The Disinformation Factory

Daniel Morrison
100 min readJun 21, 2022


Or why the world’s gone mad.

The “shared reality” that we rely on for our society to properly function has begun to fracture. A rift has appeared, and people are inhabiting entirely “alternative” realities, making it difficult to get anything done. It’s a divide which has been steadily worsening over time, but seems to have lurched precipitously around 2016, and been blown wide open in 2020. So today we’re going to look at some of the people and networks responsible for some of the lies that have caused so much chaos. First we’ll cover the historical context of Weaponised Conspiracies, and the role they have played in politics over the years, particularly leading up to the 2016 election, with movements like #pizzagate. Then we will look at the evidence for who was actually behind the Qanon phenomenon (right down to the specific people in the room when it was conceived), its connection to COVID conspiracies and the attempt to overturn the election, and the implications of it all for the future.

It’s a long and complicated story, with many streams and tributaries converging to create the raging waters before us. And like a hydrographer mapping out a river basin, we’re going to take the time to try and tell it properly. Some parts we’ll only be able to touch on briefly, but by the end we should have a pretty good understanding of how it all happened. So let’s get into it.

We begin in the Kingdom of Bavaria (now Germany), on the 1st May 1776, when a small group of thinkers founded a group dedicated to the ideals of the enlightenment. They questioned the traditional powers of the Theocratic Monarchy, promoted a more rational approach to public affairs, and gave themselves the exciting name “The Illuminati”.

The authorities outlawed them pretty quickly. But a few years later, and a few miles to the west, the French People overthrew their aristocracy in their infamous Revolution. And here we need to recognise what’s going to be a foundational element in all of this, which is that in times of turmoil, people tend to take comfort in simple explanations. Chaos is a deeply terrifying concept, and even the most evil of imagined villains is preferable to the rudderless, swirling complexity of existence. So when heads started rolling across the Place de la Concorde, the mysterious “Illuminati” became a perfect scape-goat.

Two books were written: “Proofs of a Conspiracyand “Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism”, which basically claimed that all the unrest was because of this sinister society that secretly controlled the world.

Around the same sort of time, Russia was experiencing tensions of its own. Following the Partitions of Poland, many Jewish people came to settle in the western part of the country. They weren’t given land to work, so often wound up dealing in finance. Someone had a falling out with Jewish tax agents in their community, so (building on a deep tradition of anti-semitism), they started spinning stories of a secret Cabal of Rabbis, ~pulling the strings~ of the larger Russian state.

In 1902, these ideas were crystallised in a book called the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, which was a fictional transcript of the minutes of a supposed meeting of some Jewish elders, laying out their elaborate plans for world domination. (It actually plagiarised large sections of a book called The Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu”, satirising Napoleon’s megalomania).

Automobile tycoon Henry Ford read it, and became such an avid fan that he printed half a million copies, at least one of which fell into the hands of a young Austrian called Adolf Hitler, who used the narratives on his way to the holocaust. That’s Henry getting a Nazi medal in the photo above.

The “Illuminati” story and the “Protocols” story came together in 1920, when they both made their way into the mind of a young woman called Nesta Webster, who claimed to be the reincarnated spirit of a young socialite from the time of the French Revolution. She published a couple of books that effectively combined the Bavarian Illuminati with the Protocols’ Cabal, and used that to explain the bloody Bolshevik Revolutions. This was arguably the birth of what we know today as the modern “Conspiracy Narrative”, and it is the foundation we find at the root of most of this mess. And when we look at the way it has spread and the nature of its impact, it is perhaps best described as a Virus.

Patient Zero — Webster and her work

To understand the way it has been weaponised, by who, why, and how it’s been so effective, we need to go back a few hundred years, to the wake of the Industrial Revolution, when society was wrestling with the question of how to organise itself.

Hard knock life

Life had been transformed by inventions like the Steam Engine and the Cotton Gin, and the extraction of explosive energy from Fossil Fuels. All of a sudden, wealth could be created on a previously unimaginable scale. A few made a fortune, in some cases rivalling or even eclipsing the ancient royal dynasties. Because they could do whatever what they wanted, without regard for any social responsibility. There were no child labour laws, no workplace safety regulations, no minimum wage, overtime or pensions. Just raw, undiluted, free market Darwinian Capitalism.

Naturally, society continued to evolve in response. It’s a wild world, but by working together, and helping each other for the good of the tribe, humans have been able to accomplish incredible things. We thrive as a social species. Care for the community is one of our greatest assets.

Ultimately, we are strings of DNA, trying to get enough energy to replicate the code before we die. That’s the “Game of Life” that every organism on the planet is playing, including humans — Money is just a proxy for Energy. Each new generation has slight variations, either physically, like a body modification, or conceptually, like a reproductive strategy or an economic system. These tweaks either help or hinder the chances of making the copy. The ones that survive, do, and the ones that die, don’t. Simple. Selfishly exploiting people and the planet is one strategy. Which, to be fair, has worked pretty well for a few of these individuals. And looking after our neighbours is another.

Progressivism emerged as a check on the almighty power of these modern oligarchs. Government, with the ability to make and enforce laws that ensured quality of life for the people, became the bulwark. Environmental and Labour Regulations were introduced, to protect people and the planet from the perils of predatory profit-seekers, along with Large-Scale Public Infrastructure Projects that the private sector was unfit to provide. Free Enterprise can be a great tool, but it doesn’t deliver everything that we need, and making “profit” the be all and end all of human endeavour is a recipe for disaster.

We should improve society somewhat

The Capitalists, naturally, saw all this as a threat. They could use their capital to basically bribe the government to do what they want anyway of course — it’s made of mortals, very few of whom are immune to corruption. But that’s not always enough.

In 1933, a small group of wealthy individuals actually tried to overthrow the US government and install a fascist military dictatorship. They approached a highly decorated retired General to lead it, who played along until he knew as much as he could, then blew the whistle. Nothing really came of it though. There’s an actual conspiracy there for you.

In the aftermath of WW2, some countries came together to form the United Nations, as a way to hopefully have less wars, and work together on things that affect the whole Earth. Are we a species? Or are we simply a series of seperate nation-states? If we are a species, should we not try to have some kind of species-level form of government? Things happen between countries, how are we to regulate that? Who’s responsibility is it, for example, to protect endangered species of migratory birds? Surely the world needs some kind of “International Body”.

And just as surely, the Capitalists were going to complain about it. This was another intolerable threat to their business. They’d spent enough money trying to control their own government thank you very much, they didn’t need to add some “Global” thing into the mix. So they made it their mission to undermine its legitimacy however they could. And as you may be able to guess, the “Conspiracy Narrative” was going to have a big role to play in accomplishing that.

