In the final episode of Cullen Hoback’s six-part QAnon documentary, which aired late Sunday night, the administrator of 8kun effectively admitted to posting there as Q, the conspiracy movement’s anonymous leader.
In one of the final scenes of “Q: Into the Storm,” Ron Watkins spoke about his newfound fame as a key spreader of baseless claims about voter fraud after Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 election. Then he said: “It was basically three years of intelligence training, teaching normies how to do intelligence work. It was basically what I was doing anonymously before.“
Realizing his mistake, Watkins quickly added, “...but never as Q.”
For Hoback, who’d spent three years following Ron and his father, Jim, in the Philippines, Japan, and the U.S., this was a tacit admission of guilt. Watkins seemed to think so too, because he smiled nervously before bursting out laughing and adding, “Never as Q. I promise.”
The admission was a bombshell ending to a documentary that gave viewers the most comprehensive view yet at how QAnon developed on 4chan in October 2017, before it moved to 8chan in early 2018 and most recently to 8kun, the rebranded version of 8chan.
QAnon followers believe Q is a government insider with close ties to the Trump administration, who has been posting top-secret intelligence in the form of almost 5,000 posts, first on 4chan but mostly on 8chan, which is owned by Jim Watkins.
You might imagine that the revelation that Q is not in fact a person with top-secret government clearance but rather the administrator of a fringe website best known for boosting Gamergate and hosting white supremacist hate speech, would rock the QAnon community to its core.
But in reality, it has barely registered with them.
In public channels on fringe networks like Gab and Parler, on QAnon forums like the Great Awakening, and on Telegram, where hundreds of thousands of QAnon supporters now communicate, the revelation about Watkins has barely been mentioned.
None of the main QAnon influencer accounts have mentioned the documentary on Gab, and aside from a couple of random questions by followers of the biggest QAnon channels on Telegram, the documentary’s explosive findings have not been discussed.
In one of the few discussion threads about it on the Great Awakening, users have roundly dismissed the claims that Watkins is Q, with one posting: “Q is a group of genius level military intelligence with very high security clearances. There is 0 chance Ron is Q or is directly involved with the operation.”
One person who did reference the documentary was Watkins himself, who posted a message to his 150,000 Telegram followers hours before the final episode aired, simply writing: “Friendly reminder: I am not Q.”
And yet, Hoback’s six-hour documentary series has built up a very convincing argument that Ron Watkins really is Q.
Prior to the documentary, there was very little public footage of Watkins on camera. But Hoback gained remarkable access to both Ron and Jim Watkins over three years, filming them at their pig farm in the Philippines, in Japan where Ron now lives, and in the U.S., showing Jim’s efforts to get 8chan back online after it was deplatformed in 2019.
As well as filming Ron Watkins running up a mountain with a sledgehammer and singing opera in the middle of the night, Hoback catches him making multiple contradictory statements about his level of knowledge about QAnon. One day, he says he knows nothing about the movement, and the next he gives detailed insights about the conspiracy’s development.
At one point in the series, Watkins attempts to throw the documentary maker off the scent by claiming former Trump adviser Steve Bannon was Q, presenting “evidence” from the 8kun website to suggest the QAnon posts were made from a location close to where Bannon lived.
Hoback’s documentary ultimately proved what a lot of QAnon researchers had already concluded: that Ron and Jim Watkins were the gatekeepers for Q, and without their help — at the very least — the person or persons claiming to be Q would not have been able to post their updates.
“Some of the evidence has been out there for a long time, and some of it was evidence that Hoback either uncovered or put together,” Mike Rothschild, a QAnon researcher, wrote for the Daily Dot.
“But all of it leads back to the same place: that there are very few other people who could have and would have made the Q drops other than the person who ran the place where they were posted. QAnon can’t exist without the Watkinses, and 8kun without Q’s devotees may as well not exist.”
But for all the revelations in the documentary, there are still lots of unanswered questions about QAnon. It is still unknown who first posted as Q on 4chan, before Watkins took control when the movement moved to 8chan.
And most critically, the documentary doesn’t tell us what’s next for QAnon.
Q hasn’t posted in four months, and both Jim and Ron Watkins told Hoback that posts would likely end after the 2020 presidential election. In that vacuum, some influencers have attempted to assert control, but for now, QAnon remains in a state of flux.
QAnon has moved from the fringes of the internet to a mainstream phenomenon in the last 12 months, boosted by Congress members like Marjorie Taylor Greene and ultimately Trump, who repeatedly retweeted Watkins in the wake of his election loss.
The movement now has millions of adherents and has caused much pain: Besides being a major part of high-profile incidents like the Capitol riots—at least 34 QAnon followers have been arrested for their alleged roles in the attempted insurrection—it is tearing apart families all over the U.S.
In some parts of the Republican Party, QAnon has become an accepted part of the ideology, and even without Q, the movement shows no signs of going anywhere.