Q returns after nearly two years of silence

After 563 days of quiet, seven words broke the silence.

Q, the mysterious and shadowy figure behind the QAnon conspiracy movementhad suddenly emerged, surprising followers with a series of short posts.

The posts on far-right message board 8kun on June 24 were Q’s first since December 2020, following Donald Trump’s bitter and ugly US election defeat.

Cryptic posts on far-right message board 8kun asked 'Shall we play a game once more?' and 'Are you ready to serve your country again?'
Cryptic posts on far-right message board 8kun asked ‘Shall we play a game once more?’ and ‘Are you ready to serve your country again?’ (AP / 9News)

“Shall we play a game once more?” said the first message, which was signed off by “Q”.

According to the New York Timesthe Q account on 8kun used a unique identifier linked to previous Q posts, known as “Q drops” to followers.

An 8kun forum user quickly asked why Q had been absent for so long, to which the account replied: “It had to be done this way.”

That was then followed by a later post: “Are you ready to serve your country again? Remember your oath.”

The unexpected Q drops, made on the same day the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wadesparked a frisson of excitement among QAnon followers, who had rapidly grown in size heading into Trump’s failed 2020 re-election bid.
Followers of the false QAnon conspiracy theory believe there is a “deep state” within the US government controlled by a cabal of Satan-worshiping, baby-eating paedophiles.

January 6: The day that rattled American democracy

According to the theory, to which all references and groups were later blocked and banned on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, the cabal is largely run by Democratic politicians and liberal celebrities who traffic children.

In the minds of the QAnon self-styled “patriots”, they would help Trump take down the evil cabal, and their work would culminate on a day known as “The Storm”, when thousands would be arrested to face military tribunals and executions.

But after Trump’s defeat, the failure of prophecies to materialise and Q’s subsequent vanishing, the movement grew disillusioned and began to fizzle, but not before the January 6 Capitol insurrection when many so-called patriots joined the invading mob.

Twenty years on, the skepticism and suspicion first revealed by 9/11 conspiracy theories has metastasised, spread by the internet and nurtured by pundits and politicians like Donald Trump. One hoax after another has emerged, each more bizarre than the last.
Twenty years on, the skepticism and suspicion first revealed by 9/11 conspiracy theories has metastasised, spread by the internet and nurtured by pundits and politicians like Donald Trump. One hoax after another has emerged, each more bizarre than the last. (AP)

There has long been speculation about who is Q.

Patriots believed the person was part of Trump’s innermost-circle, perhaps a US intelligence official with Q-level clearance which gave access to top secret, classified information.

Some theorised it was even Trump himself.

During his ill-fated 2020 campaign, Trump refused to publicly shut down the QAnon conspiracy and appeared to revel in stoking intrigue inside the movement.

However, in February, two separate companies in Europe using powerful algorithm-based machine-learning and stylometry – a forensic tool which can decipher writing styles – worked independently to analyse the writings of Q.

Swiss start-up OrphAnalytics and a French company of computational linguists both concluded that two people were likely behind Q.

The two men were Paul Furber, a South African software developer and tech journalist, and Ron Watkins, a former administrator of the notorious website 8kun, which is still owned by his maverick businessman father, Jim.

Watkins, who denies he is Q, is now running for Congress in Arizona.

Furber, a believer of the debunked Pizzagate conspiracy who lives in Johannesburg, has also rejected any assertion he is or was Q.

Speaking to 9news.com.au from an undisclosed base in Switzerland, OrphAnalytics founder Claude-Alain Roten said the four most recent Q drops over the weekend had a very “familiar” style and feel.

The growth of QAnon membership in Facebook groups and pages between January and September 2020, courtesy of CrowdTangle.
The growth of QAnon membership in Facebook groups and pages between January and September 2020, courtesy of CrowdTangle. (CrowdTangle)

OrphAnalytics was now analysing those posts.

Roten confirmed it would take “some weeks” to run the texts through his company’s stylometric processes and reach a conclusion as to who was the most likely author.

He was, however, happy to offer his initial impression.

“The texts of the last four Q drops are written in a style familiar to us,” Roten said.

Before the weekend, Q had not posted since December 8, 2020, when a Q drop linked out to a pro-Trump video featuring rebellion anthem We’re Not Gonna Take It from the 1980s heavy metal band Twisted Sister.

But with so long between drops, some thought Q may have disappeared forever.

Patriots believed the cryptic posts from Q, which numbered in total close to 5000, held secret messages which were feverishly picked apart and pored over by online armies of QAnon fanatics.

The Q drops succeeded in mobilising supporters in a remarkable way.

They emerged from the anonymity of the web’s darkest reaches to form a genuine far-right public and political movement which staunchly idolised Trump.

Watching from Switzerland, Roten was disturbed by what he saw from QAnon as the 2020 election gathered steam and heat.

He said it felt “important” for his company, OrphAnalytics, to try and work out who was behind Q.

Even then, months away from the January 6 riots, Roten said he had a bad feeling.

“In our mind, it was clear that something very particular would happen after the election,” he said.

It was analysis of Q’s posts, using stylometry techniques first made popular by the FBI in catching the Unabomber, which saw OrphAnalytics decipher authorship of the messages and reveal the clues that led to Watkins and Furber.

QAnon conspiracy theories include claiming that then-President Donald Trump is facing down a shadowy cabal of child-trafficking elites, and others about the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election.
QAnon conspiracy theories include claiming that then-President Donald Trump is facing down a shadowy cabal of child-trafficking elites, and others about the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election. (Getty)

Key Q suspects narrowed to two men

In 2020, OrphAnalytics broke Q’s texts into three-character sequences and tracked the recurrence of each possible combination.

A group of suspects who may have been Q were analysed, Roten said, including people mentioned in news investigations and high-profile figures inside the QAnon movement.

Statistical analyses by OrphAnalytics can establish an “individual signature” in the way someone writes, which much like a fingerprint can be used to pinpoint a suspect.

“Among plausible suspects, Ron Watkins is the most likely author for an overwhelming part of Q drops,” OrphAnalytics said in a 2022 white paper revealing its findings.

But there was much more to QAnon, Roten said, explaining there appeared to be two distinct periods to the thousands of Q drops.

The first period ran from October to December in 2017 on the 4chan forum.

Analysis of those 4chan messages, Roten said, pointed to “possible co-authorship of QAnon seminal messages” by Watkins and Furber.

But Watkins’ signature “becomes clearer” as time passes, OrphAnalytics found.

Using different methodologies, both OrphAnalytics and their French counterparts noted “a willing or unwilling collaboration” between Watkins and Furber as a plausible possibility while Q drops were appearing on 4chan.

But at the end of 2017, the Q drops suddenly moved to 8chan from 4chan.

During the second QAnon period, from December 2017 to November 2020, OrphAnalytics said Q drops on 8chan “unambiguously points to a single signature, namely Ron Watkins”.

Of course, at the time, Watkins was an administrator of 8chan, which afforded him access to all parts of the site, its code and oversight of users.

Leave a Comment