On Sunday, HBO dropped the first two episodes of the six-part docuseries “Q: Into the Storm,” which dives into the murky digital waters that birthed the QAnon movement. Writer/director Cullen Hoback started a quest in 2018 to discover the identity of Q, the shadowy figure whose cryptic posts about “deep state” conspiracy theories marshaled a cult of keyboard warriors whose actions exploded off the internet during the 2020 election, and most notably, during the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.
Because of the violence and damage that QAnon has wreaked (so far), sussing out who is behind Q is not only a worthy endeavor, it’s utterly crucial in our ongoing fight against digital misinformation and the havoc it sows. The first two episodes, available now, give an overview of the culture of Q, as well as a basic timeline. It also features Hoback’s trip to the Philippines in 2018 to meet and interview Fredrick Brennan, the founder of 8chan, the image board where Q posted their “drops,” as well as the father-son duo Jim and Ron Watkins, who bought the site from Brennan.
A 2020 episode of the Reply All podcast also explored the Watkins’ potential connection to Q, but Hoback does extensive work in the docuseries laying out the history of the internet and key players that went into the creation of 8chan, as well as linking these and similar digital spaces to other violent movements like Gamer Gate, and terrorist events such as the Christchurch, New Zealand, shooting. He ties all of this together while profiling the exceedingly quirky Watkins men, as well as Brennan, as he severs ties with his benefactors.
It’s fascinating, exhaustive and a must-watch, not only for people who may have been affected by QAnon, but for anyone who wants to understand how the cult of Q took on such influence. If you’re left with questions or just want to dive further into understanding the internet, the culture of the dark web and it’s political influence, here are some documentaries to help enhance your viewing of “Q: Into the Storm.”
Filmmaker Brian Knappenberger made two films about hackers and internet innovators that are incredibly illuminating about the structure, function and policing of the internet. His 2012 film “We are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists,” follows the secretive internet activist group Anonymous, who also feature in “Q: Into the Storm.” That’s available to stream for free on watchdocumentaries.com. His 2014 film, “The Internet’s Own Boy,” about the life, crimes and death of Reddit co-founder Aaron Swartz, is a fascinating deep dive into the freedoms or lack thereof on the internet, and the Catch-22 of attempting to regulate it. Watch it free with ads on Tubi, or rent for $2.99 on Amazon and Vudu. As an Anonymous addendum, Nancy Schwartzman’s doc “Roll Red Roll,” about the Steubenville, Ohio, rape case, showcases Anonymous in action during this high-profile trial. On Netflix.
Prolific documentarian Alex Gibney captured another notorious internet honcho, WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, in his 2013 doc, “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks.” Rent it for $3.99 on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube or Vudu. But be sure to pair that film with “XY Chelsea,” the excellent documentary portrait of whistleblower and former soldier Chelsea Manning, who supplied Assange with the confidential material, and served time for it, twice. Watch it on Showtime.
On the political side of things, Karim Amer and Jehane Noujam’s 2019 doc “The Great Hack,” about Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and digital privacy, isn’t just an incredibly important watch for the way we live our lives online (and vote in elections), it’s also a rollicking, globe-trotting thriller. Watch it on Netflix. Disgraced political operative and Trump associate Roger Stone also appears in “Q: Into the Storm,” so brush up on your Stone history with the 2018 doc “Get Me Roger Stone” on Netflix. Otherwise, dive into the world of conspiracy theories with the Netflix series “Conspiracy.” They’ve got all the hits: aliens, assassinations and fake moon landings.
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