How a Hillary Supporter Became One of the Most Prominent QAnon Capitol Rioters

Doug Jensen became the “poster boy” of the Capitol riot. “It really worked out,” he told the FBI.

Apr 21 2022, 3:45pm
Unraveling viral disinformation and explaining where it came from, the harm it's causing, and what we should do about it.

Doug Jensen woke up angry in Washington, D.C., on the morning of Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. He was upset with his friend Anthony for smoking in the bathroom of the Capitol Hilton hotel room he was paying for, but more than that Jensen was indignant because while he’d been out taking part in the riot at the U.S. Capitol the previous day, Anthony had ordered a movie.

Jensen, for his part, believed he was fighting for freedom. He had spent Jan. 6 with thousands of others storming the Capitol, but unlike most of those thousands, Jensen had become one of the most instantly recognizable faces of the insurrection. You’ve probably seen him before: Jensen features in multiple photos and videos wearing a QAnon T-shirt while chasing Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman up several flights of stairs inside the Capitol building.

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“I basically intended on being the poster boy, and it really worked out,” Jensen told FBI agents in a voluntary interview on Jan. 8. The transcript of the interview, made public earlier this month, gives a blow-by-blow account of Jensen’s preparations for the Capitol riot, and what he did that day. But it also gives unprecedented insight into Jensen’s radicalization, and how he went from being a Hillary supporter and lifelong Democrat weeks before the 2016 election to being the “poster boy” of the insurrection just over five years later. 

Jensen’s candid interview reveals that he was influenced not only by the QAnon conspiracy cult but also by those seeking to take advantage of that community, including former President Donald Trump and other far-right figures. 

Jensen was arrested three days after the interview, and is now facing a trial in September for his part in the Capitol riot. He was released from jail in June 2021 after he told a judge he now thought QAnon was “silly” and “a pack of lies”, but months later he was back in jail because he was caught breaching his bail conditions by watching Mike Lindell’s election conspiracy conference on his wife’s phone. 

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“I mean I wanted the Q shirt to get recognition,” said Jensen to the FBI. “But I didn’t realize it was going to, boy, I didn’t think anything out, you know?”

Jensen can pinpoint the exact moment when his radicalization began. It was Oct. 7, 2016, and the Access Hollywood tape had just been broadcast for the first time. WikiLeaks had also just dropped the first tranche of emails from the personal Gmail account of John Podesta, a former White House chief of staff and chair of Hillary Clinton's 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

Until that point, Jensen hadn’t even considered voting for Trump. But within weeks, as conspiracy theorists on platforms like Twitter and Reddit shared claims that Podesta’s emails contained a secret code related to an underground child sex-trafficking ring, Jensen was convinced.

“I was going to vote for Hillary because I’ve been a Democrat my whole life,” Jensen told the FBI. “And then the WikiLeaks thing happened and I had to start questioning where I was getting my info from. And that’s when I realized, you know, holy cow, I can’t vote for this woman.”

The reason he was predisposed to believing this conspiracy, Jensen told the FBI agents, was because the accusations felt very personal to him: “I think what really gripped me from the beginning was the child trafficking and all that with the Hillary Clinton thing. That’s what hooked me right off the bat. ​​I was molested from when I was 7 until I was 14.”

“I was going to vote for Hillary because I’ve been a Democrat my whole life.”

Jensen, who grew up in Des Moines and bounced between over a dozen foster homes by the time he was 7, alleged that the abuse occurred while he was in foster care, at the hands of someone who was involved in running a mentorship program for troubled children in Des Moines. It’s unclear if he ever made a formal complaint about the alleged abuse or if charges were ever brought against his alleged abuser. 

When Trump was elected in 2016, Jensen said he was happy but looking for more. “Then all of a sudden, Q drops started. And it was just—that’s all I did was follow those Q drops,” Jensen told the agents.

