How a QAnon influencer — who hints he may be JFK Jr. — became central to GOP election denial

QAnon troll and "consummate bulls**tter" Juan O Savin somehow assembled a coalition of GOP election-deniers

By Areeba Shah

Staff Writer

Published October 8, 2022 6:00AM (EDT)

A woman holds up a QAnon sign to the media at a Donald Trump campaign rally at Atlantic Aviation on September 22, 2020 in Moon Township, Pennsylvania. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
A woman holds up a QAnon sign to the media at a Donald Trump campaign rally at Atlantic Aviation on September 22, 2020 in Moon Township, Pennsylvania. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

A shadowy online influencer linked to the QAnon movement, who goes by "Juan O Savin" — and has hinted or implied that he may be the late John F. Kennedy Jr., a fixture of some QAnon fantasies — is also involved in efforts to install election-deniers in key positions where they can oversee elections.

As Savin has become increasingly popular among online QAnon believers, he has also gained in support and legitimacy among Republican candidates for office, some of whom have joined his coalition that's working to recruit and elect secretary of state candidates who support or echo Donald Trump's false claims about widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

But Savin — whose real name is Wayne Willott, according to his online rivals — wasn't always a prominent figure in the QAnon movement, according to a researcher for the Q Origins Project, who has helped track the movement since its beginning.  

"He was a figure of ridicule, in part because he is a consummate bullshitter," said the researcher, who asked to remain anonymous to protect himself from online attacks. "He portrays himself like this globetrotting billionaire James Bond spy who knows everything about everything."

Other QAnon influencers who had been steeped in the movement since the beginning, the researcher said, refused to take Savin seriously at first, largely because his brand has been built on allowing his followers to believe that he is John F. Kennedy Jr. in disguise.

Savin's reputation changed last October after Jim Marchant, a Republican candidate for secretary of state in Nevada GOP secretary of state nominee, said that Savin convinced him to run for office at a QAnon-affiliated conference called Patriot Double Down.

"I knew right then that they had figured out ... we need to take back the secretaries-of-state offices around the country." Marchant said. "Not only did they ask me to run, they asked me to put together a coalition of other like-minded secretary of state candidates. I got to work, Juan O Savin helped, and we did, we formed a coalition." 

The coalition has recruited a radical slate of candidates, at least four of whom have been endorsed by Trump. Five members, including Marchant, have already won their Republican primaries. 

Several members of this unofficial coalition made election denial a key part of their campaigns, including candidates like Mark Finchem in Arizona, Rep. Jody Hice in Georgia, Kristina Karamo in Michigan and Tina Peters in Colorado. Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who is now the Republican nominee for governor, is also a member of the coalition and a prominent election-denier. (Hice and Peters both lost their primary elections.) 

Marchant himself has repeatedly made false claims about previously losing a congressional campaign due to "election fraud and widespread election irregularities."

Election denial is just one of many dubious theories or false beliefs some of these candidates support. Before being elected to the state Senate, Mastriano posted more than 50 tweets referencing QAnon before they were deleted, according to Media Matters. He also promoted the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, a precursor to QAnon, in some of the recovered tweets and once spoke at a conference called Patriots Arise, organized by QAnon activists.

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Karamo, the Michigan secretary of state candidate, also spoke at a conference last year organized by prominent QAnon adherents, although her campaign says she does not personally support QAnon.

Most other Republican candidates across the nation haven't outright proclaimed their support for QAnon, even as Trump himself has come close to doing so. But supposed mainstream Republicans are increasingly employing beliefs accepted by the movement, such as the claim that sinister "deep-state" operatives control the government and that Trump is secretly waging war against them.

Tapping into the online reach of a QAnon personality like Savin carries tangible benefits for Republican candidates, according to Mike Rains, a researcher who hosts the QAnon-focused podcast "Adventures in HellwQrld."

"Actually having a QAnon promoter backing your play, that really sells you to the community," Rains said. It's a way to "prove your bona fides" with QAnon believers, "so now you are in good stead with them."

Kari Lake, the Republican gubernatorial nominee in Arizona, and J.R. Majewski, a candidate for Congress in Ohio, have both applied these tactics. Lake has appeared with several QAnon influencers, including 8kun administrator Ron Watkins (who some suspect was behind the original "Q drops") and has been endorsed by retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, a massive celebrity in QAnon circles.

GOP candidates see QAnon as a "powerful force" because believers are obsessed with voting — even though they claim that elections are "hopelessly rigged."

From July 2020 to January 2021, Majewski used his personal Twitter account to tweet the QAnon hashtag #WWG1WGA "more than 50 times" and also shared QAnon messages like "Silent MajQrity" and "Trump 2Q2Q," according to CNN. His account has now been deleted. Media Matters also uncovered videos in which Majewski said last year "I believe in everything that's been put out from Q," the apocryphal figure behind QAnon.

Candidates now see QAnon as a "powerful force" for getting votes because QAnon supporters are obsessed with voting and likely to vote as a bloc, Rains explained.

 "When you go into their social media platforms, all the QAnon  promoters are chastising their audience: 'How dare you think of sitting this one out!' 'How dare you think about letting the deep state win!' 'You have to vote!'" Rains said.

"They have this crippling cognitive dissonance where the other side is cheating, the other side has hopelessly rigged the election, so [they think] victory is basically impossible," he continued. To combat that QAnon influencers convince supporters they must vote in overwhelming numbers to "break their cheating system," through "sheer force of will." 

Savin has used his popularity among the community to his advantage, pushing out voter fraud theories, fantasies about a mass military takeover and even disinformation about risks associated with COVID-19 vaccines. 

In a recent interview posted online on Sept. 28, Savin even suggested that the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed at least 58 people was "manufactured" and that "there was no spike in emergency room admissions" afterward, according to Media Matters

This comes as no surprise to those who have frequently interacted with Savin (and/or Willott). He has previously warned of "civil war" if people "move past" the 2020 presidential election and claimed that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were an operation carried out by a "shadow government" agency to "manipulate the American people."

The Q Origins Project researcher described Savin as a longtime "fringe conspiracist figure who loves to insert himself into the popular conspiracy discourse." Internet sleuths say they have identified Savin's voice in recordings of radio shows, when he called in as "W the Intelligence Insider." 

Savin has found much greater credibility with his SOS for America Candidate Coalition, which says its goal is to "Counter and Reverse electoral fraud," piggybacking on the same Trump-driven idea that convinced many of its members to run for office in the first place. 

"It's just really wild," said Rains. "This guy who just runs these scams and is willing to let you call him JFK Jr. — that guy got a seat at the table to start coordinating with Republicans on, like, 'OK, this is how we end American democracy.'" 

By Areeba Shah

Areeba Shah is a staff writer at Salon covering news and politics. Previously, she was a research associate at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and a reporting fellow for the Pulitzer Center, where she covered how COVID-19 impacted migrant farmworkers in the Midwest.

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