Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021. (Brent Stirton/Getty Images)
The man who helped popularize QAnon claims he appeared before the Jan. 6 committee on Monday to answer questions about his connections to the Trump family.Jim Watkins, who owns and operates 8kun—a fringe message board formerly known as 8chan, where the anonymous user known as Q posted thousands of updates that fed the conspiracy movement—appeared in a livestream late Monday night claiming he’d testified before the committee earlier in the day.
Watkins provided his testimony remotely from his lawyer’s office in Chicago, according to a video posted to his Telegram channel on Monday morning.Watkins didn’t reveal what he spoke to the committee about, claiming in the livestream it was “secret” and comparing his testimony to that given to a grand jury. Watkins complained that his testimony should not have been secret.“I didn’t talk to one Congressman,” Watkins told the Night Owl News show broadcast on a conspiracy-filled platform called the Tiger Network. “There were prosecutors interrogating me for six hours, this was a six-hour interrogation.”Watkins told the show’s host, Dee Stevens, that he was not allowed to speak about what he had discussed with the committee, though he did read out a letter he sent to the committee’s chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, which he said gave some indication of the topics covered during his questioning.“As far as if I ever had any correspondence with President Donald Trump?” Watkins wrote. “No, I have not. Neither with any of his family. I have attended two speeches given by President Trump. That is the closest I have ever been to him.”
He continued by asserting his support of the Trump family, whom he called “American jewels” whose public character shines bright like “a brilliant coin made of precious metal.” Watkins said he would not “rat” them out to the committee.“It is incredulous that you expect me to come here by a subpoena to rat out the President of the United States and his family,” Watkins wrote, referring to the former president. “I will not be your Rasputin. The Trump family is not the Romanovs. This is not Russia.”
Watkins continued the Russia metaphor in his appearance during the livestream, claiming that the committee’s first public hearing on Thursday is akin to “Soviet Union-style show trials.”Watkins was in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, as documented in Cullen Hoback’s HBO documentary about QAnon, but he told the livestream that he didn’t see any violence, and was nowhere near the Capitol.The January 6 committee did not immediately respond to VICE News’ request to confirm Watkins’ appearance on Monday, or the topics being discussed.This was not Watkins’ first time testifying before Congress. Back in 2019, he appeared before the House Homeland Security Committee, which was also chaired by Thompson. That testimony was related to the fact that at least three acts of deadly white supremacist extremist violence had been linked to 8chan in the previous 6 months.Watkins’ letter to Thompson referenced his 2019 appearance, claiming it damaged his reputation and adding that this latest subpoena did the same thing.“I am not your kick-me boy. You indulge in fantasies about me, perhaps, but the fact is, I am not a villain, and I refuse to play one for your show trials,” Watkins wrote.Watkins has always denied his links to QAnon, and on the livestream on Monday night, he repeated these claims: “I am not QAnon. I am not associated with QAnon. QAnon is made up; it is literally the boogeyman.”
However, Watkins oversaw the operation of 8chan/8kun for years while QAnon posts on the platform continued to gain popularity. His son Ron Watkins, who is currently running for Congress in Arizona, has been credibly accused of not only facilitating QAnon’s rise, but of writing the Q posts that inspired the movement. The anonymous user Q stopped posting just a month after Ron Watkins announced he was resigning as the administrator of 8kun in November 2020.Despite constantly denying their links to QAnon, both father and son have leveraged their central role within the community to boost their popularity and earn money from their followers. Indeed, while giving testimony to the Homeland Security Committee in 2019, Watkins wore a Q pin on his collar.Six months after his 2019 Congressional appearance, a QAnon-linked political action committee (PAC) run by Watkins ran an attack ad against Thompson. The ad featured a cartoon of Thompson and a musical jingle that opened with the line: “Can you trust Bennie Thompson? No, you can’t. Mississippi’s future is in your hands.”
During Monday’s livestream, Watkins was asked if he thought that he was subpoenaed in an attempt to disrupt his son’s congressional campaign. “Wouldn’t that be a dirty trick if they were trying to attack me to defame my son, who’s running for Congress?” he replied.However, Ron Watkins’ campaign is doing a pretty good job of failing all by itself.Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.