This is a preview of Right Richter, our newsletter about the extreme right wing. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox, sign up for it here.
In this week’s newsletter:
- Self-proclaimed QAnon creator arrested with “Whizzinator.”
- Breaking down the often warring QAnon crews.
Self-proclaimed ‘BabyQ’ arrested, allegedly with plastic penis
Perhaps the most controversial faction within QAnon centers on Austin Steinbart, a twentysomething man nicknamed “BabyQ” who claims to be Q himself.
Steinbart’s supposed origin story is mind-bending even by QAnon standards, centering on the idea that an Austin Steinbart from the future has come back in time as Q to leave clues to the currently existing Austin Steinbart. Despite facing near-total ridicule from other QAnon personalities and pending federal extortion charges, Steinbart has a devoted fanbase, including a rotating cast of roughly a dozen acolytes who live with him in a house in Scottsdale, Arizona, and devote their lives to promoting him as the face of QAnon.
It sounds nuts, but people have bought into this stuff! Or at least, they did until Steinbart was arrested yet again this month while allegedly in possession of a plastic penis meant to dodge drug tests.
Steinbart had been on pretrial release since his initial arrest in April, after allegedly publishing brain scans of former NFL players and sending his fans to harass a tech company. While Steinbart’s decision to live in a house with his diehard followers and produce a series of YouTube channels about how great he is might seem like it would violate some sort of court rules, the federal judge handling Steinbart’s case apparently didn’t seem to mind it.
Even better, Steinbart had been “hired” by a pro-QAnon film crew making a documentary about him. While the judge initially banned Steinbart from using the internet, his so-called job appears to have consisted of posting about QAnon online, so the judge restored his social media access.
Alas for BabyQ, he didn’t abide by his other court release rules, which included restrictions on smoking marijuana. Steinbart claims to have smoked pot roughly a dozen times in late August—unluckily, right as some discontented Steinbart lieutenants with noms de guerre like “Ms. Qniverse” began realizing that Steinbart maybe wasn’t receiving instructions from his future being after all.
Several of Steinbart’s fans defected from the house, and at least one wrote letters to the FBI and other law enforcement officials alleging drug use taking place at his home. On Sept. 1, Steinbart was arrested yet again.
But Steinbart wasn’t just in trouble for the pot. Instead, according to court records, Steinbart allegedly was in possession of a “Whizzinator”—a plastic, penis-shaped tube device meant to be used to smuggle in clean urine during a drug test. The Whizzinator became infamous in 2005 after a Minnesota Vikings player was caught packing. Now, it has ensnared yet another bright young star.
During a court hearing on Tuesday, Steinbart admitted to smoking marijuana but sidestepped the Whizzinator issue. Now his release has been revoked, and he’ll stay in jail pending trial.
The most immediate casualty of Steinbart’s Whizzinator misadventure appears to be the documentary about him. This week, the documentary’s creators said they would have to put the film on hold, both because Steinbart is in jail and because people keep making fun of the Whizzinator.
In their statement, the filmmakers’ blamed the “embarrassing popularity” of a hashtag mocking Steinbart as one reason they had to end the project.
The hashtag: #FreeTheWhizzinator.
I have a new explainer out on QAnon, the pro-Trump conspiracy theory that’s seeping into the GOP and even grabbing a House seat. It covers a lot of the basics, including what to do if someone you love is getting into QAnon.
But this is Right Richter, and we can get a little weirder! While QAnon is often portrayed as just one thing, it’s actually an umbrella term for a set of roiling, often feuding factions and tendencies. This week, let’s break out the various factions within QAnon.
QAnon launched with a series of anonymous clues on 4Chan in Oct. 2017, promising that Hillary Clinton would, at last, be locked up at the end of that month.
That didn’t happen! But that prediction marks QAnon’s initial entry point, focused on a shadowy deep state that was out to undermine Trump—basically, just one step beyond what Fox News viewers get each night on Hannity.
As Robert Mueller’s investigation dragged on, QAnon offered a compelling counter-narrative for people who couldn’t get enough of characters with names like Stefan Halper and Joseph Mifsud. With the end of the Mueller investigation, this QAnon angle morphed into obsessing over Attorney General Bill Barr indicting various FBI officials involved in the investigation into Trump’s campaign.
