Bizarre QAnon group’s monthlong JFK Jr. watch in Dallas shows how conspiracism breeds cults
The wing of the QAnon conspiracy cult that believes John F. Kennedy Jr. faked his death and will return to the American political scene as Donald Trump's running mate showed up earlier this month in Dallas after being told that both JFK Jr. and his assassinated father would make an appearance there—and then remained through Monday, the 58th anniversary of the late president's murder. They had been told both men would appear.
At Dealey Plaza—the site of the 1963 national tragedy—a large crowd of them gathered on an overpass overlooking the spot with banners reading "Trump/JFK Jr 2024," along with ordinary Trump banners and American flags. One of the participants told a local journalist: "It's reversing the spell of what happened to JFK Senior."
The gathering—comprised mostly of followers of a leading QAnon promoter named Michael Protzman, who persuaded a substantial group of about 100 people to remain in Dallas even after his Nov. 2 event at which the deceased Kennedys failed to appear—also was the apotheosis of the cultish nature of the QAnon phenomenon. Over the weekend, Protzman—who uses the moniker "Negative48"—had advised his followers, Jim Jones-like, in a video chat to get comfortable with the idea of dying, because only then will they learn the truth.
"Ultimately... we have to experience that physical death... let go... come out on the other side," one of the chat participants said.
When asked by video journalist Rex Ravita what message she hoped the Dealey Plaza rally hoped to send, a participant replied:
It's reversing the spell of what happened to JFK Senior. They faked their deaths. And they said senior did not die and Jackie did not die. He said there was 900 celebrities that had to fake their death due to the Illuminati and their contract that they had. So they called it the Gone With The Wind program, and they're supposed to return as well and let everybody know what was going on with the Illuminati, the record business and the Epstein island the child trafficking and human trafficking that they were all involved in.
Protzman, whose main claim to fame arises from his ardent promotion of the JFK Jr.-is-still-alive theory combined with gobbledygook health claims, and his followers represent only a minority subcult within the larger QAnon alternative universe. [In reality, Kennedy Jr. died in a plane crash in 1999. When asked in 2018 about the theory suggesting JFK Jr. was still alive and was about to join Trump in exposing the machinations of the globalist child-trafficking cult at the center of QAnon beliefs, the original "Q" poster confirmed that Kennedy in fact was dead; nonetheless, the theory has persisted within the QAnon cult.]
As Thomas Lecaque at The Bulwark observes, Protzman—like nearly all conspiracy theorists—embeds a deeply antisemitic core within his larger, mostly incoherent, narrative:
Protzman has some 97,000 followers on Telegram, and while the number of Q types gathered in Dallas has dropped from 350-500 in the first few days to perhaps 75-100 now, more than a week after the original promised deadline for JFK's reappearance, they are still there with him. Protzman seems to believe that JFK and Jackie Kennedy were the second physical incarnations of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and direct descendants in a genealogy so bizarre not even Dan Brown would touch it, with JFK Jr. as the Archangel Michael and Donald Trump as the Holy Spirit. And while all of this is outrageous and unhinged, he is apparently pushing anti-Semitic films and ideas—Europa: The Last Battle and Adolf Hitler: The Greatest Story Never Told—and leading his followers into ideologies ever more divorced from reality. QAnon is already based in part on medieval blood libel myths, used by Christians to justify massacres of Jewish communities. Protzman's group is spreading even more direct versions while waiting for the sign for their own crusade, bolstered by apocalyptic visions, the reemergence of dead celebrities to cheer them on, and inevitably the violence and massacres that must follow to create their Promised Land over the bodies of their enemies.
The Negative48 cult's disquieting power lies in Protzman's ability to persuade hundreds of people to come to Dallas, and for a substantial portion of them to take up communal living for a month in the hopes of witnessing "the Storm."
"I think what you're seeing here is really, undeniably a cult," said Mike Rothschild, author of The Storm Is Upon Us, told the Dallas Morning News. "The moment when the leaders of a cultic group start talking about the need for physical death to reach utopia is the moment to get the authorities involved," he tweeted.
Protzman clearly holds a powerful sway over his followers; days after the initial Nov. 2 rally, he ordered them to line up single-file in Dealey Plaza to await his instructions, and they dutifully did so. He continuously moved the goalposts regarding his predictions; after the Nov. 2 no-show, he promised believers that the big revelation instead would come on the Nov. 23 anniversary. So many of them stayed and waited, cutting off contact with their abandoned families.
"There is absolutely behavior control and thought control," Rothschild said. "He's telling people what to do. He's having people stand in straight lines to have conversations. He's telling people when to go outside, when to look up, when to look down. It is unquestionably the behavior of a cult leader."
The Negative48 cult is tearing families apart, as Vice's David Gilbert recently reported. Katy Garner, a nurse from Arkansas, told Gilbert that she had essentially lost her sister to Protzman's cult in the months since the November 2020 election.
"She left her children for this and doesn't even care. She is missing birthdays and holidays for this. She truly believes this is all real and we are the crazy ones for trying to get her to come home. But she won't," Garner said. "I don't believe she will ever come back from this. We are in mourning."
Garner said that, under Protzman's direction, her sister now is required to drink a hydrogen peroxide solution and take "bio pellets" to ward off COVID-19, and her phone calls are monitored. She also has handed over about $200,000 to the cult.
Other people with friends and family members in Dallas told Gilbert that they feared for their loved ones. "I'm very worried about her safety," one said. "We don't know if she's given him any money, but her husband is about to cancel her cards. She's blowing through money fast."
A woman whose fiancé traveled to from Missouri to Dallas for the Nov. 2 rally, went home, and then returned a week later, told a Telegram chat devoted to people whose friends and family are in the cult that she fears her fiancé may be lost to her for good.
"I keep asking him to come home, and he keeps saying something big is going to happen and he doesn't want to miss it," she wrote. "I have already thought that perhaps my fiancé might be penniless if he stays with this group. I just hope they wake up before losing everything."
One member of Protzman's group spoke about cashing in his retirement savings in order to fund his stay in Dallas on a Telegram chat.
Families across the country are wondering if and when their loved ones will leave Dealey Plaza and Dallas behind. "My wife has been there since October 31," wrote one Twitter user. "My brother as well," responded another.
Local Dallas residents are wondering the same things. The Negative48 cult's persistent presence in downtown Dallas is becoming a source of concern among local residents. "I live right by the AT&T Discovery District where [Protzman's followers] first gathered," Dallas resident Isaac Robert told Rolling Stone. "We saw a tweet and went to check it out for a good laugh, but I walked away concerned and shocked. I hate that they're still here and that Dallas has to be associated with that. If a cult leader can make a guarantee that doesn't come true and people still passionately follow him, he could tell them to do literally anything and they would. That kind of power in the hands is terrifying and dangerous for local residents."
As behavioral scientist Caroline Orr Bueno observed on Twitter, these kinds of shifts extreme rhetoric are often a signal of imminent violence—the kind that Matthew Coleman, another man radicalized by the QAnon cult, acted out earlier this year.
"These are basically the exact same spiritual/religious teachings that the guy in California was getting into just before he brutally murdered his two young children," Orr tweeted.
"My sister may be too far gone, but it's not too late to bring awareness to others," Garner told Vice. "Do not fall into this trap. Do not believe what these people say. They are all delusional and brainwashed. And if you notice a family member isolating themselves, speaking of nonsense, say something. Bring them back to reality. We didn't put two and two together. She hid this from us for a year. Don't let what happened to my family happen to yours. Pay attention and hold the ones you love tight."