“I do NOT send direct messages to anybody asking people to buy crypto coins or gift cards,” Watkins wrote last week. “Please do not engage with accounts who claim to be me and ask you to buy gift cards or crypto on their behalf. It is not me.”
At least someone was making money off Watkins’s campaign. Although Watkins, a QAnon-linked figure, does not have to file campaign finance reports until January, early indicators suggest that his bid for Congress has received underwhelming support. Previously, Watkins pledged to raise $1 million and unseat incumbent Rep. Tom O’Halleran in Arizona’s Democratic-leaning 1st congressional district. Instead, more than a month after launching his campaign, Watkins is making Telegram videos acknowledging “funding challenges” and attempting a pivot to Bitcoin fundraising.
“The mainstream media has been putting out articles saying ‘hey Ron, your campaign can’t make any money! What are you doing?’” Watkins said in a front-facing cell phone video uploaded to his Telegram channel on Friday.
“Well I want to address that now and say that yeah we’ve been having some funding challenges, that’s true. Lots of platforms will not work with us and so we’re having quite a difficult time getting things going.”
Watkins announced that he was working on a new Bitcoin donation model with a website that “you might or might not be able to find, but if you do find it, it is real and as things get rolled out we’re going to be building more and more steam and we’re gonna be raising more money and the point of this is to prove to the haters that we can raise money and we can win this.”
Tony Teora, Watkins’s campaign manager told The Daily Beast that the campaign had raised a few thousand dollars since amping up its fundraising calls last week, but that the campaign could not offer firm figures since it hadn’t yet opened all its mail.
Teora noted that Watkins hasn’t fully committed to running in the 1st congressional district, and might change districts in order to avoid running against the far-right Rep. Paul Gosar.
“Note: We are waiting for the redistricting in Arizona to complete as we may move to a new congressional district,” Teora said. “Ron does not (and will not) run against Paul Gosar, whom he holds in the highest regards.”
While Watkins waits, he has asked Telegram followers to send him as much as $2,900 in Bitcoin. That amount is legal for congressional races and Arizona races, although other states have capped individual cryptocurrency donations at $100, based on a 2014 FEC decision that gave the green light for campaigns to accept $100 in individualized Bitcoin donations.
Some of those rules stem from concerns about the traceability of cryptocurrency which, like cash, can be more difficult to track than checks or credit card payments. The homepage for Watkins’s campaign is sparse on text and devotes the largest of its three paragraphs to informing supporters that “federal law requires us to use our best efforts” to collect information on donors who give more than $200.
Flipping O’Halleran’s seat poses a challenge even for mainstream Republicans. The incumbent Democrat had raised more than $1 million by September, in a district that voted for President Joe Biden in 2020. And Watkins is no mainstream candidate.
Until late 2020, Watkins was an administrator on 8kun (formerly 8chan), a troll-ridden forum owned by Watkin’s father, Jim. 8kun was the home of QAnon, a far-right conspiracy theory that falsely accuses Donald Trump’s foes of Satanic pedophilia and cannibalism. The Watkins’ proximity to QAnon led observers to speculate that they were involved in the theory’s authorship, with a recent HBO documentary appearing to show Ron Watkins describing himself as “Q,” the conspiracy theory’s author. Watkins has denied those allegations.
Watkins’s foray into electoral politics represents an attempt to separate himself from those associations—but, as The Daily Beast previously reported, he’s had a hard time saying goodbye to the group, recently earning a keynote speech at a conference organized by people called “QAnon John” and “Q Queen Army.” Watkins has also remained deeply enmeshed with the conspiracy world, and been involved with the publication of leaked voting machine data which, despite Trump fans’ insistence, did not show any 2020 election malfeasance.
Just three days before Watkins announced his cryptocurrency pivot, he denounced cryptocurrency scammers on Telegram, warning fans to ignore imposters who posed as him to sell or solicit cryptocurrency and gift cards.
Cryptocurrency scams are common on Telegram, with impersonation channels passing themselves off as celebrities (both living and dead) to hype NFTs or plead for Bitcoin donations from gullible fans. One of Watkins’s followers replied that he’d been hit with similar Telegram scams that impersonated conservative activist Scott Pressler and fringe Arizona lawmaker Wendy Rogers.
Some Watkins followers claimed to have fallen for the scam. “Shit I bought you a gift card,” one wrote.
“I fell for it,” another said. “Got most my money back but I think it’s a scam. Don’t buy.”
Hours before warning of scammers, Watkins had, perhaps inadvertently, waded into what would soon become the biggest fight on the QAnon right.
“Lin Wood is a God-fearing Christian and has always been sincere and helpful in all my interactions with him,” Watkins wrote of Wood, a QAnon-hyping lawyer enmeshed in efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election “I don’t understand why he is being attacked, but the allegations certainly seem out of character and do not reflect the Lin Wood that I know.”
Days later, Wood—who has been trying to fend off far-right attacks that he betrayed Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse–leaked unflattering phone recordings of his former allies, including a recording of former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne accusing a colleague of grifting money, and a recording of former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn denouncing QAnon as a CIA-led “disinformation campaign.”
On Tuesday night, Teora suggested that Watkins’s stance on Wood remains unchanged. “As for Ron’s stance on Lin Wood, his previous comments stand for themself,” Teora wrote.