jim watkins with Q drop and people holding a Qanon rally behind him

M.Moira/Shutterstock The Goldwater/YouTube (Licensed) Remix by Jason Reed

Did an IP address accidentally reveal QAnon’s identity?

It's more complex than it sounds.

Aug 31, 2020, 9:12 am*

Tech

 

Mike Rothschild

Over the weekend, a rumor started to make the rounds on Twitter and among QAnon watchers, which seemed to blow a lid on a long-simmering mystery.

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It said that the mysterious poster who makes the Q drops, the cryptic messages posted on message board 8kun that give the movement its direction, had been unmasked and revealed to all. And the poster was none other than 8kun’s owner, Jim Watkins. Previously the owner of 8kun forerunner 8chan, Watkins had already given congressional testimony wearing a QAnon pin and started a political SuperPAC devoted to boosting QAnon-friendly candidates.

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There was already speculation that Q and Watkins were linked, as when 8chan went down in August 2019, the Q poster didn’t make their drops somewhere else, instead waiting around for months while 8chan found a new service provider and rebranded as 8kun.

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But while it would make sense for Watkins to be responsible for Q’s posts, there’s been no conclusive proof of it, and both Jim Watkins and his son Ron, who writes the code for 8kun, deny having any link or knowledge of who Q is, even as speculation has persisted for years they were behind it.

So what was it that changed to spark this newest rumor?

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Anti-Q activists discovered that 8kun.top has the same IP address as QMap.pub, the most popular aggregator of QAnon’s drops, along with the home of the “QAnon Prayer Wall.” The term “QMap” dates to an early Q drop from November 2017 that states “QMAP 1/2 confirmed. This is the key.” Q drop aggregators are critical in the movement, since Q promoters generally don’t want followers navigating a racist and difficult-to-read site like 8chan for Q content. So these sites serve as a way to let followers know that a Q drop was made and confirm that it’s real by linking back to the drop on 8kun.

And with tens of thousands of people using it at any given moment, QMap is the most popular of the aggregator sites. It was originally hosted by Amazon Web Services, but for whatever reason, at some point in the last few months (it’s not clear when), it switched to internet security firm VanwaTech. If this name is familiar to Q watchers, it’s because it’s the same firm that was revealed in October to be the new security provider for 8kun.

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While Q has never explicitly endorsed one of the aggregator sites, he did link to a tweet where someone is holding up a sign with QMap’s name on it. So essentially, both the only place that Q drops are made and the most popular place where Q drops are disseminated and confirmed as have the same internet service provider. 

But why does it matter? And how does it prove or not prove that Jim Watkins (who blocked the writer of this story on Twitter) runs both sites, and has been making Q drops?

The short answer is it doesn’t prove Jim Watkins is Q, despite people shouting that online all week.

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https://www.twitter.com/lumpenfreude/status/1298080198022307841

And nobody still knows for sure who Q is other than the actual Q poster. But getting to the bottom of what the link between 8kun and QMap actually means for the Q movement touches on so many of the most salient points about the QAnon phenomenon: mystery, blind belief, complex technical facets, and grift.

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At heart is the connection between the QAnon conspiracy itself and the aggregator sites like QMap.pub that get the word out to the faithful.

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Leading the charge in pointing out the connection between 8kun and QMap is former 8chan founder turned Watkins foe, Fredrick Brennan. Since selling the site to Watkins in 2016, Brennan has been embroiled in a bitter feud with Watkins, culminating in Watkins attempting to use “cyberlibel” laws in the Philippines (where both were based) to put Brennan in prison for insulting him on Twitter. Since then, Brennan was forced to return to the U.S. to avoid prosecution.

Speaking with the Daily Dot, Brennan claims that the importance behind the QMap and 8kun link is not that it proves Watkins is Q, but that Watkins “could become Q whenever he wants.” Therefore, Q isn’t quite the military intelligence team it’s claimed to be. 

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Playing on what Brennan deems confusion among less tech-inclined members of the public, Watkins having a link to QMap muddies the waters of verifying if a Q post is real. “How does a Q person know a post is from Q,” he asked, without the check of an aggregator site proving it’s from the “real” QAnon, the one that uses Q’s unique tripcode on 8kun.

QMap, and the many other Q post aggregator sites, work by being coded to upload the text of drops made by Q on 8kun’s qresearch forum. Because Q created that forum, Q is the only person who can post on that board, confirming that the drop is genuine. 

Essentially, Brennan claims Watkins could hack the tripcode and use it to make new Q posts on 8kun, while affirming their veracity on the trusted aggregator QMap, “and nobody will know.” 

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But another explanation of the ties is just as plausible. Because 8kun is so intrinsically tied to Q (it gets little traffic otherwise), it’s not out of the question that Watkins might try to enhance his involvement by getting involved with the most popular site that helps legitimize the posts that make his board famous.   

For his part, Brennan believes that while Watkins has been making the Q posts for quite some time, this revelation isn’t the end of the movement. “I never claimed that Q has been doxed,” he said, throwing at least a little cold water on the idea that Jim Watkins has been definitely proven to be Q. The shared IP address merely establishes a solid link between where the Q poster makes drops and a site that disseminates them.

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That shared IP address belongs to VanwaTech, a Vancouver-based content delivery and security firm that Brennan believes was established a few months after 8chan went down, specifically to provide a cheaper and more ideologically agreeable host for 8kun than the Chinese and Russian ISPs Watkins was attempting to use. Moreover, Brennan claims, but can’t prove, that Watkins had a hand in founding the firm and might own it through a shell company.

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It’s a claim that VanwaTech’s founder, Nick Lim, denies. Reached over email by the Daily Dot, Lim said that “we don’t own or host QMap.pub in any way,” though he does “provide them with a CDN (content delivery network) and cybersecurity service that protects them from [denial of service] attacks.”

Further, Lim told Daily Dot that VanwaTech “is owned by me only” and that all of its customers use the same IP address—including 8kun.

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So who does own QMap?

QMap is a hugely popular site in the QAnon sphere, as evidenced by it routinely drawing over one hundred thousand visitors in a 24-hour period, and tens of thousands at any one moment. There’s no indication on the site of who started it or currently owns it, and a search on who.is for the site’s data brings back only that it’s unavailable. But the QMap site has also strayed into QAnon-related app development, with a QMap app that Google removed from its service. 

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That app then relaunched on Amazon, only to be banned from there as well. A Twitter account that shares the name of the QMap app blocked this reporter after an inquiry, and neither Amazon Web Services or the developer of another app touted on QMap’s Patreon page, called Armor of God, responded to a request for comment.

And what about that Patreon page? It’s collecting over $2,100 a month to pay for web hosting, but has no identifying information denoting who started the page or who is getting the money, and no way to contact the owner. Patreon didn’t respond to questions about who started the page and who is profiting from it.

Ultimately, the link between 8kun and QMap comes down to what people claim, not what can be conclusively proven. And through it all, there’s still no conclusive proof that Jim Watkins is making the Q drops, or that he’s taken control of QMap—only the possibility that both are true, and the equal possibility that both are false.

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So the answer to the question of who is making the Q drops has the same answer that it’s had since Q’s first posts in 2017: only Q knows. And they aren’t talking.

Update 4:51pm CT: In a statement to Daily Dot, the Twitter account listed on QMap’s Patreon page confirms they established the QMap site, claims they are “not associated with Watkins” and that they moved to VanwaTech because “Qmap suffers denial of service attacks regularly, hence the need for a content delivery network that could stop it.

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*First Published: Aug 28, 2020, 8:11 am