‘The audit is The Great Awakening’: How QAnon lives on in Arizona’s election audit

Protesters gather outside the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix as ballots from the 2020 general election are examined and recounted by contractors hired by the Arizona Senate on April 30, 2021. (Photo: Thomas Hawthorne/The Republic)

PHOENIX — It’s not as if Q is spinning ballots around on turntables or waving them under ultraviolet lights. But Q is definitely at work on the floor of Veterans Memorial Coliseum where all 2.1 million general election ballots cast in Arizona’s most populous county are being audited.

Q’s influence is not obvious, perhaps as cryptic as Q’s postings that claimed the looming takedown of a global cabal, words that spawned the wide-ranging QAnon conspiracy theory

Q is in the thoughts of those standing in 100-plus-degree heat outside the Phoenix arena where the audit is taking place, cheering on the work inside. Q is the reason ultraviolet lights were briefly employed as part of the audit. Q has provided a sustaining energy atypical for supporters of a losing candidate.

Q has been in the background in the aftermath of Election Day, when devotees joined the crowd who rallied outside Maricopa County’s election headquarters, aiming to stop the stealing of the election they were certain was happening inside.

Q followers barraged elected officials with pleas for this audit. And when Republican leaders in the state Senate ordered the audit, they hired a company whose CEO had shared QAnon-related messaging on social media. 

Since 2017, Q had guided followers to expect former President Donald Trump to save the world from a secretive cabal of sex trafficking and pedophile government officials before he left office.

Q followers are now focused on another fantastical possibility: overturning the 2020 presidential election and returning Trump to the White House.

The audit, they say, will prove widespread election fraud here that will lead other states to examine their results, a theory they summarize by saying that Arizona will be “the first domino to fall.”

The senators who ordered this audit say it is not intended to overturn the election results or lead to Arizona reversing the certification of its electoral votes for President Joe Biden.

But much of what has happened here has seemingly spiraled out of their control, under the leadership of Doug Logan, CEO of Cyber Ninjas. Before being hired for the audit, Logan had regularly posted theories and thoughts about the election being stolen to his Twitter account.

The Senate is paying Cyber Ninjas only a small portion of what the audit will cost. No one will say where the rest is coming from. But major funding appears to be coming from Trump extremists such as Q believer Lin Wood.

The November election results turned the reliably red Arizona into a battleground purple state, with voters showing a preference for Biden over Trump and electing Mark Kelly a U.S. senator, putting both of Arizona’s Senate seats into the Democratic column.

But since the audit began, Arizona has become the focal point for right-wing extremists, including QAnon followers, across the world.

The audit has served to buoy the spirits of some QAnon followers who had lost hope after Trump’s defeat.

“This is the best I’ve felt since the election,” said Dave Hayes of Gilbert, who under the name Praying Medic has authored two books about QAnon since 2020. Hayes was a guest May 10 on a QAnon-focused talk show broadcast over the internet.

Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates, a Republican, said he knows just a small sliver of his constituents support this audit but that outside forces with growing extreme views have had their voices amplified. 

“It’s this radicalization that continues to expand that makes me want to speak up (against the audit),” Gates said. “I hate to use the term ‘last stand,’ but as a Republican, if we don’t speak out at this point, when are we going to do it?”

‘The audit is The Great Awakening’

The wide-ranging QAnon theory, at its core, believes a high-level government agent with Q-level security clearance has been writing cryptically since 2017 about the real goings-on in the government. Given the lack of specificity, the posts became a real-life riddle with followers debating what the writings meant.

Q has quieted after the election, but the silence only allowed new theories to take root among believers.

The army of devotees, who call themselves “digital warriors,” stopped parsing Q’s writings and waiting for happenings, and instead started to research how the election was conducted and share theories of how it might have been corrupted.

QAnon followers have coalesced around a theory that the audit itself would trigger the major event long prophesied by Q. Some follow every development of the audit on channels devoted to it on Telegram, a messaging application that has grown in popularity as Facebook and Twitter have culled users who post disinformation. 

“The audit is The Great Awakening in how we’ve been manipulated by those that want to control us,” Just Stan wrote June 2 on the Arizona Audit Watch Chat channel.