It is against this backdrop that in 1949 we come to a guy called Joe McCarthy, who had just been voted the worst person in the US Senate, after defending Nazi war-criminals charged with massacring American soldiers. In 1950, he came out swinging, and held up a piece of paper with the names of 57 people in the State Department he said were agents of the enemy — who at the time was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

It was a complete fabrication. But it deployed a panic that poisoned the discourse with devastating effect. A “Red Terror gripped the country, and it’s never been fully loosened since. Hearings were held, in which basically anything progressive could be framed as “communist”, and thereby an Un-American act of Treason.

“These hearings are a part of our national past that we can neither afford to forget, nor permit to re-occur”

The claims were ridiculous, the cases were thrown out, and the outbreak was largely contained. But the infection lingered. And in 1958, a retired candy salesman called Robert Welch Jr. got twelve of his rich mates together, and formed a group called the John Birch Society.

Welch and his work

They picked up the spear of anti-communist sentiment left by McCarthy, tipped it with the powerful poison of Nesta’s Conspiracy Narrative Virus”, and turbo-charged it all for their American audience. Any policy they didn’t like, or which impinged on their profits or their power to do whatever they wanted—such as Civil Rights, Public Projects, or International Cooperation — became part of a Sinister Globalist Plot by a Secret Cabal of Evil Communists.

From then till now

The JBS were rabid and relentless in their quest to impact the socio-political conversation. They aggressively distributed pamphlets and other propaganda paraphernalia, and published a magazine called “American Opinion”. Even more insidiously, they held networking dinners, and encouraged their members to engage in activism, telling them to:

“Join your local P.T.A., get your conservative friends to do likewise, and go to work to take it over.

It may not seem like it, but those envelopes contained the most sophisticated weapon the world had ever seen: The Conspiracy Virus. Despite not even having a physical form, it enters its host through the eyes or ears, to infect their thoughts and hence affect their actions. And like all effective viruses, that included compelling the host to spread it. By the 1960s, the JBS counted over 100,000 members.

To the credit of the American public however, when it came to elections, JBS candidates never really made it past the primaries. But the thing about the Virus, is that it can spread regardless. Think Tanks and Lobbying groups and Networks like the World Anti-Communist League, the American Liberty League, and the Council For National Policy began to emerge, well and truly infecting American socio-politics. Even if they didn’t reference the narrative directly, people like Jack Singlaub, Phyllis Schlafly, Pat Buchanan, Robert LeFevre, Jerry Falwell, Rupert Murdoch, Roger Ailes, and many more, were all able to draw upon elements of its energy to benefit their own anti-progressive political crusades.

The tragic irony of course is that America was so far from “communist” that whenever a developing country so much as looked like they were even thinking about turning a little bit left (or if they had some profitable resources that the capitalists wanted), America would swoop in to crush them by any means necessary, toppling democratically elected leaders with devastating effect, destabilising entire regions, and leading to the deaths of tens of millions of people. Again, plenty of actual conspiracies there for you.

One of the founding members of the John Birch Society was an oil baron called Fred Koch. He made his fortune mining and refining fossil fuels, including for Hitler and Stalin. His sons, Charles and David (the now infamous Koch Brothers), followed him into the family business — selling as much oil and coal and gas as they possibly could, and manipulating the public into thinking that any attempts to regulate them were part of a dastardly “Globalist Agenda”.

So it was that that in the latter half of the 20th century, people began to notice that the Green House Gasses released by burning Fossil Fuels were having an effect on the climate.

L-R: Rising CO2 levels, rising temperatures, rising temperatures

Scientists recommended that governments collectively take action to try and burn less fossil fuels, and maybe try and spill less of them while they’re at it too. To people like the Kochs and their conservative friends in the Fossil Fuel Industry, this was an unacceptable threat to their sacred profits. So, naturally, they used their vast resources to “persuade” the politicians to legislate in their favour.

One feature of Democracy however, at least in theory, is that when a politician deviates too far from the will of the people, the people will simply vote them out. The challenge, therefore, is to control the will of the people, and persuade them to not want to take action on Climate Change, so they will vote for candidates who call it all “crap”. So the Kochs and co created the idea that it’s all just a hoax — a “Communist Conspiracy”. They set up Think Tanks to publish “papers” casting doubt on the Science, then broadcast the biased reports through their expansive network of (mostly Murdoch) media platforms.

It was lies. The shameless creation of a completely Alternative Reality, in which fossil fuels were fine, and Climate Change wasn’t actually a problem at all. It was astonishingly effective, caused immeasurable and possibly irreparable damage, and persists to this day.

It works for many reasons. One of which is that we have a certain natural susceptibility to conspiracy theories. Telling people that there is an “evil plot to take over the world” is profoundly compelling, because taking threats seriously is how our ancestors survived.

The Human Mind is a fascinating thing. Sitting atop the pinnacle of 14 billion years of cosmic evolution, from Quarks to Consciousness, through stars and supernovae. It took 10 billion years for the Earth to form after the Universe exploded into existence, then about another billion years for Life to emerge, and for the next 2 billion years it did little but duplicate its single cells. 500 million years ago, it began experimenting with different forms, leading to an explosion in complexity and diversity among the kingdoms. The Brain evolved in animals as a sort of control centre, to process the inputs and issue the outputs, which is extraordinary enough. But about 5 million years ago, something interesting began happening between the ears of a particular primate.

It started to think. To imagine. It could ask questions. Finding answers usually meant a better chance of survival to replication, so it produced pleasurable sensations to go along with the feeling of understanding. It’s happened in multiple species of Hominid over the last few million years, allowing our ancestors and great aunts and uncles to hunt and gather enough to survive, in a world red in tooth and claw.

It’s Evolution

200,000 years ago, Homo Sapiens arrive on the scene, and for the next 190,000 years use their newfound “intelligence” and supercool opposable thumbs to nomadically cover most corners of the globe. Barely 10,000 years ago, we sowed the seeds of Civilisation with Agriculture, slowly but completely revolutionising Life, over dozens of generations. And in just the last few centuries and decades, we have raced though the Scientific, Colonial, Industrial, Electric, and Digital revolutions with exponential rapidity, totally transforming society not just over a handful of generations, but often within lifetimes.

Getting frantic

The brain, however, is still more or less the same humble organ that was roaming the prairie for those countless millennia. It’s not cut out to deal with all these dazzling digital displays that have sprung up almost overnight, and is easily overwhelmed. So it pulls a wide range of tricks to avoid the discomfort of Cognitive Dissonance. And when faced with a towering Hyper-Object like Climate Change, it’ll gladly take a tidy conspiracy theory. Especially if it means we get to keep burning stuff, while absolving us of having to bear any responsibility for the consequences.

