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Ron Watkins is best known as the accused operator of “Q,” the anonymous forum account that sparked the QAnon conspiracy theory. After announcing his bid for a battleground congressional seat in Arizona last week, though, he’s tried to distance himself from QAnon.
He’s off to a bumpy start.
In an interview Monday with The Daily Beast, Watkins and science fiction author Tony Teora, his “volunteer campaign coordinator,” struggled to explain why, if Watkins is not involved in QAnon, he’s among the keynote speakers at a QAnon conference called the “Patriot Double Down” in Las Vegas this coming weekend.
“When you say that’s a QAnon convention, I never saw anything posted that it’s a QAnon convention,” Teora said, until a reporter for The Daily Beast pointed out that the conference’s organizers use the aliases “QAnon John” and “Q Queen Amy.”
Further cementing the conference’s QAnon ties, a poster for the event features both “Q” and “17,” an important number for QAnon believers since “Q” is the 17th letter of the alphabet.
“The number 17 is just an auspicious number,” Watkins said.
“Ron, Ron, oh God, oh God!” Teora said.
Watkins’ bid looks set to test the powers and limitations of QAnon celebrity, demonstrating whether a candidate can beat better-funded primary competition through QAnon ties alone. If Watkins defies expectations and wins, he could further open the door for other QAnon promoters to run for office.
QAnon connections haven’t proved disqualifying for Republican candidates in the past. Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA) and Lauren Boebert (CO) both won House seats in 2020 after promoting QAnon, which imagines Donald Trump conducting a bloody fascist purge of his political and cultural enemies. They, too, disavowed the conspiracy theory during and after their successful elections.
Watkins, a soft-spoken former administrator of the fringe internet forum 8kun, faces near-impossible odds to win the Republican primary in Arizona’s 1st District to take on Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ), according to observers.
“This new guy getting in the race who’s allegedly related to the QAnon phenomenon has no chance of winning,” Arizona Republican political consultant Stan Barnes told The Daily Beast. “No chance. Let me say that again: No chance.”
The district is expected to be made more conservative during redistricting, meaning the seat is a top target for national Republicans.
Watkins’s leading primary opponents include state Rep. Walter Blackman and Eli Crane, a former Navy SEAL who owns a company that makes “badass bottle openers.” Both Blackman and Crane had more than $100,000 cash on hand at the end of September, according to FEC records.
Watkins and his father, Jim Watkins, have been accused of using their control of the 8chan and 8kun forums to steal control of the “Q” identity and, ultimately, QAnon itself, a case laid out most prominently in the HBO documentary Q: Into the Storm. Watkins has repeatedly denied posting as “Q.”
“I’m not Q, I’ve never been Q, I’ve never posted as Q,” Watkins told The Daily Beast.
After leaving 8kun after the 2020 election, Watkins began to style himself as a supposed expert on voting-machine fraud and was embraced by prominent Trump allies, including lawyer Sidney Powell. Watkins, who lived in Japan until recently, said Arizona’s controversial audit of 2020 ballots cast in Maricopa County inspired him to run in the state.
Teora predicted that Watkins’s QAnon affiliations would benefit him in the primary, pointing out that Watkins has already received much more media attention than his Republican rivals.
“I absolutely think it will help him in the primary and hurt him in the general,” Teora said. “But by the time the general comes around, people are going to know that Ron is more than this fake news conspiracy guy.”
It’s not clear how helpful QAnon affiliations are for fundraising. A QAnon PAC created by Jim Watkins raised less than $5,000 in the 2020 election cycle.
Setting QAnon aside, there are plenty of scenes in the HBO documentary that could be useful to a primary opponent. In one scene, Watkins invites the documentarian to join him at a brothel.
Asked about Barnes’s prediction that Watkins would be obliterated in the primary, Teora defended his candidate.
“I would say that the guy’s out of his mind,” Teora said. “Ron’s actually done more for the state than most of these politicians that are in office.”
Still, the Republican consultant stuck by his prediction that Watkins’s candidacy would amount to nothing.
“This other new entrant is a fun moment to smile, but other than that—nah, nothing,” Barnes said.