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How an Oath Keeper brought QAnon to the masses

He built QAlerts, a popular QAnon app. He's also an Oath Keeper.

 

Claire Goforth

Tech

Published Sep 16, 2021   Updated Sep 20, 2021, 12:27 pm CDT

On Dec. 21, 2020, QAlerts, an aggregator of drops from the anonymous poster known as Q, called on his tens of thousands of followers on Gab to head to Washington, D.C. to protest the 2020 election. 

“When the President of The United States requests your presence, you show up,” it wrote, calling on “patriots” to show up on Jan. 6.  

Around the same time, the head of the Oath Keepers, a militia steeped in far-right conspiracy theories, demanded the same of its members. 

“It is CRITICAL that all patriots who can be in DC get to DC to stand tall in support of President Trump’s fight,” wrote Stewart Rhodes, who founded the organization, on the Oath Keepers website.

On that fateful day in January, both the QAnon and the militia movement in this country converged in a massive spectacle, breaching the U.S. Capitol as far-right forces across the country merged in an attempt to overthrow the election.  

What people watching couldn’t see though, was that the movements had crossed over long before. QAlerts, which helped spread the gospel of QAnon far and wide as the conspiracy was being purged from the internet, is connected to a founding member of the Florida chapter of Oath Keepers. 

Public records and analysis of the app reveal numerous ties between the QAlerts app and Kenneth Rucker, who was listed on the charter documents of the Florida Oath Keepers. That crossover highlights the close relationship between a violent movement that fomented online and how it seeped into dangerous, real-life groups who have adopted it as their worldview and now build political movements around it. 

When reached by the Daily Dot, Rucker did not directly deny his personal involvement with QAlerts. 

In leaks released this week by Anonymous of Epik, a hosting company used by numerous far-right websites, QAlerts domain name is listed as owned by Rucker. 

I. QAnon’s online spread

As much as 7% of the U.S. population supports QAnon, the conspiracy theory that was born in the bowels of the internet, where some of the web’s more odious users lurk. It frames “Q” as a secret government official who leaks coded messages to the public as former President Donald Trump fights a secret war against child-sacrificing Democrats. Believers maintain Trump will return to arrest his enemies and assume control of the White House. It is a belief that has been used to justify anger and insurrection across the country, with Q followers leading the charge to restore Trump to power and participating in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. 

QAlerts is an app that aggregates all of Q’s posts, or “Q drops,” and sends users a notification when a new one comes out. Rather than sifting through a site like 8kun—the site where the Q account itself posts is a well known hub of child porn—QAnon followers can simply download QAlerts and wait for a notification. The app and its corresponding website simplify finding and following Q’s posts—of which there are thousands.

QAnon has inspired its believers to kidnap children, murder family members, and ultimately storm the Capitol. And QAlerts has been essential to believers. A former Republican Senate candidate in Oregon who was present at the Jan. 6 Capitol riot once said she gets most of her news from QAlerts. 

Apps like QAlert help make the cryptic Q drops travel much further than if the posts were merely relegated to hard-to-parse web forums. In October 2020, in advance of the election, the QAlerts website brought in more pageviews than 8kun, the site where Q posts, as a whole, according to analysis done by the Daily Dot with SEMRush. 

In January, the website qalerts.app pulled in over 3 million page views, although traffic has dwindled as Trump and Q have become less of a focus of national news. But such apps and sites were what helped take an obscure web forum theory and turned it into alerts going straight to your phone, just like a New York Times push. QAlerts is one of the larger QAnon aggregators, but it is one of many. A similar aggregator site, QAnon.pub brought in greater numbers most months, but as the election was contested in the fall of 2020, both were drawing around 4.5 million people, according to SEMRush. Others drew less. Qagg.news had 1 million fewer visits in January 2021, compared to QAlerts, with qpost.online having nearly 3 million fewer visits. 

According to a January 2020 archive of its Google Play page, more than 10,000 people downloaded QAlerts. According to Media Matters, it was once listed as the third most popular ‘“Top Paid” app in Google’s News & Magazines sections. It was pulled from Google’s site in May 2020, meaning users could no longer update it and new followers could not download it. Apple’s App Store removed QAlerts in back in 2018


After the site was pulled, QAlerts launched instructions on how to sideload it on phones. While Android operating systems allow sideloading, pulling apps from outside official sources, Apple does not. 

