The baffling multiverse that is the internet seems relatively simple and straightforward after you wander into its weirdest corner: Q-Anon.
Its followers believe that a high-level government agent has been secretly posting cryptic clues about a conspiracy on Trump-friendly message boards, National Treasure-style. The basics: Democrats are supposedly running a massive pedophilia ring (possibly involving Tom Hanks), and President Donald Trump -- with the help of Special Counsel Robert Mueller -- has been covertly defeating them at every turn.
But that’s just the tip of the tentacle. If President Trump seems untethered from fact, these people take it to skyrocketing levels.
The conspiracy has widened to include Pizzagate, Sandy Hook denial, and the supposed murder of Democratic National Committee employee Seth Rich. There are even theories that the eponymous Q is actually the late John F. Kennedy Jr.
Recently, the hacktivist group Anonymous posted a threatening (but weirdly upbeat) video calling out Q-Anon’s true believers. They were amused by all the buckwild theories at first, the video says. But now Q-Anon has metastasized, taking advantage of “the misinformed and poorly educated.”
“We gonna wreck you,” it says.
As it turns out, the video wasn’t an empty threat. A few days later, somebody managed to unmask and dox two Q-Anon promoters, one a 50-year-old East Grand Forks resident named Timothy Holmseth. His phone number, home address, email address, and date of birth all appeared online.
Holmseth has confirmed a few things. Yes, all the information posted about him online was correct. And he’s an ardent Q follower and supporter. But he doesn’t think Anonymous was really behind the doxxing. He believes it was a secretive “group of child traffickers and pornographers,” allegedly involved in the 2009 disappearance of a 5-year-old girl from Florida named Haleigh Cummings.
That’s not something he made up on the spot. Holmseth has been worrying away at this conspiracy theory for years. He claims to be an award-winning investigative journalist, publishing a blog and filing countless suits against a plethora of targets. They range from the City of Grand Forks to United States Customs and Border Protection. (Holmseth didn’t respond to interview requests.)
As recently as 2017, a Florida man named Thomas Olsen -- who claims to have never met Holmseth -- took him to District Court, saying Holmseth had been “attacking” him for two years with wild accusations, including that he somehow produced child pornography of the missing Florida girl, and that his lawyer, Kim Picazio, was blackmailing Florida officials to let him off easy.
The complaint says Olsen and Picazio were in good company -- that Holmseth also accused the FBI, CIA, police departments, and the governors of Florida and New Jersey of being a part of a “shadow government” child trafficking scheme.
“Mr. Holmseth has relentlessly blogged and written about missing children throughout the years, to the point of obsession,” the complaint reads. He's also written about Caylee Anthony and Jon Benet Ramsey.
The lawsuit spoke of photos from Jon Benet Ramsey’s autopsy plastered on the front page of his website, and a paucity of evidence throughout: “Mr. Holmseth has yet to provide a shred of proof relating to any of his accusations to this date.”
Records show he also has drunk driving and trespassing convictions in 1990, felony theft in 1995, and lost custody of his minor son “due to his obsession with these missing children cases.”
Olsen eventually dismissed the case, ostensibly to file it in state court.
Still, Holmseth's Facebook page is covered in well wishes and prayers on his behalf, encouraging him in his lonely battle against a panoptic evil. “Be safe,” they say. “Stand tall and stay in the fight.”
“Whatever Q is, it has brought a lot of people together,” Holmseth told Vice. “And it has brought a lot of valuable information to the American public.”
When it comes down to it, believing in a conspiracy theory is a little like believing in God. You don’t look for proof She exists. You demand proof that She doesn’t.