"Paul Levinson's It's Real Life is a page-turning exploration into that multiverse known as rock and roll. But it is much more than a marvelous adventure narrated by a master storyteller...it is also an exquisite meditation on the very nature of alternate history." -- Jack Dann, The Fiction Writer's Guide to Alternate History

Monday, April 12, 2021

Q: Into the Storm: Riveting, Breathtaking, But Not Completely Persuasive

I just binge-watched Q: Into the Storm, a six-part documentary on HBO Max*.  It's about as breathtaking, daring, and informative a documentary, episode for episode, as ever I've seen.   [Spoilers follow....]

That's in large part because it's extraordinarily current, ending a day or two after the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021.  But it's also because Cullen Hoback, who made the series as well as stars in it as its investigator, managed to present a life-and-death true story, with real people you gradually come to know surprisingly well, and a grade-A real mystery all in one series.

The mystery is at the heart and soul of this documentary: who is the Q in QAnon?   We think Q's a he.  We know Trump was (and maybe today still is) the mythical arch hero in Q's and the QAnons' mythology, and that the real Trump began to retweet and maybe truly believe some of their ideas.   We know that the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol was at least in part inspired by their beliefs.   We know that, although conspiracy theories have likely been with humanity since Neanderthals were the most prevalent form of our species, that QAnon is to date the quintessential creation of social media.  What we don't know is: who was or is Q?

Into the Storm is the story of how Hoback struggled to answer that question, and indeed thinks he answered it.   The reason I'm putting the resolution of this documentary in those terms, though, is that ... I'm not completely convinced about Hoback's answer.  The two best choices that Hoback presents are Steve Bannon and Ron Watkins, 8Chan administrator and who knows what else.  (I assume you know who Bannon is.)  In a decisive turning point in the documentary, Watkins tries to convince Hoback that Bannon is Q, via IP address locators, and the fact that Q seemed to have access to information that only a Trump insider would have.  But Hoback doesn't think Q would be so stupid as to make his IP address available even to as savvy an Internet player as Ron Watkins, and finds that Bannon said Michael Flynn (another QAnon hero) was a disaster, and Hoback therefore concludes instead that Ron Watkins is actually Q, and was trying to throw Hoback off track by offering up Bannon.

I'm willing to say, on the basis of documentary, that I think Ron Watkins is likely Q, but I'm not totally convinced.  One of Hoback's main reasons for thinking Watkins is Q is Watkins' inconsistent statements about what he knew and didn't know about what Q was posting.  But people make inconsistent statements all the time.   Also, unless I missed it, I don't think Hoback ever provides a clear explanation of how Watkins, who wasn't a Trump insider, obtained the Trump insider info that Q displayed.  And just as Hoback thinks Ron Watkins deliberately said things to disguise his true identity, surely Bannon would have done the same (such as trashing Flynn) to get people to look elsewhere for Q.

So, I think Bannon is still in the running, as at least an outside shot.  Or Q could be someone else, or maybe a team of people, another hypothesis considered then discarded in the documentary.  But that ambiguity does not make Q: Into the Storm one bit less worthy of viewing, as an all too-frightening, all too human, astute depiction of what happened and almost happened in America and the world.

*Special thanks to my student, Kayla Auza (in my Digital Media and Public Responsibility class this term at Fordham University), who recommended that I watch Into the Storm.


CA said...

Hi Paul, I found the doc really compelling. Hoback offers a deep immersion into the creepy & noxious recesses of the Dark Web - enough that we are ready & willing to believe that Ron Watkins is Q. (He convinced me). I wanted to take a good hot shower after watching it. It became more obvious to me that the doc becomes more about web-geek outlier culture than the question of 'who is Q'. Very Matrix.
-Carol Arcus

Paul Levinson said...

Definitely yes about the hot shower and the immersion in web-geek outlier culture, Carol. Not completely convinced about Ron Watkins, though. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think there were a few, maybe even many Qs, and Ron Watkins was at most one of the posters who used that name.