The Evolution of Propaganda & The Origins of “Q”

Daniel Morrison
99 min readJun 21, 2022

--

Or Why the World’s Gone Mad

The shared sense of “truth” that we rely upon for the world to work has begun to fracture. People are living in almost entirely separate realities, under siege from a torrent of lies and misinformation, and tensions between the opposing sides are becoming dangerously inflamed. So today we’re going to look at the roots of some of the narratives that have done so much damage, and hopefully see if there might be a way to build some kind of a bridge.

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.

First we’ll outline the historical context for “conspiracies”, and look the ways they have been weaponised. We’ll explore the role they have played in politics over the years, particularly in the lead up to the 2016 election, with movements like #Pizzagate (parts 5–6). Then we will look at who and what was actually behind the Qanon phenomenon (parts 7–9), its connection to COVID conspiracies (part 12) and the attempt to overturn the election (part 14), other assorted “operations”, and the implications of it all for the future.

Part 1: Early Stories

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 an important 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, but a little to the east, 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. An Orthodox convert had issues with his local Jewish community, so (building on a deep tradition of anti-semitism), he started spinning stories of a secret cabal of Rabbis, ~pulling the strings~ of the larger Russian state.

These ideas were crystallised in a book called the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, published in 1902, 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).

Business-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” narrative and the “Protocols” narrative came together in 1920, when they each 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. The crisis of her present time was bloody Bolshevik Revolutions, and she published a couple of books that basically blamed the upheaval on this “cabal” which was essentially a fusion of the two stories. 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, with Nesta acting as “patient zero”.

To understand the way that virus has been weaponised, by who, and why, we need to go back to the wake of the Industrial Revolution, when society was wrestling with the question of how to organise itself.

Part 2: Capital vs Community

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 team, 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 variations 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 just one strategy to gather maximum energy. Which, to be fair, has worked quite well for a few of these individuals. And looking after our neighbours is another.

Progressivism emerged to ameliorate that savage state, as a check on the power of these almighty modern oligarchs. Civil Rights, and Labour and Environmental Laws were introduced, to protect people and the planet from the perils of predatory profit-seekers. Governments delivered 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 “maximum private profit” the basis for all our decisions and 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. In 1933, a group of wealthy gold-loving businessmen actually tried to overthrow the US government of FDR and install a fascist military dictatorship. They approached a highly decorated retired General to lead it, who basically played along until he knew as much as he could, then went to congress and blew the whistle. No one really got in trouble though. There’s an actual conspiracy there for you.

When the vicissitudes of the otherwise very rational stock market led to the Great Depression of 1930, the government stepped in with a collection of initiatives known as the “New Deal”, providing programs to ease the suffering and support the people. They have since been described as a bandaid deployed to prop up the failures of neoliberalism, placate the working class, and prevent a full-scale revolution. But they were close enough to the “communist conspiracy” the capitalists had been whining about that it became the catalyst for them to mobilise around, setting their activism in motion along a trajectory it still follows today.

One beneficiary of the New Deal initiatives was a broke young conman by the name of Robert LeFevre. After helping his father run scams on housewives in the rural midwest, he was staring down the barrel of destitution, until a Minneapolis radio station hired him under the WPA program. Instead of appreciating the benefits of social welfare, he saw it as further evidence of the communist conspiracy he’d been told about, and used it to launch his career as a libertarian propagandist.

In 1936, he discovered and joined a sensational new cult called “I AM”. He saw saw the power and potential of infusing the “logical” language of his libertarianism with the “metaphysical” language of their movement, and using it to help drive their political machine. They aligned and overlapped with the “Silver Legion”, the American Nazi gang led by the infamous fascist William Dudley Pelley. Led by a shady mining engineer called Guy Ballard, this movement actually forms a vital part of the story which we’ll leave for now, and come back to in more detail in part 11.

In the aftermath of WW2, some countries came together to form the United Nations, as a way to 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. 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.

Towards the end of the 40’s, we come to a former litigator and marine-turned-politician called Joe McCarthy, who had just been voted “worst person in the US Senate”, after defending Nazi war-criminals charged with massacring American soldiers in France. 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 were the commies in 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 an un-American act of Treason.

One of McCarthy’s most zealous attack dogs was lil’ Bobby LeFevre. He literally had girl scouts up on the stand. This fervour brought him to the attention of America’s “leading fascist” and holocaust-denier Merwin K. Hart (who had engineered McCarthy’s Senate election in 1946), and who made LeFevre vice-president of a well-funded right-wing lobbying outfit called the National Economic Council.

