Ron Watkins, the man whose bulletin board sites hosted the postings that launched the conspiracy theory QAnon — and who some pegged as the author of the cryptic writings — announced that he was running for Congress in Arizona.
Watkins, in a video posted online Thursday night, said he was aiming to unseat Tom O’Halleran in District 1, whom Watkins called “the dirtiest Democrat in the D.C. swamp.”
The video was posted to his channel on Telegram, an online messaging app that was taken up by some pro-Trump supporters after the social media app Parler was removed from online services.
Watkins has posted photos in the past week of himself in Arizona. He posted a photo of himself with Tom Horne, a former state Attorney General and Superintendent of Public Instruction. Horne is seeking a return to the top education post. He also posted a photo with Kari Lake, a former anchor for the Phoenix Fox affiliate who has been drawing a fervent response in her campaign for governor.
It's unclear whether Watkins lives in Arizona. Residency is not required to seek election to an Arizona congressional seat. Candidates must be a resident only at the time of the election itself.
Watkins filed a statement of interest with the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office on Wednesday night. However, the Federal Election Commission showed no paperwork had been filed by Watkins to become a candidate. An FEC filing, which allows candidates to raise campaign funds, is a standard step for a serious candidate.
In his Telegram video, Watkins stationed himself outside the office of Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a candidate for U.S. Senate and someone whom Watkins could not secure a meeting with this week.
Watkins said he was motivated to run by what he considered a 2020 election stolen from President Trump — a claim Trump's supporters have amplified despite a lack of any evidence of any significant voting irregularities.
“We must fix elections from inside the machine,” he said on his video.
Watkins spoke about his campaign in stark terms, painting himself as someone willing to stand up to keep the nation from falling apart.
“If we don’t follow our beliefs and the founding principles of our nation, it will crumble,” he said. “This must stop now.”
Ron Watkins officially declaring himself a candidate for Congress. pic.twitter.com/aTwRBA6g4o
— Poker and Politics (@PokerPolitics) October 15, 2021
It would be the first political run for Watkins. But he has been involved as an instigator in both Arizona and national politics.
Watkins was one of the key voices calling for and sharing news about the review of 2020 ballots in Maricopa County. He started a phrase, “Fraud vitiates everything,” that gained traction in both the virtual and real worlds. Even that review, which was launched by Republican state senators, concluded that Joe Biden defeated Trump in Arizona's election.
Watkins also helped spur – and may have written – the postings of the anonymous figure known as Q Clearance Patriot that started the QAnon phenomenon.
Adherents of QAnon imagined a looming takedown of a powerful ruling cabal of political leaders. They also came to believe that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, a belief that fueled them and others in a violent takeover of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, the day a joint session of Congress was meeting to officially certify Biden's victory. Hundreds of people now face charges related to participating in that riot.
Watkins ran relatively obscure bulletin board websites whose main claim to fame was being the exclusive home of the writings of Q, an anonymous person who claimed to have both Q-level security clearance and a cache of secrets from the dark hallways of government power.
A narrative emerged from the postings, which began in 2017: Trump would be exposing the unspeakable crimes of ruling global cabal of politicians and celebrities. Arrests were expected as the leaders were supposedly involved in child trafficking for purposes of perversion or nourishment.
As what became known as the QAnon theory gained national and international traction, with people holding cardboard Qs at Trump rallies, Watkins was one of several people thought to be one of the authors of the postings.
Watkins has consistently denied that claim. He did so again this week on Telegram.
“The fake news media continues to insist that I am part of some QANON conspiracy,” he wrote on Wednesday. “As we all know, there is no QANON. What does exist are the many hardworking, God-fearing people who are breaking tyranny’s grasp over our country.”
In a documentary, “Q: Into The Storm,” that aired on HBO in March, Watkins again denied being Q, but in a way that led the filmmaker to all but conclude that Watkins was indeed the person behind the Q postings
In a video interview, Watkins told the filmmaker that he had spent years online “teaching normies how to do intelligence work.” He also said he had done so anonymously.
“But never as Q,” he added, before breaking into a wide smile.
Both Watkins and Q had gone relatively silent after the 2020 election.
On Nov. 12, the person posting as Q asked a series of cryptic questions about how elections could be protected from foreign interference.
“It had to be this way,” Q wrote. “Sometimes you must walk through the darkness before you see the light.” Q also posted the video for the Twisted Sister heavy metal song, “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”
Pushing Arizona's partisan ballot review
On the day Joe Biden was inaugurated as president, Watkins wrote on Telegram, where he posts under the name CodeMonkeyZ, that it was time to respect the incoming administration. “Now we need to keep our chins up and go back our lives as best we are able,” he wrote.
By April, Watkins began to post nearly every day about the so-called audit of ballots in the works in Maricopa County.
“Fraud vitiates everything and why Maricopa County may be the straw the broke the camel’s back,” Watkins wrote to his more than 200,000 subscribers on April 14.
Watkins claimed to be in contact with figures involved in the state Senate ordered audit of ballots. On April 25, Watkins wrote UV lights were being used to inspect ballots because the lights could detect oil from fingerprints. Or, Watkins suggested, the lack of prints.
“Since UV is able to detect oil from the finger prints, if there are no fingerprints on the ballot then the likelihood of the ballot being marked through a non-human process is high,” Watkins wrote.
In June, Watkins said the Maricopa County audit would trigger other states and counties to start similar efforts should it find significant fraud.
"Wont be long before critical mass is achieved," he wrote in the post on Wednesday, "and all the dominoes come crashing down."
The district Watkins aims to represent, as constituted now, includes a wide swath of northeastern Arizona.
A man named Tony Teora, a science fiction author who said Watkins had asked him to lead his campaign, answered the phone number listed on Watkins' state filing.
Teora said that Watkins had already retired for the night when The Arizona Republic called Thursday evening.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Ron Watkins, with QAnon ties, says he's running for Congress in Ariz.