Ron Watkins, who is believed to be a central force behind the QAnon right-wing conspiracy theory, has announced a series of Ethereum-based NFTs that he will auction off to fund a “secret project” that he believes will “save America.”
The CodeMonkeyZ Freedom Series is a collection of five screenshots of tweets from his now-banned Twitter account. Watkins announced the project to his Telegram group, which counts more than 425,000 subscribers, describing the NFTs as a way to raise money for “Project Freedom,” an as yet unspecified initiative.
The first Freedom Series NFT, which depicts a tweet sent on January 3 about the impending January 6 attack on the United States Capital, is now up for auction on NFT marketplace OpenSea. As of this writing, the current high bid is 0.21 ETH, or about $640. The auction will run until October 7.
An NFT acts like a deed of ownership to a verifiably scarce digital item. In this case, Watkins is selling ownership rights to an image file: a screenshot of a tweet that is no longer available on Twitter, due to his account ban. Other public figures have sold notable tweets as NFTs in the past, such as Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey selling his first tweet for $2.9 million in March.
QAnon is a widely disproven conspiracy theory that began in 2017, focusing on supposed “Satan-worshipping pedophiles” that are secretly in positions of power, as researcher Travis View told Slate. Believers saw it as a campaign against former president Donald Trump, who is viewed as a messiah-like figure in the movement, and spoke of a coming “Storm” event that would see the purported offenders arrested en masse.
Watkins is a former administrator of the 8kun (previously 8chan) message board, where conspiracy theories like QAnon have thrived. He resigned the position on November 3, 2020, the day of the U.S. presidential election, and has made right-wing media appearances in the months since. Watkins was banned from Twitter following the January 6 riots this year, via Twitter’s policy on “coordinated harmful activity.”
Although he has denied being Q, the pseudonymous leader of the QAnon movement, Watkins alluded to performing the role during a filmed conversation with documentarian Cullen Hoback for HBO’s Q: Into the Storm series. He corrected himself, once more affirming that he is not Q, but Watkins is still believed by many to be a central figure in the movement and widely cited as its "founder" and "mastermind."
Watkins’ fans aren’t all thrilled about the NFT move, however. Some of his Telegram followers didn’t understand what NFTs are or why he’s selling screenshots of tweets, while others decried the move as a cynical cash grab. “Q told us if true Patriots had info they would NEVRR [sic] CHARGE for that information,” wrote follower Barb Watson.
“For anybody who misunderstood my original post, I wanted to make it clear that I am trying to raise funds for what I believe is a critical project to help America,” Watson added in a follow-up post.