A publisher named Raymond C. Hoiles owned a media network called “Freedom Newspapers”, which he used to argue against things like public schools, public parks, and joining the UN. In 1956, Hoiles hired LeFevre to write for his paper the Colorado Gazette, and together they set up an outfit called the Freedom School, recruiting a militant anti-unionist called Frank Chodorov as a lead teacher. This “school” would serve as the breeding ground for their anarcho-capitalist ideas, instilling their extreme ideology into up-and-coming generations of power-brokers.

In 1958, Merwin had an idea for a new group. He enlisted a retired candy salesman and lobbyist for the National Manufacturers Association called Robert Welch Jr, who got twelve of his rich mates together, and launched the John Birch Society.

Welch and his work

They picked up the spear of Nesta’s Conspiracy Narrative”, tipped it with the poison of anti-communist sentiment left by McCarthy, put the arm of the libertarian industrialists behind it, and turbo-charged it all for their American audience. Any progressive policies which impinged on their power to do whatever they wanted, were painted as part of a “Sinister Globalist Plot” by a Secret Cabal of Communists.

From then ‘till now

The JBS were rabid and relentless in their quest to impact the socio-political conversation, and established the foundation of a factory that pollutes the world to this day. They built an unprecedentedly powerful propaganda machine which began aggressively disseminating disinformation. They published a magazine presumptuously entitled “American Opinion”, 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.”

Those packages contained the most sophisticated bio-weapon the world had ever seen: The Conspiracy Narrative Virus. Without so much as a physical form, it enters the host through the eyes or ears, from where it can influence 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, and had well and truly infected the cultural landscape.

To the credit of the American public however, when it came to elections, JBS candidates never really made it past the primaries. But the virus doesn’t need to win elections to make an impact. Networks like the World Anti-Communist League, the American Liberty League, and the Council For National Policy began to emerge. While people like Jack Singlaub, Phyllis Schlafly, Pat Buchanan, Jerry Falwell, 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 in reality, 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), Uncle Sam 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 a chemical engineer called Fred Koch. He made his fortune mining and refining petroleum products, 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, while telling the public that any attempts to regulate them were part of a dastardly “Communist Agenda”. LeFevre’s Freedom School played a big role in shaping the foundation of political and economic ideologies that would shape their lives, and by extension, the world.

In the latter half of the 20th century, scientists began to notice that burning all those fossil-fuels was increasing the concentration of Greenhouse Gasses in the atmosphere, which was trapping more heat, and affecting climatological systems. They 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 the billionaires who made their money by mining and refining and selling lots of fossil-fuels, this was an unacceptable threat to their sacred profits. So they made lobbying groups to basically bribe 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 can simply vote them out. The challenge, therefore, is to control the will of the people, persuade them to oppose taking any action on this so-called Climate Change, and they will vote accordingly. So these rich and powerful “elites” fired up the propaganda factory the JBS had generously established, and went to work.

They set up “think-tanks” to cast doubt on the science, and broadcast the results through their sprawling network of media platforms. They took basic misunderstandings of complex climatology, and dressed them up with the Conspiracy Narrative to give them wings to fly. The effect was a complete rewiring of the public perception of not just climate-science, or even science in general, but progressivism as a whole political philosophy.

This is the head of the industrial propaganda pipeline which is pumping the toxic disinformation that’s dividing us today. This is the origin of modern mutation of the virus, and where most of the animus for the contemporary conspiracy movement comes from.

The climate has always changed. Humans couldn’t possibly contribute to it! That’s the international scientists lying to control us. The first one’s true. But if anyone tries to tells you the second two, as they almost certainly will, it means their media diet has been contaminated by this “factory” at some point. They’re lies, and pretty obvious ones when you think about it. So why do they work so well?

Part 3: Foibles

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 the self-replicating bags of DNA we call Life to emerge. For the next 2 billion years it did little but duplicate its single cells. Half a billion years ago, it started experimenting with different forms, leading to an explosion in complexity and diversity among the kingdoms. The brain emerged in animals as a sort of control centre, to process the inputs and issue the outputs, which is remarkable enough. But about 5 million years ago, something interesting began happening between the ears of a particular primate.

It started to imagine. It could ask questions. Finding answers usually meant a better chance of survival to replication, so it incentivised that quest by using pleasurable sensations to reward a 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 get by, in a world red in tooth and claw.

It’s Evolution

200,000 years ago, a species of primate named 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 the lived experience, over dozens of generations. And in just the last few centuries, 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 now within decades. Smartphones taking over like that is perhaps the fastest and most impactful thing that’s happened to this planet since the blast that killed the dinosaurs.

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 not built for any of this, let alone these dazzling digital displays that have sprung up almost overnight. And when faced with a towering hyperobject like Climate Change, it’ll gladly take a tidy conspiracy theory any day of the week. Especially if it means we get to keep burning stuff, without having to bear any responsibility for the consequences.

