“Qanon” is Propaganda, and we know who’s responsible
The influence of perception is one of the defining features of modern life. Ever since Thomas Barratt used a nice painting to make Pears Soap more appealing, people have competed to change our minds about things. De Beers created the idea that their product, diamonds, were an essential part of marriage. Edward Bernays put cigarettes in the hands of marching suffragettes to make them “Torches of Freedom”.
The social cost seems secondary. Millions of lives lost to lung cancer is less important than the pursuit of profit or power to these people. And when government health officials declare that their product is dangerous, these industries will do what they can to discredit them. Ultimately, unregulated capitalism is framed as “freedom”, and any attempt by the state to curb that is framed as “tyranny”. Therein lies the fundamental tension between progressives and conservatives.
But, back to propaganda. Like companies, political campaigns also employ agencies to influence public perception of their clients:
His campaign would require the creation of a completely Alternative Reality. One where he was a strong, powerful, righteous hero, on a selfless mission to save the world from the clutches of an evil cabal of democratic deep state operatives. Not only was he rescuing children from satanic sex trafficking rings, he was even going to lead the world in a spiritual ascension to the next galactic realm.
Looming large amongst this mess is a curious character called “Q”, who claimed to be from military intelligence, with inside information on how it was all going to go down.
As crazy as it seems, this story has succeeded in sucking millions of people, all over the world, into this Alternative Reality. It’s like watching a literal brainwashing machine at work. Made all the more remarkable by the fact that from the outside, it looks like a joke. The whole thing has been shrouded in mysterious anonymity, and the time has come to try to lift the veil on this monster. This article will attempt to analyse all of the evidence, and put it in context to try and understand what’s really going on.
Let’s start by going back to 2016. Roger Stone had finally succeeded in making Donald Trump the Republican candidate for President. Stone’s whole career (and partnership with Paul Manafort) had been a long list of shameless dirty tricks, and this job was going to be no exception. And in an election, political propaganda isn’t just about building your guy up. Taking the other side down is just as effective. And so he set his sights on the democratic candidate: Hillary Clinton.
Again, with a candidate as qualified as her, it was going to take the creation of an Alternative Reality. And with the advent of the internet, that was easier than ever.
Jeff Giesea was a digital businessman, Pro-Trump agitator, and associate of Peter Thiel who, drawing on the ideas of Chuck Johnson, published a paper called “It’s time to embrace memetic warfare”. In context, it was pitched as a way to fight ISIS. In practice, it would become a key part of the Trump Campaign’s strategy.
“Psychological Operations” have been around for a while, as retired Lt. Colonel Michael Aquino has explained. While they were usually the domain of the military, there is now an entire commercial industry serving this space. Psy Group is an Israeli company founded by Joel Zamel, which specialised in online perception management, through social media manipulation, influence campaigns, opposition research, honey traps, as well as clandestine on-the-ground activities.
In April 2016, during the Republican primaries, Trump Campaign offical Rick Gates asked Psy Group for a proposal. They responded with a quote for $3,125,000 plus media costs, and promised to make it virtually untraceable.
Three months later, Erik Prince arranged a meeting between Zamel, Donald Trump Jr., and George Nader (an emissary for two wealthy Arab princes) in Trump Tower. Shortly after, Nader paid Zamel $2 million.
The “Deep Web” that the brochure above refers to, arguably refers to anonymous message boards like 4chan. 4Chan is a place with basically no rules. It’s a fascinating environment that gives people a chance to express themselves in a way they never could, for better or worse. The tradition that we will focus on here is known as LARPing. The term comes from Live Action Role Playing, which is where people dress up as characters from a film, book, game or series that they like, and go out and enact the story lines.
Online, however, you don’t have to sew a costume and go outside. You just need a keyboard and an internet connection. People could pose as anyone they wanted, including characters purporting to be from inside government agencies. There were a few good threads. It was all cloaked in so many layers of irony that it was often impossible to know how serious it was.
So, if you’re trying to create a narrative where Hillary Clinton is up to no good nefarious nonsense, it’s the perfect place to go. And on the 2nd of July 2016, when the FBI were conducting their investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal email server, a character appears, who will come to be known as FBIanon.
