Qanon is an Enormous Alternate Reality Game (ARG) Run by Malevolent Puppetmasters
The cast of characters includes Chanel Rion, a racist pig farmer named Jim Watkins aka ‘Q’, and yes, the Russians
If you or someone you care about is under the influence of Qanon, please visit this link.
Against my better judgment, I dove headfirst into Qanon. This document contains the substance of the theory and evidence.
What follows is a summary of my findings, how I came to these conclusions and important background.
A Bit About Me
Hi! I was one of several ‘puppetmasters’ on the largest alternate reality games (ARGs) ever run — before Qanon. I was co-founder, CTO and game designer at 42 Entertainment from 2003–2007 and I ran the team that built I Love Bees, Year Zero, the first half of Why So Serious? and lots of others.
I also have a Primetime Emmy, a Cyber Lion Grand Prix from Cannes Lions, an innovation award from GDC, eight patents, worked at Google, ran four companies, and a shitload of other stuff I could wave around to try and convince you I know of what I speak. LinkedIn
Regardless, it is also, humiliatingly, true that for a brief period in the early 2000’s I became obsessed with 9/11 trutherism <scream emoji>. I knew most of it was bullshit but I could not help but dO mY oWn rEseArch because as a new father at the time I simply could not fathom what had happened on American soil. They got to me through ‘science’ and my own fear center.
That was formative and revelatory for me, because it showed me at a deeply personal level that anyone can get caught up in their own priors and ignore rational argument.
In real life, I am a hardcore skeptic, atheist and detest anything that smells of woo. But for a minute, almost 20 years ago I wasn’t completely in this reality and that scared the shit out of me. It also made me hate disinformation in all forms and the structures that distribute it.
I have been morbidly interested in Qanon for several years, mainly as an example of what someone should never, ever do with the potent game mechanics that drive ARGs. But more recently, as Qanon has exploded right before the election in the midst of multiple existential crises, I decided to do some work and try to figure it out.
NOTE: Huge shout out to Adrian and Dan Hon, who both wrote powerful, detailed pieces on the relationship between Qanon and ARGs. Both of them have inspired me for years, but their pieces helped call me into action.
I took a deep dive into Qanon and what I found was both horrifying and clarifying. This is an enormous ARG run by malevolent puppetmasters who are located both here and overseas, including the Russians.
I know. I just lost most of you. Everyone is tired of Russia. Fuck, I’m tired of Russia.
But — and please hear me — we cannot close our eyes to it because the right wing has trained us to. They did it with Hilary’s emails and they’re doing it with “Rusher, Rusher, Rusher.”
Repeating things over and over until you change the way people think is a form of mind control. Don’t fall for it.
Russian intelligence is, at a minimum, exploiting this gamecult, to coin a phrase, to undermine our democracy. My theory is that they are far more involved than that. To them, Qanon in 2020 is basically Wikileaks in 2016 on a mind-numbing scale.
They are all over this thing, from technology, to content, to distribution. In my view the chance that they are not benefiting from all those connections is effectively zero. Putin, like Trump, is transactional and believes the world is a zero sum game. To him, the way he wins is to diminish us.
My only request is that you keep an open mind and pay attention to your reaction to hearing about Russian interference. There has been a five year campaign by the right wing to make you feel dirty for even talking about it. The aren’t doing that because it is ‘fake news.’
I created a Pepe/MAGA sock puppet to comb the depth of Qwitter including most of the big ones leading out of Jim Watkins inner circle. What I found was so overwhelming it’s hard to describe. All I had to do was create the right profile pic and bio hashtags, do a few likes and retweets of key accounts and I was IN. Like instantly.
Twitter’s algorithms immediately provided me with a convenient button to mash that immediately connected me with the largest disinformation accounts on the platform. Many of them have retweet/follow parties on a regular basis where you just post your name and like magic you have ‘friends’. Many, many of them. ALL of them are deep in the cult.
