In early 2019, HOPE not hate noted that the traditional far right had evolved from a movement dominated by organisations with conventional membership structures into a far more disparate movement that was instead taking its lead from an array of online influencers. This development highlighted how social media allows people to unite over shared beliefs online without having to commit themselves to a particular authoritative leadership or manifesto.
As a movement born and raised on social media, QAnon assumed this form of influencer-directed structure from the outset. While Q’s posts on 4chan and later 8chan represent the closest thing the movement has to a foundational text, their cryptic nature and exhortations for readers to contribute their own research has given rise to a legion of interpreters who seek to flesh out and develop their own narratives. These influencers do not usually claim any intrinsic authority, but can build up audiences of hundreds of thousands of followers who look to them for both narrative development and encouragement.
While there are many minor British figures promoting QAnon online, only two have achieved popularity to rival their US counterparts: Martin Geddes and Charlie Ward. They are notable not just for the size of their online followings but in how they differ, illustrating the diversity of ideology and activity that exists within QAnon, and how it might evolve to fill new spaces in the future.
Martin Geddes is by far the most significant British figure in the world of orthodox QAnon, and among the most popular QAnon influencers in the world. Geddes was an unusually early adherent to the theory, claiming to have “watched QAnon right from the outset”. By January 2018, three months after the first Q post, he had openly endorsed the theory.
My homeland is a soggy European archipelago, and not America. Yet this fight for independence and freedom is everywhere the same, and transcends national boundaries. My loyalty is to all good citizens of this planet, not to parasitical monarchs and power-mad egomanics
Describing himself as a “volunteer propagandist”, Geddesruns one of the most popular QAnon Twitter accounts in the world, with over 210,000 followers. He has also written lengthy tracts in support of the movement online and in print, and in November 2019 travelled to the US to meet American influencer Dave Hayes (AKA Praying Medic), an evangelical faith healer and one of the most high-profile QAnon influencers in the world.
Yet Geddes is in some ways unusual among his peers. Many of his counterparts present their social media accounts in ways that reflect both the violent rhetoric of Q and the hyperpartisan internet subculture from which it emerged, with anonymous usernames containing the words “pain” or “punish”, and profiles heavy with meme images such as Pepe the Frog. Geddes, however, uses his real name and photo on his profile, and his social media output in general largely eschews the meme-heavy content of his colleagues.
He also appears to be more reflective than many in the world of QAnon. A collection of his essays offers lengthy explanations of his beliefs, laying out what he perceives as the extensive evidence supporting QAnon and addressing the accusations levelled against it by sceptics. In one tract from July 2018, he declares his certainty that QAnon is a real and earth-shattering historic event, but goes on to consider the possibility that he might be wrong:
On the other hand, if I/we are wrong, then the power of social media and propaganda to create and inflate bubbles of insanity — trapping intelligent people of goodwill — greatly exceeds anything we dared to imagine. The information age will be darkened by having divided society, destroying a consensus reality.
Geddes clearly considers himself to be among the “intelligent people of goodwill” that subscribe to QAnon. Yet his ideology is firmly placed in the orthodox tradition of the movement, and is no less toxic than that of his less sophisticated comrades. For all his contemplative moments, Geddes does not shy away from contemplating the death penalties that will be handed out to those guilty of “treason”, which according to Q includes many, if not most, of President Trump’s domestic political opponents. So how did a mild-mannered communications consultant and Oxford alumnus become a leading figure in this extreme and belligerent scene?
From his own words, he was previously an unlikely candidate for a movement that centres on the adulation of President Trump; he describes himself as a “leftish-liberal”, claims to have “never voted for a right-of-centre political party” and that he initially viewed Trump as merely a “loud-mouthed billionaire with a colourful history, and the probable lesser of two evils”.
Moreover, while the QAnon movement draws influences from various New Age philosophies and conspiracy theories, its orthodox form is strongly imbued with Christian theology and language, with Q regularly quoting from the Bible and urging his followers to “put on the armor of God”. Geddes, on the other hand, speaks of having a deep distrust of organised religion, prompted by his childhood experience of his family’s relationship to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In 2018, Geddes addressed this strange juxtaposition between his personal identity and that of his counterparts in the global movement in which he now plays an influential role.
Geddes claims to have “totally changed my
perspective as more verifiable data sources have arrived (with Q just being one
of many)”, and his Twitter history does provide some clues as to his journey
prior to the arrival of QAnon. Days after the 2016 Presidential election he
accused Hillary Clinton of being a “treasonous psychopath”, and suggested that
the evidence for that claim was being uncovered by “a detective process
comparable to one that revealed paedophilia and blackmail at the highest levels
of UK society”.
