(Image: Mitchell Squire/Private Media)

Tim Stewart and Scott Morrison go back a long way — 30 years to be exact. The two met at their local Baptist church in Sydney’s Maroubra, with the men’s wives (Jenny and Lynelle) becoming best mates.

The two couples remained close. Morrison’s ascension to the prime ministership in August 2018, however, marked a transformative moment in the lives of the two men. Stewart’s embrace of the fringe QAnon conspiracy theory became more and more pronounced as the movement gained in numbers and political influence under US president Donald Trump.

Stewart’s standing in the Australian and international QAnon community grew exponentially. Unrestricted on Twitter, the Morrison family friend became a leading figure, with his spiritual pronouncements on the “Great Awakening” and the “coming of the storm” — end of days concepts that would mean the end of the all-powerful secret group of satanic paedophiles that runs the world, as QAnon has it. (Q is said to be an anonymous senior figure in the former Trump administration providing clues to followers via the dark web’s 8chan (since rebranded as 8kun) message board.)

By late last year, Stewart had disappeared far down the rabbit hole of the fast-spreading conspiracy movement that a year earlier had been classified by the FBI as a domestic terror threat in the US. The FBI cited instances of planned and actual QAnon-linked violence, most of it driven by baseless accusations of satanic paedophile activity.

In the run-up to the US elections of November last year, Stewart’s growing status in the QAnon movement was confirmed when he and his son appeared as special guests on Patriot Transition Voice (PTV), a leading QAnon site in the US. PTV is hosted by two QAnon stalwarts known as Duncan and Steve (no surnames are used). The then YouTube-hosted platform promoted the quintessential QAnon mashup of God, freedom and patriotism, with frequent homages to Donald Trump as the Il Duce strongman figure at its centre.

It was in this mix that Stewart, using his Twitter persona “Burn Notice” under the Twitter handle @BurnedSpy34, was welcomed as Aussie royalty. A QAnon identity known as “Bear” — first name Scott — paid tribute to Stewart as the great Twitter sage of the Awakening.

“When I first started my Twitter account I was following [Tim Stewart] and I just got this vibration of what an amazing human being this person was,” Scott said. “I sent him a message saying ‘I don’t know who you are but something tells me you are supposed to help me with this ascension that’s coming’.

“He has done more for me and [my wife] in terms of spirituality and enlightenment and ascension than anybody on this planet and I am forever grateful,” Bear rounded out.

Stewart, under his “Burn Notice” Twitter identity, attested to “how much awakening is occurring”. “The awakening is profound,” he said, “and by that I mean the sensitivity to what God’s doing and a sensitivity to other people and spiritual connections worldwide.”

The 90-minute session, hosted on YouTube, has since been deleted. Crikey has kept a copy, which you can watch here — if you dare. (Watch just the highlights, below).

PTV has since moved to new online platforms that have become home to alt-right conspiracies like QAnon: a platform known as Gab has replaced Twitter, and PureSocial Network has replaced Facebook. Calling itself the home of “unbiased, smart” media, PureSocial publishes an alternative universe of ideas: “the truth” on the 2020 US election; the “most important vaccine video you will ever share”; a finding that 94% of COVID-19 deaths are linked to “underlying conditions”.

Patriot Transition has been keeping the QAnon dream alive. Last month it organised a rally in Dallas, Texas — the “For God and Country Patriot Roundup” — giving a platform to key Trump supporters including former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and Trump lawyer Sidney Powell, a leading proponent of the false vote count conspiracy. Flynn argued that there should be a Myanmar-style coup in the US to reinstate Donald Trump, while Powell collected more funds for her pro-Trump not-for-profit organisation “Defending the Republic”.

At the beginning of this year, Stewart, using a new Twitter name, tweeted his support for the storming of the US Capitol in which QAnon adherents played a prominent role. He has since been silenced on mainstream social media platforms, though there is evidence that his son, Jesse, has migrated to the alt-right Gab channel.

Stewart’s move to the extremes has become increasingly uncomfortable for the prime minister.

Crikey understands the Morrison and Stewart families were originally intending to holiday together in Hawaii at the end of 2019, before Stewart’s QAnon links became known via The Guardian, Crikey and Twitter.

It is not, after all, a good look to have Australia’s leading QAnon figure just one step away from The Lodge — especially when newly installed US President Joe Biden has ordered more action on QAnon and other conspiracy movements.