For years now, a large and complex conspiracy theory has been developing in the deep corners of the world wide web, combining classic “powers that be” sort of worries with modern politics and a dash of anger-inducing pedophilia into the mix…all told through vague, question-filled anonymous tidbits posted online.
This is the QAnon theory in a nutshell: A government insider known as “Q” would post vague, short statements online, often in the form of a question, and a legion of followers would then work to unravel the meaning of these quasi-quatrains. Beyond that, much of the story consists of follower-generated “proofs”, and just what that means for Donald Trump’s alleged secret war against the Deep State.
The theory was incredibly prevalent among Trump supporters, particularly toward the tail end of the 2020 election, leading many to wonder just what the entire experience of “QAnon” was, in literal terms.
A new series on HBO claims to have gotten a better look at the phenomenon than anyone else, and they may have even unmasked the elusive “Q” himself.
Shot over the past three years, Cullen Hoback’s excellent Q: Into the Storm(March 21 on HBO) is a complex story about free speech, social media, anti-establishment fury, white nationalist intolerance, crackpot fantasy, and anarchist villainy, all of which contributed to the rise of the infamous conspiracy theory, which during Donald Trump’s presidency took hold of factions of the GOP, and helped fuel the insurrectionist January 6 Capitol riots. Part on-the-ground journalistic exposé, part sociological study of corrosive internet culture, and part whodunit, the six-part affair shines a spotlight on one of the darkest corners of contemporary American life.
As for who the film reveals to be “Q”, the name is a familiar one among those who’ve been following the story.
What it locates in that gloom, among other things, is the apparent identity of Q himself: Ron Watkins.
Hoback’s docuseries focuses on a collection of out-there individuals, beginning—in the premiere’s opening scene—with Watkins, the administrator of 8chan, an everything-goes message board that was owned by his father Jim Watkins, and hosted on servers located (as Jim himself was) in Manila. Jim made money via a pig farm, local retail shops, and by hosting websites in places like the Philippines, where they weren’t beholden to other nations’ laws. One of those platforms was 8chan (now 8kun), which Jim purchased from Fredrick Brennan, a smart, talkative young disabled man who created the site when he was 19 years old before selling it to Jim, who promptly hired Fredrick as its maiden administrator and relocated him to Manila.
While Watkins has been considered a prime candidate to be Q in the past, followers of the theory have round rejected the idea that this was all his ruse, and the HBO documentary may do little to convince them.
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