While the promise of payback for the “deep state” officials who took on Trump may have initially drawn many people to QAnon, the thing that distinguishes QAnon from so much of the right-wing media is the satanic sex stuff. This is where Pizzagate comes in.
Pizzagate kicked off in the autumn of 2016, when Russian hackers released stolen Democratic emails through WikiLeaks. The references in Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s emails to “pizza” convinced various internet conspiracy theorists that Washington pizzeria Comet Ping Pong held a Democratic child sex dungeon in its basement.
Pizzagate reached its apex of infamy in November 2017 when a North Carolina man, addled by the conspiracy theory, fired shots inside Comet. That violence—and the lack of any sex dungeon—discredited Pizzagate.
Rather than go away, however, Pizzagate morphed into a component of QAnon less than a year later. Except QAnon believers take it up a notch, obsessing over the idea that Democratic elites don’t just abuse their children—but drink their blood in a process they call “adrenochrome.”
At the QAnon march in April 2018 in downtown Washington, D.C., I heard speakers rattling off Bible verses and interspersing with QAnon drops. They were treating them all as clues laying out the QAnon worldview, a place where Donald Trump is poised to triumph over Satan.
Christianity, particularly evangelical Christiainity, is a huge thing in QAnon. QAnon promoters with names like “Praying Medic” frame QAnon in Christian terms, pulling even more people into the conspiracy theory.
The JFK Jr. Dead-Enders
One of the strangest parts about QAnon is the very vocal faction that believes John F. Kennedy Jr. faked his death to become Q.
This group has scoured copies of Kennedy’s George magazine for clues, and became briefly convinced that Kennedy would make his triumphant return and replace Mike Pence on the Trump 2020 ticket at the Trump-centric July Fourth celebration. At the Trump hotel ahead of the fireworks, several women walked around with pictures of JFK Jr. on their shirts or hats.
“He’s alive!” one woman with a fan showing Kennedy wearing a MAGA hat whispered to me.
The JFK Jr. faction is even convinced that one specific person, fedora-wearing Trump superfan Vincent Fusca, is JFK Jr. It’s obviously not true, but Fusca hasn’t publicly said he’s not JFK Jr.
Fusca might be having one of the wildest times of anyone in the Trump era but, alas, he’s turned down my interview requests.
The Children’s Crusade
They’re not the biggest part of QAnon, but a bizarre network called the Children’s Crusade has formed around former airline pilot and 9/11 truther Field McConnell. I wrote a two-part investigation into this group in August, covering the various QAnon crimes they’ve been connected to.
Members of the Children’s Crusade have been involved in crimes across the country—even harboring a fugitive QAnon believer accused of planning a violent attack on a foster home. While we’re used to thinking of QAnon violence as the creation of lone wolves, the fugitive incident raises the possibility of more organized QAnon law-breaking.
Save the Children
The average QAnon supporter looks a lot like the average Trump supporter: white, Christian older. But that’s starting to change, thanks to the Facebook, QAnon-crazed Instagram yoga influencers, and one hashtag: #SaveTheChildren
These unlikely new QAnon believers have flooded the streets of cities in America and the United Kingdom around the banner #SaveTheChildren, a usefully vague QAnon frontgroup that sucks in well-meaning people concerned about human trafficking. As the QAnon Anonymous podcast has usefully shown, however, just exactly what the children are being saved from is quickly revealed when organizers are pressed: they’re being saved, they say, from having their adrenochrome drained, or being eaten at Comet Ping Pong.
Dubbed QAmom or Pastel QAnon, this take on QAnon has exploded on social media. Combining with natural-healing and anti-vaccine mom internet subcultures, #SaveTheChildren has pulled in all kinds of people that wouldn’t normally be drawn to QAnon.
This is an unstable breakout opportunity for QAnon—so powerful, in fact, that the old-school QAnon-heads claim this is all a false-flag meant to embarrass the usual QAnon hardcore. Instead, the #SaveTheChildren crowd are younger, more diverse, and not necessarily even Trump supporters.
It raises some ominous questions about how far this thing is going to go!