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QAnon group planning Las Vegas convention

Updated August 20, 2021 - 1:18 pm

QAnon is coming to Las Vegas, with one of the country’s largest gaming companies playing host to the far-right conspiracy group.

The Patriot Voice, a group closely linked with the QAnon movement, is holding the Patriot Double Down event in Las Vegas from Oct. 22-25 at Caesars Forum convention space near the Strip, according to the group’s website.

QAnon, which has been recognized by the FBI as a potential domestic terror threat, started in the fringes of the internet in 2017 but has crept into mainstream right-wing politics and grown to count tens of millions of American adults as followers. The group believes a secret group of Satan-worshipping, cannibalistic pedophiles control the “deep state” government.

If there were any doubts about QAnon’s link to the Patriot Double Down event, they were erased with the release of a promotional video last week.

The 40-second video posted on the event’s website is full of Q messaging and references to its conspiracy theories, even calling the event the “Great Awakening Weekend.”

“The Great Awakening” refers to the QAnon belief that former President Donald Trump will expose a group of supposed Satan-worshipping, pedophile cannibals and declare martial law.

The promotional video also includes “The Punisher” comic book icon, which is now used as a QAnon recruitment tool, and the words “Where we go one, we go all” appear on a playing card. The phrase has become a rallying cry for Q followers.

But the most overt symbol appears 33 seconds into the video: a brief image of Caesars Palace, its famous logo replaced with a large, golden “Q.”

The video had appeared on the front of the event’s website, but was removed as of Monday. A new, edited version of the video showed up on the site Tuesday, this time without the Q above Caesars Palace.

Calls to a phone number listed on the event’s website were not returned.

In a statement, Caesars said it provides convention space “for a wide range of industries and organizations.”

“Events taking place in our facilities are not indicative of the company’s views, nor are they an endorsement of any group or organization. We require all of our guests to comply with local laws and mandates, including the current indoor mask mandate,” the statement said.

Marchant among speakers

Among the scheduled speakers at the Las Vegas event is Jim Marchant, the one-term Republican Nevada assemblyman who lost a congressional race in 2020, unsuccessfully sued to overturn the election based on unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, and is now running for secretary of state.

Marchant said in an email on July 29 that he did not know it was a QAnon event and that he “met the people that are putting it on briefly one time and I can’t even remember their names.”

Marchant added that he had heard of QAnon, “but I don’t know what it is.”

“I am not really worried about speaking at this event. My goal is to get in front of as many Nevadans as I can as a candidate for Secretary of State. And I think there will be a lot of people at this event based on the history of events like this,” Marchant said. “There was one in Las Vegas in April that was put on by We the People AZ Alliance and there were over 1000 people there. It was good for me.”

Public relations and public health

Mia Bloom, a Georgia State University professor who studies terror groups and extremism, said she is surprised that a company like Caesars would be willing to host the event, not just because of the potential public relations backlash, but the public health risk it could pose.

The tendency of QAnon followers to hold strong anti-mask and anti-vaccine beliefs threatens to turn the event at Caesars Forum into a COVID-19 super spreader event, Bloom said.

“It will have a detrimental effect on the health of the people who live in Las Vegas, as well as the guests who come to the hotels but aren’t part of this event, because you have this crowd of vaccine deniers, anti-maskers,” Bloom said.

Fellow extremism researcher Sophia Moskalenko, who co-authored the book “Pastels and Pedophiles: Inside the Mind of QAnon” with Bloom, said the event could also give greater reach to a conspiracy group that has existed mostly online.

“As a major venue, I’d worry about offering a platform for, for example, speeches about how vaccines are harmful or ineffective or that COVID is not an actual virus,” said Moskalenko.

The registration page for the Patriot Double Down contains examples of the group’s COVID conspiracy views.

The group heaps praise on Caesars for holding the event at its venue and offering its attendees discounted room rates at three of its nearby Strip resort properties — Harrah’s Las Vegas, The Linq and The Flamingo — while weaving in conspiracy language about the COVID-19 pandemic.

“‘The Forum’ was completed in 2020 but had many of its booked events cancellend due to the plandemic. We are absolutely honored to be able to host our event there,” the page reads.

“Plandemic” refers to video that went viral last year that outlined the false claims of discredited Nevada researcher Judy Mikovits that Dr. Anthony Fauci created the coronavirus to gain power and profit off of the vaccine.

In addition to Marchant, advertised speakers at the event include several prominent figures in the QAnon movement, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn as well as Ron and Jim Watkins. Jim Watkins owns 8kun, previously called 8chan, an anonymous online message board that has acted as a home base for Q followers, while his son, Ron Watkins, was a former administrator for the site.

The Patriot Voice is associated with the online alias “QAnon John,” who has been promoting the event on his Telegram channel that has more than 56,000 subscribers, and has referred to the group as “our organization, The Patriot Voice.” According to the Dallas Observer, QAnon John is John Sabal, who along with his wife, Amy, organized a similar Qanon event in Dallas in May.

At the Dallas event, Flynn was asked by an audience member “why what happened in Myanmar can’t happen here,” referring to the coup in which the Myanmar military seized control of the government after a short stint of quasi-democracy that started in 2011.

“No reason. I mean, it should happen here. No reason,” Flynn responded. After the event, Flynn took to social media to say his words were misrepresented, and that he did not suggest that there should be a coup in the U.S.

Radical rhetoric

The QAnon movement has spread mostly online, but events like those put on by The Patriot Voice could embolden some of the group’s followers, Bloom said.

“It’s taking it to the next level,” said Bloom. “It allows them to move off the virtual participation as a keyboard warrior, and live vicariously and meet these people who they hold in such high esteem.”

Part of what has drawn those followers is Q’s radical rhetoric, which plays on their anxieties and doubts, said Moskalenko.

A study from the University of Maryland released in February showed that 56 QAnon followers have committed ideologically motivated crimes in the United States, including more than two dozen who participated in the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6. Of the 31 who were arrested before or after the Jan. 6 riot, 68 percent had documented mental health concerns.

The mental illness that appears prominent among QAnon followers is “definitely being exploited,” Moskalenko said.

“Fear mongering and rage inducing and anxiety provoking. Anyone who is already vulnerable to those states are possibly going to be pushed into mental illness if they don’t already have it,” she added.

It’s not just the followers’ mental state that is being exploited, Bloom said.

Tickets for the event start at $650 for the weekend and top out at $3,000 for the “High Roller VIP” pass. Those prices, Bloom said, are an indicator of how the organizers view QAnon followers.

“People see that there is money to be made,” she said.

Contact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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