Will QAnon Flounder?

Many of the conspiracy-theory movement’s predictions have proven false, and new messages from Q apparently have stopped, but QAnon’s claims still resonate with some followers.

David Reinert holds a large "Q" sign while waiting in line at a rally August 2, 2018 at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania.
David Reinert holds a large "Q" sign while waiting in line at a rally August 2, 2018 at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. (photo: Rick Loomis / Getty)

The claims of the mysterious “Q,” who sparked the biggest conspiracy-theory movement the Internet Age has ever seen, caught the attention of North Dakotan Dennis Miller — but just for a brief time. 

The father of five adult children, one of whom is a priest for the diocese of Fargo, North Dakota, started reading posts of Q in January out of disillusionment over the 2020 election.

“I realized Q was saying a lot of things I wanted to hear, but his predictions weren’t coming true,” Miller said. “So I stopped paying attention. My faith is in God.” 

The followers of Q — known as QAnons — have not all been so discerning. The nationalist movement has reached thousands — possibly millions — and has continued, despite failed predictions, an end to information “drops” from Q on Dec. 8, and even a resignation letter on Jan. 20 supposedly in attempt to quell the furor of the QAnon movement.

There has been wide speculation of the actual identity of Q. The HBO 6-part documentary, Q: Into the Storm concluded on April 5 with the director accusing Ron Watkins, whose father founded 8kun, the shadowy message board where Q spread exponentially. 

The QAnon movement was born on Oct. 28, 2017, when an internet user or users identified as “Q,” who claimed to be a high-level military operative with top-level security clearance, posted cryptic messages and conspiracy theories to the internet message board on 4chan, later moving to 8chan, then 8kun. 

Early posts claimed that Hillary Clinton’s “extradition” was “already in motion” and her arrest imminent — a happy thought for many conservatives but a failed one. Nevertheless, the movement grew.


Keeping Q Alive

Over the course of three years, QAnons migrated from the internet fringe into U.S. politics and onto mainstream social media sites such as Reddit, Twitter, and Facebook. They were banned from mainstream sites after the FBI called QAnon a domestic terrorism threat.

The election results did not deter QAnons, many who believe that President Donald Trump will still return to office. Yet, on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, Ron Watkins, the website administrator, posted a resignation letter of sorts on Telegram, the social media platform where many Q followers formed groups to discuss the drops. The letter read: “We gave it our all. … We have a new president sworn in and it is our responsibility as citizens to respect the Constitution. As we enter into the next administration please remember all the friends and happy memories we made together over the past few years.” Yet, despite the farewell, QAnons have been rehashing old messages to justify the movement and suggest world events were predicted by Q.

After Q went silent, some followers determined that Trump would be back in the White House on March 4, the presidential Inauguration Day prior to the 20th Amendment’s passage in 1933. Capitol Hill security forces including 5,000 National Guard troops were on heightened alert and Congress shut down for the day. But nothing happened.

There came a growing skepticism among influencers that the March 4 was a “false flag” created by internal double agents to dupe them. The next date given was March 20 which marked the 167th anniversary of the Republican Party’s founding. Again, nothing transpired. Some followers continued to believe that Trump is still in charge of the military and his inauguration will take place later this spring.


Who Are Followers?

In January, a survey by the American Enterprise Institute reported that 29% of Republicans and 27% of white evangelicals believed that Q was completely or mostly accurate. QAnons were represented in other faiths as well, with 15% of white mainline Protestants, 18% of white Catholics, 12% of non-Christians, 11% of Hispanic Catholics and 7% of Black Protestants, saying they believed the conspiracy theories were mostly or completely true. 

Miller, of North Dakota, started reading posts of Q on Telegram while traveling to the “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6. During the rally, he and a close friend were within about 50 feet of the entrance to the Capitol. Seeing the ease with which the crowd entered the building where Capitol Police typically commanded strict control got him thinking “‘What on earth is going on?’”

“It opened my mind to other philosophies such as Q,” said Miller. “He was saying everything that I wanted to happen as far as Trump intervening in the election and the court throwing out the results of those six states.” But shortly after returning home, Miller’s interest in Q quickly evaporated when it proved to be an unreliable source. 

Another short-term follower, Linda, (not her real name) began following when the COVID-19 pandemic began. Being labeled “conspiracy” by the mainstream media did not deter her since she said such claims are often later shown otherwise. 

“Mostly all the clues Q wanted people to research were articles that were public but just buried on page 20-plus in newspapers, I realized. The discussion forum had some good folks but was also filled with anti-Semites and people that believed in aliens,” she said. “When dates and predictions for certain things supposedly going to happen never happened, I said, ‘Enough is enough; this is just a waste of my time that isn’t changing anything,’” said Linda.


Into the Storm

The HBO series Into the Storm investigated the shady dealings of the Watkins family and looked at the profound effects they had on the political sphere. Director and narrator Cullen Hoback had wide access to Fred Brennan, the founder of 8chan, and Jim and Ron Watkins, the father-son team who took over the platform. Hoback’s stated purpose in making the film was to put an end to the Q movement, which of course pegs him as suspect among die-hards. 

Even before the documentary, a consensus, among leading researchers who studied Q, suspected that he was hiding in plain sight on a pig farm south of Manila, in the Philippines, home of Ron Watkins. 

Hoback spent four months filming from Italy to the Philippines and ended up in Washington on Jan. 6 when an angry mob — many wearing Q gear— stormed the Capitol. Hoback determined that Q was never a high-ranking military or political operative but only the shadowy Watkins. 

In the final episode, Watkins apparently revealed too much, but then insisted he is not Q. “Yeah, so thinking back on it, like, it was basically … three years of intelligence training teaching normies how to do intelligence work. It was basically what I was doing anonymously but before, never as Q,” Ron Watkins said in the video call. Hoback said that this was when Watkins slipped up, and they both knew it. 


Psychological Perspective

Peter Malinoski, a Catholic licensed clinical psychologist in Indiana and president and co-founder of Souls and Hearts, a mental health resource drawing from Catholic anthropology and psychological sciences, has 29 years’ experience with cults and deprograming. 

He noted that the QAnon movement capitalized on basic human needs. 

“Q helps give meaning and purpose in life for some,” he said. “People feel like they have answers to help them feel secure and prepared. The disenfranchised feel understood, reassured and comforted.” Malinoski explained that some found value and agency by being part of a movement promising social and political change.

Q became attractive to many as a result of our culture’s crises in trust, according to him, from governance, questioning election integrity, lost financial security through COVID-19, and church closures and scandals. 

Helping people to see the futility of turning to something like Q, he stated, is not done by appealing to the intellect, but to the deep unmet needs. His website offers a free course called “A Catholic Guide to Helping a Loved One in Distress,” which explains principles for helping family and friends in general. 

For anyone following Q, he suggests they ask themselves, “What am I hoping to get from my interaction with Q? Is this the best place to get it?”

“People and organization will always let us down,” he said. “God as our Father and Mary our mother are really the ones who can meet those needs with a deep, abiding connection and intimacy.”