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Jensen said he found out about Q very early on, around the time the 100th message or “Q drop” was posted by the anonymous leader of the movement. That was on Nov. 5, 2017, just days after the very first Q drop. At that time, QAnon was virtually unknown outside of the fringe 4chan message board where the messages were being posted. The phenomenon had yet to make its way to more mainstream platforms like Reddit and Twitter, and this was even before Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene began promoting it—though only by a couple weeks.

And so, for the next few years, Jensen was obsessed with the conspiracy, doing his own “research” every single day when he wasn’t at his construction job. “I have done nothing but research for two years straight,” he told the FBI. “I get up. I work eight hours a day. I come home and just sit on my phone researching daily.”

Jensen said he saw himself as a “digital soldier,” echoing the phrase made popular by Michael Flynn, the disgraced former national security adviser-turned-QAnon influencer.

Jensen was influenced by the messages posted by Q and certain influential figures in the movement, such as JoeM, the creator of the seminal QAnon video Plan To Save The World. For years JoeM was one of the most prominent voices in the QAnon community, and his YouTube video, which amassed over 1.2 million views before YouTube took it down, was credited by many QAnon followers as the thing that turned them on to the conspiracy.

“I have done nothing but research for two years straight,” he told the FBI. “I get up. I work eight hours a day. I come home and just sit on my phone researching daily.”

Another key figure in Jensen’s radicalization was Juan O Savin, a QAnon influencer whose real name is Wayne Willot. Willott is currently working with a cadre of Republican operatives to get a slate of far-right candidates elected to secretary of state positions in states around the country.

Throughout his interview, Jensen bounced from subject to subject as he spoke about a range of QAnon conspiracies, like the absurd claim that Michelle Obama is secretly a man, and the allegation that incriminating messages were passed out to people who attended George Bush Sr.’s funeral. He also spoke about Project Looking Glass, a conspiracy theory about a super-advanced technology the people behind Q have access to that allows them to look into the future.

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“I feel like I know so much, you know, and it’s like nobody else seems to know anything,” Jensen said at the time.

But as is the case for so many other QAnon believers, Jensen’s obsession cost him his community. “By putting this information [out there], I’ve lost friends, I’ve lost family, all over this, and they think I’m insane, and I don’t believe I am. My family avoids me; they don’t like my posts. We kind of stay separate. My kids hate Trump,” he said. “They think he’s a racist. I don’t even know if my wife’s a Trump supporter. She has listened to my bullcrap for two years and she just rolls her eyes.”

After Q planted the seed of this conspiracy in Jensen’s mind, figures from MAGA World drove his internet obsession to real-world action. 

Nothing, even the risk of losing his family, would divert Jensen from what he saw as his destiny as a “digital soldier.” In early 2020, Q began floating the idea of a stolen election, a conspiracy that percolated from extremist channels to right-wing media and ultimately to the Twitter account of Trump. As Q’s voice faded and ultimately disappeared for good in December 2020, others like Wood, Powell, and Flynn took up the cause, firing up their followers to the point that they stormed the Capitol.

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Jensen said there was just one person who inspired him to make the 15-hour journey half way across the country: Trump. “The reason I went was because Trump said he had info for us at this rally, and I honestly thought it was show time and I thought all these arrests were going to start happening,” Jensen told the FBI.

Others fomented Jensen’s anger about the lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, as well. ”Lin Wood got me fired up, Sidney Powell got me fired up. Rudy Giuliani got me fired up,” Jensen said, adding, “I wanted to be the first one in that door, you know, with my Q shirt.”

“I honestly thought it was show time and I thought all these arrests were going to start happening,” Jensen told the FBI.

After driving through the night to get to the rally on Jan. 6, Jensen said it was Trump’s use of the phrase “my fellow Americans” during his speech that signaled to him that something was happening. “Q always told us that when he says, ‘my fellow Americans,’ the storm is here, that’s when we’re supposed to go,” he said.

While his friend went back to their hotel room, Jensen followed the crowd to the Capitol—though he initially thought it was the White House he was breaching. There, he climbed a wall and entered through a window he said was already broken. Video from inside the building captured Jensen aggressively chasing Officer Goodman up several flights of stairs before facing off with other officers. 

