is going to prison after this week’s guilty verdict, likely for decades. This QAnon believer will still choose to believe that Chauvin is a paid actor who volunteered to be put on trial in the country’s highest profile murder trial in years, and also volunteered to spend decades in maximum security prison … because, you know, Deep State and stuff. This kind of undercurrent of “it was all a hoax” belief is inevitable in literally any story that Anons are following—here’s several Anons saying the exact same thing about officer Kim Potter, who faces manslaughter charges after killing 20-year-old Daunte Wright in April. Once again, they’re claiming that Potter, a 26-year police veteran, is a paid volunteer who wants to be put on trial and potentially incarcerated for decades.
The right-wing charlatans running Fox News undoubtedly played a massive role in the polarization of the American citizenry in the last few decades, but their acknowledgement that certain objective truths do in fact still exist—such as the fact that Joe Biden won the Presidency this past November—have made Fox a target of much scorn from Anons since November. Simply put, not even Fox is conspiratorial or negligent enough in its “journalism” for Anon tastes, which is a criticism Anons have also hurled at times at other far-right networks such as OANN and Newsmax—none of them can live up to the expectations of Anons who are in no way grounded in reality.
In recent months, it has often seemed like Fox is trying to regain those disenchanted QAnon believers as viewers, catering to the worst of conspiracy theory programming. At other times, their coverage is simply so hopelessly partisan that you can’t help but laugh. For example, while the rest of the nation was covering the Derek Chauvin trial, this is a headline that Fox considered to be major news.
Stop the presses!
And then there’s the creatures who dwell in the Fox News comment section, an arena that absolutely can stand up to Parler or Gab in its commitment toward racism and prayers for violence. In case you think that Fox’s readership probably isn’t too bad compared to the stuff I’ve posted from Gab, consider these two images, the first of which calls for “elimination of minority neighborhoods,” and the second of which simply calls for Democrats to be shot and killed.
Truly, it takes a special mind to not be aware of the irony of person #1 saying “the left wing is full of hate,” and person #2 saying “You’re right, we should shoot them.” And yet, that’s the Fox News comment section for you. And to reiterate—Anons consider this place too tame and restricted for them.
How scary is that?