On Friday night, Q, the anonymous leader of the QAnon conspiracy movement, returned after more than 18 months of silence.
“Shall we play the game again?” the Q account wrote in their typically cryptic style on the fringe message board 8kun (formerly known as 8chan).
The unexpected return, on the same day Roe v. Wade was overturned, sent the millions of people who still adhere to the QAnon belief system—which claims there’s a cabal of elites working to control the world—into spasms of excitement and predictions that Q’s return meant all of their wild predictions were about to come true finally.
But experts tracking the QAnon phenomenon quickly discovered that the posting of the new “Q drops” was, at the very least, facilitated directly by the people running 8kun, and possibly written by them.
Experts like Fred Brennan, who was the founder of 8chan before it was taken over by current owner Jim Watkins and his son Ron, discovered that the site administrators had altered the way users on the site, like Q, identified themselves, just hours before the first new Q drop appeared on Friday.
The change in the system should have meant that the secure tripcode that Q uses to verify their identity would have broken. However, when Q posted, the tripcode was the same, suggesting that someone involved in running the site had manipulated it to appear as if this was the real Q.
“Jim, Ron, or someone with access to the 8kun server posted the latest Q drops,” Brennan told VICE News.
His assessment was backed up by several other experts who closely track the origins and spread of QAnon.
“At a bare minimum, it’s clear that either Q is closely coordinating with 8kun admins or the post was actually written by an 8kun admin,” the anonymous founder of the Q Origins Project, which seeks to document how the movement came about, told VICE News.
Another indication that the administrators helped facilitate Q’s return comes is that the new Q drops were posted using the privacy-focused browser Tor. The ability to post using the Tor browser had been disabled on 8kun since September 2021 but was enabled again just before the new Q posts appeared.
Even members of the 8kun community have been calling out the elder Watkins for his apparent role in this incident.
“Either Jim Watkins is no longer in control of his admin account, or Jim Watkins did this himself,” a user wrote in a message on the qresearch board where Q posts, outlining the same arguments made by Brennan.
Watkins, who has already given evidence to the January 6 committee about 8kun’s role in the lead-up to the Capitol riot, has denied his involvement in posting the new messages. In a video posted to his Telegram channel, he claimed—absurdly—that he couldn’t have posted the message because he was on stage speaking at a conspiracy theory conference at the time. Of course, someone else could have posted it for him, or he could have scheduled the post.
In the same video, he referred to Q and said: “Welcome back, we need you.”
His son Ron, who claimed to resign as administrator 8kun on Election Day 2020 and is currently running for Congress in Arizona, did not respond to a request for comment about his role in posting the new Q messages. The January 6 committee is also seeking to speak to him, but so far Ron has said he will not cooperate.
A 2021 HBO documentary suggested that Ron Watkins was the author of many of the almost 5,000 Q drops while he was working at 8kun, while a separate forensic analysis of the drops also found empirical similarities between his writing style and Q’s.
But ultimately, to QAnon followers who have spent years suspending disbelief, the details of how the Q drops were posted matter very little.
“It doesn’t really matter who’s behind the keyboard. What matters is whether Q’s followers accept the new content as genuine, and what they go on to do with it. They’re falling all over themselves to accept it as real,” the Q Origins researcher said.
And across the platforms to which QAnon has retreated to after being mostly banned from mainstream platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, followers celebrated the return as a sign that they were right all along.
Many of the followers reiterated their support after Q wrote “remember your oath” in their second new drop on Friday night. The oath, known as the digital soldier oath, is the same one taken by all federal employees, but with the QAnon phrase “Where we go one we go all” appended to the end.
It was popularized by disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who posted a video of him and his family taking the oath on July 4, 2020.
For the families of those who have fallen under QAnon’s spell, the return of Q is a devastating blow, especially to those who felt they’d made progress in trying to get their family members back.
One of the most damaging aspects of QAnon in the period since Q last posted is the emergence of an offshoot group that believes JFK is about to be resurrected. A group of believers has spent the last eight months following a leader known as Negative 48, cutting all ties with their families, and spending huge sums of money on travel to and from Dallas, where their leader has told them the assassinated president and his dead son JFK Jr. will reappear.
A group of concerned family members has been working together to convince their loved ones to leave the group and return home. Some had recently promised to come home by the end of the month, but after this weekend’s Q drops, they doubled down on their belief in the conspiracy theory.
“It has screwed with families again who were told by their loved ones they may be home at the end of June,” Karma, an open-source researcher who is helping those families, told VICE News. “We had worked hard to get to this point, for a Q drop to happen and now they want to stay.”
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