Within 12 hours I was yukking it up with my new bff’s about adrenochrome and boat parades as a sign from Q and all sorts of insane bullshit. I have to say that I can only spend a few minutes at a time in there because the reality distortion field is so. fucking. strong.
Anyway, I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt there is command and control structure involved in this gamecult. Anyone who believes this is somehow ‘organic’ is fooling themselves. There are puppetmasters behind this and not just ‘Q’. This is systematized.
Certainly, a great deal of it is built by players, as it always is. But this thing heals around itself insanely quickly. Twitter lopped off a bunch of the big 2–300k accounts and some of the nastier characters less than a month ago but all it seems to have done is further insulate them from interacting with normies.
There is almost no dissent in Qwitter. They do ritual affirmations of their loyalty in enormous threads. There are cult-wide phrases that act to ‘short circuit’ any critical thinking — ”Patriot”, “Save The Children”, “MAGA” for example. It is not a coincidence that these phrases and their kin can be found in the bio of nearly every Person Affected by Qanon (PAQ).
I won’t comment much on the content, because OMFG, but it is well-coordinated, and extremely well-insulated. The alternate reality they live is largely impervious to outside information, as are the players themselves.
There is clearly a leadership structure and well known nodes for specific subjects and predilections and a set of rules for what is and isn’t allowed to be a target. Just to pick an example out of the air, there is ZERO negative information about Russia. Pausing here again to repeat. ZERO. When Russia is mentioned it is always in positive terms. Yeah, always.
On the other hand, America is assailed as a den of pedophiles and sin that needs a cleansing fire. Immigrants, Black and brown folks, Democrats and anyone who does not express fealty to Donald Trump is viciously attacked. Europe, China, Israel not to mention the Middle East are all frequent targets of anti-semitic, racist and xenophobic posts.
This perceived homogeneity of content all seems to borne out in the data. Network visualizations of Q related hashtags and retweets is extremely organized with clear origin accounts and rings of retweeters. This obfuscates the true source of the content, protects the big accounts, and defeats any casual investigation of Qanon’s structure. More to come on this.
On the second day I was exploring the darkest reaches of Qwitter, I saw something that I literally could not believe.
It was a pipeline of disinformation started, as it turns out, by Russian intelligence, which emerged online first on the account of a first-tier Qanon retweeter and was weaponized by Chanel Rion of OANN a literal Russian propaganda network in the White House briefing room three hours later. I happened to have the press conference on live at the time.
I am here to tell you, friend, that freaked me the fuck out. It is not every day that you go to the darkest place on the internet and see disinformation start there in front of your eyes and travel straight to your TV via the White House in a single afternoon.
This traumatic revelation led me to obsessively try and understand who was running this gamecult and why. So I spent a metric shitload of time combing the depths of the internet to try and figure out who ‘Q’ is and who/what else is coordinating this.
‘Q’ is really not so mysterious. There are no other logical options for who ‘Q’ is right now other than Jim Watkins, a pig farmer who also runs the worst website on the internet, 8kun, which is where — and this is very important — Q exclusively resides.
The fiction they invented for why their ‘government intelligence operative’ really, really has to be on 8kun’s rickety bulletin board is preposterous to the point of comedy.
If you doubt Q’s identity, you should listen to Frederick Brennan. He worked for Jim Watkins until last year. He literally built 8chan. He both privately and publicly says that Jim Watkins IS Q.
Not only that, but it was recently discovered that Jim Watkins ALSO owns “qmap.pub” which is the soccer-mom friendly version of Qanon.
EDIT: Jim Watkins tweeted a denial and links to all my articles. I guess that means I’m completely wrong about this 😂
There is more detail on all of this in the linked document.
To test my theory with some people I created a document on pastebin to share with PAQ directly to challenge their priors. I wanted to tell them who Q is and see what their reaction would be.