Another reason it works is that fossil fuels can fund PR operations like the Koch’s i360, which uses deep volumes of data to strategically create the most manipulative content, and target it for maximum effect.

The Koch’s i360

But we’ll get more into the tools like that later. For now we’re still talking about the story of the Virus. Thanks to all of the above, over the course of the 20th century, the universe of Conspiracies was well established. A whole industry had been created, with a deep body of literature, and a lucrative public speaking circuit. People like Bill Cooper, Jerome Corsi, Art Bell, Eustace Mullins, David Icke, and many more, all made careers out of telling these stories, aided of course by governments and corporations that routinely did genuinely dodgy shit.

“Conspiracists” creating an order of sorts

Eris cried havoc, and let slip the dogs of Discord. Projects like Operation Mindfuck and the “Illuminatus! trilogy blurred the line between satire and reality, breathing life into the goddess of chaos.

The fruits of which can be seen in the sequence of images below. On the left, are the UN’s Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Pretty hard to dispute. In the middle is how they can look in action, with things like recycling programs. And on the right, is how they look through the eyes of someone infected with the Conspiracy Narrative Virus.

Unambiguous Good -> Unspeakable Evil

Most effective disinformation is built on a grain of something that has some connection to reality. So it’s important to understand what that actually is, and how it is twisted. The “kill 7.3 billion people” bit comes from these things called the Georgia Guidestones. They were an installation of large stone pillars with inscriptions that offered several instructions, including one that says “maintain humanity under 500,000,000”. In context, it’s some guy talking about rebuilding civilisation after an apocalypse. In Conspiracy Land, however, it is the NWO announcing their evil plan to murder everyone, like a Bond villain. It doesn’t make any sense. How would that even work? Who would carry out these executions, and how would they maintain their lifestyles afterwards? It all falls apart under the slightest scrutiny. And therein lies the problem. Because it is not getting the slightest scrutiny. We are witnessing a crisis of epistemology.

Another example is the phrase “you will own nothing, and you will be happy.” An admittedly dumb and dystopian blog post by a Danish economist exploring 8 ways the world could look in 10 years, including the implications of the growing “sharing economy”, has been twisted into “evidence” of the Evil Elites trying to take over the world. If borrowing things is so scary maybe we should retroactively ban libraries, since they seem like the start of a slippery slope to socialism.

Then we come to Bill Gates and his support for vaccines. Diseases like Diphtheria, Tetanus, Measles, Tuberculosis, Yellow fever, Hepatitis B, Meningitis, Polio, Whooping cough, etc, kill hundreds of thousands of children every year. Saving their lives with vaccines is good for those kids of course, but it’s also good for the parents, because it gives them more control over their reproductive choices. Basically if you’re not sure if your children are going to survive all those diseases in infancy, you end up having more kids than you otherwise would, to make sure some do survive. Which leads to unsustainable family sizes and population growth.

So at a talk in 2010, Bill says “The world today has 6.8 billion people. That’s headed up to about nine billion. Now, if we do a really great job on new vaccines, health care, reproductive health services, we could lower that by, perhaps, 10 or 15%”. It may be clumsily phrased, but he’s not talking about killing anyone. He’s talking about slowing growth, by giving parents confidence that their kids will survive childhood. But in the halls of the Disinformation Factory, fuelled by years of bad-faith bullshit from people like Andrew Wakefield (an important stream we only have time to point at for now), this becomes part of him admitting his plans for a “Satanic Depopulation Agenda”.

The fact that this can happen to one of the wealthiest men in the world while he’s literally trying to save lives should be alarming. Imagine what they can do to a 16 year-old girl who asks politicians to listen to scientists instead of the hydrocarbon lobby.

The ultimate point of all this, it must be remembered, is to undermine the legitimacy of any challenge to the power of these rich white men, so they can maximise their profits, and keep doing whatever they want. “The Factory” is just one of their weapons, and the “Conspiracy Narrative” is just one of its preferred products. And it doesn’t have to produce all this content directly of course. What it does is create a fertile environment through which the Virus can spread organically, and get its hosts to create and share the content themselves.

In the late 1970s, it made its way from the John Birch Society, through two of its devoted members, a dentist called David and his wife Carol Jones, and into their son Alex. And thus the Virus found its super-spreader.

Alex Jones and his “Information War”

It’s a sad point in the story where we have to reckon with the fact that a big part of this debacle boils down to what is essentially a dietary supplement sales strategy, but that’s where we are I’m afraid. Jones’ fast and furious rants about the New World Order built a sizeable audience, from whom he made hundreds of millions of dollars by selling them vitamin pills.

His stories are obviously nonsensical attacks on progressivism which, again, fall apart under the slightest scrutiny, which only one brave correspondent and his trusty co-host bother to reliably provide. So a shocking number of people actually believe a shocking amount of what he says. Naturally, this presents a tremendous opportunity for any political operatives who might want to create a narrative.

And this is where we need to meet our next character, a particularly nasty piece of work called Roger Stone. As a child, he read Barry Goldwater’s seminal work “The Conscience of a Conservative”, which was such a formative experience that he volunteered for Barry’s 1964 presidential campaign, at the age of 12. His life then essentially became a series of operations to elect whichever candidate he felt would do the most to preserve that power of Rich White Men. Some prick called Arthur Finkelstein had developed a new style of smearing, which Roger giddily used to attack his political opponents, such as billionaire who dared use his funds to support progressive causes, George Soros.

Young Guns: Manafort, Stone, Black, Regan, etc

At the 1970 convention of Young Republicans, he met a fellow piece of work called Paul Manafort. They recognised a ruthlessness in each other which would go on to form the basis of a life-long partnership. In 1980, they founded a firm called Black Manafort and Stone. Together, they basically invented the “Industrial Lobbying Complex”, which brought unprecedented levels of corruption to Washington. They used a big bag of Dirty Tricks do whatever it took to get candidates elected, and then shamelessly charged people for access to the politician afterwards.

Their clients included foreign warlords and dictators like Jonas Savimbi, Ferdinand Marcos, Oleg Deripaska, and Viktor Yanukovych, all of whom paid Manafort and Stone significant amounts of money to influence the American political landscape in their favour. Again, plenty of genuine conspiracies there.

One of their long-time clients lived closer to home, in New York — a dodgy real-estate developer named Donald Trump. In the early ’80s, Trump was in trouble for discriminating against African American tenants in his properties, and facing competition from Native Americans in his Atlantic city casino. Joe McCarthy’s consigliere Roy Cohn advised Trump to meet with Manafort and Stone, who in turn advised him to basically be an arsehole in all cases, which unfortunately Trump seems to have taken to heart.