The email server investigations were pretty dry, so over hundreds of posts, roughly once a month from July to October, FBIanon (drawing on well established tropes) systematically nurtured the idea that there was actually far more going on with the Democratic candidate — including occult rituals, and abusing trafficked children. And if it had stopped there, perhaps we could consider it to be a LARP/prank. But it didn’t stop there. Because a handful of people on 4Chan isn’t going to be able to make a difference in an election. So FBIanon gave the following instructions (over many posts which are edited together here):
“The task is this: unleash every meme, image, and horrible story about HRC that you can muster… In order to be effective, you must proselytize… For example: Start a website aggregating the images/facts and then try to get it linked to Drudge. Shove the images down every news anchor/journalists throat. Push out to people who you normally would have nothing to do with… Why don’t you invade their circles? … We should be spreading memes to subs on Reddit.… blitz Twitter, Tumblr, and all social media with memes on the Clinton Foundation tonight, the last night of the DNC… We need TrumpGen with us, and the meme division blasting the Tumblr tags. Bring up the old methods that /b/ used to use during their Tumblr raids… We’re going to war tonight …Repeat something often enough and it becomes the truth. Repeat after me: ‘Hillary is evil and will destroy the planet.’…”
If this is just a joke, then it is functionally indistinguishable from the campaign. Still, it’s possible that a passionate volunteer had the same singular devotion to getting Trump in office as Roger Stone. But. They also say:
“More leaks will come. The time is not right yet. Expect an October Surprise.”
And when the second leaks do come, they add:
“When you are reading Podesta’s e-mails, remember that the Clintons deal in weapons, drugs, and people. Some terminology in use is far more nefarious than many of you suspect.”
This indicates that whoever was posting as FBIanon was working with Wikileaks and/or Roger Stone. They were in on the strategy, singing from the same songbook, working towards the same end:
A Russian hacker called Guccifer 2.0 had hacked into the DNC, and given the contents to Wikileaks, who told the Trump team. Sure enough, a few weeks later, right before the election, Wikileaks released 20,000 of Clinton campaign manager John Podesta’s emails. While it was handy for the Republicans to have the other side’s campaign material, there was literally nothing incriminating in there.
But if you change some of the words, and tell people it’s sinister…
An Alternative Reality begins to emerge, in which ultimately people are less likely to vote for Clinton.
While FBIanon was doing the anonymous work in the dark corners of 4Chan, Roger Stone was hard at work out front spinning the story with Alex Jones. It all came together, and Trump went on to win the White House.
#Pizzagate wasn’t their only trick. They also created the story that Seth Rich was assassinated, and a story that other key people in campaign had an illegitimate child. It’s important to keep an eye on the people at the centre of creating these narratives: Erik Prince, Ed Butowsky, Matt Couch, Sean Hannnity, Steve Pieczenik, Liz Cronkin, Jerome Corsi, Julian Assange, etc.
The influence campaign obviously didn’t stop after the election. There was an administration to sustain, and an eventual re-election to run for, amid mounting investigations into their naked corruption.
There are a few things that set it apart from other LARPs on 4chan. The first is that, like FBIanon, it is so dedicated in driving support for the candidate, that it is functionally indistinguishable from a professional campaign anyway. The second is that instead of answering questions, it asked them. This pointed the narrative outward, into the world, and allowed the readers to fill in the ambiguous gaps and have a hand in creating the story. The third is that it has an oddly specific policy agenda:
The fourth is how staggeringly effective it has gone on to be. Despite having a protagonist as terrible as Trump, it has convinced millions of people that he is quite literally God’s Gift, and broken countless families in the process.
In light of this, it’s important to examine this and try to understand what’s happened. We need to analyse some of the mechanics involved. And what we find when we look under the hood, is essentially an elaborate Game. A lot of it seems to boil down to the fact that puzzles are fun.
