I fortunately never fell into the QAnon conspiracy theories. The closest I came was in the summer of 2020 when I saw some tweets alleging that Tom Hanks, Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, and hosts of other celebrities were wearing ankle bracelets and would be arrested in the coming days. According to my Twitter rabbit hole on one afternoon, Tom Hanks had been replaced in public by his twin, he didn’t actually have COVID-19, and he and the rest of the celebrities stuck in lockdown weren’t getting enough adrenochrome, which is why they weren’t appearing in public. At the very least, it seemed interesting and was a big deal that countless celebrities were supposedly Satan worshippers. But then days, weeks, and months have passed and no such arrests have been made. It only took me a couple days to realize it was all a bunch of BS.
But if you’ve watched the news or gone online in the last year, especially, you’ve probably at least seen the name QAnon mentioned. And if you’re a reasonable person, you probably dismissed all of its claims as the nonsense that it is. But of course, lots of people didn’t and still haven’t, and part of what documentarian Cullen Hoback’s mission was in creating Q: Into the Storm was to shine some light on the background of “Q.”
In Q: Into the Storm, Hoback had pretty unprecedented access to Fredrick Brennan (creator of 8Chan) and father and son Jim and Ron Watkins (who now own and run 8Chan). The entity of Q, whoever they are, has operated exclusively from 8Chan ever since they moved on from 4Chan in 2018. 8Chan (now rebranded as 8kun) is a cesspool of some of the most violent, disgusting, and hateful stuff the online world has to offer, which makes it perfect for hosting something like Q.
Hoback initially got in contact with these three men simply because he knew they ran 8Chan and may be able to lead him in the right direction towards uncovering the anonymous inciter’s true identity. After three years of visiting the three of them and getting to know them and talking to them regularly, it started to become clear that the Watkins knew more than they were letting on about Q, which is where the subject of Hoback’s HBO documentary series comes into focus.
Since the beginning of QAnon in 2017, there has been media coverage of the debunked conspiracy theory. But it wasn’t until the 2020 U.S. election cycle and the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic that it seemed to launch into a whole new stratosphere. So in the last year or so, we’ve seen it become more mainstream, meaning it’s had a bigger presence in popular culture. It was part of the focus of last year’s Borat sequel, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm and Jordan Klepper of The Daily Show has done plenty of coverage on how QAnon intersects with the MAGA movement that believes Donald Trump is a messiah who has come to save the country from the “Deep State.” And a lot of these shows, movies, or segments do a good job of getting at what makes the QAnon movement appealing to its adherents.
But Q: Into the Storm sets itself apart in that it doesn’t really attempt to get in the mindset of those brainwashed by the movement. Instead, it gets at the people like the Watkins, people with connections in high places like Roger Stone, Trump himself, or people like Lauren Boebert or Marjorie Taylor Greene who run political campaigns on the fact that they believe QAnon. And this perspective makes the series highly engaging, informative, and even great journalism in some places.
Because after its six hour-long episodes, Hoback comes to a convincing conclusion about who is Q. Since no one outright admitted that they are behind the “Q drops,” it’s impossible to take his conclusion as 100% gospel, but he shows his work and makes a great case.
If you’re like me and you’re a mix of terrified and fascinated by the QAnon movement, then this docuseries is well worth the watch. Towards the end of the last episode, it even reaches the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. It shows what a couple of losers messing around online can actually incite and inspire if they have the right method, message, and resources. And again, it’s terrifying. But Q: Into the Storm does a great job of shining a light on the inner workings of something this dangerous. For anyone who has bought into the wild conspiracies of QAnon, it can seem like you’re a part of something big and historic. But the doc shows that for those behind the curtain, it’s all just a big sociopathic game.