These vulnerabilities are well-understood by the influence industry of course, and billionaires like the Kochs can capitalise on them by funding agencies like i360, which use vast volumes of data to clinically create manipulative content and target it for maximum effect.

But we’ll get more into the tools like that later. For now we’re still talking about the story of the “virus” and its journey through the collective mind of the species.

Thanks to all of the above, over the course of the 20th century, the world 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, Eustace Mullins, David Icke, Jerome Corsi, 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 spirits of conspiracies and the goddess of chaos.

So, anyone who wants to weaponise conspiracies has a lot to work with. We have a rich tradition for them to draw from, and plenty of hungry minds for them to feed.

The fruits of all of which can be seen in the sequence of images below. On the left, are the UN’s Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Seem pretty sensible. In the middle is how they can look in action, with things like recycling programs. And on the right, is how they look after being bitten by the virus.

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 in eight languages that offered ten “guidelines”, including one that says “maintain humanity under 500 million”. It’s clearly some guy offering advice to survivors of an apocalypse. But after a spin through the magical misinformation machine, it can instead turns into the “globalists” announcing their malevolent plan to murder everyone.

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 wrangled into being “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 certainty and 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 increases.

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 population growth, by giving parents confidence that their kids will survive childhood.

But years of bad-faith bullshit from people like Andrew Wakefield (an important stream we only have time to point at for now), give the factory enough fuel to turn it into Gates admitting his plans for a sinister “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 progressive challenge to the power of these rich white men, so they can keep maximising their profits, and generally keep getting away with doing whatever they want. The “Disinformation Factory” is just one of their tools, and the “Conspiracy Virus” is just one of its preferred products. But it doesn’t have to sit there churning out all this content directly of course. What it does is create a fertile environment, in which people develop material themselves, and through which the narratives can propagate “organically”.

In the late 1970s, these stories made their way from the mill of the John Birch Society, through 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”

Part 4: Modern America

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 various conspiracies of the New World Order built a considerable audience, from whom he made hundreds of millions of dollars by selling them vitamin pills.

His stories are brazen bollocks, pulled straight from the poisoned well of the JBS, which only one brave correspondent and his trusty co-host take the time to reliably contest. So a shocking number of people actually believe a shocking amount of what he says, and a giant fissure appears in our shared reality. Naturally, this presents a tremendous opportunity for any unscrupulous political operatives with some propaganda to plant.

And this is where we need to meet our next character, a particularly slimy 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. A consultant 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 wickedness 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 & 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 to get candidates elected, and then shamelessly charged people for access to the politician afterwards. They quite literally built “The Swamp”.

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 some of his properties, and facing competition from Native Americans in his Atlantic city casino. McCarthyist 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 Trump unfortunately 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 TV set to completely rehabilitate Trump’s image, casting him as a slick and successful businessman, a role he obviously relished.

Trump essentially embodied the idea that Rich White Men should be able to do whatever they want — to women, to workers, to the environment, and to the economy. In the wake of progressive ideas like Feminism and Planetary Stewardship, society had become a marginally kinder and more inclusive place, 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, conservative capitalists like the Kochs 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, and blew the Overton window wide open. The gloves came off, and they unrolled a firehose that started spitting the Conspiracy Virus right in people’s faces, truth be damned.

Still, Trump was a stretch. He bragged about committing sexual assault, and lived in a literal golden tower. While a character like that does have a lot going for them 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.

And thus the team began to assemble. Paul Manafort was Campaign Chairman. Roger Stone was Special Advisor, and began cultivating a heavy-duty disinformation cannon by regularly appearing on Alex JonesInfo Wars. Notorious political honey badger Steve Bannon was Campaign President, and then CEO, after being brought along by his buddy David Bossie of Citizens United, who became deputy. Bannon 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 vampiric vibes. Stone’s social media strategist Jason Miller brought tools like the Twitter amplification app Power10. Former General Michael Flynn was made National Security Advisor, and potential Vice President. Brad Parscale and Dan Scavino managed digital communications, working closely with Jared Kushner. Libertarian venture-capitalist Peter Thiel and Christo-fascist from the order of the “Knights of MaltaErik Prince both continued to deploy their extensive resources, both behind and in front of the scenes, as did the entire network of groups like the notorious Council for National Policy (CNP). 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 were assured that he would give them their Supreme Courts Justice, they gave him their full support as well.

Trump, Flynn, Thiel, Prince, Manafort, Kellyanne Conway, Bannon, 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. Born into a military family, he worked his way up the ranks of the intelligence services, becoming a master of special operations and “irregular warfare”, gaining so much respect for his aptitude that he was nominated Director of the Defence Intelligence Agency by President Obama in 2012.