So I created another sock puppet that advertised its intention called, creatively, Jim Watkins Is Q. I spammed a few big threads with the pastebin. I was met mostly with silence but there was a significant amount of engagement — clicks, expands, etc.
I also got a very quick block from Jim Watkins (@RQueenInc) which proves nothing but gave me a momentary feeling of joy in an otherwise bleak hellscape.
EDIT: Jim has now blocked my main account too. So he’s paying attention. Good. HI JIM! 👋
Unsurprisingly, the accounts that appeared to be newer to Qanon or still have a life outside of it were more willing to accept new information. I also engaged in conversations with some of them, who tried to argue for awhile but simply shut off as soon as the cognitive dissonance became too great.
Regardless, from what I saw, there are certainly ‘grades’ of PAQ in terms of how brainwashed they really are. I think this is important to any countermeasures. Not a monolith. At all.
There is even a big swath that I think are still reachable, but this is getting worse, and bigger, frighteningly fast. And the people are getting more and more radicalized.
If you spend any time there, you can see it, feel it. It’s a grinding, escalating hate-fueled death cult that is driving these people literally insane with malicious game mechanics.
I sure wish I had better news.
So, I also wanted to test out the conventional wisdom of journalists and normies about Qanon as well, and hopefully interest them in covering this, so I switched the article to Medium and started adding links and backup material to it.
You can find it below. It’s a little ‘LARP-y” sounding because I was hiding my identity, but I stand by the substance of it and the theory behind it.
Note that the original ‘author’ of the piece, Evan Chan, is a reference to the very first alternate reality game, The Beast, which was designed and run by my colleagues from 42 Entertainment.
JIM WATKINS IS Q AND THE RUSSIANS ARE HELPING HIM
The man behind Qanon is a vile hate-merchant coordinating with OANN, Flynn and Russian intelligence. This document is…
I’ve sent various versions of this out to people and the reactions were telling. I wanted to stir up some shit and get a reaction and boy howdy did I.
I got absolutely roasted on a well-regarded normie Qanon forum for even bringing Russia up at all. And a group of Qanon researchers apparently subtweeted me in a decidedly unhelpful way after I approached them with what I was finding:
I also heard from several people who absolutely believe Russia is involved but told me I should remove that angle because it will turn people off to the rest of the information. No, that’s not a thing.
Of course I also had a bunch of people who were basically ‘pics or it didn’t happen’ and wanted me to come up with classified material or something to prove that Russia is involved. Welp, I’m not a spy or a journalist. All I can do is google shit, talk to people and write about it — which I have done in an abundance that has been very annoying to my family.
Thankfully, a great deal of people have also been willing to have good faith conversations about it. I’ve talked to a number of people directly involved in this shitshow, plus Qanon experts, a data scientist with running Twitter collections, game designers, people in the government (no, not spies shut up), and cult experts. The clear majority of them think it is obvious that the Russians are involved, although they have various levels of confidence in how involved.
I have no agenda. I have no interest in promoting a particular angle. I have a lot of specific knowledge about ARGs and how they run. Also, not that this means much, but I’m also a dedicated politics nerd. (I read all 400 pages of the Mueller Report starting the day it came out, but I haven’t yet finished the absolutely damning 996 page Senate Intelligence Commitee Report on 2016 election interference that came out on August 18th. :P)
My goal is not to convince anyone of anything. While I am personally convinced that Jim Watkins is Q and the Russians are helping him in a very significant way, that certainly does not mean I’m right.
But, I felt and continue to feel a serious responsibility to scream at the top of my lungs if I see something like this with potentially serious national security implications that no one is talking about.
Especially so, given that we have a government currently incapable of national security.
Finally, I am always up for a lively good faith argument. Come at me as hard as you want, but come with your own theory about how this thing works or point out specifically what’s wrong with mine. Otherwise, you might trigger my syndromes and illnesses. :)
Look forward to it. @jimstewartson DMs are open.