It was 2 a.m. on November 1 when Maureen McNamara realized that something wasn’t right.
She had spent every waking hour of the past two weeks organizing a list of hundreds of QAnon supporters who were traveling to Dallas to see the resurrection of JFK, based solely on the predictions of one man, Michael Brian Protzman.
McNamara, along with hundreds of Protzman’s other followers, had been camped out in AT&T Plaza in downtown Dallas for up to nine hours at this point, and her patience was wearing thin.
“There were children sleeping on that ground,’ McNamara told VICE News. “There were elderly people, there were people with walkers, people with canes, people that were in pain, in a lot of pain.”
For hours, the crowd had been told that the big reveal was coming. There were whispered rumors about a house that would accommodate thousands of people that would become the “new White House.” Then a rumor made its way through the crowd that someone was about to appear in the windows of one of the hotels that overlook AT&T Plaza, with everyone from Princess Diana to JFK Jr. rumored to be appearing.
No one appeared, but then Protzman started to shout at everyone to turn off their phones and put them away, that something was about to happen. He told everyone to push back against the walls of the plaza and get ready. He stood three feet away from McNamara and told her:
“Don't worry, you have the best viewing position there is, you won't miss a thing. You won't miss a thing. Keep your eyes open. You're right where you need to be right now.”
But again, nothing happened. Then, suddenly, everyone was racing toward a small group of Protzman’s closest advisers. McNamara wondered if something was finally happening. But when she got through the crowd, she saw that all that was happening was that everyone was being given a T-shirt with Protzman’s online alias, Negative48, printed on it.
“Everybody's scrambling to get one, like we flew all the way to Dallas and stood around for 16 hours so we could have a T-shirt,” McNamara said.
McNamara is now working to “wake up” those who are still in thrall to Protzman. Over a week after JFK failed to appear, Protzman remains in Dallas surrounded by dozens of his followers, and he’s still predicting the reappearance of the long-dead president and his son, John F. Kennedy Jr. There’s talk of establishing a permanent base in Dallas, and the Telegram channels where Protzman’s followers gather online have become even more openly antisemitic and extreme in recent days.
For McNamara, a devout QAnon supporter, the attraction of coming to Dallas was less the “intriguing” prospect of seeing JFK reappear and more about seeing like-minded people.
“What drew me in more than that was an opportunity to be with like-minded people, because everybody's story in this movement is that we've lost friends,” McNamara told VICE News.
“We've lost family, we've lost credibility, we've been isolated, we've been lonely, and we've been called lots of different names, ‘crazy’ among them. And so there was this opportunity suddenly to gather with like-minded people and that was what I wanted to do.”
That’s why, even after spending 16 hours waiting for nothing to happen, McNamara got up at 10 a.m. the next day and joined the group at Dealey Plaza in the belief that JFK would return. At all times Protzman was portraying himself as a Christ-like figure, McNamara said:
“He's acting like he's Jesus Christ with his disciples. Everywhere he went, there was this little group around him kissing this ring.”
And yet, she shelled out hundreds of dollars to go to a Rolling Stones concert that Protzman told everyone would be where JFK would finally appear.
“I was never a fan of the Rolling Stones, I had no intention of going there. But then last minute, everyone's saying you got to be there, you got to be there. And so I spent $300 on tickets and it was raw and rainy and cold and miserable.”
At that point, McNamara was done and began calling out Protzman for his empty promises. She was joined by some others, but many remained loyal, and “that is when the entire group just started turning on each other and it was ugly.”
Now back home in Florida, McNamara started a new Telegram group to call out Protzman for his behavior. Protzman’s acolytes in turn labeled McNamara and anyone who questioned their leader’s credential as traitors to the cause.
McNamara says she spent thousands on flights, accommodation, and expenses during the trip and ultimately “ran out of money” before going home, and says this is typical of many people in the group.
“I know many people who won't now be able to afford Christmas, but it was more important for them to be there, or they don't know how they're gonna pay the next month's mortgage payment,” McNamara said. “Many people make huge sacrifices financially, in their relationships, in their lives, just to be there.”
Yet Protzman remains surrounded by a dozens-strong group of loyal supporters in Dallas.
On Thursday evening in one of the many Telegram groups run by Protzman’s inner circle, users posted videos of the group, including Protzman, dancing inside a hotel ballroom. One photo showed a young child inside the same room late at night.
Also on Thursday Protzman urged his hundreds of thousands of followers online to donate money to the group to pay for suits and ball gowns so that the group could attend the “inauguration ball” when JFK returns.
Several new dates are being posited within these channels as the next date for when JFK will actually reappear, with both November 17 and November 22 (the anniversary of JFK’s assassination) mentioned.
Such constant moving of goalposts is a typical technique within QAnon, and allows the conspiracy movement to explain away unfulfilled promises.
VICE News spoke to a family member of one of the people still inside Protzman’s group in Dallas, who requested anonymity to speak openly about his brother.
While the Protzman follower was always into conspiracy theories, he never went too far down the rabbithole, his brother said, until he began watching Protzman’s videos.
“There were times where he would come over to [my sister's] place and say he’s just gotta get away from the computer for a little bit because his brain's just all over the place because he’s watching these videos, they’re so mesmerizing.”
After over a week without hearing from him since he told them he was attending the Rolling Stones’ concert in Dallas, the man’s family finally got a reply from him on Thursday, when they received a message suggesting he’s still in Dallas: “I am fine. I'm surrounded by people who love me.” However, when they tried to verify that it was their brother who sent it, there was no response.
“I don't know if he's ever going to return or how deep he is in this stuff,’ the man told VICE News.
Protzman’s rise was based on his use of a bastardized version of a Hebrew numerology system called Gematria, where he links phases and names together by assigning them a numerical value. In videos posted online he goes into an almost trance-like state, as if channeling some higher power.
Dallas Police Department didn’t immediately respond to VICE News’ question about whether they have been alerted to the group’s presence in the city. Protzman and a person who has spoken for him in the past both declined to comment for this story.
At this point, it remains unclear how this charade will end, but Protzman is continuing to use Gematria to convince those in his orbit that he has some sort of higher power. Those who are no longer under his spell are happy to be far away.
“I don't know how it will end, but I don't think it will end well. I'm glad that I am back in Florida, as far away from that as I can be,” McNamara said.
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Correction: An earlier version of this article said that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 23rd, 1963. He was assassinated on November 22nd.