Despite inheriting a property empire, and refusing to pay taxes and contractors, he had a litany of failed businesses and bankruptcies. By the late ’90s he was reduced to doing cheesy fast-food commercials, when along came a man called Mark Burnett, who used the magic of a television set to completely rehabilitate Trump’s image with a reality show, casting him as a slick and successful businessman. Which is arguably what mattered to him most — attention, and the perception of wealth and power.

Trump essentially embodied the idea that Rich White Men should be able to do whatever they want — to women, to the environment, and to the economy. In the wake of progressive ideas like Feminism, and Environmental Stewardship, society had gradually become marginally kinder and gentler over the years, and conservatives felt forced to mask their greed and bigotry, which was a concession they deeply resented. Then Trump came along, and showed you could just tear the mask right off, to the kind of rapturous applause not seen since Goldwater’s speech at the ‘64 RNC. While many considered that kind of rhetoric toxic to civil society, Roger Stone saw an opportunity, and began to explore a potential path to the White House.

Before 2008, it might have been impossible. But during the presidency of a charismatic bi-racial “progressive”, who had the audacity to float the idea of maybe not letting health insurance companies rip people off quite so much, people like the Kochs and their conservative capitalist mates got so freaked out that they had to mobilise a response, which became the Tea Party.

It created a tectonic shift in the political landscape. The gloves came off, and rather than remain cloaked in nuance on the sidelines, the Conspiracy Virus came right out to spit in people’s faces, truth be damned.

Still, Trump was a stretch. A nepotistic narcissist who bragged about committing sexual assault, and lived in a literal gold tower. While a character like that does have a lot going for him in certain circles, getting him over the line in a general election was going to require a Herculean feat of propaganda — the creation of an entirely Alternative Reality, in which his enemies were evil super-villains, and he was the righteous super-hero.

And thus the team began to assemble. Paul Manafort was Campaign Chairman. Roger Stone was Special Advisor. He brought his social media strategist Jason Miller, with toys like the Twitter amplification app Power10, and began regularly appearing on Alex JonesInfo Wars, cultivating and weaponising a heavy-duty disinformation cannon. Steve Bannon was Campaign President, and then CEO, after being brought along by his buddy David Bossie of Citizens United, who became deputy. He also brought The Mercers, Breitbart, Kellyanne Conway, and Cambridge Analytica, fresh from the battlefield of Brexit. Stephen Miller brought the white nationalist policies, and the vampire aesthetic. Mike Flynn was National Security Advisor and potential VP. Brad Parscale and Dan Scavino did digital communications, working closely with Jared Kushner. Peter Thiel and Erik Prince continued to deploy their extensive resources both behind and in front of the scenes, as did the entire network of groups like the Council for National Policy. Exactly how much Russia was involved is perhaps a conversation for another day, but it certainly wasn’t nothing. And once the Evangelicals and other Establishment Republicans knew that he would give them their judicial nominees and Supreme Courts Justice, they gave him their full support as well.

Mike Flynn, Peter Thiel, Erik Prince, Paul Manafort, Kellyanne Conway, Steve Bannon, Brad Parscale

There is a lot to say about the various sets of skills and experience that each of these people and networks all brought to the campaign. Let’s start with Michael Flynn a highly trained former military General and Director of National Intelligence, with a deep understanding of Special Operations and Irregular Warfare.

After being nominated Director of the Defence Intelligence Agency by Obama in 2012, he attended an event called the Nowruz Gala in 2013, hosted by a businessman called Bijan Kian. Shortly after, he started getting weirdly close to some Russian figures, acting strange to his subordinates and superiors, and being generally racist, so was fired in 2014.

He wasted no time starting his own lobbying company with Kian, called the “Flynn Intel Group”, selling services to foreign businesses and governments, mostly Turkey and Russia. They paid him to write articles in outlets like The Hill, for example, to influence American opinion towards their favour. (So, 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. And 10 days before Trump’s inauguration, the US was poised to execute an invasion of Raqqa using Kurdish troops. Flynn’s friends in Turkey weren’t too happy about it, and he told the then-National Security Advisor not to proceed.)

But back to 2015. Flynn returned from his international dalliances (definitely free from any undue influence) to meet the Trump Team in the summer, and immediately joined the campaign. He famously gave a fiery speech at the RNC, leading to the now-infamous anti-Hillary chants of “Lock Her Up”.

Helpfully, the week after their election victory, he can’t resist bragging about exactly how they accomplished it:

After his gross invasion of the personal space of the woman introducing him, and some maddening meandering, he gets to the point:

“We have an army… as a soldier and as a retired general… we have an army of Digital Soldiers. Because this was an insurgency folks. This was irregular warfare at its finest. We have what we call Citizen Journalists. […] The American people decided to take over the idea of information. And they did it through social media

And so we enter the next phase of our story. To make sense of this, the first thing we need to acknowledge is that people lie. They have done for a long time of course, but The Internet presents a whole new level of opportunity. Nearly a million hours of content are uploaded to YouTube alone every single day. Even if it were physically possible to moderate that kind of volume, we don’t have clear answers for who should be doing it. Censorship laws are notoriously difficult to even define, let alone enforce. So as it stands, pretty much anyone can say pretty much anything. Not just with individual posts, but whole websites, which look like legitimate news platforms. Battalions of Bots can then anonymously amplify the messaging across multiple channels, spreading it all around the world, with a click of a finger, for next to nothing. Entire Galaxies of Disinformation can be created, lying and waiting to be explored by people told to “do their own research”.

“Free Speech” these days usually means “The Ability to Spread Right-Wing Misinformation”

Obviously, this is a landscape ripe for exploitation, and opens the door to unprecedented levels of Cognitive Warfare.

Psychological Operations” have been around for a while. They have a certain ~conspiratorial connotation~, but at the end of the day, they’re basically just guerrilla marketing. All advertising is effectively a Psy-Op, trying to persuade people to purchase a particular item. Ever since Thomas Barratt used a nice painting to make Pears Soap more appealing, brands and agencies have sought to shape our perceptions of their products and clients, rewriting “reality” to the point where it’s one the defining features of modern life.

Advertising and the tools of Psychological Manipulation — From Edward Bernays, to Michael Aquino, to Jack Posobiec.

In the past, operatives had to resort to dropping leaflets from helicopters, or blasting messages from a PA on a Humvee. Now, they can plaster the message across the digital landscape, reaching vast swathes of eyes and ears with the flick of a switch.

Not only that, but they can mine the mountains of Big Data to get a deep understanding of different demographics and what makes them tick. Companies like Bannon’s Cambridge Analytica (or SCL or Emerdata or whatever they’re rebranded as now), know exactly what buttons to push, and how to push them. They have deployed that power with significant effect in countries all around the world for over 10 years, and we have yet to really come to terms with that.

