It’s hard out here for a grift.
Ron Watkins, the former 8kun administrator and alleged QAnon mastermind, is running for Congress in Arizona. He’s hit the campaign fundraising trail with a grab bag of conspiracy theories and a small legion of internet followers.
But Watkin’s internet fame hasn’t translated into big fundraising hauls.
“His first campaign finance filing came in, and it seems to support the idea that not too many people want Mr. QAnon himself in Congress,” Fever Dreams co-host Kelly Weill told fellow host Asawin Suebsaeng on this week’s episode of the Daily Beast podcast.
Watkins’ first campaign finance filing shows approximately $33,000 raised… with some of it coming in the form of a loan from his dad, 8kun operator Jim Watkins. That puts him well behind his GOP primary opponents, who’ve raised 10 to 20 times more than Watkins.
It also puts the campaign behind its more ambitious fundraising goals.
In November, Watkins’ campaign told The Daily Beast it had been pulling in more than $1,000 a day, and that it had other, unknown sums waiting in unopened envelopes. (In November, the campaign said those funds came from a “light” trial run, and that it would soon enter a new phase in fundraising.) Of the donors named in the campaign’s itemized receipts, only one even lives in Arizona. And only one donated less than $250. So much for a grassroots Arizona political movement.
At the end of the day, Watkins’ inability to catch fire with his campaign isn’t the result of Watkins being too extreme, per se. It’s that, unlike much of the Trump-dominated, mainstream GOP, he doesn’t have the bare shred of discipline necessary to lightly dress up that extremism.
“It’s extreme “soft bigotry of low expectations” mood going on right now [in the Republican Party], because it’s like, ‘OK, you can say QAnon shit publicly, but then later say, ‘Oh, the fake news media is misinterpreting things, and twisting my words,’ when in fact they’re very much not,” Suebsaeng said. “You can do that. But to full-on be, ‘Oh, he might be the guy behind QAnon…That is a bridge too far. The other thing, [though], OK, fine.”
Elsewhere on the Fever Dreams episode, Suebsaeng and Weill welcome this week’s special guest, Wall Street Journal reporter Byron Tau, who takes listeners on a ride through the Wild West of modern-day data collection, private and state hacking wars, and how ordinary citizens’ personal devices can suddenly turn them into unwitting spies for, say, the U.S. military.
It’s a glimpse into the mind-blowing realities of online privacy (or, lack thereof) that is equal parts terrifying and fascinating.
“I got obsessed with this a couple of years ago when I stumbled onto the fact that the Department of Homeland Security in the United States was buying all of the data from apps—basically, weather apps, games—all of the location data from these apps is available for sale, shows a lot of detail on the movements of huge numbers of people, hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people,” Tau explained. “It was all being purchased for this tracking program. And that got me very interested in all the other ways in which our consumer technology generates data in ways that we don’t understand, and can’t always know, and all the ways in which governments are taking advantage of that data.”
Tau continued, “That includes everything from our transaction data, that includes social media profiles, and that also includes all this metadata that our phones generate, our computers generate, our browsers generate… All that stuff generates data and all that data is being harvested somewhere, somehow, by someone. And trying to understand that world has been a big obsession of mine over the past… two years.”
Additionally, Weill and Suebsaeng try to get to the bottom of two enduring mysteries about Real Time host and comedian Bill Maher, who lately has fancied himself a courageous truth-teller to the liberal scolds, the wokest mobs, and the COVID hawks of the Biden era.
“Why does he laugh so much at his own jokes?” Suebsaeng asked. “Why does he laugh and snigger so much at each punchline that he wrote, or was more likely written for him, in his opening monologue?… He’s been doing this for decades… More so than your average famous comedian, he just cannot stop laughing at his own material.”
Also, why did the allegedly funny Maher keep saying that the one time he was beaten up on a schoolyard was somehow worse than children allegedly being “gently masturbated” by Michael Jackson?
“What would compel somebody to say that?” Weill asked, baffled. “I mean, is there a gun to his head right now?!”
“He brings up this [schoolyard] thing a lot, as if he suffered through D-Day,” Suebsaeng said. “You got beaten up on the playground once… Get the fuck over it, man.”
Finally, if you’re looking for the most glaring piece of evidence that Maher hasn’t updated his stand-up material since 1989, listen and subscribe today.
Fever Dreams listeners can do both those things at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher.
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