As QAnon believers and propagators of the theory were taken off major platforms in the wake of  Jan. 6 (as well as numerous other pre-riot deplatformings), apps like QAlerts helped the theory stay alive, even as believers were being arrested and their hope for Trump reclaiming the White House dwindled.  

Similarly, the mysterious poster known as Q has gone quiet, but QAlerts has continued posting, using social networking platforms like Gab and Telegram that are popular among right-wing groups and influencers to keep engaged with its user base. There, QAlerts is a relative titan that continues to push QAnon-style conspiracy theories. 

These sites have become central to QAnon after major social media platforms kicked believers off. The Global Network on Extremism and Technology found 3,500 explicit QAnon accounts this summer on Telegram. Members of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot are demanding data from these apps and their roles in the events that day. 

QAlerts has 72,000 followers on its verified Gab account. Nearly 55,000 subscribe to its Telegram channel. While QAnon proselytizers like Praying Medic have double the followers on Gab, QAlerts is unusual as an aggregator app that’s pivoted to having a personality on social media. It is growing in size since Jan. 6, adding tens of thousands of followers on Gab, with its own “drops,” as the Q poster has gone silent. The social posts from QAlerts now typically mimic the conspiratorial style of QAnon, using these less mainstream social media sites to help keep the conspiracy alive. 

II. QAlerts’ Oath Keeper developer

The Daily Dot’s investigation reflects that QAlerts has numerous ties to a Florida-based app developer who was also a prominent member of a well-known militia group.

“Q” first posted in October 2017; QAlerts’ website was registered on July 19, 2018, online records show. By Aug. 7, less than a month later, the app had been downloaded more than 5,000 times, according to an archive of its listing on Google Play.

There are multiple online records linking QAlerts to Kenneth Rucker, an app developer in St. Augustine, Florida, and a software development company he is president of. The company, WalkTheLot Inc, develops the WalkTheLot site and mobile apps, which focus on car sales. Rucker is listed as president of WalktheLot, which boasts that it designs all its own software, without outsourcing or using third-parties.
 

The Daily Dot found WalkTheLot.com was named as the developer of QAlerts and QAlerts LITE (the free version of the app) on multiple sites. The Daily Dot also found an archive from January 2020 of QAlert’s Google Play listing that includes an address for QAlerts that matches an address for both Rucker personally and for WalkTheLot.com Inc on filings with the Florida Division of Corporations. Rucker is the registering agent listed and the only individual person named in WalkTheLot’s filings, all at the same address since 2013. 

Rucker’s connection to QAlerts has been confirmed by external investigators, including open-source intelligence researcher Libby Shaw and Aubrey Cottle, one of the founders of the hacktivist group Anonymous. Shaw and Cottle worked together on the research and provided their findings to the Daily Dot, which independently verified them.

“They had a leaky source tree,” Cottle said, explaining how he was able to find the code tying Rucker to QAlerts, including an email for Rucker at WalkTheLot in QAlerts code. WalkTheLot.com and the same address referenced above are also referred to in QAlerts’s source code.

That address is also found for Rucker on numerous other filings, including one with the Federal Communications Commission

The open-source intelligence site Logically previously reported that the QAlerts’ developer was “a Tea Party supporter… and sales software developer,” although it did not identify him as Rucker. Public records also identify Rucker as a Tea Party supporter

When contacted by the Daily Dot via phone and email, Rucker didn’t specifically deny that he created and runs QAlerts and its social media channels, but he did distance WalkTheLot.com from the questions about QAnon. 

“Our company [WalkTheLot] is not involved with QAnon nor do we offer any such products or services,” he responded to an inquiry sent via WalkTheLot’s contact form. The WalkTheLot contact email address used “Ken;” the email was signed “Ken Rucker.” That email address also matched one included in QAlerts’ source code that Cottle provided the Daily Dot.

Rucker would not answer questions from the Daily Dot about whether he currently runs the QAlerts app and its social channels on Gab and Telegram. 