Jennifer Golbeck’s TED x Mid Atlantic talk: “Likes expose more than you think”

The headline from the CA scandal was the illegal data harvesting from the “This is Your Digital Life” app on Facebook. But what seems to have been largely overlooked is the fact that they then use that data to create campaigns, specifically to influence elections. They are a Behaviour Change Agency.

One tactic is what’s called “Memetic Warfare”. The concept is simple enough — distill the message into its most basic and sharable form, and fire it out into the world to do its thing. The term seems to have been coined by a pro-Trump agitator and Peter Thiel associate named Jeff Giesea, who in turn appears to have been drawing on the ideas of a notorious troll called Chuck Johnson. Jeff 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 foundational principle of a group called MAGA3X, and a key part of the Trump Campaign’s strategy.

Unsurprisingly, there is now an entire commercial industry serving this space. Psy-Group, WikiStrat, and Black Cube, are all companies founded by an ambitious young Israeli Australian and UNSW alumni named Joel Zamel. They specialise in offering manipulation campaigns for governments and corporations and private individuals, through online perception management, opposition research, honey traps, and even clandestine on-the-ground activities. (You may remember Black Cube as being the company that was enlisted to try and salvage Harvey Weinstein’s reputation.)

Joel Zamel was apparently introduced to Micheal Flynn by Bijan Kian.

According to the Daily Beast:

“Zamel wanted Flynn to be a member of the firm’s advisory board. Zamel spoke with him about it on multiple occasions around the time Flynn was forming the Flynn Intel Group. “Flynn took a real shining to Joel.”

Joel also worked with some of Manafort and Stone’s other clients, like Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. And in 2016 he even signed a memorandum of understanding with Cambridge Analytica.

In April of the same year, during the Republican primaries, senior Trump campaign official Rick Gates asked Psy-Group for a proposal for an influence operation. They responded with a quote for $3,125,000 plus media costs, bragged about their “operating capabilities in the “Deep Web”, or theDark Side of the internet”, and promised to make it virtually untraceable.

Slides from Psy-Group’s pitch to the Trump Campaign. Click to expand.

Three months later, Blackwater mercenary Erik Prince arranged a meeting in Trump Tower between Zamel, Donald Trump Jr., and George Nader (an emissary for two wealthy Arab princes). Nader then paid Zamel $2 million.

And what do you know, all of a sudden, strange stuff started bubbling up from the shady backwaters of the internet’s swamplands, and a whole lot of people became completely consumed with the idea that Trump’s political opponents were engaged in such horrific practises as ritualistic sacrifices, and drinking the blood of tortured children harvested in tunnels deep underground.

“Save the Children” chaos. Left photo credit: Travis View

It’s not an original story. Accusing your enemies of hurting kids is one of the oldest tricks in the book. “Blood Libel” is a trope about people murdering babies in the woods which goes back hundreds of years, and has historically been used to justify persecution of Jewish people.

The story has been updated to “Adrenochrome” in the modern version

While in ancient times they had to wait for word-of-mouth or the printing press to spread the stories, these days of course we have the wonders of the world wide web, with anonymous message-boards like 4Chan. So now it’s time for a little bit of internet history.

A surprisingly important factor in this saga basically boils down to moderating decisions of various online forums. Something Awful, for example, was one of the first to come on to the scene in 1999, and allowed a whole host of questionable content. But they drew a line at some kinds of anime. This upset an anime-loving kid called Chis Poole (aka Moot), so he made his own forum called 4Chan, where posts would be even more anonymous, and almost anything would be permitted.

Richard “Lowtax” Kyanka, founder of the Something Awful forums, and Chris “Moot” Poole, founder of 4Chan

They still had some restrictions, which will become relevant later on, but for now, it’s enough for us to know that 4Chan was, and is, a relatively lawless frontier, where pretty much anything goes. It’s often considered the “dark side” of the internet. Like many message-boards, it provided a community for people who may have been otherwise ostracised from mainstream society. It gave them an opportunity to connect with similar souls, and express themselves creatively in ways they never could before, for better or worse. Much of what we now know as “Internet Culture” — from LOLcats to Rickrolling — originated there.

And sadly, the same can be said for a lot of the hardcore racism and misogyny. Names and faces quite literally keep things civil — they mean that saying horrible things carries a social consequence. Take the names and faces away, the consequences disappear, and the grotesque demons of our darker nature begin to emerge. Combine that with a demographic that had something of a chip on its shoulder to begin with, along with an environment that rewards “edginess” with engagement, and people quickly start competing to say the most outrageous things they can. Irony is lost, and it soon becomes a cesspit of hate.

The political utility of a forum full of internet-savvy outcasts, with time on their hands and an axe to grind, on a website where you can anonymously drop anything you want, was well known to bastards like “World of Warcraft” gold-farmer Steve Bannon, and he actively and openly began using it as a recruiting ground for his Alt-Right Revolution.

Bannon, and a bunch of people at a dinner party

One of their many traditions was known as “LARPing”. The term stands for “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 some of the storylines.

Online, however, you don’t have to sew a costume and go outside. You just need a keyboard and an internet connection to make a thread. People could pose as anyone they wanted, from time-travellers to government insiders, or characters in any kind of story. A lot of them were good fun. People playing along, in on the joke, imaginatively blending fact and fantasy. What these threads created, in essence, was a portal to an Alternative Reality. You can invent whatever narratives you like, in whatever world you want, and give them a way to enter this one. Which presents an incredibly valuable proposition for a propaganda campaign.

And so we come to the 2016 Presidential election. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton battling it out in the General. Unfortunately for Hillary, her use of a personal email server was under investigation by the FBI, which the Trump campaign was obviously eager to exploit. But unfortunately for them, the case was pretty dry.

Until the 2nd of July that is, when some posts began appearing on 4Chan, from someone claiming to be an “FBI agent with intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the Clinton case”. The media wasn’t telling the whole story apparently. There were actually far more sinister things going on— “disgusting delights, arms deals, human trafficking, even black magic! It was exciting stuff. The inside scoop, to an international criminal conspiracy, right there on their message board. Top Secret “Intelligence”, which they could use to potentially swing a US election, and literally change the world. All up there were seven “sessions” of “AMA” (“Ask Me Anything”) threads, spread out over roughly four months and about a thousand posts. In keeping with the nomenclature of 4Chan users being called “anons”, they came to be known as FBIanon.

It looked like a LARP - albeit a pretty polished and committed one- and it fit in on the forum quite nicely. To the point where most commentators seem content to consider it a random troll. Given the impact of what’s followed, it’s worth exploring who or what it actually was, and whether it might actually have had anything to do with the campaign.

Early FBIanon posts in situ
Click to expand. Read all posts here.