Another user, Pepe Lives Matter, posted to Telegram on Wednesday that the audit was always part of Q’s foretold plan, as it would prevent corrupt officials from rigging future elections. 

“The plan is 117 percent still on track and there’s no reason to be worried,” the person wrote. Q adherents attach significance to the number 17 as Q is numerically the 17th letter of the alphabet.

Gail Golic, who serves on the precinct committee for her Scottsdale legislative district, and who has talked in speeches and videos about being in touch with state lawmakers regarding the audit, has posted versions of the Q phrase “great awakening” on both her Twitter and Telegram accounts.

“The Great Awakening Is Upon Us!” Golic wrote on her Twitter page on Tuesday.

Golic told viewers on YouTube that she had stopped working as a real estate agent and was instead devoting herself full time to investigating election fraud. She said on the video she was living off unemployment and donations she solicited through her social media channels.

Reached by phone on Thursday, Golic said she did not have time for an interview as she was at the airport about to board a flight to New Hampshire. She was one of the scheduled speakers at a Friday rally for an audit in that state.

In the QAnon world, certain phrases — red pill, enjoy the show, great awakening — signal to others knowledge and fealty to the Q belief system.

Similarly, a vocabulary has sprung up around the audit. Most notably, the word “domino.” 

According to the theory, once enough fraud is found to overturn Arizona’s electoral results, similar audits would be done in other key states. In the words of adherents, Arizona would be the first “domino” to fall.

The excitement around this theory has grown in recent days, as interest in replicating Arizona’s election audit has spread to other states. Alaska, Georgia and Pennsylvania lawmakers toured the coliseum to find out how they could do an audit just like this one back home, and a Georgia judge allowed a conspiracy-minded group to recount absentee ballots. Similar calls for audits are happening in New Hampshire, Michigan and Wisconsin. 

The Arizona Republican Party chairwoman, Kelli Ward, used the domino phrasing during an interview with One American News Network on June 1. “I think it is the first domino that’s going to fall because we’re seeing little noises from all around the country,” Ward said. “I think the country has woken up.”

Months before, Mike Lindell, the CEO of MyPillow and Trump supporter, used the phrase speaking by Zoom to a rally in Queen Creek.

“We need one state,” Lindell said at the March 10 rally. “They’re all going to fall like dominoes.”

Lindell, in his speech, said that the chance of an audit had made remarkable progress since February, when all looked bleak. He compared it with watching a movie. The dark middle was over, he said, and a bright ending was coming.

“I believe Donald Trump will be back in office this summer,” Lindell told the crowd, which rose to its feet.

The New York Times and the National Review have reported that Trump has also told associates he expects to be back in the White House by August.

The domino imagery is a favorite of Liz Harris, a 2020 state legislative candidate who has researched claims of dead people on the voting rolls and has said she organized a grassroots group of canvassers to go door to door for months this year to check the veracity of registration data. 

It is not clear whether her work has become part of the official audit. Harris has at first told The Arizona Republic that she was involved in the audit, but then said she couldn’t say if she was.

Harris posts video updates about the audit on her YouTube channel as many as three times a day.

In a recent video, Harris has a picture hanging behind her of dominoes, with the words “May Arizona be the first Domino to fall.” A second sign says, “The best is yet to come,” another Q catchphrase.

On her Facebook page, Harris posted a QAnon video, an essay and a photo she apparently took herself of a man wearing a shirt with the QAnon slogan #WWG1WGA, according to Media Matters. That hashtag stands for “Where we go one, we go all,” a QAnon rallying cry.

Harris was among the scheduled speakers at a May 22 event in Glendale that gathered a cross section of the conspiratorial world. The agenda also listed Jovan Pulitzer, who has claimed fraudulent ballots were used in the election and that he has developed technology, which he said would be used in the audit, to detect them. Another scheduled speaker was Patrick Byrne, former CEO of Overstock, who started an advocacy nonprofit that he said was raising money for the audit. 

Sitting outside the Dream City Church, taking a break from the day of speeches, Christy Reno of Phoenix said she feared Trump supporters like her would be labeled domestic terrorists and rounded up should Joe Biden remain in office.

Reno described herself as being “obsessed” with the election. She said she watched all eight hours of the quasi-hearing Rudy Giuliani hosted with Arizona lawmakers at a downtown Phoenix hotel in November. Her online research led her to writings of Q, which she said held some merit.

