City council meetings don’t often get heated in Sequim, Washington, a small town of roughly 7,000 people popular with retirees from Seattle.
But five days after militia members, crazed Trump supporters, and QAnon believers violently broke into the U.S. Capitol, a city council meeting buzzed with one question: did Sequim Mayor William Armacost still believe in QAnon?
“Do you still stand behind your belief that QAnon is a truth movement?” Armacost critic Marsha Maguire asked during a council meeting held on Zoom.
Armacost didn’t say anything, but the QAnon questions weren’t over. Next up, a Sequim resident who gave his name as “Josh” had an urgent question for Armacost: Could Armacost hold off on joining any new QAnon insurrections, even if just for a few weeks?
“At the very least, for the rest of this month, if you could promise not to commit any act of insurrection, that would be great,” Josh said at the meeting. “Just as a citizen of Sequim, I don’t like to be represented by terrorists. So if we could promise to finish out this month without killing anyone, that would be great.”
Questions about insurrections and QAnon have become the norm in Sequim, as its residents grapple with becoming what appears to be the first American town to have an open QAnon supporter as mayor. Now, with Armacost and his allies carrying out what critics have described as a QAnon coup of the town government, the fight over QAnon in Sequim has come to a head.
QAnon, a sprawling anti-Semitic conspiracy theory premised on anonymous posts from a figure named “Q” posits that the Democratic Party is run by a cabal of Satanic cannibal-pedophiles who will someday be arrested and executed by Donald Trump. QAnon supporters have gained a foothold in the GOP, with dozens of believers running for office in 2020 and two of them, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Lauren Boebert (R-CO), winning House seats. Now Sequim finds itself as the latest flashpoint in QAnon’s rise.
Armacost, a salon owner and Sequim councilmember, was selected by other councilmembers in January 2020 to serve as the town’s next mayor.
Sequim operates under a “weak mayor” form of government that turns a salaried city manager into the city’s chief executive, meaning that the mayoral position was traditionally not hotly contested. After Armacost was chosen, the Sequim Gazette listed Armacost’s chief responsibility as running city council meetings.
Armacost’s support for QAnon didn’t come up during his appointment as mayor, or his term on the Sequim city council. But Sequim residents soon noticed that Armacost appeared to be a QAnon believer. In Facebook posts dating back to 2019, Armacost often wrote “WWG1WGA,” a reference to QAnon motto “Where we go one, we go all.”
In Dec. 2019, for example, Armacost reposted a fictional story about “Marine Todd,” a college student who punches a professor who says God isn’t real. Armacost added “WWG1WGA” and three American flag emojis to the post.
Armacost has promoted other QAnon ideas on Facebook, too. In December 2019, he posted a YouTube that showed satanic hands embracing the U.S. Capitol Dome, with a title that claimed the world had been under the control of “Luciferians”—QAnon lingo for Satan-worshippers. Armacost declared the video a “must watch.” Armacost also posted a video positing that John F. Kennedy Jr. had faked his death to take on the deep state, a claim embraced by a faction of QAnon believers.
Armacost has also appeared at council meetings with a skull pinned to his suit—the logo of vigilante superhero “The Punisher,” which has also become a popular symbol for QAnon supporters.
“He is QAnon completely,” Maguire, who has organized Sequim residents to oppose Armacost’s promotion of QAnon, told The Daily Beast. “He’s not wavering, he’s down the rabbit hole and all that.”
Sequim residents have also accused Armacost of failing to take the pandemic seriously because of his QAnon beliefs. In August, Armacost went to the annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota—a festival that was held with few coronavirus restrictions and eventually became a superspreader event with nationwide implications. After returning to Sequim, Armacost brushed off citizens’ complaints and refused to quarantine, comparing people asking him to quarantine to drug addicts hooked on promoting fears about the virus.
Armacost went further in late August, using a city radio interview called “Coffee with the Mayor” to proselytize the conspiracy theory. Asked about QAnon during the radio show, Armacost urged listeners to check out “Joe M,” a leading QAnon promoter whose videos have also been embraced by retired Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling.
“QAnon is a truth movement that encourages you to think for yourself,” Armacost said. “If you remove Q from that equation, it’s patriots from all over the world fighting for humanity, truth, freedom, and saving children and others from human trafficking.”
Armacost claimed that QAnon, which has been tied to several murders and is considered a domestic terror threat by the FBI, is about “leaving a better future” for children. Armacost even used his city platform to promote QAnon videos.
“I want to encourage you to search for ‘Joe M’ on YouTube and watch his videos,” Armacost said.
Armacost’s open support for QAnon appears to have opened up a rift with Sequim’s longtime city manager, Charlie Bush.
A few weeks after promoting QAnon in his radio appearance, Armacost apologized for promoting QAnon in the radio show in a city press release with Bush.
Bush said Armacost had “commented on national politics that have nothing to do with the City of Sequim,” calling it an unprecedented promotion of national politics at “Coffee with the Mayor.”
“The intent of the meeting is to discuss issues specific to the City of Sequim,” Bush said in the statement. “Any responses to questions reflecting the personal opinion of the Mayor do not reflect policy positions of the Sequim City Council or the organization.”
Armacost apologized in the statement for promoting QAnon at the event, but didn’t back away from the conspiracy theory itself.
“During our recent Coffee with the Mayor, I was asked about Qanon,” Armacost said in his own portion of the statement. “While I believe that people should fight for truth and freedom, it was inappropriate to respond to this question as Mayor during a program designed to talk about City of Sequim issues.”
Still, Armacost didn’t back away from QAnon.
Months after the “Coffee with the Mayor” flap, Bush’s supporters in Sequim claim the city manager is paying the price for criticizing Armacost’s QAnon boosterism.
At the Jan. 11 meeting where Armacost was asked whether he would commit to not joining any future QAnon insurrections, the council later went into a private session hidden from the public. At the end of the session, the council voted 4-2 on a surprise motion from Armacost demanding Bush’s resignation as city manager.
Sequim’s local government observers were initially baffled by the move to push out Bush. The reasoning hasn’t been public, although Armacost’s critics suspect that the mayor moved against Bush for two reasons: criticizing Armacost’s QAnon comments in his statement last year, and refusing to block a Native American tribe in Sequim from building a medication-assisted treatment facility in the town, a topic that has become a hot-button issue for conservative voters in the town. Because the meeting that led to Bush’s ouster was closed to the public, it’s not clear why the council voted to fire him. Armacost said that Bush had not been fired for doing anything illegal, saying instead that the firing was caused by “a combination of things over quite a while.”
Matthew Randazzo V, an author and former Sequim resident, declared that Bush’s ouster amounted to a city government “overthrown by QAnon mayor.” Maguire claimed that Armacost’s faction on the council was emboldened to move against Bush the Capitol riot days earlier.
“I think that the events of January 6 have kind of emboldened them,” she said.
Bush’s ouster has inspired more opposition to Armacost, with a petition calling for the city to retain Bush garnering more than 1,200 signatures — roughly a seventh of Sequim’s entire population—as of this writing. Bush’s supporters have formed a group called the Sequim Good Governance League, with plans to rally for Bush to keep his job despite Armacost’s efforts to get him fired.
Armacost declined to comment. Bush, who is still the city manager as the city negotiates his severance package, also declined to comment.
Maguire, who has helped organize the opposition to Armacost, said the mayor’s support for QAnon has hurt Sequim’s image.
“It reflects very poorly on the town,” Maguire said. “Not only is QAnon absurd, but it’s violent at its core. I think we’re a little microcosm of what’s happening at the national level.”