Beneath all the fluff, the key message of the ~1000 posts, specifically repeated multiple times, was to “focus on the foundation”. Which, interestingly, is the very same message Steve Bannon was pushing in Peter Schweizer’s book “Clinton Cash”. He understood, of course, the value of using different mediums for different reasons, and tailoring content to its intended target. The purpose of book was to get the message to publications like the NYT, so he says he consciously chose to omit the “nutty conspiracies”. Which is a suspicious thing to have to explicitly specify.

The Devil’s Bargain”, by Joshua Green

On 4Chan of course, there were no such constraints. You can dress the message up however you like, the wilder the better. The whole point of the LARP is to let those crazy ideas into this world. “Flood the zone with shit”, as Bannon likes to say. FBIanon had the same message, the same goal, and the same focus as his book, just with a different style, on a different platform, for a different audience.

But obviously anyone could have read the book and cribbed the idea. So let’s keep digging. In the rest of the posts, we find a clear directive. They weren’t just idly telling the stories, they were urging the anons to spread the narratives, with very specific instructions (condensed 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 proselytise… 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.’…”

It’s an unusual amount of dedication and professional panache for someone who’s not being paid. This person knows what they’re doing, and they’re good at it. Still, it’s possible that a passionate volunteer had the same skills and singular devotion to getting Trump in office as someone working for Bannon or Roger Stone. It certainly fits the description of what Psy-Group were pitching, and the “digital army” Flynn was bragging about, but we also know that plenty of people on 4Chan hated Hillary, and would have been happy to help troll the establishment by making Trump president.

But. In July, FBIanon also says:

“More leaks will come. The time is not right yet. Expect an October Surprise.”

Which sounds a lot more like a confident claim than a lucky guess. It gives us a strong indication that they did in fact have inside knowledge. Not of the FBI case, but of the shady back-channel to Wikileaks that Roger Stone boasted about:

Roger Stone and Steve Bannon’s correspondence

Sure enough, on October 7, 2016, (30 minutes after the Access Hollywoodpussy grabbingtape came out), Wikileaks began releasing thousands of emails from the account of Clinton’s Campaign Manger, John Podesta. A Russian team called Cozy Bear / Guccifer 2.0 had hacked him, and gave it all to Wikileaks to “publish”.

It’s important to remember here that Julian Assange had no love for Hillary Clinton, after her State Department had treated him poorly. So he was quite happy to help derail her campaign by dumping the emails. Which could arguably be called journalism. But he also took part in framing them as nefarious, even going so far as to suggest that Seth Rich was the source. At which point it stops being journalism, and becomes propaganda.

Ok, so the emails are out. Never going to be a good day when that happens, but surprisingly enough, there wasn’t anything particularly incriminating in there. The closest they got was an invitation to an event by acclaimed performance artist Maria Abramovic.

A forgotten handkerchief, a recipe, and a mother making arrangements for her kids to go swimming.

But if you change some of the words, and tell people it’s sinister, you can make something out of nothing. And on October 17, FBIanon says:

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 is the seed that would go on to spawn the notorious phenomenon of #Pizzagate, and serve as the foundation of multiple campaigns to traumatise and then radicalise millions of people, all around the world, making them think that anything progressive was the work of Elite Satanic Pedophiles and Pedovores.

The impulse to protect children is probably the most powerful force in the universe. If good people believe there are kids in danger, they will do anything to help. Child trafficking is real of course, and it’s horrific. It’s not ‘2,000 children per day’ (as some posts tried to claim), that represents the total number of reports one year — almost all of them are found almost immediately, kids who wandered away from home and whatnot. The ones who aren’t found deserve a rescue effort unclouded by disinformation. But the factory doesn’t care about that, or the damage its lies will do, so it snatches any chance it gets to violently tear those heartstrings, while blaming it all on Trump’s political enemies.

Traumatising content and its proliferation. Click to expand.

4Chan was a crucial vector, but the narratives soon came pouring in on any platform they could — from behemoths like Twitter, Facebook and Reddit, Fox personalities like Sean Hannity, right-wing blogs like Daily Wire, disinformation agents like Mike Cernovich, and notably, leftish hippy woo-woo platforms like Collective Evolution and Stillness in the Storm. And like coloured dye in a water system, these stories coming through these channels gives us interesting data about the underlying distribution network.

Out front leading the charge were Jack Posobiec, Erik Prince, Roger Stone, and Mike Flynn. Four guys who absolutely spend their time reading 4Chan, falling for its pranks, and basing their entire media strategy on them, and would never dream of dabbling in any dirty tricks or political influence campaigns to exploit it themselves.

Mike Flynn, Erik Prince, Alex Jones, Roger Stone, Jack Posobiec

MAGA 3X was an engine room for a lot of these operations. Organised by Peter Thiel and featuring some of the names above (Giesea, Posobiec, Cernovic, Flynn), they approached the situation with literal military-style organisation. Below we can see what appear to be drafts of their strategy documents, which give a pretty chilling insight into their operation:

Click to expand

But the biggest voice by far was of course Alex Jones. He was literally screaming about it all, to millions of viewers, live on air for hours on end. The front page of the InfoWars website was wall-to-wall coverage of the “story”.

In November it all came together, and Trump went on to stun the world by winning the seemingly impossible election.

Roger Stone and Alex Jones toasting their victory on election night 2016

Still today, almost all coverage of the phenomenon fails to make the connection between #pizzagate and the Trump Campaign’s characters outlined above. It is invariably treated as just a beguiling but “primarily organic” 4Chan prank that got out of control — an anonymous shitposter who happed to accidentally light a fuse. It is a catastrophic miscalculation of the powers at play.

Bushfires can and do happen naturally of course, but arson is also very real. Our world is burning, and we’re looking at a bunch of people with a can full of gas and a handful of matches, a long history of lighting fires throughout their careers, and especially in this campaign, handing out brochures proudly advertising their fire-starting abilities, standing in front of a raging fire that happens to serve their exact political purpose, with a $3.2 million quote for “pyrotechnics” sitting in their outbox, and still weren’t found out.

The common consensus

Of course, that’s not the end of the story. At the time of writing all that was six years ago, and if you think that the influence campaigns stopped there, well, they didn’t. Because now, they had the White House. The podium gave them an unprecedented amount of power and control over the narratives.

Part II: Qanon, COVID, Elections, and Beyond.

Once in office, it became abundantly clear that Trump was a miserable president who couldn’t be bothered even pretending to show the slightest interest in the actual job of governing. He spoiled Santa Claus for a 7 year-old girl, bragged to the Boy Scouts about knowing a guy who had sex parties on a boat, publicly took Putin’s word over the US intelligence services’, and threw paper towels at hurricane survivors in Puerto Rico. Not even his wife liked him. It’s a long, long list.

