When insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, many wore shirts or waved flags emblazoned with a single letter: Q.
Followers of Q, or QAnon, believe the world is run by a secret cabal of sex-traffiking, satan-worshipping liberal elitists who imbibe the blood of children. They also believed that Donald Trump was the hero who would bring these evil-doers to justice.
This baseless theory originated online, with supporters waiting breathlessly for an anonymous, supposedly high-level government source “Q” to drop cryptic clues about the coming revolution.
Director Cullen Hoback spent years following the QAnon movement, and documented his attempt to unmask Q in the new HBO series “Q: Into the Storm.”
Making his documentary series was so intense that he moved to a random remote location to finish editing the project. He remains there today. In addition to his physical safety, he also wanted his material to be safe digitally. Hoback says he was hacked while making “Q: Into the Storm,” and he’s someone who is very careful about digital security.
In the six episodes of “Q: Into the Storm,” Hoback traces how QAnon moved from the far-right fringes to the mainstream of the GOP. There are now two QAnon supporters in Congress.
He also dives into the bitter rivalry between former allies in Q world. Fredrick Brennan is the founder of 8chan, the anonymous message board where Q took off. Father and son duo Jim and Ron Watkins wound up running that board. But when multiple mass shooters posted manifestos and worse on 8chan, Brennan quit and fought to have it taken down.
As for Jim Watkins, he originally made his money in online pornography. He fashions himself as a free-speech advocate and clearly relishes the mischief he can make by hosting anonymous online message boards where anything goes, even extremely dark material. For a time he also ran a pig farm.
Watkins’ son Ron presents himself as a young man who has spent his life avoiding the spotlight — as he had done, until now. The younger Watkins had a direct line to Q as the administrator of the QAnon board on 8chan, but claimed he did not know Q's identity.
In 2018, director Cullen Hoback had no idea where his mission to unmask Q would ultimately lead. Initially, he was just interested that Reddit had banned QAnon.
He explains that Q was a story worth following early on — so much so that he turned to loans and maxed out credit cards to figure out Q’s real identity. And he shares how he got Adam McKay and HBO on board with the help of secret footage loaded onto secure iPads.
Hoback also reflects on what tech companies could do to avoid another QAnon movement. He says the problem is not so much the content itself, but rather the algorithms that drive people to extreme corners of the internet.