In a phone conversation on Aug. 16, a man who answered the line at WalkTheLot refused to confirm whether he was Rucker. Asked if he developed QAlerts and ran its social media accounts, the man didn’t address the question. He instead responded that the company sells cars. Asked a follow-up question about QAlerts, he said, “I am very busy working so have a good evening,” and hung up. 

QAlerts’ social channels mostly post image posts of memes and other conservative social content. Only two posts out of about 160 images reviewed by the Daily Dot have identifiable locations. Both are in or near St. Augustine, Florida, the city in the address listed in the public records for WalkTheLot.com and Rucker. 

On Google Maps, a car parked at the address tied to Rucker shows a green SUV, with a sticker in the rear window that says “WWG1WGA,” a QAnon slogan that means “Where We Go One, We Go All.”

A post just days prior to the Capitol riot on the social channels for QAlerts has a tie to St. Augustine. On Dec. 31, less than a week earlier, QAlerts on Gab wished its followers a happy new year and included a photo of a band playing a show just outside St. Augustine. 

Rucker also did not answer the Daily Dot’s question about whether he attended the Capitol riot. 

Just as available as records tying Rucker to QAlerts are records online showing he once served as a “director” of the Oath Keepers and a militia that, though going by a different name, is identified online as the Oath Keepers. Rucker didn’t respond to detailed questions about his ties to the Oath Keepers as well.

According to public records, Rucker, still using the same address, was listed as a director of the Oath Keepers Florida in its articles of incorporation. He is one of just five people listed on the founding documents for incorporation. The group registered as a nonprofit, but it dissolved after a year. 

The Daily Dot found state records showing that, until April 2019 when documents were filed to remove him from his position, Rucker was also one of four directors of Article6, which formed roughly a month after Oath Keepers Florida. All four of Article6’s original directors were also directors of Oath Keepers Florida. The Oath Keeper’s pledge—to “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic”—is taken directly from Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution. Article6 filed paperwork to voluntarily dissolve on Jan. 29, less than a month after the Capitol riot. 

On its YouTube channel, Article6 says it was formerly the Florida branch of the Oath Keepers. 

III. A militia grows more conspiratorial

During the time Rucker was listed as a director of the Florida group, the Oath Keepers founder, Rhodes, called for members to take up arms and protect schools and colleges in the wake of the Parkland school shooting that killed 17. According to the main Oath Keepers’ website, also that year, the Florida group volunteered for disaster relief after hurricanes hit the state. It launched a GoFundMe to reimburse members for fuel costs and support ongoing relief efforts.

It also provided disaster relief after Georgia tornados

But as the years went by, the militia also adopted elements of QAnon. It describes itself as “guardians of the republic,” and has its members swear an oath to defend the U.S Constitution, not any particular politicians, as laid out in their tenets. But as calls of conspiracy and election fraud from Trump grew, the Oath Keepers leadership cast its lot with a politician, telling its members it was time to protect the nation. 

In December 2020, the Oath Keepers firmly declared their side, publishing a screed announcing it is “President Trump and patriots against everyone else.”

“Only President Donald Trump is standing firm and speaking truth boldly about the enemies of liberty and those who seek to destroy all that is good,” the group wrote on its website. 

The group is currently under investigation for its involvement in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Its founder, Stewart Rhodes, has spoken to the FBI about his organization’s role that day. 

During Trump’s tenure, the Oath Keepers ideology shifted to align in lockstep with Trump’s worldview. A group that used to organize hurricane relief would soon go on InfoWars to call the election stolen. 

In 2017, a commenter on the Oath Keepers’ blog warned of rampant pedophilia in American government. In 2018, the group issued a “call to action” for members to investigate an alleged child sex trafficking ring in Arizona after another militia, Veterans on Patrol, found what it deemed to be a child’s skull. Law enforcement said the skull was actually that of an adult and there was no evidence of a pedophilia ring in the area.

But Rhodes pushed it, demanding Oath Keepers give armed support for the fellow militia members investigating it. It was a conspiracy the Southern Poverty Law Center deemed “too wild” for even Alex Jones, who reported that Jones agreed there was no evidence of sex trafficking present at the site. 