In the face of all that, support was going to be tough to maintain, let alone build. So they fired up the UnReality generator, and just lied. From Day One, it was a blistering assault on the Truth. They started talking about Alternative Facts with a straight face, spewing a Gish Gallop of disinformation, deliberately defecating on the shared sense of truth we need for the world to work, and driving the wedge that led to the chasm we’re faced with today.

Meanwhile, in actual reality, investigations continued to mount into the Trump team’s corrupt dealings, including their ties to Russia, and the influence that had on the election. Countering that narrative became a key priority. Any suggestion of Russian connections had to be dismissed as a hoax, a political hit job perpetrated by Deep State Democrats desperate to take down this brave crusader. And as well as preaching to the choirs on the Right, through the usual platforms of the Mercers and Murdochs, they needed to penetrate the ostensible “Left” as well, through networks like the Intellectual Dark Web, and characters like Aaron Mate, Jimmy Dore, Matt Tabibi, Tim Pool, and Glenn Greenwald. After Podesta’s emails showed how Bernie Sanders was treated by the Liberals in the DNC, it wasn’t too hard to find fertile ground to sow the seeds of discontent.

On October 27, 2017, Manafort and Gates (the one who asked Psy-Group for the proposal during the primaries) were indicted, as part of the Mueller investigation into Russian interference. The next day, another character appeared in the shadows of 4Chan. This time, they claimed to be from Military Intelligence, with inside information on Trump’s righteous quest to Save The World. They went by the mysterious moniker of “Q”.

“Q drops”

There are obvious similarities with FBIanon, but the story was more grandiose, and the stakes were higher. This wasn’t just an email investigation case, this was the future of humanity itself. Q often spoke in code or riddles. There was an awful lot of nonsensical trite too, but it engaged the reader by asking cryptic questions, pointing the narrative outward, leaving it to them to dig their own rabbit holes, and participatorialy generate theories and conspiracy content themselves.

Ultimately, in the minds of many, it successfully transformed this odious steak salesman into a glorious God Emperor, a noble Light Warrior leading the world to a 5D Galactic Ascension. In doing so, it tore a hole in the fabric of the shared reality we rely upon for a functioning society. It used cult recruitment techniques and strategies to drag people into its universe, and keep them there, breaking people’s brains, fracturing families, destroying communities, and even threatening the foundation of democracy itself.

But when it comes to the question of who or what was actually behind it, we find a similar attitude to the one surrounding FBIanon. Some prominent journalists actually dissuade people from even asking the question, and confidently proclaim it was just some lone-wolf having a laugh. Which is somewhat understandable. I mean, look how stupid it is.

Given what we just saw with #pizzagate, it warrants a closer inspection. Because whoever it was, they weren’t doing it ironically. They genuinely supported Trump and his agenda, and were trying to grow that support, with unprecedented success. It is, by definition, propagandaan attempt to influence public perception of a political figure. Election campaigns have been doing it since the dawn of time.

Simpler times

As we have seen, identifying the source of an anonymous post on the internet is not easy, but nor is it necessarily impossible. There are over 5,000 “drops”, and when taken together they tell us a lot. To start with, we can look at who or what it serves and protects. Which includes the network, agenda, and reputation, of Micheal Flynn:

Why would an anonymous prankster go to the trouble of carrying such water for someone like Flynn? He was an Obama appointee who sold out America’s interest to foreign powers, and got fired by Trump for lying to the Administration about his dealings with Russia. Furthermore, why would Flynn put so much stock into something which he knew was a “just a LARP” he didn’t have any control of, the rug of which could be pulled out at any moment? He might look goofy, but he is literally a world expert in Special Operations.

Using the Q movement to raise money for his legal defence certainly doesn’t preclude him from being at least associated with whoever is behind it, as some commentators like Mike Rothschild have weirdly and insistently tried to claim. And it sure sounds awfully similar to his trademarked strategy of weaponising “Digital Soldiers”:

“Q” marshalling their soldiers to the digital battlefield, while “Q watchers” diligently squash the idea the Flynn had anything to do with creating it.

But even a professional like Flynn couldn’t pull off something like this all by himself. So let’s have a look at some other drops, to see what other data we can find that could indicate who else may have been involved. There’s a lot, but it’s good to get a taste of the different flavours that were served up:

A sample of the ~ 5,000 drops. Click to expand.

So, we know that “Q” is a New-Age Fascist, probably a boomer, with delusions of grandeur, some kind of affiliation with Flynn, and some understanding of Psychological Operations, who likes messing with people’s minds, LARPing as a super spy, and posting internet puzzles on 4Chan.

Well that gives us something to work with, so let’s see if we can figure anything out. There are two components to analyse: The “narrative”, or the story, and the “medium”, or the mechanics of the delivery.

First let’s look at the narrative. It’s sometimes been compared to a Tom Clancy novel — a high-stakes spy thriller. Which is notable, because one of Clancy’s writing parters was an insufferable boomer called Steve Pieczenik.

He does have experience in Military Intelligence, specialising in Psychological Operations for the State Department around the world throughout the ‘70s. As often happens to people in this position, he became deeply committed to the conservative cause, and fighting progressive policies that called for a more equitable distribution of power and resources. Conspiracies, of course, were a major weapon in his arsenal. He’s been a frequent guest on Alex Jones’ Infowars over the years, masterfully using the platform to pepper the landscape with his narratives, in a way that helped create the universe from which Q would ultimately emerge.

In October 2015, he began talking about Trump :

Thanks to you and your listeners Alex, they are falling apart […] the globalists did get control, but now there is a war to expose them, and they are losing […] Geopolitically, what does this do to the criminal cabals on the inside? This is one of the most phenomenal revolutions America has ever seen,[…] Trump had been monitoring the MSM for some time.. when we put his name up for the next presidency, he took it […] we are so tired of the people who committed the crime of 9/11, that once Trump gets in, many of them will be arrested […] I know a lot about his character […] we have to look at this as very positive movement. The backlash is huge. They never expected us to come in and be able to pronounce the truth […] America is not going quietly into totalitarianism without a fight […] We want them to show how stupid they are.”

This is clearly the foundational narrative of Qanon. A lot of the drops include that very language. So we’ve got 3 options:

  1. Q came up with this narrative entirely independently,
  2. Q was an Alex Jones fan who watched that episode (or heard it elsewhere) and committed it to memory, thereby becoming a “product” of Steve’s influence operation,
  3. Steve Pieczenik, who has openly promoted Q, bragged about running Psy-Ops, and writes spy thrillers professionally, was part of the creative team behind Q.