Over the last 30 years, story telling has taken on a new dimension — interactivity. Plots that involve the reader, sending them on a treasure hunt, or asking them to solve riddles to advance the narrative. They bridge a gap between the fantasy world and the real world, using multiple forms of media to create a Game in an Alternative Reality. So they are known as Alternative Reality Games, or ARGs. They have a relatively brief but fascinatingly rich history: I Love Bees, The Art of the Heist, Last Call Poker, Perplex City, etc.
The upshot is that they are incredibly engaging. Even if the player thinks its fictional. And if the player has been made to think it’s literally a plan to save the world, then we’re in pretty serious trouble. “Apophenia” can be weaponised into a scam called a “Nostradamus Hustle”. When we look at how “Qdrops” are “decoded”, it becomes clear what is happening.
This is not an accident, it is not a coincidence, and it is not a joke. This is an ARG-based propaganda campaign in full flight, created by people using sophisticated psychological manipulation techniques.
A campaign like this is powerful of course, but it’s not much use if it doesn’t reach the right people. And this is where companies like Cambridge Analytica (or Emerdata, or whatever else SCL want to re-brand themselves as), and Gloo, come in to the picture. As well as creating campaigns, they use unprecedented volumes of Big Data to aim content at the right market with surgical precision for maximum impact. And at the end of 2016, CA signed a memorandum of understanding with our good friends at Psy Group:
And now we’re about to understand one of the biggest mysteries of all: How a bunch of hippies in the “wellness community” came to support Donald Trump. Because remember, this is about building political capital. Proud boys and Boogaloos are easy, they were already there. The next step is reaching a new audience, who otherwise would have been unlikely to vote for him, and converting them. People who do yoga, wear linen, and talk about aligning chakras and crystals. Who believe the world is set for a spiritual ascension. Who watch documentaries on channels like these:
They seem cool enough, but these movies are tipped with a powerful poison, called the Conspiracy Narrative Virus. And “conspiracies” have been used as weapon of fascism for over a hundred years. As far back as the French Revolution, the progressive “Illuminati” were blamed for the turmoil. Around the turn of the 20th century, the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” was published, which was of course a foundational text for Nazi philosophy. Nesta Webster fused the two storylines, and it has been hard to shake ever since, because it is a narrative that plays on the most primal parts of our psychology: A need for graspable explanations in times of chaos, a tribalistic fear of ‘others’, and a sense of superiority. Joe McCarthy famously introduced the virus to American politics, and Robert Welch picked up the torch and set the whole thing on fire through the John Birch Society, using it as a way to essentially try to discredit progressive policies, by painting them as a part of a communist plot for a sinister “New World Order”. This is the underlying ideology of groups like the Council for National Policy. All to avoid restrictions on private enterprise to exploit the public and the planet for profit. Remember, Money over People. The JBS paved the way for the Conspiracy Narrative Virus to be popularised by people like Bill Cooper and David Icke, industrialised by people like Alex Jones and Mike Adams, and ruthlessly exploited by people like Roger Stone.
Most of the modern conspiracy narratives have dropped the overt elements anti-semitism, (although the original Thrive film famously showcased Eustace Mullins in all his glory), but the undercurrent remains, and the beauty of it is, you can swap in anyone you don’t like as the villains.
They appeal to people who are prepared to challenge what they’ve been told, and like to think for themselves. Who don’t trust the government, who think banks do have too much power, that the media does lie to us. Who are ready to go with one and with all, towards a great awakening.
In other words, this is a platform primed for Q content. And that’s exactly what’s happened.
This is a media ecosystem which has had a huge role in making Q into the the phenomenon it is today. Amongst those icons above is the International Tribunal for Human Justice. It’s a faux court set up in 2015 which functions as a platform for the propagation of various conspiracy theories, including 5G, coronavirus, and the idea that children are being tortured for their adrenochrome — otherwise known as Blood Libel. So here we introduce our next round of characters, who helped make it what it is: Robert David Steel, Sacha Stone, and Sean Stone.
