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How UI grad Liz Crokin became one of QAnon’s biggest influencers


Dana Telsrow/Little Village

Content warning: This article contains references to sexual assault, child abuse and racism.

“QAnon Congresswoman” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene was red-pilled (that is, fell down the rabbit hole of far-right online conspiracy theories) back in 2017.

“I first heard about [Q] from Liz Crokin,” Greene said in a Facebook Live video from November 2017. “She’s been saying all along that he is a good guy in this and he’s really going after the swamp creatures. If she’s correct, gosh, she’s going to be winning big.”

A former gossip columnist and University of Iowa graduate (who did not respond to Little Village’s attempts to contact her), Crokin may not be the most famous Q adherent — elected officials like Greene, who still hasn’t disavowed QAnon, and the indicted “Q Shaman” Jacob Chansley have gotten the most attention as of late — but she is arguably the movement’s most influential figure, aside from Q themself.

The anonymous, self-proclaimed White House insider “Q” was merely a fringe internet enigma at the beginning of Trump’s presidency. In the midst of a career slump and looking for a purpose, Crokin was among the first people to take Q’s cryptic posts, interpret them and present a more coherent, palatable message to the curious masses on mainstream sites like YouTube and Twitter. By 2018, she had picked a Twitter fight with Chrissy Teigen and John Legend, been retweeted by Roseanne Barr and, allegedly, was contacted by Gen. Michael Flynn and encouraged to “stay the course.”

Crokin represents perhaps the purest form of QAnon follower, ascribing to almost all conspiracy theories under its umbrella, theories Trump has done little to quelch: MK Ultra is an active operation and has had a hold on Hollywood since at least World War II; JFK Jr. didn’t die in 1999 and is in fact working in secret alongside Trump to drain the swamp; the Mueller investigation was really looking into the Clintons, Obamas and other elites whose crimes are “punishable by death”; demons are very real, and may even have given her dog bloody diarrhea; California’s mudslides were God’s punishment for Oprah Winfrey’s anti-Trump comments at the Golden Globes and its wildfires intentionally started by the cabal to cover up their crimes; and the deep state created the COVID-19 pandemic as a “cover” for the “mass arrests” that are always just over the horizon.

While her beliefs in Satanic cabals and the omnipotence of Q and Trump can be laughed off by most, those susceptible to such conspiracy theories, like Greene and Barr, found Crokin credible and inspiring. This is due in no small part to her journalism degree, more than a decade of experience working for major publications in Chicago and Los Angeles, and supposed insight into the dark underbelly of Hollywood elites. The 18-year-old student who arrived in Iowa City in the mid ’90s with a passion for GOP politics is, in 2021, an undaunted believer in the kind of misinformation that led to the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

“Liz Crokin put herself so far out in front she was mocked, she was laughed at, she was called crazy,” fellow QAnon acolyte Mark Smith said in 2020. “Well let me ask you a question, for all those people that did that to Liz: Does she seem so crazy now?”

Liz Crokin photographed with President George W. Bush during her time in D.C. as a college student. — still from ‘Out of Shadows’

Liz Crokin was born in 1977 in Glenview, Illinois, and raised in a conservative household. While attending the University of Iowa, she joined the organization Students for George W. Bush, a Republican student group supporting Bush’s presidential bid. (The group managed to commandeer the campus email system and blast pro-Bush messages to 40,000 email addresses.)

Crokin studied journalism and political science at UI. Her semi-autobiographical novel, Malice, includes a number of references to her college years: attending the 1999 Republican Straw Poll and the Iowa Caucuses, sneaking backstage at concerts and showing up to journalism classes hungover.

“I attended journalism school because I love getting my hands wet in the field on a good story,” she writes as her fictional protagonist.

Crokin spent her senior year interning at the U.S. State Department in D.C. and meeting Republican icons including President Bush, Rep. John Kasich and Sen. John McCain. She went on to intern for Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News show The O’Reilly Factor.

