On Monday night, President Donald Trump retweeted a message posted by Ron Watkins.
Watkins, who for years has been running the site where QAnon lives, has been indirectly boosted by Trump before, but Monday night’s retweet marks the culmination of a rapid ascent for a man who has become the right wing’s go-to conspiracy theorist in the wake of President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory last month.
As the administrator of 8kun — previously known as 8chan — Watkins is seen by many experts as being instrumental in the perpetuation of the QAnon cult, a movement that has destroyed families and led to real-world violence, including murder.
But in the last month, Watkins has sought to step out of the shadow of QAnon and forge his own identity as a star witness willing to say whatever it takes to win the approval of Trumpworld.
On Election Day last month, Q, the anonymous persona behind the QAnon cult, posted a generic update including a quote from Abraham Lincoln and a short message: “Together we win.”
On the same day, Watkins announced that he was stepping down as administrator of 8kun, the fringe message board when Q posts their updates.
When asked why he was stepping down, Watkins at the time told VICE News that he “fell in love with woodworking and plan on focusing all my efforts into mastering it. Also want to finish a book I’m writing about constitutional law.”
And while Watkins has made some references to woodworking in his public tweets since the election, the vast majority of his posts show him positioning himself as something of a conspiracy whisperer to the growing ranks of right-wing figures and groups that have aligned themselves with Trump and his outlandish and baseless claims of election fraud.
Watkins, who now lives in Japan, has tweeted incessantly during the last six weeks, jumping from one conspiracy theory to the next.
His most influential campaign has been his attempts to smear Dominion Voting Systems. Earlier this month, Watkins posted a video of a Dominion employee using one of the company’s voting machines, falsely claiming the employee was manipulating results. As a result, the 20-year-old employee received death threats and someone hung a noose outside his house.
But such incidents didn’t stop Watkins from becoming a star in the alternate universe that sprouted up to support Trump’s wild allegations of widespread vote-rigging.
First, Watkins appeared on the partisan, pro-Trump news channel One American News Network, where he was interviewed several times about his Dominion conspiracy theories. Trump helpfully retweeted one of these segments to his 80 million Twitter followers.
Watkins then appeared in the pages of one of the “Kraken” lawsuits filed by onetime Trump attorney Sidney Powell. He was cited as an expert witness, seemingly based on the fact he had read the Dominion voting machine manual. It might be “within the realm of possibility” for a biased poll worker to fraudulently switch votes, Watkins concluded in his affidavit.
But his Twitter account is where Watkins has really found his stride — and the endorsement of many influential right-wing figures.
Watkins has tweeted a total of 1,056 times in the last 30 days alone, according to data from social media analytics company SocialBlade, representing a 500% rise over the previous 30 days.
In that time, he has almost doubled his followers, from 240,000 to 405,000. And in the hours since Trump retweeted Watkins’ post on Monday night, his follower count has risen by over 21,500.
And what did that tweet say? Unsurprisingly, the tweet made baseless claims about electoral fraud. Twitter has already labeled it as “disputed.”
The conspiracy theories that Watkins is spreading and that Trump is boosting are extremely dangerous, and in many cases they echo QAnon conspiracies that claim that the “deep state” is working in concert with the Democrats to oust Trump.
Funnily enough, since Watkins announced his departure from 8kun, Q has virtually disappeared, posting just four relatively generic updates since the Election Day post, leading some experts to predict that QAnon has pivoted entirely to follow Watkins’ lead.