Who Is Q in QAnon? 'Q: Into the Storm' Might Have the Answer

Laura Martin
·6-min read
Photo credit: HBO
Photo credit: HBO

Early on in Cullen Hoback’s HBO series, Q: Into The Storm, the documentary maker attempts to describe what exactly QAnon is, and how it became so popular. The closest Hoback gets is: “part interactive game, part political movement and part religion”.

How exactly its adherents fall within the Venn diagram is touched upon in this six-part series, but the main angle of the documentary – after a potted history of the group – is Hoback’s attempts to uncover who Q is. The faceless internet poster who has stoked fires in the public since 2017, culminating in the attack on the Capitol in Washington, DC earlier this year.

Six hours of airtime is a lot to spend mythologising the anonymous Q and, by default, any review like this (which once again has to explain the nightmare-like beliefs behind the movement) arguably ends up giving the group even more publicity. But with one in four Britons believing in conspiracies propagated by QAnon, is it better to discuss and debunk these wild theories out in the open or push them back to dark corners of the internet where they are obviously thriving? Sometimes sunlight really is the best disinfectant.

QAnon: the beginnings

With the series described by one Twitter user as Tiger King, but with web developers”, Hoback covers the beginnings of QAnon in October 2017 when a poster called Q Clearance Patriot on 4Chan – and later 8Chan – began “dropping” hints, riddles and clues about the “calm before the storm”, a phrase also mentioned by Donald Trump at one of his public engagements. Through more coded warnings and information posted by the same person – who claims to have high-level security clearance for the US government – the “storm” was revealed to be the exposure of an elite group of celebrities and politicians who trafficked, abused and ate children. And the man who was going to smash this horrifying ring? President Trump.

Over the next four years, the incredulous backstory grew, with internet sleuthers reading more into the brief but incendiary notes posted by Q. It tied into the rise of the Trump fanbase, especially when the he refused to denounce the group and actively gave them nods and shout-outs on Twitter. The Jeffrey Epstein revelations – in which young girls were revealed to have been trafficked and abused among his group of A-list friends and associates – cemented those beliefs, seeming to offer proof that Q’s claims weren’t so outlandish after all. But Q used this fear to stoke more paranoia and to galvanise not just action, but chaos in all the wrong directions.

It’s hard not to feel sorry for some of the QAnoners in the documentary, who appear to want the rest of the world to wake up to “the truth”. A couple from Florida – who previously voted for Obama – say they became disillusioned with the government. “We knew the corruption is bad, we just didn’t know how bad.” Although that cross-aisle empathy starts to evaporate when they reveal they took their their young son to a Trump rally and chanted: “Build the wall! Build the wall!”

The QAnoners have been lured into an extreme false reality: in order to make sense of this confusing era in world history, they believe it’s a result of a global cabal who kill babies and drink their blood for eternal life, and that Trump is the saviour sent to heal the world. It’s like a modern day Grimm Fairytale that diverts attention from the real horrors going on globally – and one that gives them a script to be part of the supposed happy ending.

It’s a preposterous notion to fixate on, let alone believe. But how easily these people have been indoctrinated into this falsehood isn’t really covered in Into the Storm, nor is the effect on and the breaking down of relationships because of their emphatic belief in these conspiracy theories.

Photo credit: HBO
Photo credit: HBO

Who is Q?

Instead, the documentary focuses on the founder. On a meme-worthy whiteboard, Hoback writes down the key attributes of Q that may help to unmask him: “Military, high IQ, high psychopathy, 50 years plus, not tech-savvy, unemployed/disabled/veteran…”

The speculation goes further when the QAnoners are allowed to let loose on the politicians, spin doctors and ex-military men they believe to be behind the whole movement. However Hobart’s focus on the genesis of Q through the use of online platform 8Chan leads him to an altogether different focus: Fredrick Brennan, and Jim and Ron Watkins.

Brennan – who has brittle bone disease – founded the “free speech” site 8Chan, which revelled in users posting memes that were often racist, pornographic, fascist and misogynist in content. In 2014, father Jim and son Ron Watkins became investors in the site, and invited Brennan to move to Manila, where they lived, and continue running the site under them. 8Chan is where Q posted the majority of their messages, which made the site explode in popularity – highly convenient for its new investors.

Jim Watkins – an ex-military man turned organic food store owner and pig farmer – explains his interest in taking over 8Chan in the documentary (“I’m sick of people being censored and being gender-neutral”) as does his son Ron, a coder who also shows a remarkable amount of interest and pride in the chaos associated with 8Chan. In an interview with the LA Times, Hoback said: “They are the embodiment of the websites that they host. They’re constantly trolling and trying to provoke a response, whether that response is something that’s humorous or something that’s scary. They also see the world as a game. There’s a nihilism to it.”

However, both Watkins deny being Q. The story then pivots to the fall out between Brennan and the Watkins, with Brennan quitting the site in 2018 and Watkins filing a lawsuit against him in 2019 for, er, writing nasty things about him on the internet.

The internet’s leading villain is never uncovered in the series, but Hoback still has his suspicions, telling the LA Times: “Yes, I do think Ron is Q. He has the motive, he has the technical skills.” However, it might not only be Ron Brennan: “That’s not to say that there aren’t people working with Ron. We paint a picture of the bigger network.”

We’re living in a time of increasing perplexion, when society has never been so interconnected yet divided, and where fake news and misinformation has never been so prevalent. Perhaps, then, a better question to answer would be not who is Q, but why he’s struck a chord with so many people – and what can be done to prevent the rise of further damaging indoctrination online.

Q: Into The Storm airs on HBO in the US, with a UK broadcast date still to be announced

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