This court (and the scene it supports) lays part of the foundation for the #savethechildren campaign — which essentially gives Qanon the branding makeover it needs to catapult into the stratosphere in 2020:
Child trafficking is a real and serious problem, and this campaign exploited the important work being done in this space, making it harder for the professionals to do their job. The hashtags flooded social media and completely drowned out the vital information with a tsunami of fanciful stories of tunnels, celebrities, adrenochrome, and pizza.
There was one important step in between though. People don’t usually go from zero to Blood Libel in so short a time. They need some sort of a gateway. And on the 4th May 2020, a seemingly good-hearted man called Miki Willis released the infamous film “Plandemic”, calling COVID a hoax, which primed the pump for the critical outbreak of the Conspiracy Narrative Virus, and threw the world into chaos. That single event infected millions of people, who shortly after coming to the conclusion that COVID was a scam, began to believe the #savethechildren conspiracy too - and which led straight to the rest of the bowels of Qanon.
It was promoted heavily, and almost exclusively, by Steve Bannon’s Breitbart. The idea that the virus was man-made came from a paper published by a think-tank called the “Rule of Law Institute”. Which was also funded by… Steve Bannon.
At this point, the conspiracies had all combined to become a literal cult. One analyst who spent time on the Quniverse on twitter reports:
“There is command and control structure involved in this gamecult… There are puppetmasters… This is systematized. Certainly, a great deal of it is built by players, as it always is. But this thing heals around itself… 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). The content is well-coordinated, and extremely well-insulated. The alternate reality they live is largely impervious to outside information, as are the players themselves. ”
And thus we now have all the pieces in place for this phenomenon to wreak absolute havoc with the shared notions of truth and reality we need for society to function. Qanon content was ferociously pumped through these channels and networks, and with everyone locked inside it spread like wildfire.
So how did we get from “saving the world”, to a full-blown destructive death cult? How do people reconcile a spiritual belief in a “New Age” with an administration like Trump’s? The Conspiracy Virus is a powerfully manipulative tool which does a lot of the work of course, but it’s a Lie. Someone had to tell it. So who was it, how could they, and why would they? In the simplest terms, the answer is Fascism.
We’re inclined in the West to think that we beat Fascism in the 40s. Fought a war about it and everything. But as well as fighting the Nazis in Germany, most Allied countries had to fight their own Fascist parties at home. That was a lot closer than you might think, particularly in America, and the truth is it never really went away. We still see it today, not just in the Neo-Nazis marching in the streets with the swastikas, but in a lot of contemporary social and political thought. As well as people who look and sound extremely right wing, we also find it in people who look like this:
This is Barbra Marx Hubbard, an American author who believed that “humanity was on the threshold of a quantum leap if newly emergent scientific, social, and spiritual capacities were integrated to address global crises”
When we dig into her writing, however, things get serious:
You might think that we’re a long way from Q here, but we’re actually getting close. Because right there, giving an adoring interview to a lovely lady who wants to wipe out a quarter of the world’s population, is a woman called Lisa Clapier.
She was at Occupy LA in 2011, shortly before Steve Bannon and Andrew Breitbart released their film “Occupy Exposed.” She was deeply involved with the #Unity 4J movement. She apparently infiltrated the Anonymous movement. She’s all over those media platforms listed above, and works with Foster Gamble on Thrive. She was also at Standing Rock NODAPL protest in 2016. Guess who with? Miki Willis. This, apparently, was his radicalising moment.
The best puzzle going around was Cicada 3301. It created a sensation in 2012, 2013, and 2014. A community grew around it. By 2017 it seemed to have gone quiet, so Thomas and co decided to try to take it over.
In 2011, a guy from the Pentagon called Bijan Kian apparently got in touch with Thomas. He planned to play a concert in Afghanistan, and ended up in Turkey trying to recruit former special ops officers. To ‘fight ISIS’, you see.
In August 2017, Schoenberger and others formally entered the world of digital disinformation, and formed a company called “ShadowBox”, an “elite online reputation firm” that promised to use bots and sow “targeted chaos”. One of their first clients was Ed Butowsky, the deep pocketed GOP operative who pushed the Seth Rich theory. At a similar time, they linked up with Robert David Steele (who we met before laying the foundation for the Adrenochrome fantasy), Trevor Fitzgibbon, and William Binney, a key member of the notorious group “Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity” (VIPS).
