QAnon conspiracy theory concept. Of a hooded figure with the Q symbol. Over layered with the United States flag. with a blurred, grunge, abstract edit

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QAnon is back—what could that mean?

And why now?

 

Mike Rothschild

Tech

Posted on Jun 27, 2022   Updated on Jun 29, 2022, 6:28 am CDT

While it was always possible that the mysterious conspiracy avatar Q could resume posting drops after their last posts in December 2020, the likelihood got more remote by the day. Q’s narrative of an all-powerful deep state manipulating world events, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the 2020 election became a mainstream and profitable storyline for conservative pundits and news outlets, surpassing the original theory. Meanwhile, new gurus and influencers who didn’t speak in riddles and codes sprang up, presenting a more palatable and sanitized face.

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Much of the branding and iconography of Q was discarded as social media companies cracked down on the movement, which believed former President Donald Trump was waging a secret war agains child-molesting Democrats, after Jan. 6. And the person deemed by numerous sources to have been the most likely vector for the Q drops, former 8kun administrator Ron Watkins, moved on to first become a self-appointed expert in election fraud, then a congressional candidate in Arizona.

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So why, in the world, did it come back this weekend? On 8kun, on Jun. 24, QAnon returned with a series of drops, its first communications in a year-and-a-half. 

https://twitter.com/CarolDo59851115/status/1540542509775855616
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Q’s return brings up a great number of questions about both the veracity of these new posts and what they could mean for the QAnon movement itself. 

Based on the giddy reactions of Q influencers on social media—who immediately began to declare that Democrats would be panicking and that Trump would affirm Q’s existence at his rally in Illinois that night (he did not)—there’s definitely still an audience for Q’s cryptic riddles and predictions. But how do we know this is actually Q? And what, if any impact, will the resurgence of QAnon’s voice have as the 2022 midterms approach? With dozens of Q-endorsing Republican candidates on ballots this year, including the person most connected to making the Q drops, the potential for new Q drops to sway some of those races or influence candidates and the movement can’t be discounted.

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The first question—is this the same Q that posted from 2017 to 2020?—is the easiest, if most convoluted, one to address.

Q came back to 8kun using the same tripcode that identified Q posts before the avatar went on its long hiatus. That tripcode is a scrambled version of the password that the Q poster used, run through a “salt” to turn it into random letters and symbols. The salted tripcode serves as confirmation that the poster was the original Q, because all posts on 8kun are made anonymously. 

It’s possible that whoever made the posts isn’t actually the same person, they could have been given the tripcode or hacked it, but a complex bit of cryptography can prove without a doubt that whoever made these new posts did it with help from administrators at 8kun, possibly even 8kun owner Jim Watkins. 

In the hours before Q’s new posts, the site’s entire tripcode system was changed, with new code that changed how the salts are generated from passwords. This would have changed every tripcode on the site—including Q, making it impossible to link new Q drops to the old ones. We know this happened because users on 8kun complained that their tripcodes had been changed, just before Q’s new posts went up.

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But Q’s new posts were exempt, made with Q’s tripcode from 2020, a feat that would have been impossible if there was a new salt generating new tripcodes because there’s no way to guess what characters a salt will create. 

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Essentially, Q should have been locked out from posting under the old tripcode, but instead appeared to be the only user on 8kun capable of doing so—much like Q was the only account that could post new content when 8kun first launched. 

This makes it all but certain that someone at 8kun knew Q was going to post again or made the posts themselves.

Shortly after the new Q drops, the salt reverted to the old code, meaning all the tripcodes on the site were restored to their original form.

Jim Watkins confirmed that the new posts are real, and said he had nothing to do with them. Ron Watkins hasn’t commented publicly on the new drops and didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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While it’s clear that the rotation happened, nobody at the site has given a reason why they rotated the salt, nor why they rotated it back.