And prior to the Capitol riot, on Jan 4, Rhodes called on Oath Keepers to come to Washington, D.C. on Jan. 5 and 6.

“It is CRITICAL that all patriots who can be in DC get to DC to stand tall in support of President Trump’s fight to defeat the enemies foreign and domestic who are attempting a coup, through the massive vote fraud and related attacks on our Republic,” Rhodes wrote.

His call appeared to be heeded. At least 16 Oath Keepers have been arrested for their role in the Capitol riot. Many of them are awaiting trial. In June, USA Today reported that four suspected Oath Keepers had pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the riot. The purported current head of the Florida branch, who was not part of the articles of incorporation with Rucker, is among those charged for the insurrection attempt.

According to Capitol police, approximately 800 people breached the Capitol, out of the thousands who protested outside. 

Rhodes himself has not been charged or named in any documents regarding Jan. 6. However, it’s been reported he has been interviewed by the FBI. 

Days after the Capitol riot, though, Rhodes reiterated the Oath Keepers’ new slate of beliefs. He wrote a post that warned of the deep state and referenced mass arrests, and the Insurrection Act, all hallmarks of QAnon. Rhodes claimed that people who want to be rich and powerful allow themselves to be filmed “committing such horrid crimes” as pedophilia because then they’re guaranteed wealth and prestige for life—so long as they’re obedient to the deep state. 

IV. QAlerts in D.C.

While the Oath Keepers roamed the Mall on Jan. 6, the crowded day was also dense with people who believe in QAnon. At least the day before the riot, QAlerts posts show images of D.C. and discuss the coming demonstration, highlighting the nexus of the two movements.

Videos and photos from the Capitol riot show plenty of QAnon slogans and symbols in the crowd. It’s impossible to categorize how many people endorsed the theory, but the Associated Press called a belief in QAnon “commonplace” among the rioters the news organization spoke with and analyzed. FBI Director Christopher Wray told the Senate in April the FBI arrested at least five QAnon believers for their role in the riot. As of Aug. 31, over 600 people have been charged for roles in the riot. 

Meanwhile, the congressional committee investigating the riot is specifically seeking Trump administration documents and communications that refer to QAnon. Federal authorities allege numerous rioters believed the conspiracy theory. At least two rioters who died that day were QAnon followers. One of the most visible conspiracist participants, Jacob Chansley, better known as the QAnon Shaman, pleaded guilty for his role in the riot earlier this month.

On the day before the Capitol riot, QAlerts posted on Gab, saying it was in D.C. 

On Jan. 5, the QAlerts Gab account posted three pictures of Washington, D.C. One wondered, “Stage being set for The Storm?” A separate post on the same day said it was “cool” running into people in D.C.

On Jan. 8, QAlerts posted on Gab about “the hustle and bustle of traveling, unpacking, catching up with work.” That day it also wrote, “Nice meeting many of you Q Patriots in D.C.” and noted the turbulence they expected to experience on a flight, as well as a photo from the interior of an airplane.

Likewise, in the weeks before the Capitol riot, the QAlerts account encouraged people to attend. 

There were no posts found by the Daily Dot on QAlerts’ Gab account on Jan. 6. Later, the account suggested that outside infiltrators, not QAnon followers and militias like the Oath Keepers, were responsible for the riot.

Since Jan. 6, while the Q account itself has been silent, QAlerts has continued to post on the conspiracy. And while its website traffic is down, its social presence is exploding, having gained tens of thousands of followers in the wake of the Capitol riot, as it attempts to continue the movement without Q at the helm.  

QAlerts’ Gab feed is replete with fresh content teasing ongoing developments in the QAnon conspiracy. QAlerts frequently posts about conspiracies, false flags, and election fraud. On Aug. 17, it wrote, “Trump won. It’s be [sic] my guess he got around 100 million votes +- 10%.” 

QAlerts, and whoever runs it, appears to have no intention of abandoning the conspiratorial movement it helped mobilize against the government—with or without Q.

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*First Published: Sep 16, 2021, 9:22 am CDT