QAnon conspiracy theory leader returns

After more than a year of silence, the mysterious figure behind the QAnon conspiracy theory has reappeared.

The character, who is known only as Q, posted for the first time in over a year on Friday on 8kun, the anonymous message board where the account last appeared. “Are we going to play the game again?” a message read in the account’s typical cryptic style. The account that posted had a unique ID used on previous Q posts.

The posts surprised disinformation researchers and signaled the disturbing return of a figure whose conspiracy theories about an imaginary elite sex trafficking ring garnered support for then-President Donald J. Trump. Message boards and Telegram channels devoted to QAnon lit up with the news, as subscribers speculated on the significance of Q’s return.

The QAnon conspiracy theory emerged in late 2017 from anonymous chat rooms where it quickly won over a large following of Trump supporters. Q posted a series of cryptic messages about the overthrow of an elite ‘cabal’ of sex traffickers. Followers believed Q had a role in the Trump administration or the military and that Mr. Trump was working to arrest and prosecute child abusers and Democrats.

The movement seemed to culminate with the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Some people who stormed the building were wearing QAnon t-shirts or holding signs that read “Q sent me.” Polls at the time showed that one in five Americans believed in the conspiracy theory.

When President Biden was sworn in, it seemed clear that none of Q’s fanciest and most gruesome predictions — about Mr. Trump arresting and trying Democrats in a series of military tribunals and public executions — would come true. Q’s account stopped posting shortly after Mr. Trump was defeated in 2020.

As the QAnon community limped along in the months following Q’s disappearance, it seemed to bristle again last week with a series of groundbreaking Supreme Court rulings, culminating Friday with a decision that ended the constitutional right to abortion. For QAnon followers, the decision marked a turning point for the country that could make Q’s predictions a reality.

“Taking advantage of social and cultural instability has kind of been a hallmark of QAnon for a very long time,” said Bond Benton, an associate professor at Montclair State University who has studied QAnon. “It throws gasoline on the fire and reinforces people’s fear of the future.”

When an anonymous user on 8kun asked why Q was gone for so long, the account replied, “It had to be done that way.”

The account posted a third time, writing, “Are you ready to serve your country again? Remember your oath.

The return comes at an important time for one of QAnon’s leading figures: Ron Watkins, a 30-something computer programmer and former 8kun administrator who is widely believed to be the person behind Q. An HBO documentary linked him to the account, and two forensic analyzes showed empirical similarities in their writing styles.

Mr. Watkins is executing a long-running bid for a congressional seat in Arizona’s second district. State strategists expect him to lose the race when the primary is held on August 2 after raising little money and giving an awkward debate performance that failed to garner Republican support .

Mr. Watkins denied any involvement with Q. He did not immediately return a request for comment on Saturday.

Daniela Peterka-Benton, an associate professor at Montclair State University who has also studied QAnon, cautioned against ascribing too much logic to Q’s return now, suggesting the person’s purpose is simply to “see the world burn”.

“I don’t think this person has a plan,” she said. “But I think they really appreciate having so much power.”

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