The next year, he attended an event called the Nowruz Gala, hosted by a businessman called Bijan Kian. He started acting strange to his staff and superiors, being aggressively Islamophobic, and getting suspiciously close to Russian figures, so was fired in 2014.

He wasted no time starting his own lobbying firm with Kian, called the “Flynn Intel Group”, selling his influence services to foreign interests in Turkey and Russia. They paid him to write articles in outlets like The Hill, for example, to sway American opinion towards their favour. 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 that, and he told the then-National Security Advisor not to proceed.

Mike and some of his mates

But let’s get 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.

Part 5: How to Win Wars and Influence People

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, or how. 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 with whole websites, which look like legitimate news platforms. Battalions of bots can then amplify messages across multiple channels, with just the click of a finger, in complete anonymity, for next to nothing. Galaxies of disinformation can be created, ready and waiting to be explored by people told to “do your own research”. Naturally, this is an environment ripe for exploitation.

“Free Speech” these days generally translates to “The Ability to Spread Misinformation”

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”. Ever since Thomas Barratt used a cute painting to make Pears Soap more appealing, or Edward Bernays put cigarettes in the hands of marching suffragettes to make them “torches of freedom”, brands and agencies have sought to shape our perceptions of their products and clients, rewriting “reality” to various degrees to suit their purposes.

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

In the battlefields of old, operatives had to resort to dropping leaflets from helicopters, or blasting messages from a PA on a Humvee. Now, they can plaster comms across the digital landscape, reaching vast swathes of eyes and ears with the flick of a switch. Screens are essentially windows, aimed directly at our minds, through which the factory can freely shout whatever it wants.

Steve Bannon is someone who understands how to leverage this landscape better than most. After leaving the Navy and making his fortune in Hollywood / hedge funds, he decided to dedicate his considerable resources, talent, and tenacity, to advancing the conservative cause. Rupert Murdoch had shown, as far back as 1977, that if you own a newspaper, you can make a man mayor. In the years since, the power of media in politics had only become more apparent.

While making a movie about Regan in 2004, Bannon met a guy called Andrew Breitbart, and in 2007 they created a website called Breitbart News. It was a significant escalation in the volume of the fight, but still an essentially traditional, uni-directional platform.

That changed when he came across a company called Strategic Communications Laboratory. Founded by an ex-ad man named Nigel, SCL mines the mountains of Big Data to get the deepest understanding of different demographics and what makes them tick, and then uses that data to create campaigns, specifically to influence elections, and specifically for conservative candidates.

They are a Behaviour Change Agency. They know exactly what buttons to push, and how to push them. They have deployed that power in countries all around the world for years, and we are yet to really come to terms with that.

Bannon, however, came to terms with it immediately, and in 2013, buoyed by +$10 million of funding from the Mercer family, they set up a subsidiary of SCL called Cambridge Analytica.

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

One tactic they use is what’s called “Memetic Warfare”. The concept is simple enough — distill a message into its most basic and sharable form, and fire it out into the world do its thing. Our feeds are now filled with them. 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.

In 2016, 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 and WikiStrat are both companies founded by an ambitious young Israeli Australian and UNSW alumni named Joel Zamel. Like another company called Black Cube, 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.

This is all right up Flynn’s alley of course, and at some point apparently Kian introduced him Joel. 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 signed a memorandum of understanding with Cambridge Analytica.

During the Republican primaries, Manafort’s mate and 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 the “Dark 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, a lot of strange stuff started bubbling up from the shady backwaters of the internet’s swamplands, and a whole bunch of people became immediately and 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.

Part 6: 4chan, Wikileaks, & Pizzagate

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.

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 the moderating decisions of various online forums. SomethingAwful, for example, was one of the first to come on to the scene in 1999, with a format that facilitated an orderly conversation among a wide group of people across a wide range of topics. Quality of discourse was maintained by a team of moderators, who could probate or ban users for breaking the rules.

Richard “Lowtax” Kyanka, founder of the Something Awful Forums

They allowed a whole host of content, some of which was genuinely great, and a lot of which was “edgy”, but they drew a line at bigotry in general, and some kinds of anime in particular. 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.

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 online 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, for better or worse, express themselves creatively in ways they never could before. 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 all this — a forum full of internet-savvy outcasts, with time on their hands and an axe to grind, on a website where you can anonymously post anything you want — was well known to World of Warcraft gold-miner Steve Bannon, and he actively and openly began using it as a recruiting ground for his Alt-Right Revolution.

One of their many traditions was known as “LARPing”. The term stands for “Live Action Role Playing”, which is a real-life activity where people dress up as characters from a film, game or series that they like, and head 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. People could pose as anyone they wanted, from time-travellers to government insiders, or characters in any kind of story they could come up with. 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 bogey-men you like, in whatever world you want, and give them a way to enter this one. Which is an incredibly valuable proposition for a propaganda campaign.