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She found her niche as an entertainment news columnist, writing for the Chicago Tribune’s daily tabloid RedEye (specializing in celebrity break-ups), the Chicago Sun-Times’ publication Splash and, freelancing in Los Angeles beginning in 2010, the National Enquirer, Star, InTouch and US Weekly.

In 2012, she was diagnosed with viral meningitis, a severe progression of herpes, which caused brain damage and disrupted Crokin’s ability to work. She was laid off by her publisher in 2013 and says she went from making a six-figure salary to living on food stamps and facing a pile of medical debt.

Liz Crokin sits in her kitchen during a 2018 interview with Cullen Hoback, featured in HBO’s ‘Q: Into the Storm’

In the aftermath of her illness and halted tabloid career, Crokin authored and self-published her first book, Malice, on Amazon in March 2015. The 428-page novel is ostensibly about a Crokin surrogate named Lana Burke as she investigates a political scandal. (“The lifelong conservative Republican finds herself extremely conflicted covering a sex scandal involving potentially the nation’s first Mormon President,” reads the book’s description.)

This plotline involves Lana interviewing a sex worker who engaged in a kinky affair with Utah governor and 2012 presidential nominee Prescott Richards, an obvious Mitt Romney stand-in. (The book is filled with transparent and largely unnecessary pseudonyms for real-life people and companies. My favorites are “President Muhammad Oyama,” “Rox News Channel” and its hosts “Shamus O’Malley” and “Megan Riley,” and rival network “BNN.”)

In the course of exposing the scandal, Lana thinks she’s being tracked by a secret Mormon crime squad; this plot goes nowhere. Crokin manages to weave in homophobia (Lana balks at a celebrity’s secret gay lifestyle, conflating it with sexual abuse and “Hollyweird” perversions; she also portrays a gay coworker as a “bitchy” stereotype), slut-shaming (the word “hooker” appears in the novel 77 times), anti-Mormonism and racist caricatures of an Asian man and Black woman.

Amazon

The crux of the novel, however, is Lana’s relationship with a man 20 years her senior — a rich fellow “die-hard Republican” with whom she shares countless bottles of red wine, romantic motorcycle rides and sexual encounters described in explicit detail.

The boyfriend, Malden, repeatedly has anal sex with Lana without her consent, something that disturbs Lana but doesn’t seem to register in her mind as rape (it is). Other abuses — such as Malden’s infidelity, his controlling and manipulative behavior, dirty talk that borders on pedophilic fantasies and even a presumed drugging of Lana — are fretted over by Crokin’s protagonist before she inevitably returns to his bed, praising his traditional masculinity and “JFK Jr. smile.” (Malden is compared to John F. Kennedy Jr. no less than eight times.)

Lana comes down with the same viral meningitis Crokin experienced in real life — the character has trouble accessing healthcare coverage, an ironic plot point considering her staunch anti-Oyama ideology — with symptoms including migraines, photosensitivity and unbearable pain in her genitals. She takes heavy doses of Vicodin and drives in L.A. traffic, avoiding an accident “by the grace of God.” She starts feeling like she’s “possessed by the devil” and that she “could see demons.”

Like Crokin, Lana is laid off from work.

“The career I had worked so hard to build for over a decade had just crumbled like the Berlin Wall under Reagan’s administration before my very eyes,” Lana says.

Lana eventually concludes that Malden gave her herpes, the original source of her medical issues. In real life, Crokin sued an ex of hers named Mallory Hill, saying he exposed her to herpes without her knowledge, a form of abuse amounting to battery. Hill sued Crokin in return, claiming her fictionalized portrayal of him, as well as her frank comparison of Malden to Mallory in interviews promoting Malice, amounted to slander. A partial settlement was reached in 2018.

Despite Malden being a “dark and deviant sexual predator” and “pure evil,” Lana has one last marathon sex session with him at the end of the novel. “I felt like I was kissing the enemy — or worse — the devil. … It made me disgusted and angry but eerily turned me on at the same time.”