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Jensen repeatedly, and erroneously, claimed antifa was responsible for tricking him and others to enter the building. ​​“I felt like I was being told to come on in, like I was being led,” he said.

The morning after the riot, Jensen was “pissed” he had to clean up his friend’s cigarette butts before making the 15-hour drive home to Des Moines in order to make it back in time for work on Friday.   

Fueled by “lots of Red Bull,” Jensen and the now-forgiven Anthony got into Jensen’s wife’s white GMC Acadia at around 7.30 a.m., and the pair began the long journey home.

As they traveled through Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, Jensen’s phone was “blowing up,” he later told FBI agents.

“I got all these messages, my phone just beep, beep, beep, beep, beep,” Jensen said. “Everybody found my Facebook.”

People had also found the Facebook page belonging to his wife, April, who is a nurse, and began making threats against his family. But rather than calling April, or the police, Jensen did the only thing he could think of: He got on Twitter and sent a message to the QAnon influencer he believed was John F. Kennedy Jr., the son of the former president who has been dead for over 20 years.

“I messaged the JFK Jr. guy I follow on Twitter, I went to Juan O Savin and posted a picture of me and I put ‘help,’” Jensen said. “I would have messaged Trump, but I couldn’t get a hold of him.”

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In the end, Jensen decided to try to wipe his entire digital trail clean.

“I deleted all my Twitters, my Facebooks, because I’m paranoid thinking Mark Zuckerberg and his henchmen or somebody’s going to try to locate me through one of these apps, so [I] deleted every freaking app on my phone and shut my phone off, you know, because I was afraid of being killed on the way home for being a poster child,” said Jensen. “I feared for my family, you know. There are lots of people that are completely brainwashed by the media.”

“I would have messaged Trump, but I couldn’t get a hold of him.”

When he finally made it home to Des Moines, late Thursday night, his house was empty. April had gone to stay with a friend because of all the threats.

After finding her and checking in, Jensen left the house and walked six miles to the nearest police station. There, he told officers, “I think I’m probably wanted.”

What followed was his voluntary interview on Jan. 8, where Jensen gave an almost four-hour account of the events of Jan. 6 and the buildup to the day. Since it was voluntary, Jensen was free to leave at any time. At the end of the interview, he handed over the passwords for all his social media accounts and agreed to let the police copy all the data from his phone.

The transcript of the entire interview was just released by prosecutors because Jensen’s legal team worked to exclude it from the evidence presented at trial, claiming their client was effectively in custody but was never read his Miranda rights.

Despite everything, and even though the insurrection failed to prevent the election results from being certified, Jensen in these interviews told the FBI that he still believes. “I believe in Q 100%. I still believe that Trump’s gonna be our president, and that there’s some trick he has left,” he said. “And that all these arrests are gonna happen, and there’s gonna be this emergency broadcast that’s gonna broadcast the videos of them admitting to all this stuff. And I’m still holding onto that, I guess.”

But as the interview winds down, Jensen does question his decision, wondering if he was an “idiot” for going into the Capitol. But when the detectives say they’ll be in touch for follow-up questions, Jensen cites another QAnon conspiracy: “What I’m hoping is [that] this all disappears in the next 10 days,” Jensen said, referring to the QAnon conspiracy about 10 days of darkness coming before Trump would expose the supposed cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophile cannibal elites in a “Great Awakening.”

For all his claims that he’s still a true believer, Jensen also briefly lets the mask slip.

“Like, seriously, can you guys just let me in on that if you know?” Jensen asked the FBI agents as they stood up to leave the interview room. “Like are these arrests real, or am I just completely following a whole shit thing. Because I completely believe this with my heart, and it’d be the biggest let-down for me, you know?”

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Tagged:

russia, Donald Trump, Radicalization, pizzagate, Disinfo Dispatch, January 6, Capitol Riot, Doug Jensen, Juan O Savin

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