And so we come to the 2016 Presidential election. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton had secured their primaries and were 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 full story, apparently. The poster pointed people towards the “nightmarish truth”, of all their “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 an election, and quite literally change the world.

All up there were seven “sessions” of “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 it’s easy to dismiss as just another random troll. Given the impact it’s had, however, it’s worth having a good look at who or what it actually was.

Early FBIanon posts in situ
Click to expand. All posts here.

Beneath all the noise, the key point of the posts, explicitly stated multiple times, was to “focus on the Clinton Foundation”. Which, interestingly, is the exact same message, in the exact same language, that Steve Bannon (the guy who said he’d “activated the army” of 4chan) was pushing in the book “Clinton Cash”. He understood, of course, the value of using different mediums for different audiences, and tailoring content to its intended target. The purpose of the book was to get the narrative to mainstream publications like the NYT, so he says he 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, no such omissions are necessary. You can dress the message up however you like, the wilder the better. The whole point of a 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 demographic.

But obviously anyone could have read the book and cribbed the idea, so let’s keep looking. Among the rest of the thousand-odd 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… 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 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 unusually high level 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 in the campaign. It certainly fits the description of what Psy-Group were pitching, and the “Digital Army” thing that Flynn talks about, but we also know that plenty of people on 4Chan hated Hillary, and were 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, about 30 minutes after the Access Hollywood “grab ’em by the pussy tape came out, Wikileaks began releasing thousands of emails from the account of Clinton’s Campaign Manger, John Podesta, who had been hacked by some Russians.

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

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/nieces/nephews 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. Diligently watered by InfoWars hosts like Owen Shroyer, it broke ground in November, when professional propagandist Jack Posobiec live-streamed a visit to a pro-Democratic Washington pizza-parlour called Comet Ping-Pong, to fuel the suspicion that there was a child-trafficking ring running in the basement. He wasn’t following the “story”, he was helping create it.

It all combined to create a formidable force, which we were (and remain) completely ill-equipped to deal with. The Conspiracy Narrative Virus blended with Blood Libel, got some fancy new wheels for the digital age, and took off like never before. Millions of people, all around the world, were made to believe that not only were democrats trafficking children, but that anything progressive was in fact the work of Elite Satanic Pedophiles.

The impulse to protect children is probably the most powerful force in the universe. Evolution has understandably ensured the survival of our next generation by rewarding any efforts to save a child in danger with a feeling of righteousness. Sharing memes on social media is the least one can do, so the campaign capitalised on that, and the propaganda spread like wildfire.

Child-trafficking is real of course, and it’s horrific. It’s not ‘2,000 children per day’, as some posts sensationally 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 these liars don’t care about that, or any of the other psychological damage their lies will do, so they snatch any chance they get to violently tear those heartstrings.

Traumatising content and its proliferation. Click to expand.

After 4Chan had cracked the floodgates, the narratives soon came pouring in on any platform they could — through Fox hosts like Sean Hannity, websites like The 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.

In December, a 28-year-old guy named Edgar grabbed a couple of guns and a knife, got into his car, and drove a few hundred miles across state lines to the ping-pong pizzeria. He walked in, shot open a locked door he believed led to the basement where kids were being kept, discovered that there was no basement, let alone trafficking ring, then walked out with his hands up and surrendered to police, saying he had bad information. He went to jail for three years, for trying to rescue the children someone had lied about. It was frightening indication of the power of this machine, and a chilling reminder that we are literally playing with live ammunition.

On the information frontlines, out front leading the charge were Mike Flynn, Roger Stone, Erik Prince, and Jackie Posobiec. Four guys who absolutely spend their time reading 4Chan, falling for its pranks, and basing their whole campaign strategies on them, and would never dream of dabbling in any dirty tricks like ~using an anonymous message-board to plant a psychological influence operation~ themselves.

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

Click to expand

But their loudest weapon by far was of course Alex Jones. He was literally screaming about it all, 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

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, especially in this campaign, handing out brochures advertising their fire-starting abilities, standing in front of a raging inferno that happens to serve their exact political purpose, with a $3.2 million quote for “pyrotechnic services” sitting in their outbox, and still weren’t found out.

*Qanon / Pizzagate

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

Castle captured

Part 7: “Q”

As president, Trump bragged to the Boy Scouts about knowing a guy who had sex parties on a boat, made the airforce use his resort in Scotland, publicly took Putin’s word over the US intelligence services’, threw paper towels at hurricane survivors in Puerto Rico, and spoiled Santa Claus for a 7 year-old girl.

In the face of all that, support was going to be tough to maintain, let alone build. So they simply rolled out the UnReality generator, and flat-out 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, and defecating on the shared reality we depend on for the world to work.