Bijan Kian was a partner of the Flynn Intel group. He also apparently introduced Flynn to Joel Zamel. This, I believe, is the final link. The connection between the The Flynn Intel Group, an Influence Agency, a Puzzle Guy, and a New Age Fascist.
Here we need to have a look at Michael Flynn. He joined the army in ‘81 and made his way up the ranks until Obama nominated him to be the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2012. In 2013, GRU chief General Igor Sergun invited him inside the Russian military intelligence (GRU) headquarters in Moscow. A first for any U.S officer. Flynn wanted to return the favour and invite high-ranking GRU officials to the U.S, but the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, said no. Around the same time he formed a relationship with a young guy called Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who has recently been made Acting Undersecretary of Defence for Intelligence and Security (now reporting directly to the acting Secretary of Defense, on equal footing with the military, which as a civilian is unprecedented) . In February 2014, Flynn’s close association with a Russian woman was so alarming that some expressed concerns to American authorities that he may have been compromised by Russian intelligence. His chaotic management style, abuse of staff and insubordination to his superiors led to his ousting by August 2014.
Weeks later, Flynn founded the Flynn Intel Group Inc, which provided intelligence services for businesses and foreign governments. In December 2015, in a move that startled U.S. officials, Flynn sat next to Russian President Vladimir Putin, at a gala dinner in Moscow to honour RT, the state media outlet on which he made semi-regular appearances. He was paid $45,000 to give a talk. His clients were mostly Russian and Turkish, including President Erdoğan.
In February 2016 (after reporting to the Defense Department that he had not been paid by foreign companies, and had only had “insubstantial contact” with foreigners) he joined Trump’s presidential campaign as an advisor on National Security. He gave a fiery speech at the convention, leading to chants of “Lock Her Up”. By July it looked like he could even be his running mate.
When Obama announced retaliatory measures for Russia’s interference in the election at the end of 2016, Flynn went behind his back to the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and then lied about it to everyone.
10 days before Trump’s inauguration, the US was poised to execute an invasion of Raqqa using Kurdish People’s Protection Units. Flynn’s old friends in Turkey apparently weren’t too happy about working with Kurdish troops, and he told then-National Security Advisor Susan Rice not to proceed. And in the earliest days of the administration, he gave a startling speech about “citizen journalists” acting as “digital soldiers”.
It might not seem like it, but that is honestly the short version. Eventually it all caught up to him. The lies came out and he was fired in February, after 24 days on the job. He has literally and openly sold out the interest of the American people to foreign governments, for cash.
In the Q universe, however, he is a hero.
No one who’s not Michael Flynn or being paid by Michael Flynn or is not otherwise in bed with or being influenced by Michael Flynn would post that about Michael Flynn.
And now we have, I believe, the best explanation for Qanon. Flynn, Zamel, Schoenberger, and Clapier and co. With Binney, Bannon, Stone, and a digital army of alt-right trolls and “citizen journalists”. The “creation” is complicated, and we don’t need to get bogged down with exactly who had which idea and when. It is a team effort, and the roles are not clearly delineated. But when we take it to the lab, theirs are the fingerprints we find.
It was shortly run out of 4chan, and needed a home. An unscrupulous webhost. And that’s where Jim Watkins and his son Ron come in, with a message board called 8Kun. 4Chan had basically no rules, 8Kun had literally no rules, anything goes, up to and including mass shooters’ manifestos and livestreams of their massacres. As the “landlords” of Qanon, they come to have some measure of control over the posts and movement.
On top of all of the above, Russia is happy to lend support however it can. Either by hosting the infrastructure of 8kun, amplifying content with bot networks, creating fake facebook pages to pepper with propaganda, or broadcasting the Lockdown/Qanon crossover protests on their state media platforms. There doesn’t have to be collusion for this to have an impact. When the goals align, the effect is the same.