With that in mind, let’s turn our attention to another of the primary Q-promoters, a jovial looking fellow named Robert David Steele. Like Steve, he worked in the intelligence services (or claimed to have at least), and became deeply conspiratorial. Then he got on the Trump Train, making it his mission to get him elected and keep him in power, using Blood Libel more explicitly and enthusiastically than anyone else. When “Save the Children” took off in 2020, if you followed the sources for people’s posts, most of them would ultimately lead to videos of Steele in a made-up court called the “International Tribunal for Natural Justice (ITNJ)”, lying about “Adrenochrome”.

He died of COVID in 2021. But before that, he spent most of his time on video calls with other Q-promoters like Sean Stone, Sacha Stone, Charlie Ward, and Martin Geddes. He called Qanonthe greatest information operation of all time”, and is as close to the centre of this network as it is possible to get. And in January 2017, who does he credit with kicking it all off? Flynn, Putin, Trump, two other ex-intelligence guys called Bill Binney and Ray McGovern, and our mate Stevie P:

Aided by enormous restraint on the part of Vladimir Putin, the soft coup in the USA has collapsed […] Trump earns most of the credit, bringing to the matter his deep business experience and common sense, he understood that the narrative against Russia was fabricated […] With that Foundation, he was able to listen to Michael Flynn, who’s deep experience in the nether world of black special operations and clandestine and covert action operations informs him in a manner few can claim.

Bill Binney, who created the NSA capability that has been used against US politicians […]was the first to reveal the leaks were coming from insiders. Ray McGovern, a retired CIA analyst and founder of the “Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity” (VIPS), has been a respected voice challenging the false assertions by the CIA against Russia. Finally Steve Pieczenik… A former deputy assistant Secretary of State, who was […] the first to announce the countercoup against Hillary Clinton was being undertaken by insiders. I have done what I could and I am proud to stand in support of Donald Trump…”

The VIPS appear to be a big part of the driving force in all this. A bunch of disaffected ex - Military Intelligence operatives, who hated progressivism, found some affinity with Russia, and saw Trump’s boorishness as the best way to advance their agenda of a “second American Revolution”. So they deployed their knowledge of and experience in psychological influence operations to release various campaigns to manipulate the public and secure the Presidency. The central theme of Qanon being a small team of “White Hats” from Military Intelligence probably exists because that’s how they saw themselves. Steele, Pieczenik, Binney, McGovern, Posobiec, Flynn, et al. These people haven’t fallen for a prank on 4Chan, they helped put it there.

Venn diagram image credit: Dave Troy, TED x Mid Atlantic. Image macro — Arturo

Are these jabronies good enough at the internet to have actually “done it” themselves? Probably not. So, I wonder if there are any jabronies who might be.

For this part, we need to examine what Q actually is — the “medium”, or the mechanics of the delivery. And what we find when we look under the hood is essentially an elaborate Game. A lot of its success seems to boil down to the fact that “puzzles” are fun.

Masquerade, the 2021 Mars Lander, The Eleventh Hour, Ong’s Hat

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 in order to advance the narrative. They introduce a fantasy element to the otherwise mundane drudgery of everyday life, and create a bridge to a more exciting alternative reality. So they are known as Alternative Reality Games, or ARGs.

The upshot is that they can be incredibly captivating. So much so that to be done responsibly, they must be carefully managed with “guardrails”, so that participants know where the game ends and reality begins again. Otherwise they can be “swept away”, even if they go into it knowing it’s a game. And if they don’t know it’s a game, and believe it’s actually a literal plan to save the world instead, then we’re in for some trouble, because it can become a phenomenally powerful tool of political propaganda.

And when we look at the “baking” that goes into decoding the “crumbs” of the Q drops, that’s exactly what we see:

Apophenia” can be weaponised into what’s called the “Nostradamus Hustle”

Ok, so what can this tell us about where it’s come from. Well, “gamification” as a strategy is explicitly articulated in a pitch deck from Wikistrat, one of Psy-Group CEO Joel Zamel’s other “digital influence” companies:

Sounds kind of like Qanon. But it’s also kind of generic, and even for them, this is a little specialised. Creating a “puzzle LARP” on 4Chan requires a fairly niche skill set. And for that, we now come to a character called Thomas Schoenberger.

He was a lot of things, but ostensibly a “composer”, who made his music more interesting by involving puzzles. He had a thing for prime numbers, for example, and would work them into his compositions to generate more engagement.

“Sophia Musik” = one of Thomas’ many identities

The best puzzle going around was a “game” called Cicada 3301. It was a fascinating phenomenon which started with an enigmatic post on 4Chan in January 2012, and then repeated again in 2013, and 2014.

By 2016, it seemed to have gone quiet, so Thomas and some associates, including Hollywood composer Michael Levine, basically tried to take it over.

There was a community of solvers from previous iterations. And even if Thomas’ version didn’t quite match up to the magic of the original, there were plenty of people still willing to work on something so cool. And a number of those people have all pointed the finger at this outfit as being part of the team that made Qanon. So, let’s have a look to see if that’s plausible.

Court documents reveal that in 2011, someone from the Pentagon asked Thomas to play a concert in Afghanistan, and he somehow ended up in Turkey trying to recruit former special operations officers. To ‘fight ISIS’, you see.

“I was attempting to start a business. I went into Turkey to pull together former military people who have been involved in Special Ops who would then train Kurdish forces in an effort to exterminate and eliminate ISIS. Because I was concerned that ISIS was metastasizing and would end up coming into America to do soft terrorism. I met with Kurdish resistance fighters in Turkey (in 2014). […]

I had contacts in Naval Intelligence, and I was hoping that I could put together people with military backgrounds who could train the Kurds and that our company would act as a broker putting together money, talent and fighters. […]

I was charged with putting together a program that was going to be the basis for clandestine activities near the border of Iran… We were going to go meet with the Governor of the province with an idea of doing a concert… I was involved in operations that had to do with national security… The person is no longer at The Pentagon. The person’s name is Bijan, B-i-j-a-n, Kian, K-i-a-n.”

Excerpts from a deposition Thomas Schoenberger gave in 2015

Bijan Kian, you remember, is Micheal Flynn’s business parter. And the one who introduced him to Joel Zamel. Even if Thomas is lying or exaggerating about the rest of the story (ie. “LARPing as a super spy”), it’s still a very particular name to drop.

Thomas is also very close with a “business leader” called Nasser Kazeminy, who’s company, NJK holdings, paid Michael Flynn $140,000. And he’s an investor in a company called Amadeus Holdings (he has a thing for Mozart), with a woman called Rhonda Donahoe, who has 7 other companies with Kazeminy.

Bijan Kian and Michael Flynn

So we’re in the right ballpark at least. But we’re still a fair way out. As we move closer, however, we learn that he actually started an influence company of his own, called “ShadowBox”.