Reno said that if the audit found fraud, Trump supporters would not be content with simply making procedural changes for future elections. She said she would want Trump to return to power.

“Between you and I, if there’s not something done,” she said, “I think there will be a civil war.”

QAnon has been in Maricopa County

QAnon has lurked in the background of Arizona politics.

Adherents attended rallies calling on Gov. Doug Ducey to roll back pandemic-related restrictions on businesses. Q followers organized “Save the Children” rallies, masking a belief that a global cabal was engaged in child trafficking behind an innocuous name.

And in the days after Nov. 3, as votes were still being counted, Trump supporters, some of them armed, took to the parking lot outside of the county’s election department.

Among them: followers of Q.

Jake Angeli, who supports QAnon, chants during a rally to open the state at Wesley Bolin Plaza in Phoenix on May 3, 2020. (Photo: Michael Chow/The Republic)

Jake Angeli, known as the QAnon shaman, clad in face paint and a horned and furry helmet, emerged as a leader at those demonstrations.

Angeli was among those arrested after taking part in the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, part of what the government said was a bid to stop the election from being certified.

As the audit moved from pipe dream to reality, several of the key players who became involved had ties to the QAnon conspiracy.

Josh Barnett, who was among the people who organized the drive for the audit, posted about Q during 2020 when he was making an unsuccessful run for Congress. Among the Twitter posts was one he shared from someone else that used the QAnon phrase “Nothing can stop what’s coming.” It was followed by QAnon hashtags that included #WeAreQ, #WeAreLegion and #SheepNoMore.

Barnett, in a previous interview with The Republic, said he didn’t know much about Q or put much stock in it. 

On May 7, Barnett wrote on Twitter that he expected the evidence unearthed by the audit to be: “Inarguable. Irrefutable. Incontestable. Indisputable. Unchallengeable. Undeniable.” 

He ended his post with the hashtag: #AZTheFirstDomino.

Lin Wood, an attorney aligned with Trump, told Talking Points Memo in April that he donated $50,000 to a group raising money for the audit. His since-deleted Twitter account contained the phrase #WWG1WGA in its bio.

State Rep. Mark Finchem has not outwardly advocated the QAnon conspiracy. But he has expressed conspiratorial views from the QAnon world. In a March interview on Victory News, Finchem suggested a group of elected officials was involved in a “pedophile network and the distribution of children.” 

Finchem was also a guest in May on a QAnon focused radio show called RedPill78. In that interview, Finchem said he believed Trump garnered a decisive 62 to 65 percent of the vote in Arizona and suggested that if pervasive fraud were to be found, the Legislature could vote to reclaim the state’s Electoral College electors.

“That’s the best I’m hoping for,” he said, adding that he “didn’t want to get people’s hopes all whipped up.”

Catching on? Arizona’s ballot audit could spread to other states

The influence of Q may have made its way to the leader of this audit.

Logan of Cyber Ninjas shared QAnon related material to his since-deleted Twitter page. One, captured by the Arizona Mirror, was a retweet of a person who went by the name Anon and whose profile picture was a picture of colonials surrounding a U.S. flag. The stars in the upper left corner of the flag were manipulated to form a Q.

Logan also retweeted a message from Ron Watkins, whose bulletin board sites have been the exclusive home for Q’s writings. Watkins suggested that an audit of ballots would show Trump with “200k more votes than previously reported in Arizona.”

A spokesperson for Cyber Ninjas, in response to questions from The Republic, said Logan was not a follower of Q.

“Doug Logan does not subscribe to Q theories. The audit has nothing to do with Q theories,” wrote Rod Thomson, president of The Thomson Group in an e-mail. “Good grief. How embarrassing.”

Another potential Q connection: Bobby Piton, a financial adviser from Illinois, has said he has been in contact with Logan and is reviewing Arizona voter data. 

He has posted photos with QAnon themes, according to Media Matters. Those included, according to Media Matters, one that suggested Trump would introduce John F. Kennedy Jr. as his running mate. Kennedy Jr. died in a plane crash in 1999, but rumors persist in the QAnon world that he is still alive.

Piton has said in videos that he does not believe in the QAnon movement. It’s unclear whether he is formally involved in the audit.

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