In the interest of completeness we should note the existence of what claims to be chatlogs of a conversation between a couple of pro-trump trolls, “concocting” Q. They come from notorious disinformation merchants, and were released by Jack Posobiec and broadcast on OANN, so should certainly not be trusted.
They feel fishy. Like a couple of goons talking into a hidden microphone that they know is there, in an attempt to control the narrative by putting out the version of the story that they want. It’s plausible, because it’s probably largely accurate, (and they were absolutely two of the people responsible for pushing a lot of it in the early stages), it just omits the larger picture. In the event that they are genuine, however, it doesn’t really change the rest of the story. They claim to have given up after a few days, at which point the rest of this machine we’ve just outlined could have easily identified the potential and swooped in to take it over. The post IDs change multiple times. “Q” isn’t actually mentioned until drop 14, and the posts aren’t signed as Q until post 61, which seems inconsistent with the plan microchip is discussing.
Here is another “ confession”, this time from Lisa Clapier. Again, there is good reason not to take it on face value. Nevertheless it is there, and it is completely consistent with the evidence, even if she is exaggerating her role.
If you’re more of a visual person, here is a map of the IP addresses of the websites involved, showing how it all fits together based, from researcher Raven the Maven:
So, to sum up, here is how likely to have happened. People like Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn, William Binney, Steve Pieczenik, Robert David Steel, (and/or Jared Kushner, Dan Scavino, and Brad Parscale), drawing on strategies outlined by Jeff Giesea, Chuck Johnson, and Micheal Aquino, used companies like Psy-Group, WikiStrat, Black Cube, and Cambridge Analytica, to develop a strategy to drive support for Donald Trump as the avatar for their fascist/nationalist agenda. That involved a lot of things, including this project called “Q”. They used people like Thomas Schoenberger and Lisa Clapier, who used used puzzle-like strategies and cult-like recruitment techniques, along with a small battalion of passionate trolls, to create an ARG style Psy-Op, based a military-thriller conspiracy-core wrapped in a New-Age outer facade. It played right into pre-existing sociological conditions and psychological frameworks. People like Tracy Beanz, Coleman Rogers, Paul Furber, Joe M, Jordan Slather, and Ron and Jim Watkins, were either knowingly or unknowingly used to take the Operation to a wider audience. From there, various influencers built significant and monetizable audiences by posting content from the Q Universe, and a self affirming community began to grow. Companies like Cambridge Analytica and Gloo then used big data to target the content exactly where it would make the most difference, which was further fuelled by algorithms designed to keep people on platforms for profit, by recommending compelling content. It’s all supported and amplified by outlets like OANN and Breitbart, and whoever else has an interest in a Trump administration.
This disinformation machine is a new and dangerous threat to our democracy. Q is only one head of this hydra, or one finger in the fist. If and when it goes away, the power to create this phenomenon will remain. We must be prepared.
“Qanon” is propaganda. And we know who’s responsible.
Evidence of the people responsible for “Qanon” being responsible for “Qanon”
Material found in the course of investigation. Make of it what you will, that’s the whole of the law.
This is the culmination of a monumental collaborative effort. Special credit goes to Prester Jane and Leprechaun, who appear to have been the first to identify what was happening all the way back in March 2018. Jim Stewartson has been tirelessly sounding the alarm for a long time, and Dave Troy produced this pivotal TEDx talk. Arturo, Richard Miller, @montesquieu79, and many more provided crucial help and insights. Thank you to everyone who has helped piece it all together.
UPDATE 1/12/2020: This an ongoing investigation into an inherently complicated and confusing phenomenon, obscured by layers of deliberate disinformation. Most of us are amateurs, doing the best we can. This article outlines some of the publicly available peaks that are poking through the clouds, to speculate on the mountain range beneath. As the clouds continue to clear and more information comes to light, some of the details are likely to evolve. The fact that it is an interconnected mountain range of an operation remains essentially indisputable, but it’s possible this article overstates the involvement of a spur like Psy Group, for example, and understates the involvement of people like William Binney, and the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). The networks, skills, and experience of investigative journalists are required to reveal a more complete picture, and bring the people behind it to justice for the harm they have caused.
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