Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
Q in ‘22?
Ron Watkins, a prominent figure in the QAnon movement who many believe is Q himself, has filed paperwork and announced Thursday night that he plans to run for Congress from Arizona.
If he goes through with it, Watkins would be by far the most prominent QAnon figure to run for office in the U.S., further evidence of how much the conspiracy theory-based movement has become intertwined with the modern Republican Party.
In a video posted on his Telegram channel Watkins said he was inspired to run for office after recently hearing a sermon from Pastor Jeff Durbin at Apologia Church in Mesa, Arizona. Durbin is a right-wing minister who has said he wants to execute women who have abortions.
“I’ve come to realize that following God’s word is not always the easiest route but if we don’t follow our beliefs and the founding principles of our nation, it will crumble. This must stop now,” Watkins said. “Therefore I have decided to double down with God as my compass to take this fight to the swamp of Washington D.C. I am here to formally announce my run for Congress in Arizona district number one.”
Earlier this week, Watkins filed with the Arizona Secretary of State’s office a “statement of interest” in running for Arizona’s first congressional district against Democratic Rep. Tom O’Halleran. That’s not a formal declaration of candidacy, but is a necessary first step so he can begin acquiring petition signatures to appear on the ballot.
Watkins told VICE News in an email that he was running and claimed that he was a resident of Arizona, one of the conditions he would need to fulfill if his name was officially entered on the ballot. However, Watkins didn’t respond when asked where he was living or for proof of his residency. U.S. law only requires that a candidate has a registered address in the state to represent it, and carpet-bagging is a common practice in American politics.
Watkins has been in Arizona this week, hobnobbing with candidates with a serious chance at the Republican nomination for statewide offices. He posted a picture with Kari Lake, who former President Donald Trump has endorsed for Arizona governor, claiming they’d just dined together. He’s also slated to speak at a QAnon-affiliated conference in Las Vegas alongside Arizona state Rep. Mark Finchem, who’s running for secretary of state, next week.
Watkins posted his video outside the office of Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, which he has visited on three previous occasions over the course of the last week trying—and failing— to secure a meeting with the official.
In his Telegram video, Watkins attacks O’Halleran, whom he refers to as O’Hooligan.
“I have decided to expose the dirtiest Democrat in the DC swamp, and some of you here may already know him as Congressman Tom O'Halleran representing Maricopa County, and district one. What's publicly known about Tom O’Hooligan shows that he is not fit to represent the people of Arizona. And from what I've already discovered, and will expose. Tom is not fit to represent anyone anywhere.“
As usual, Watkins did not provide any evidence to back up his wild claims.
Watkins worked for years as the administrator of the website called 8kun (previously known as 8chan) where the anonymous leader of the QAnon movement, known only as Q, exclusively posted updates since early 2018.
Watkins ran the site for his father Jim Watkins, who was the owner. The pair were both based in the Philippines while they operated the site, but Ron Watkins subsequently moved to Japan.
While Watkins has repeatedly denied any involvement in the QAnon conspiracy (and has even tried to deny its existence), he appeared to out himself in the final episode of Cullen Hoback’s HBO documentary about the origins of QAnon.
On Election Day in 2020, Watkins announced he had resigned as administrator of 8kun and deftly leveraged his cachet as a QAnon figure to help him become a prominent commentator on rightwing networks on all aspects of the bogus election fraud conspiracy—to the point where Trump repeatedly retweeted his posts on Twitter.
Since being banned from Twitter following the Jan. 6 riots, Watkins has built a huge following of over 400,000 people on Telegram where he pushes all sorts of conspiracies and lies.
As well as working to influence the outcome of the bogus recount in Maricopa County, Watkins has found time to launch an alien conspiracy website and create NFTs from screenshots of the tweets Trump shared where he used the same email address associated with this campaign filing.
O’Halleran won by just four percentage points in 2020, while Joe Biden won the tossup district by two points in the presidential election. Arizona, like all states, is redrawing its congressional lines to reflect new Census population counts, and initial proposals from the state’s independent redistricting commission indicate the district may move to the right, giving the eventual GOP nominee a strong chance at victory in what’s already shaping up to be a tough midterm election for Democrats.