HBO's Q: Into the Storm, a six-part docuseries looking into the QAnon conspiracy theory, ended Sunday night by revealing who series director Cullen Hoback believes to be the mysterious Q.
Started in 2017, the conspiracy theory falsely claims that former President Donald Trump is leading a hidden war against satanist pedophiles in Hollywood and the Democratic Party. It was started by an anonymous person who became known as Q, which is a reference to a top-level government security clearance. The hoax gained traction in the US and across the globe, and QAnon followers were on the front line when Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol on Jan. 6.
Hoback has been covering the QAnon movement since 2018 following some of the principal people behind the anonymous message board 8chan where Q's messages were posted. He says one of the subjects of Into the Storm slipped and revealed his role as Q. The big question is: Will that even matter to QAnon believers?
Spoiler warning: If you'd rather watch the finale to get the info on Q, you should stop reading now.
Who is Q?
Hoback believes the person behind Q is Ron Watkins, the son of 8chan/8kun owner Jim Watkins. 8chan was a loosely moderated message board that was a haven for white supremacists where users' identities were kept anonymous.
Watkins worked as the site administrator for 8chan and then its replacement 8kun, but he rose in prominence following the 2020 presidential election. He began appearing on right-wing news outlets and falsely declaring that the election was stolen from Trump. He also tweeted conspiracy theories regularly and was even retweeted by Trump. Twitter banned Watkins' account following the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6.
Hoback spent three years covering Watkins and his father once 8chan became the home of Q, after Q had left the 4chan message board in early 2018. As documented in Q: Into the Storm, both Ron Watkins and his father continued to express their confusion about Q's identity and even pointed to the possibility of former Trump adviser Steve Bannon being the mysterious figure.
Hoback felt that during a conversation in late 2020, he was able to confirm his suspicion that Q was the younger Watkins.
"I've spent the past ... almost 10 years, every day, doing this kind of research anonymously. Now I'm doing it publicly, that's the only difference," Ron Watkins told Hoback during a video chat. This was a reference to his secret identity as Q, according to Hoback.
In the final episode, Hoback begins to recount the instances in which Ron Watkins played dumb on the activities of Q, only to then seemingly have in-depth insight into Q's intentions. There were also images of pens and watches in multiple posts by Q, and Hoback noticed during the filming of the series that those were two interests Ron Watkins had.
Another piece of evidence that appears to point to Ron Watkins being Q came after a mass shooting in 2019 at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. The shooter posted about his intentions on 8chan that day. Once this information came to light, the site temporarily lost its hosting service. When the site returned, Q was able to post right away, which Hoback says is something only site administrators could do at the time.
Hoback then shows more of his final interview with Ron Watkins, where it appears to be even more evident that Watkins is Q.
"Yeah, so thinking back on it, like, it was basically ... three years of intelligence training teaching normies how to do intelligence work. It was basically what I was doing anonymously but before, never as Q," Ron Watkins said in the video call and then broke into a big grin. Hoback goes on to say that this is when Ron Watkins slipped up, and they both knew it.
Is Ron Watkins really Q?
We can't say with 100% certainty, but the evidence from Q: Into the Storm and elsewhere does seem to point to Ron Watkins being behind it all. It's abundantly clear there was no one within Trump's inner circle with a Q security clearance who was providing secret messages to the public. During his presidency, Trump told the press multiple times that he wasn't aware of what QAnon was. But he publicly praised QAnon followers in August 2020 and again a few months later during a televised town hall, where he wouldn't disavow the conspiracy theory as false.
It's also incredibly coincidental that Q's last post, or "drop," was on Dec. 8, which was right around the time Ron Watkins began developing a huge following on Twitter due to his appearance on right-wing news shows.
There's also a series of emails between prominent QAnon personalities and the 8kun email address, which would be accessible to Ron Watkins.
In a Reddit AMA on Monday, Hoback says both Ron and Jim Watkins claimed in a livestream that the director was working for the CIA, but the two have since backtracked their claim.
What happens next?
It's hard to say. It's become apparent that QAnon believers aren't going to stop believing the hoax anytime soon. Trump's loss to President Joe Biden hasn't deterred many Q followers, who continue to believe it'll just be a matter of time before Trump returns to office.
Some QAnon believers have left the cult, while others are continuing with a new strategy of saying there's no QAnon. Former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who last year posted a video reciting a pledge created by Q, was asked about QAnon in March and responded by asking, "What is that?" Members of Flynn's family are suing CNN over playing the video of them reciting the Q pledge, saying they were never followers.
Both Ron and Jim Watkins have since appeared on multiple QAnon podcasts following the premier of Q: Into the Storm to try to distance themselves from the series.
On his Telegram account, Ron Watkins responded to reports of him being Q by saying, "I am not Q. I've never spoken privately with Q. I don't know who Q is."
Neither Ron Watkins nor Jim Watkins responded to a request for comment.