A video tweeted by President Donald Trump on Wednesday, which contained a series of unsubstantiated allegations of voting fraud, featured a man who is suspected of being closely intertwined with the “QAnon” conspiracy.
In a post to his 88.9 million followers, the president pitched the clip as evidence that the November 3 election was rigged in favor of Democrat Joe Biden.
Since losing to Biden, Trump has latched onto the idea that voting machines owned by a company called Dominion may have been hacked, manipulated or tampered with to alter ballots, despite there being no evidence to suggest the claim is accurate.
The video was a news segment published on Monday by One America News Network OANN, a pro-Trump outlet. It was centered around an interview with a “cyber analyst” who suggested there were security vulnerabilities in Dominion systems.
The man, who was described as a “large systems technical analyst,” was identified as Ron Watkins. He was once—and may still be—an administrator of the message-board 8kun, the successor to 8chan, where QAnon posts have regularly appeared.
In his tweet Wednesday, the president wrote: “Dominion-izing the Vote.” The post has since been flagged by the social network as containing disputed information. The OAN video has attracted over 900,000 views on YouTube, where it remains active.
While the clip amplified baseless fraud claims, it also raised eyebrows of disinformation experts and researchers with knowledge of QAnon, the fringe political conspiracy theory that suggests Trump is central to taking down a “deep state” cabal.
While the identity of “Q” has never been confirmed, advocates of the conspiracy claim the person is a government official with access to intelligence. Vague posts from this person, or group of people, are feverishly deciphered after being posted online.
8kun is owned by Ron Watkins’ father Jim Watkins, who took control of the site from Fredrick Brennan in 2015. Brennan founded it as 8chan two years earlier. On Twitter, Ron Watkins said he resigned as admin on November 3, the day of the election.
Jim Watkins, who is based in the Philippines and previously ran adult websites, has been suspected of being an author of the Q posts. An investigation by ABC News found he appeared to share an IP address with a website called QMap, which hosted a directory of the QAnon posts, known in the community as “drops.”
“If he’s not ‘Q’ himself, he can find out who ‘Q’ is at any time,” Brennan told ABC. “He’s pretty much the only person in the world that can have private contact with ‘Q.’
The former 8chan owner, who quit in 2016 and is no longer associated with the website, published a screenshot on November 15 that appeared to link Jim Watkins and the “Q” pseudonym via a post seemingly made on Parler by his own son.
The image purported to show a post on the social network authored by Ron Watkins, under the verified handle @CodeMonkeyZ, that included the statement: “Yes, Jim has posted as Q before. F**k you, dad.” The Parler account has since been deleted.
Ron Watkins has denied ever having a Parler account and said he was impersonated. “I have never asked to be verified on parler. What’s going on?” he tweeted.
Dominion Voting Systems said in a statement updated on Tuesday that it “categorically denies false assertions about vote switching and software issues.”
“Dominion does not have the ability to review votes in real time as they are submitted. [Homeland Security’s] cybersecurity division has confirmed that it is not possible for a bad actor to change election results without detection,” the company said.
As of October 30 this year, Trump had amplified accounts promoting QAnon at least 265 times, according to Media Matters for America, a left-leaning media watchdog.
The links between Ron Watkins and QAnon remain murky, and he and his father have denied having contact with whoever is behind the “Q” posts.
“I’m not Q and I have never had private correspondence with Q,” Ron told The Daily Beast this month. “My resignation from the project has nothing to do with Q.”
Some researchers appeared intrigued by the Trump connection, however. “This is the tightest I’ve seen the OANN, Trump, 8kun, Qanon, election fraud grift cluster publicly,” tweeted Emmi Bevensee, a Mozilla Fellow specializing in disinformation analysis.