But to any experienced Q watcher, it’s obvious why Q had to post under their old tripcode. Q’s own drops stipulate that there will be “no comms outside this platform,” meaning that Q will never post anywhere but 8kun. And if Q needs a new tripcode (which has happened many other times), Q will specifically say that that the tripcode changed.

One figure intimately familiar with the workings of 8chan is the site’s founder turned bitter enemy to Jim and Ron Watkins, Fredrick Brennan. And Brennan publicly stated after the new drops that the clumsily executed sequence of events was clear proof that someone at 8kun, likely Jim and/or Ron, made these new drops, possibly with the help of another 8kun administrator.

Ron Watkins has said he longer worked on 8kun.

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https://twitter.com/fr_brennan/status/1540861247805181952?s=20&t=8FDDEXPr60vlfdZzTyW5_w

While major Q influencers greeted the new posts with excitement, many other 8kun users were extremely skeptical about the new drops, wanting confirmation in the form of a Trump post on Truth Social at the same time. This is the “delta” form of proof, where Q would make a drop right around the time of a Trump tweet, supposedly confirming that the two are linked, when it is merely an easily gamed coincidence.

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QAnon believers are skeptical precisely because of the bizarre timing of the salt being rotated, then being rotated back, without any “deltas” or other “comms” to confirm that these posts are real. 

https://twitter.com/2022_Karma/status/1540859783858728960?s=20&t=8FDDEXPr60vlfdZzTyW5_w

There are any number of reasons, though, why Q might return to 8kun: The site’s declining user base, the popularity of a new Q imitator on Trump’s Truth Social platform, Ron Watkins’ congressional run, or anger and jealousy at the rise of different Q-type gurus such as Negative 48 or Patel Patriot. 

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Or they could have simply been trolling the media apparatus that’s grown around conspiracy theory movements like QAnon. Because there’s little that Q believers enjoy more than trolling the people who cover Q.

But if QAnon wanted to return with a bang, these new drops did not accomplish this. Q’s most interesting drops were full of plot twists, heroes and villains, secret codes, and ways for believers to get involved. Like the first-ever Q post, claiming that Hillary Clinton was on the run, with her passport flagged and Marines about to take to the streets. These drops provide none of the fireworks and twists that Q observers have gotten used to.

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Q has made just four new drops as of June 27, none of which are longer than two sentences, and two that just quote other 8kun posts. There’s nothing new in these posts themselves. The first new drop rhetorically asks “shall we play a game once more,” but Q had already used the phrase “shall we play a game” well over a dozen times.

The other new drops echo other past Q catchphrases, claiming that “it had to be done this way,” with “it” changing depending on the context of the post, and asking believers to “remember your oath.”

These posts are entirely consistent with past Q posts, but show virtually no effort being put into launching a new iteration of the guru based on current events. It’s possible that the new drops are simply a lazy test to see if the interest is still there, with actual new plot strands and conspiracies to come.

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But for now, these are drops without any real effort behind them, and seem to have little purpose other than to simply get people talking about QAnon again.

At this point, without more content from Q, it’s not clear where this is going—or if it’s going anywhere at all. If there’s a point to Q’s return beyond generating media stories about Q, it hasn’t been revealed. 

Q has been known to go long periods without posting, then make dozens of drops in a single day. But that was before Ron Watkins was being subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 Committee and running a congressional campaign that’s massively short on money, and back when Donald Trump was still around to post “zero delta” tweets that “confirm” Q is real. 

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The landscape of conspiracy theories has drastically changed since Q posted the last time. And Q has let a slew of major developments go by, including the Jan. 6 insurrection, the hearings stemming from it, skyrocketing inflation, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and plenty more. If ever there was a time that the conspiracy world could use a leader to tie all these strands together, it’s been this year. But Q has been silent, and many people have simply moved on.

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So while this is most likely the same Q as before, it’s not the same world that Q is trying to “save.”

It remains to be seen if the two will be compatible, or if Q returning will add anything to the landscape it originally helped create.


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*First Published: Jun 27, 2022, 2:34 pm CDT