(Image: Sipa USA/Graeme Sloan)

The threat posed by the extremist right wing QAnon conspiracy movement is set to be targeted by the incoming Biden administration’s top intelligence agency in the wake of the movement’s growing influence in US politics.

The movement was prominent in the January storming of Capitol Hill, where QAnon adherents played a role in attempts to overturn the US election in favour of Donald Trump.

In Australia though, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) is still refusing to make any comment on the close friendship that exists between the family of Scott Morrison and a family which includes two of Australia’s leading QAnon followers.

The prime minister’s wife Jenny Morrison is best friends with Lynelle Stewart, whose husband Tim Stewart is a highly visible QAnon proponent in Australia. The Stewarts’ son Jesse, 22, is also a fervent QAnon backer. At the same time Lynelle Stewart has been on the government payroll, drawing a salary as an assistant to Jenny Morrison. In days gone by the families have mixed freely together.

The PMO has maintained a policy of silence on the QAnon question stretching back to Inq’s revelations in late 2019. Back then Inq documented how Tim Stewart claimed to have influence on the prime minister when it came to the wording of Morrison’s 2018 national apology to the survivors of institutional child sex abuse.

In one text message Stewart promised that “disturbing information” he had been given on school sex education would go “straight to Scott”.  Stewart had gained a large following among QAnon adherents under his Twitter handle of Burn Notice (@BurnedSpy34), at one point reaching well over 30,000 followers before the platform moved to suspend QAnon accounts.

A screenshot of a private message sent to Tim Stewart (Image: Supplied)

In the months since Trump lost the US election in November 2020 Tim Stewart and his son have barely taken a backward step in their support for the movement. The conspiracy, which has moved from the fringes of US politics to centre stage during the Trump years, grew around the idea that Trump was placed in the White House by an anonymous official named “Q” to cleanse the world of Satan-worshipping, paedophile elites who allegedly populate the so-called “deep state” and control the levers of power. 

A YouTube video shows Tim Stewart and son Jesse (using their pseudonymous Twitter names Burn Notice and Negan_HQ, respectively) in a lengthy discussion with US QAnon supporters on a channel called the “Patriot Transition Voice”. The name is a reference to the “patriot” takeover of the United States being planned by QAnon.

Recorded two weeks after Trump lost the election, the channel displays the QAnon hallmark fusion of esoteric religion, supposed patriotism and revolutionary fervour. It is an article of faith, of course, that the election was stolen from Trump.

“Pray — behold the hand of God as he delivers us from tyranny”, the video says in its introduction over a backdrop of rolling biblical clouds dissolving into a sepia image of the founding fathers huddled over the US constitution. Those words appear to be a portent of the conflict to come. “Believing they could steal our freedom without a fight, again they were wrong” it warns.

At the time the video was made there was much to look forward to. Trump lawyer Sidney Powell would be filing the court actions which they believed would overturn “fraudulent” election results. Tim and Jesse Stewart were welcomed as cherished Aussie brothers before an hour and a half or so of conspiracy banter.

Despite Twitter’s vow to suspend the accounts of QAnon proponents, Jesse Stewart continued tweeting until only yesterday under the name of Negan (@Negan_HQ) — styling himself as a fictional tough guy from the Walking Dead television series. Jesse Stewart also has an account on the far right-wing platform Gab, a platform which appears to be a digital shrine to the glory of Donald Trump.

Jesse Stewart’s Twitter account (Image: Twitter)

In the days after the storming of Capitol Hill on January 6 and the failure to stop Congress accepting Biden’s legitimate electoral college victory, Jesse Stewart took to twitter to pass on to QAnon followers that Australia’s PM would be taking “official leave” until January 18, a move which he called “interdasting (sic) timing…”.

This is presumably a reference to the days before Trumps’ departure on January 20 and an imagined role Morrison might have in the Trump/QAnon saga.

An image from Jesse Stewart’s Twitter account (Image: Twitter)

On Thursday, Twitter finally suspended the Negan account, and the tweets have since become unavailable.

Stewart senior appears to now be way down the QAnon rabbit hole. When Inq contacted him this week he denied any inference that he might support the kind of violence which took place at Capitol Hill.

“If you print anything about me in that light I will sue you for defamation” he wrote in a text. In any case, he added, the Capitol Hill storming was “also being exposed as organised by Antifa and others and arrests are occurring”.

The proposition that Antifa, a broad left-wing anti-fascist and anti-racist movement, is behind the Capitol Hill violence is yet another conspiracy promoted by pro-Trump acolytes to explain the violence which occurred.

The QAnon question has split the Stewart family, with Tim Stewart’s sister Karen having recently gone public with her concerns.

Karen Stewart told Inq that the family has reported concerns to “authorities” about what they believe is a tweet from Tim — under a separate and since-deleted Twitter account Spies Like Us (@RealStealthSpy) — supporting the Capitol Hill action.

The tweet said the riot would be “remembered as one of the greatest days on earth: When the civilians and the military retook control of the republic”.

A tweet from a since-deleted account thought to belong to Tim Stewart (Image: Twitter)

Stewart has outright denied to Inq that he uses Twitter any more, though said that some Twitter accounts appear to “push out my blogs”. Twitter yesterday cancelled the Spies Like Us account. It is not known whether this is linked to questions which Inq put to the PM’s office earlier this week.

Karen Stewart is anxious about the apparent radicalisation taking place within her family, but the PMO appears to have adopted a strategy of ignoring the story altogether.

In October 2020 — just four months ago — an official from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet told Senate estimates that Lynelle Stewart had a security clearance to work at Kirribilli House. The same official said she knew nothing of an FBI decision at the time to categorise QAnon as a domestic terror threat in the USA. Nor did she know that Tim Stewart had just been suspended from Twitter for “engaging in co-ordinated harmful activity”.

But the QAnon story isn’t going away any time soon and the link may become harder to ignore if — when — it gains further media exposure.

In the United States, QAnon supporters have been grappling with the impact of Trump’s departure from office and have been seeking ways to reinterpret the conspiracy to adapt to the reality that the “Great Awakening” — heralding the mass arrest of deep state paedophiles — has not yet come to pass.

Some saw signs in Trump’s departure that the movement would continue, noting that the 17 US flags framing Trump’s farewell address corresponded to Q being the 17th letter of the alphabet. Others took heart in Trump’s final words: “We will be back in some form. Have a good life. We will see you soon.”

The Washington Post reported that on one QAnon channel commentators seized on the farewell words of Eric Trump that “the best is yet to come!” — a common slogan for QAnon adherents.

“It simply doesn’t make sense that we all got played,” the Post quoted one bewildered supporter as saying.