There’s been a mass exodus of conservatives from Twitter and Facebook amid complaints of censorship and “free speech” dog-whistling in the wake of the 2020 presidential election. Many have found a new home on Parler, a platform founded in 2018 and reportedly backed by Trump donors that sells itself as “unbiased social media.”
On Sunday, a post there may have blown the lid off a long-simmering mystery: The identity of Q, the alias behind the anonymous person(s) claiming to be a high-ranking government official whose cryptic posts launched the QAnon conspiracy movement.
A verified Parler user that appeared to be Ron Watkins, a former administrator at the controversial anonymous message board 8kun, published a post on Sunday confirming that his father, 8kun-owner Jim Watkins, made posts posing as Q.
“Yes, Jim has posted as Q before. Fuck you, dad,” wrote the user, who also went by Ron Watkins’ handle, @CodeMonkeyZ. The account has since been deleted, though screenshots of the post quickly began circulating online.
Holy fuck, is this real fucking life?
— Fredrick Brennan (@fr_brennan) November 15, 2020
Ron Watkins posted several tweets on Sunday claiming that he never created a Parler account and that whoever wrote that post was impersonating him. He shared a screenshot of a complaint he emailed to Parler’s support staff saying as much.
His denial prompts plenty more questions, but the way I see it, there are two likely explanations:
The first one is simple: He’s lying, Occam’s Razor. Parler hasn’t spoken publicly about the incident and did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment, so really all we have is his word that this is some kind of imposter. The timing of the post does lend to this theory. Watkins abruptly resigned from his position at 8kun on Nov. 3, so it’s possible he spilled the tea on Parler to get back at his dad for some familial spat that sparked his sudden departure (the “Fuck you, dad” part would definitely fit in that case). Also, as 8chan founder Frederick Brennan points out, screenshots show that the Watkins Parler account was created on July 21, 2020, just two weeks after Watkins posted on Twitter about Parler for the first time.
Of course, all of this is far from a smoking gun. The timing could be purely coincidence, which leads me to explanation number two: Parler is just a shitty platform. Either someone hacked into an account that Watkins made (and he’s just not admitting to it) and wrote the post, or someone hacked into Parler’s systems directly and created a verified account posing as Watkins. Or, and this would be really embarrassing for Parler, some random person made an account posing as Watkins and was able to get Parler to verify them using flimsy credentials.
Either way, if correct, this theory would indicate that the platform’s systems have some major security flaws, which would be a major blow to its credibility. With the recent flood of new sign-ups, Parler’s userbase more than doubled to 10 million in less than a week, per the Wall Street Journal. That level of growth can expose all kinds of new vulnerabilities for online platforms (something that Zoom can attest to), so it’s entirely possible that hackers could have noticed and taken advantage of the situation.
Internet sleuths have long considered Jim and Ron Watkins to be the most likely authors behind the thousands of posts supposedly sharing top-secret government intel from Q, known as “Q drops,” on 8kun and its predecessor, 8chan. These posts have since spawned a sprawling, far-right conspiracy theory claiming that a cabal of “elites” is out to get the Trump administration. These elites, who are usually Democratic politicians, Hollywood actors, or whoever QAnon stans are pissed off at the moment, supposedly run an underground child sex ring and worship Satan and engage in cannibalistic rituals and all manner of other bonkers claims.
Both men have previously denied being ‘Q,’ but several pieces of incriminating evidence have surfaced over the years pointing to them, particularly Jim Watkins. QAnon experts have speculated for years that Q and 8chan are somehow linked. The first Q drop went up in 2017, two years after Jim Watkins took control of the site. Then Q went quiet for months beginning in August 2019 after 8chan went down, only reappearing once 8chan secured a new service provider and rebranded itself as 8kun.
Jim Watkins has also repeatedly shown that he’s a staunch QAnon supporter, at the very least. He testified before Congress in 2019 while wearing a QAnon pin and started a SuperPAC specifically geared towards boosting QAnon adherents running for office. Even Brennan, his former business partner at 8chan, has said “If he’s not ‘Q’ himself, he can find out who ‘Q’ is at any time.”
So while the authenticity of this Parler post may still be up for debate, you can see why the internet is losing its ever-loving mind over it. It’s the final puzzle piece to the prevailing theory QAnon experts already have plenty of evidence to support. Admittedly, that’s also the number one reason why a bad actor might fake such a post: To pull one over on everyone who is dying to prove who is behind this long-running charade.