For regulars on the internet forum 8kun, Election Day was supposed to be a revelation. President Donald Trump would win in a landslide, maybe sweeping all 50 states, in a glorious victory foretold by 8kun’s most famous user: the anonymous personality known as Q.
Instead, Trump lost, Q has gone silent, and one of 8kun’s main administrators has quit.
8kun, a shady forum previously known as 8chan, has survived challenges in the past. The site went dark when it lost support from internet services companies in 2019 after three alleged mass shooters used the site to advertise their massacres. But now 8kun appears to be facing a more existential threat as the QAnon conspiracy theory flounders, the forum’s top talent jumps ship, and prominent users float conspiracy theories about corrupt dealings behind the scenes at 8kun.
8kun is ground zero for QAnon, the far-right conspiracy theory that falsely accuses President Donald Trump’s opponents of Satanic pedophilia and cannibalism. Q, who claims to be a high-level military intelligence figure, posts exclusively to 8kun. That means the forum has effectively hitched its fortunes to the theory.
“The only reason people are still going to 8chan at all is because of Q,” Fredrick Brennan, who founded the site as 8chan, told The Daily Beast. “All the other users have basically left. It’s pretty abysmal over that right now, as far as user engagement is concerned.”
In 2015, Brennan turned over control of the forum to Jim Watkins, a Philippines-based American who previously made his fortune running porn sites. Watkins’ adult son Ron also helped run the forum. Brennan and the Watkinses had a falling out in 2018, leading Brennan to denounce the Watkinses, and the latter to file a lawsuit against him.
Although Q used 8kun to promise a resounding Trump victory, warning lights flashed for the site in the weeks before the election.
In late October, 8kun briefly went offline after another web services company (the latest in a long line) severed ties with the site, following a phone call from security researcher Ron Guilmette. (The company told Guilmette that they didn’t know 8kun was one of their clients.) 8kun was able to get up and running with help from a Russian firm that provided, according to Guilmette, something called “bulletproof hosting.”
“You can send them complaints about their users, but they won’t do squat about them,” Guilmette told The Daily Beast.
Guilmette also revealed in late October that a Watkins-owned company behind 8kun was technically defunct, since it had fallen behind on corporate paperwork, leaving the company liable to have all its IP addresses seized. (Watkins updated the paperwork within a day of the story coming to light, Nevada business records show.)
Other elements of Jim Watkins’ shadowy internet trail received new scrutiny in the run-up to the election. Mother Jones reported that Watkins’ company had previously hosted domain names that appeared to allude to child exploitation material, with URLs like “xxxpreteen” that referenced rape and ages of minors. It was unclear what, if anything, the suggestive URLs hosted. Watkins told the outlet that “we’re not child pornographers, and we don’t host child pornography, and we don’t condone that.”
Election Day brought more tumult for the site. Ron Watkins, who had long served as 8kun’s administrator, announced his departure.
“I am resigning as admin of 8kun effective immediately,” he tweeted. “Extensive battles have been fought tooth and nail during a self-imposed civic duty protecting the final fortifications of online free speech, guardedly navigating these tumultuous times. Today I bring ship to dock. Farewell.”
Ron told The Daily Beast that “I left to focus on other things in my life that need some TLC (mostly marital and health). Also wanted to have more time to focus on my woodworking hobby.”
Election Day was also the last time the site heard from Q. The anonymous poster, who’d held out Trump’s re-election as part of a grand plan to send all of Trump’s enemies to prison, has not posted since the polls closed. This silence isn’t Q’s longest; the person went silent for a month in 2019.
But in the wake of Trump’s defeat, the silence is weird—and it serves as fodder for a separate theory, which claims the Watkinses are behind the Q account.
Jim Watkins did not return requests for comment, and he has previously denied being Q. But as Brennan has noted, their stewardship of the site gives them unique access to the anonymous poster. 8kun users do not post from conventional accounts, but can use “tripcodes,” chains of numbers and letters that identify a unique user.
Brennan said he “definitely think[s] it’s connected, in some way, that Ron quit and Q stopped posting,” although Ron refuted the allegation.
“Im not Q and i have never had private correspondence with Q,” Ron told The Daily Beast. “My resignation from the project has nothing to do with Q.”
Trump’s loss plunged many Q believers into a crisis of faith. “It’s hard to keep the faith when your wife and daughters have left you and we didn’t get the decisive MOAB [mother of all bombs] win we deserved on election night!!” one representative post on a Q forum read.
Some posts, potentially from trolls, in Q’s home subforum on 8kun this week insisted that the poster had died by suicide.
Other movements on the scene suggested at least one high-profile Q influencer was priming to pull the plug on QAnon—and blame 8kun in the process. NeonRevolt, a pro-Q blogger and author of a book on the topic, shared a “blind item” days after the election, alleging that Q’s 8kun account might have been compromised.
“Currently on the Dark Web, there is a post on a board listing things for sale,” read the screenshot shared by NeonRevolt. “One of the items for sale is the password/control of account to an account that has not posted in several days. The asking price is $1M. Is it really them? It seems as legit as can be for a site that sells all manner of illegal goods.”
The post implied that the Q account was for sale, although neither The Daily Beast nor other internet sleuths were able to locate such a listing. Brennan also said he believed the blind item to be bogus. But its popularity with a prominent pro-Q blogger suggests that some of the theory’s loudest proponents are looking for a way to wrest the conspiracy theory away from its author on 8kun.
“I think Neon is using that to set up a scenario where he would be able to say ‘because Q hasn’t posted in so long, the tripcode has been taken over, therefore whatever drop comes, is not to be listened to,’” Brennan speculated. He noted that Q and his acolytes have previously butted heads against even-more fringe elements of the theory, with Q debunking followers who claimed that JFK Jr. is alive.
Many Q followers continued with their JFK Jr. talk, a sign that the conspiracy theory had, in some ways, outgrown its leader. That would also mean outgrowing 8kun, the website that has staked so much of its reputation on the theory. And as of Wednesday, with Q still quiet and Ron Watkins ostensibly gone, the site’s path forward looked less certain than it has in even some of its most embattled moments.
Brennan said he was still waiting for proof that anyone besides Ron Watkins was even running the show.
“We need to see a successor named and acting as a successor,” he said. “We haven’t seen that yet, so who the hell’s in charge over there? Nobody?”