Ron Watkins, a conspiracy theorist and suspected key figure behind the a notorious online cult QAnon, is believed to be in Australia.
So claims Julian Feeld, host and producer of the QAnon Anonymous podcast, which dissects and debunks the baseless claims made by the conspiracy theory group.
Its outlandish theories include the belief that a cannibalistic, satanic paedophile ring is being operated by high-profile Democratic Party politicians and Hollywood elite.
The group also believes former president Donald Trump’s debunked claims about widespread voter fraud affecting the 2020 election.
In early 2022, Watkins made a bid for to become the Republican nominee for a congressional seat in Arizona’s second district. He wasn’t successful, and in fact placed last in a field of seven candidates.
Mr Feeld believes Watkins had already relocated prior to that primary election, which happened on August 2.
On Wednesday, Mr Feeld tweeted: “Ron Watkins was in Sydney, Australia with the apparent intention to settle there on July 26th, a week before the congressional primary he lost. This explains his recent absence.
“Ron has now deleted multiple posts referencing Australia from his telegram group, including some very recent ones.”
On Thursday, Watkins’ father, Jim Watkins confirmed that his son was in the country.
“I don’t think he’s permanently moved to Australia but he’s in Australia right now,” he said during a livestream.
“He is in Australia right now and everyone know he’s had some serious death threats so its best for him to be there right now.”
Who is Ron Watkins?
Prior to gaining traction in QAnon circles, Watkins’ claim to fame was as the former administrator of 8kun, which was formerly known as 8chan. The online messaging board has been linked to white supremacist, far-right and pro-hate crime groups and is heralded as the birthplace of the QAnon conspiracy group.
In 2019 8chan underwent a rebrand after the manifestos of three mass shooters were posted to its online message board prior to their attacks.
On January 9, 2021, Watkins was one of the major accounts banned on Twitter after the Capitol riot under the social media platform’s Co-ordinated Harmful Activity policies. While he was living in Japan at the time, he had been spruiking falsified claims of voter fraud.
Speaking at the far-right For God & Country Patriot Double-Down convention in October 2021, Watkins claimed to be “the new Rosa Parks” – referring to a famous member of the American civil rights movement.
“We are living now through a modern digital civil rights movement and you could call me the new Rosa Parks,” he said.
“I’ve been out there, I’ve been getting cancelled left and right the past few years.
“I’ve been fighting so you guys can have a voice.”
Although Watkins has undoubtedly endorsed baseless theories championed by QAnon, he has always denied the allegations of being the group’s leader, Q.
In a 2021 documentary, the makers of HBO’s Q: Into the Storm hypothesised that Watkins was the man behind the international operation.
“I hope that by revealing the mechanics behind Q and the personalities behind it,” said the documentary director, Cullen Hoback, “that they see that it really is just this kind of absurd cast of characters that created this massive global movement and that it is not this sort of scary mystery box.”
After disappearing for two years after the US election, the anonymous poster behind QAnon re-emerged on June 28, 2022 with a cryptic clue.
“Shall we play a game once more?” read the post on 8kun, which was signed with a ‘Q’.
“Are you ready to serve your country again? Remember your oath,” the account shared in a later post.
And while the true identity of Q might never be confirmed, the damage Watkins could pose in Australia shouldn’t be underestimated, said far-right extremism and conspiracy theories Dr Kaz Ross, speaking to Crikey.
“Someone like Ron Watkins, with his wealth, his technical abilities and his audience? He could pick and choose which Australian voices to elevate,” she said.
“He could give a lifeline to our dying anti-lockdown movement here.”