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 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. 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. Networks like the Intellectual Dark Web appeared, helmed by Thiel’s close friends Eric and Brett Weinstein, and characters like Aaron Mate, Jimmy Dore, Matt Taibbi, Tim Pool, and Glenn Greenwald, all started saying that all the very obvious examples of Russian influence were just “liberal disinformation”.

On October 27, 2017, Paul Manafort and Rick Gates were indicted as part of the Mueller investigation into Russian interference. In the days shortly thereafter, another “character” appeared on 4chan. This time, they claimed to be from Military Intelligence, with inside information on Trump’s righteous quest to Save The World from the from the clutches of the dreaded cabal. And they went by the moniker of “Q”.

“Q drops”

There are obvious similarities to FBIanon (an anonymous insider using 4chan to leak clues to a conspiracy in order to improve Trump’s political position), but the story was more grandiose, and the stakes were even higher. This wasn’t just an email-investigation case, this was the spiritual future of humanity itself. And instead of giving answers, it asked questions, pointing people in a certain direction, and giving them the pleasure of connecting the dots themselves, or forming bonds as they figured things out together. For extra jazz, and to make it even more fun and engaging, Q often spoke in riddles or code.

A lot of it was ridiculous nonsense, yet it successfully created a whole new world, turning Trump from a petulant property-developer into a glorious Light-Warrior, leading humanity to a 5D Galactic Ascension. In the process, it tore a hole in fabric of our common “reality”, allowing any and all variations of the conspiracy virus to come to come flooding in. It “unhinged America”, and spawned a movement that has totally transformed the discourse of global politics.

A solemn scroll through the smouldering wreckage of the “QanonCasualties” subreddit is enough to give you an idea of its devastating impact. There you will find an endless sea of heartbreaking threads, tombstones for stolen friendships and fractured families, and eulogies for lost loved ones, who’s brains have been broken by this brutal beast.

Illustration credits — Giorgio Vera, Ryan Inzana, Rob Dobi, Sean Gallup. Contact for others.

So exactly how did all this happen? It’s a question that several books, podcasts, articles, tweet threads and documentaries have looked into, many of which provide valuable and important information about the environment from which “Q” emerged, who said what when, how it spread, how bad it is, why people believe it, and so on. But when it comes to the matter of who actually first started making the posts, and why, we still don’t have a solid answer — beyond the commonly-accepted idea that it was probably just a random 4chan troll called Paul who was playing around. Some commentators actively dissuade people from even asking the question, and any suggestion that there was any connection to anyone in the campaign is usually called a “conspiracy” to be swiftly dismissed.

Whether all this was purely an accident, or some kind of deliberate influence operation, carries significant implications, and warrants vigorous interrogation. Especially after what we have just seen happened with pizzagate. Because whoever it was, they weren’t doing it ironically. They genuinely supported Trump and his agenda, and were trying to grow that support. It is, by definition, propagandaan attempt to influence public perception of a political figure.

Simpler times

As we have learned, 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.

Part 8: “Military Intelligence”

To start with, we can look at who or what it serves and protects. Which includes the network, agenda, and reputation, of former General Micheal Flynn:

Mike and Jack

Why would an anonymous prankster go to the trouble of carrying such water for someone like Flynn? He got fired by Trump for lying 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 Military Intelligence.

Using the Q movement to raise money for his legal defence certainly doesn’t preclude him from being at least associated with whoever was writing it, as some commentators often weirdly try to claim. And it sure sounds eerily similar to his trademarked strategy of weaponising “Digital Soldiers”:

This isn’t to say that he pulled it off by himself, or was personally writing and posting the drops, or even that he was necessarily behind the idea in the beginning or anything. All we can say for now is that there is definitely an alignment there.

So let’s have a look at some other posts, get a taste for the different flavours that were served up, and see if we can find anything that could indicate who else might have been involved:

So, we know that “Q” was a new-age fascist, probably a boomer, with delusions of grandeur, some understanding of psychological operations, and some kind of affiliation with Flynn, who enjoys 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 dive in and see what we can figure out. There are two components to analyse: The “Narrative”, or the story itself, 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 partners was an insufferable boomer called Steve Pieczenik.

He does have experience in Military Intelligence, specialising in Psy-Ops 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 any progressive attempts to call 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 cultural landscape with his narratives.

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. That is the earliest recorded mention of “a team of military insiders putting Trump’s name up”. Not to mention slightly more generalised tropes like “they never expected us”, “these people are stupid”, and “many of them will be arrested”. So we’ve got 3 options:

  1. Q came up with this narrative entirely independently,
  2. Q heard this narrative, on this episode or elsewhere, and ran with it, thereby becoming a “product” of Steve’s operation,
  3. Steve Pieczenik, who brags about running Psychological Operations, writes spy-thrillers professionally, and has openly promoted Q and its affiliated narratives, was at some point part of the creative team behind Q.