This strongly suggests that Geddes had been closely following the Pizzagate conspiracy from the very outset, and that his adoption of QAnon was part of a longer descent into conspiracy theory. In the months preceding Q’s first posts in October 2017, Geddes also retweeted a string of far-right figures unconnected to QAnon, including former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and the British anti-Muslim activist Anne Marie Waters. While Geddes might still consider himself to be a “leftish-liberal” at heart, his recent journey does not reflect those denominators at all.
It is the “epic battle of good versus evil” that Geddes sees playing out around him that is the central core of QAnon belief, and one that has come to dominate his life. His role in the movement might perhaps have come at some personal cost; he has alluded to the fact that some family members consider him a “conspiracy theorist” but remained optimistic that they might one day come to appreciate his efforts. It is perhaps more likely that it is Geddes who will one day be forced to accept that the movement he has given three years of his life to is, in his own words, “a bubble of insanity”.
Ward is very much a representative of the newer, more eclectic strand of QAnon. Whereas Geddes has been promoting Q since late 2017, Ward first began promoting QAnon content via his YouTube channel in March 2020, when interest in the movement first began to spike around the world. By mid-September his channel had reached 170,000 subscribers before YouTube removed it; his replacement channel already has 43,000 subscribers as of mid-October and is likely to rise further unless it is removed.
His channel is prominently branded with instantly recognisable QAnon slogans and symbols and, like many QAnon promoters, is very public about his Christian faith, with many of his early videos titled simply Jesus loves you. Yet he interviews and promotes a wide range of guests from preexisting and tangential conspiracy theories that have little to do with either orthodox QAnon lore or Christianity. His recent guests have included anti-5G campaigners, New Age spiritualists and even Black Hebrew Israelites, who explained their belief that black people are the only true descendants of the Biblical Israelites as Ward nodded along in seeming agreement.
Living in Marbella, Spain, Ward has been described as a businessman, entrepreneur and oil tycoon and appears to live a jet setting lifestyle, listing his location as “Dubai, Singapore, Marbella” on his Instagram profile. His videos contain advertisements for companies selling products from vodka to precious metals, often with a unique discount code that can be used when purchasing. Similarly, the captions to his videos direct his viewers to a dizzying list of websites that Ward appears to control, and his website invites readers to join his ‘Insiders Club’ for a €100 annual fee or purchase equipment that supposedly protects from the harmful effects of 5G radiation.
Ward has also done perhaps more than
anyone else to popularise the claims of New Zealand man Joseph Gregory Hallett,
who styles himself King John III and claims to be the true heir to the British
throne. Until his removal from Twitter and Facebook in late summer, Hallett had
amassed tens of thousands of followers, largely drawn from QAnon supporters,
for his grandiose fantasies, which also included a claim to be the messiah.
Ward has produced 19 videos in promotion of Hallett’s claims, while his friends
David Mahoney and Jack Kidd appear to have had a major role in producing
Hallet’s documentary, The Hidden King.
Ward is particularly focused on the NESARA/GESARAconspiracy theory, which holds that President Trump will soon unveil laws that create a “financial reset” that will, among many wild claims, lead to universal cancellation of debts, the removal of all taxes bar a flat sales tax and a universal basic income that will cover all household expenses. Like so many aspects of eclectic QAnon lore, this theory has never been mentioned by Q, and has its roots in a longstanding financial scam. Despite the utopian, debt-free economy that is supposedly to arrive “in the next six months or so”, Ward and his guests frequently stress the importance of various investment opportunities that viewers should take advantage of, usually recommending the buying of gold, silver or various cryptocurrencies.
This is not the only area in which Ward’s QAnon narratives might also be providing business opportunities for others. In a video from July titled “F%&K THE MASK”, Ward discussed his strident opposition to the use of facemasks with his close friend Lee Dawson, who also lives in Marbella. The pair suggested that viewers should instead seek to build up their immune systems through exercise and a healthy diet. The video soon became a sales pitch for a nutrition supplement sold by a company that Dawson works with, which he claimed allowed you to“absorb 90% of what you eat instead of the normal 30%”. Ward gave a link to Dawson’s website in the caption to the video, and again provided a discount code for his viewers to use when ordering.
While there is no evidence that Ward has received any financial benefit from the promotions that his channel is hosting, the melding of his eclectic QAnon narratives with promotion of investment opportunities or health advice illustrates the ways in which conspiracy theories can sometimes also present a risk of profiteering or financial exploitation.