Most main QAnon researchers have lengthy speculated that Watkins had written lots of the false and cryptic posts alleging that former president Donald Trump was waging conflict in opposition to an elite worldwide cabal of Devil-worshipping pedophiles. Watkins has lengthy denied his involvement, saying he was merely a impartial backroom operator of the location and by no means a participant.
However within the Sunday finale for the HBO collection “Q: Into the Storm,” filmmaker Cullen Hoback factors to what he argues is a key piece of proof that Watkins had lied about his function within the greater than 4,000 messages Q had posted since 2017.
In a final scene, after Watkins talked about how he had shared baseless claims about voter fraud after Trump’s loss within the 2020 elections, he informed Hoback: “It was mainly three years of intelligence coaching, instructing normies tips on how to do intelligence work. It was mainly what I used to be doing anonymously earlier than, however by no means as Q.”
To Hoback, it was an inadvertent admission that Watkins had really been Q, crafting secret communiques and shaping the motion for “normies,” or regular folks, to devour. However within the scene, Watkins smiled and cleared his throat, looking for to appropriate — or additional muddy — the report: “By no means as Q. I promise. I’m not Q.”
The proof is circumstantial, and no proof affirms Watkins’ function. Watkins, for his half, messaged his 150,000 subscribers on the chat service Telegram late Sunday, “Pleasant reminder: I’m not Q. Have a very good weekend.”
However the revelation has reinvigorated debate concerning the clues of Watkins’ function in one of many greatest conspiracy-theory actions of the Web age. QAnon has incited violence and prison acts, and the FBI has designated it a home terrorism menace.
Watkins and his father, 8kun owner Jim Watkins, had been the one individuals who may boast of a behind-the-scenes dialogue with the anonymous prophet, and QAnon’s rise had served to provide the weird duo a stage of consideration and infamy that they appeared to relish in video stay streams and on-line posts.
The core anonymity and opaque operation of 8kun, nonetheless, appeared to make figuring out Q unattainable, even because the motion trended towards violence and was cited as inspiration by lots of the Trump supporters who rioted on the Capitol on Jan. 6.
As QAnon’s following grew, Q by no means appeared to point out any curiosity in sharing his unique intelligence “drops” anyplace however 8kun, a rickety on-line watering gap — even when the location, previously referred to as 8chan, went offline for almost three months after a collection of mass shootings in 2019.
It was additionally unclear why such an elite strategic mastermind — with a prized view into the engine of Trump’s secretive conflict — would belief solely a father-son duo, residing within the Philippines, whose principal declare to fame was a crude web site of hate speech, pornography and extremist memes.
For some researchers, the admission doesn’t resolve all lingering questions on Q. Some argue persuasively that, whereas Ron Watkins in all probability is aware of who’s behind QAnon, the account could possibly be pushed by a couple of individual, or a group of writers crafting messages for public show.
“It’s a collective ensemble of various events which have totally different ranges of information and totally different entry factors to the infrastructure,” mentioned Joan Donovan, director of the Know-how and Social Change Venture at Harvard Kennedy Faculty’s Shorenstein Middle. “There’s no single one that could possibly be Q.”
It additionally doesn’t resolve the true delivery story of Q, which first posted on 4chan in 2017 — amid a flurry of nameless troll posts from purported Trump-administration insiders — earlier than transferring to 8chan and the Watkinses’ management in 2018. Some researchers level to variations in writing kinds at the moment to counsel the Q persona modified arms.
On a live stream final week, Ron and Jim Watkins proposed another rationalization: that Q was both Stephen Ok. Bannon or Hoback himself. (Neither Bannon or Hoback responded instantly to requests for remark.)
The documentary, nonetheless, made few waves within the on-line circles frequented by QAnon believers. Almost all the hottest QAnon dialogue boards and Telegram channels ignored the Watkins interview, as an alternative specializing in the motion’s newest subjects of curiosity, principally involving false claims about coronavirus vaccines, President Biden and the Suez Canal.
Q, who as soon as posted a number of occasions a day, hasn’t mentioned a factor since Dec. 8. However the motion in some ways has outgrown Q, by having elevated a widespread corps of QAnon promoters, merchandisers and social media influencers who supply their audiences a flurry of absurd baseless claims and far-right speaking factors.
To many researchers, the identification of QAnon’s chief is much less essential now than what the rise of QAnon says concerning the Web: The way it can provide world attain to misinformation and rally folks to consider unbelievable, unattainable issues.
“On the finish of the day, the HBO documentary ends precisely the place we had been earlier than: That Ron Watkins is the one with the flexibility to be Q or know Q, and that maybe his father Jim Watkins additionally performed some function in persevering with the Q persona. … The ‘definitive proof’ continues to be lacking,” mentioned Rita Katz, govt director of SITE Intelligence Group, which displays on-line extremism.
“Even when it was solely Ron Watkins, the motion has grown far past one individual or alias. It’s now a world societal virus that has develop into a vessel for all the things from [anti-vaccine] misinformation and coronavirus conspiracy theories to political agendas,” Katz added. However “all the things Jim or Ron Watkins say ought to be taken with skepticism — even when that assertion comes within the type of a weird ‘slip-up.’”