With that in mind, let’s now turn our attention to another of the primary Q-promoters, a jovial-looking fellow named Robert David Steele. Like Steve, he too worked in the intelligence services (or claimed to have at least), and wound up becoming deeply conspiratorial. Then he jumped on the Trump Train, making it his mission to put him in power and keep him there, using Blood Libel more explicitly and enthusiastically than almost anyone else. When the “Save the Children” movement 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”.

Before dying from COVID in 2021, Robert spent most of his time on video calls with other Q-promoters like Sean Stone, Sacha Stone, Charlie Ward, and Martin Geddes. He called Qanon “the 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 of course 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 are a gaggle of disgruntled ex - Military Intelligence operatives, who hated progressivism, found some affinity with Russia, and saw Trump’s boorishness as a good way to advance their agenda of a “Second American Revolution”. So they seem to have deployed their knowledge of and experience in psychological- influence operations to launch various campaigns to manipulate the public enough to 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. RDS “You’re sounding my alarm bells” macro — Arturo / Vice.

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

Part 9: Puzzles & Games

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” can be fun.

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

Over the last 30-odd years, story telling has taken on a novel dimension — Interactivity. Plots that involve the reader, sending them on a treasure hunt, or asking them to solve riddles to advance the narrative. They introduce a fantasy element to the otherwise mundane drudgery of everyday life, and offer a bridge to a more entertaining world. So they are known as “Alternate 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 there are no guardrails, and they don’t know it’s a game, and believe they’re literally trying to save the world instead, then we’re in for some pretty serious trouble. Because it can become a phenomenally powerful vehicle for 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”

So what can all 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 “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 liked to make 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 fascinating phenomenon called Cicada 3301, which created a complex web of cryptographic clues across both the internet and the real world, for reasons which are still not entirely clear. It kicked off with an enigmatic post on 4chan in January 2012, 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.

The earlier iterations had built a community of solvers. And even if the new 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 several of those people who were involved have all pointed the finger at figures in this outfit as being at least partly responsible for at least a part of 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 […] Because I was concerned that ISIS was metastasizing and would end up coming into America to do soft terrorism […] [in 2014] I met with Kurdish resistance fighters in Turkey. […]

I had contacts in Naval Intelligence […] 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.

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

Their promotional material describes themselves as:

“An elite online reputation management firm … We create shadow ‘bot’ campaigns… use targeted chaos to confuse your opponents... sow the seeds of doubt and present the counter-narrative that [your enemies] are, in fact, the villains… We do this through sophisticated use of internet technology, meme creation, and cyber-guerrilla tactics […] to sway public opinion in your favor.”

It’s a great name for what’s basically an off-brand version of Black Cube or Psy-Group. Their first (and perhaps only) client was the deep-pocketed GOP donor and friend of Erik Prince called Ed Butowsky, who along with Lara Logan and her husband had pushed the Seth Rich conspiracy theory, Benghazi, and #pizzagate.

One of Thomas’ collaborators was a political PR strategist called Trevor Fitzgibbon. Trevor was president of relatively prominent “liberal” media firm, then fell foul of a sexual harassment scandal in 2015. In the fallout he adopted a two-pronged approach for dealing with some of the women who came forward — tying them up in court with “lawfare”, and trolling them and their associates online.

For the trolling, we have Thomas and his associates. And for the lawfare, we introduce the legal services of Tanya Cornwell, and her husband, SLAPP-happy attorney Steven Biss — who also represented Kash Patel, Svetlana Lokhova, Tim Holmseth, Dan Bongino, and Mike Flynn’s “best friend in DC”, congressman Devin Nunes.

In 2016, Fitzgibbon helped create #Unity4J, ostensibly as a way to build support for Julian Assange. This appears to have been a significant cross-pollinating event, bringing people from opposite sides of the political spectrum together, under the guise of government transparency, and exposing progressives with conservative conspiracy poison. Legends like Australian Greens’ Senator Scott Ludlum were sharing a platform with people like Cassandra Fairbanks, Jimmy Dore, Kim Dotcom, and our favourite former Naval Intelligence Officer, Jack Posobiec.

Trevor also does PR for some of the jabronies in the VIPS, including Bill Binney, Ray McGovern, and the adrenochrome aficionado and major Q-promoter himself, mister Robert David Steele, who was also using the two-pronged approach of Thomas & Tanya to fight his own dumb squabbles.

