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While the specifics of the QAnon conspiracy theory can be difficult to parse, even the most casual observer of the movement likely knows it all revolves around the anonymous Q. Since Q’s first post appeared on the 4chan imageboard in October 2017, Q’s identity has been unknown, with QAnon followers believing it could be a high-level military figure or even President Donald Trump.
Skeptics, however, have long suggested the posts are an elaborate grift, pushed by right-wing conspiracy mongers and trolls for financial gain. There are many who believe Q, if he or she ever truly was a real person, is now just one of these grifters. Now, new evidence suggests the person currently posting as Q could be Jim Watkins.
For people who haven’t been deeply invested in the phenomenon, that name might not mean anything, but for those who have tracked QAnon’s growth, Watkins has always been a central figure.
So, who is Jim Watkins?
US Army vet Jim Watkins
Until a 2016 profile in Splinter, there was little publicly known about Watkins. At the age of 18, Watkins, who was raised in Washington state, joined the United States Army. He served as a helicopter mechanic and recruiter before, in 1987, the military sent him to learn about computing at a school in Virginia.
Watkins remained in the Army even as he launched his first website, a porn site by the name of “The Asian Bikini Bar” (as of November 2019, Watkins still owned the domain, though it is inactive). Watkins’ career has been tied to the sharing of pornographic and offensive content ever since.
Watkins also launched his tech company, N.T. Technology, at this time, through which he still hosts his online business ventures.
Watkins was one of the earliest to get into the online pornography industry – a former associate referred to him as the “king of porn” – and that helped him turn some of his earliest sites into profitable endeavors.
Watkins left the Army in 1998 to focus all of his attention on growing his online empire in the so-called dot-com bubble of the late 90s. After that bubble burst, Watkins moved his operations to the Philippines, where he currently lives.
8chan becomes 8kun
By 2016, Watkins was a pig farmer and the moneyman for 8chan, the anything-goes imageboard Splinter dubbed “the world’s most vile website.” This site, which has since been shut down, was associated with a host of reprehensible content, including child pornography and content that has been connected to multiple mass shootings by white supremacists.
In 2013, a software developer named Frederick Brennan created 8chan (users called it “infinitychan”) in the mold of 4chan, the original unregulated imageboard, but with even fewer restrictions. Since 8chan didn’t have advertising, it had little impetus to moderate content, but it also didn’t make any money. Brennan transferred ownership of the site to Watkins in 2015.
While Brennan remained involved with the site for a few more years, he eventually became a vocal detractor of 8chan and its complete lack of moderation. After one of the site’s users killed 22 people in the El Paso, Texas shooting of August 2019, Brennan said he hoped the site would be permanently shut down.
Though the site had been known to harbor “vile” content for years, the El Paso shooting ended up being the last straw. Cloudfare, Inc., the company that provided the infrastructure to keep 8chan running, dropped the site that August. There were efforts to revive it, but they didn’t last.
8chan and N.T. Technology, the site’s host, went offline while Watkins was called before the House Homeland Security Committee to testify about the site’s operations.
Resurrection didn’t take long. In November 2019, Watkins launched 8kun, a nearly identical site to 8chan with only a superficial warning to users to avoid posting anything that violates US law. Its launch had its own hiccups, as it was briefly shut down before relaunching. The site is currently hosted in Russia.
Q comes to 8kun
Though the QAnon phenomenon began with an anonymous post on 4chan, the conspiracy theory found its footing through a series of “Q drops” – postings from Q – that appeared on 8chan. When 8chan was shut down and relaunched as 8kun, Brennan warned – accurately it turns out – that the resurrection of the site would allow the QAnon conspiracy to spread.
The QAnon conspiracy theory, which claims a Satanic, cannibalistic cabal of well-connected celebrities, businesspeople and politicians are involved in the sex trafficking of children, has been called a cult by some. Yet, its co-opting of well-meaning social media trends like the #SaveTheChildren hashtag has also helped it spread its message.
While the movement has mostly focused on US politics, in particular President Donald Trump’s alleged fight against the “Deep State,” it has grown internationally. Signs bearing QAnon-related slogans were even seen at a protest in Berlin on August 29.
Why do people think Jim Watkins is Q?
While the identity of Q remains unknown, Brennan and other online sleuths have found evidence that they argue suggests Watkins could be Q. In addition to owning 8kun, Twitter users determined that Watkins also owns the domain for QMap.pub, one of the sites that alerts Q followers that a Q drop has been posted.
As explained by Mike Rothschild, a tech reporter for the Daily Dot who has covered Q extensively, “both the only place that Q drops are made and the most popular place where Q drops are disseminated and confirmed as [sic] have the same internet service provider.”
In other words, Watkins is in a position to control Q’s message and how it is shared to true believers.
This doesn’t prove Watkins is Q and it is unlikely he was the original 4chan poster. But Watkins certainly has a financial interest in the conspiracy theory continuing to spread. In March 2020, Watkins launched the Disarm the Deep State Super political action committee (PAC) to support pro-QAnon political candidates. The site states the PAC’s goal.
“Disarm the Deep State Super PAC will help grow our team of patriots to oppose Deep State actors and help elect representatives friendly to our cause. Their arrogance must be defeated. Together, let’s stop a cabal of bureaucrats from working against the will of the American people. Let’s fulfill the Great Awakening together!”
Open Secrets reports that, in this election cycle, Disarm the Deep State has raised nearly US$4,000 dollars and spent less than US$500.
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