Another of Thomas’ partners, in both Shadowbox and Cicada, was a prolific live-streamer by the name of Manuel Chavez III, AKA Defango. In 2017, in the months leading up to the launch of Q, they were all in regular email correspondence regarding their various shenanigans:

The initial idea for what eventually became Q appears to have begun with Manuel. He says he found a book about an anonymous radical fighting a secret revolution, by Italian anarchist collective “Luther Blissett”. He may have also taken some inspiration from the much-loved Star Trek character, and other LARPing threads on 4Chan at the time. He used that as the basis for what was apparently supposed to be an exercise in exposing disinformation vectors. Release a bogus LARP, let it run for a few weeks, see who picks it up, then turn around and call them out. Similar to what the Discordians did in a way. What could possibly go wrong.

Defango went to Defcon 2017 to hype up the hi-jacked Cicada, and while he was there he booked a space and gave a presentation for this Q idea he had. In the room were Flynn’s foot-soldier and #pizzagate pioneer Jack Posobiec, Trump’s Twitter-guru Justin McConney, and some other digital lieutenants from MAGA3X. They were happy to spice up one of their propaganda operations by sprinkling it with a bit of secret-agent puzzle-dust or whatever, so they offered a small crew of trolls (possibly including but not limited to James, Doug, “Microchip”, etc), and badda-bing badda-boom, this particular LARP is born.

Manuel and the “Spear of Destiny”, Q, Q, Q, Q

It didn’t last long with that exact crew in that exact form of course, but that’s where it first began. Several of them have admitted to and/or obfuscated various parts of the story at various times, depending on the extent to which the current incarnation of Q and the attention surrounding it happened to serve their purposes at that particular moment. They’re all notorious shit-talkers, so we can’t just take their word for any of it of course. But even when taken with a shovel full of salt the broad strokes seem to mostly check out.

It’d still be good to connect them to Q for ourselves today though. Which can be tricky, because one of Q’s hallmarks was only making ambiguous “predictions”, like “No Name will be back in the headlines”. The believers think that the drops are deliberately cryptic to maintain deniability and stop the ~Deep State~ from getting to them, while the debunkers can confidently claim that Q is just a charlatan. It’s a tidy little arrangement which worked perfectly well over almost all of the 5,000 drops.

But on 17th March, 2019, in drop 3110, they appear to overplay their hand. They call out Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, invite him to “play a game”, and say the STRIKE will be FAST. The next day, Devin Nunes’ lawyer, Steven Biss, hits Twitter with a $250 million lawsuit.

Far right: Steve Biss

It’s a little vague, but not vague enough. They slipped up. It’s like when Howard calls Annie a “Wildcat” in Speed. It reveals that they had eyes on certain information — whoever wrote that drop knew about the lawsuit in advance. Which tells us they were at least in some kind of communication with the people in that circle.

Surely we’ve got the idea by now, but we’ve come this far, so we may as well keep going. A key part of Qanon’s growth was not just the posts themselves, but the way they were covered by the world of conspiracy websites, like Lift the Veil”, or Victurus Libertas. Below we find an email to Thomas’ friends who run the latter, pitching an article where he claims to speak for Q.

We also find a couple of articles from Victuras Libertas, in August 2016, using a strikingly familiar language and typo[g]raphic style, to talk about strikingly familiar narratives, including an “Insider at the Pentagon” using puzzles to reveal the truth about the Clintons:

“The next wiki leak will deal with Clinton Foundation. Quid Pro. Cicada 3301, which you hear about, is connected to wikileaks. There are former and current FBI agents who are leaking, not Russians. There are internal battles afoot, and the white hats are using a segment of Cicada 3301 called Pi Mobi to expose the false flags being committed in US and Europe. Watch UK and NYC, Berlin and Paris in coming days. Things about to get r[e]ally crazy”.

We also know that some of the key people responsible for taking Q to that wider audience were father-and-son duo of webmasters the Watkins, and a YouTuber called Tracy “Beanz” Diaz. And quelle surprise, in 2017, we find that Thomas was in chats with both a woman called Courtney, who worked for Jim Watkins’ website The Goldwater, and Tracy herself (who Defango was also talking to on Twitter at the time).

And guess what Tracy was talking about right before she turned on to Qanon? Wikileaks, another puzzle called Vault7, and Cicada 3301.

Thomas also claims to know the mercenary sewage lord, Erik Prince. In the email on the left below, we see discussion of a company the Prince family are invested in called “Neuro Core”, which uses “entraining brainwavetechnology, to do things like implant subliminal messages in video. When so many people report that it feels as if their loved ones have been “brain-washed” by all this, that should at least make our ears prick up. And on the right, we see discussion of another type of “virtual-reality puzzle technology” that uses the “natural entropy of the internet” to create “immersive experiences”. If you were to describe Qanon that way, you wouldn’t be too far off.