She has a vision of him as a demonic wolf, complete with “fiery eyes” and a “furry, giant penis.”

“Was my mind playing tricks on me? Were the illusions caused by the painkillers and the damage the meningitis had done to my brain? I couldn’t understand why I was seeing things. Or was I? Perhaps I was seeing clearly for the first time in my life.”

A Liz Crokin YouTube video shown in HBO’s ‘Q: Into the Storm’

After Crokin’s brain “started healing itself” in 2015, she got back to writing, working for the far-right conservative publication Townhall. Though her focus was sex crimes, her best-known piece for Townhall is an opinion article titled “Trump Does the Unthinkable,” published in July 2016, listing a mix of true and very untrue good deeds allegedly performed by Trump. The post went viral and is still regularly shared by the MAGA loyal on Facebook.

Q made their first post on 4chan in October 2017. Crokin told filmmaker Cullen Hoback that she was instantly hooked.

“When Q first dropped his first drop, I just immediately knew it was legit,” she tells Hoback in the new HBO docuseries Q: Into the Storm. “I just knew it intuitively. Everything resonated to me and everything added up.”

Crokin had already been “awakened” to the perversions of elite Democrats after the 2016 Wikileaks hack of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails, she said.

The Podesta emails form the basis for Pizzagate, a conspiracy theory that proports with no evidence that every casual reference to pizza, hot dogs, ice cream and other foods in Clinton staff emails were coded messages about child sexual abuse, and that a popular Clinton campaign hangout, Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in D.C., is a hub for abusers and traffickers. Pizzagate would eventually merge with broader QAnon theories and provoke death threats towards the owners of Comet Ping Pong and surrounding businesses. The conspiracy theory made national headlines after a believer named Edgar Maddison Welch fired three shots from an AR-15 into Comet Ping Pong on Dec. 4, 2016. No one was injured.

Crokin, who’d already branded herself as an “investigative journalist exposing sex trafficking,” glommed onto Pizzagate, subscribing to a notion supported by Q that all pedophiles work in rings and that their crimes are animated by nefarious religious beliefs. (QAnon folks read a tongue-in-cheek email from a Clinton staffer saying they plan on “sacrificing a chicken in the backyard to Moloch” quite literally.)

In the minds of Q followers, these deep-state elites are not only child traffickers and rapists, but they torture, rape and murder children in service of Satan. On top of that, the cabal also traumatizes kids and flaunts occult symbols as a form of mind control. They drink their victims’ adrenaline-laced blood to get high on adrenochrome (a real substance researchers can buy online, which apparently only causes a mild and rather unpleasant high. But to each cabal their own).

Crokin herself popularized the statistic — pulled apparently out of thin air — that at least one-third of Congress and one-third of Hollywood insiders are members of the Satanic cabal of pedophilic cannibals. Trump knows this, but he doesn’t tell the public because it would blow their minds, Crokin told The Common Sense Show. “They need it in doses, they need to be conditioned.” That, she says, is why Trump and Q drop so many hints about the incoming “Storm” of deep state indictments. Those who learn to see these hints (see: interpret Trump’s idiosyncratic ad libs, gestures and typos as confirming evidence of a theory followers have already convinced themselves is real) are “awakened.”

“There’s not one smoking gun,” Crokin explains in the 2020 QAnon “documentary” Out of Shadows. “There’s many small smoking guns that you have to piece together, and you have to use critical thinking to understand this stuff is real.”

Since she started posting about Pizzagate, Crokin said that all her friends from high school unfriended her, and her former colleagues “mocked” her. But this rejection by her “liberal sheep” classmates and blacklisting by the mainstream media only served to heighten Crokin’s profile in the eyes of fellow QAnon followers. As a commenter on one of her YouTube videos put it, “All a person needs to ask is, why would Liz and others stick their necks out to be chopped off by reporting on this subject matter unless there is ample evidence that it’s true?”

Liz Crokin tells filmmaker Cullen Hoback she is followed and stalked by deep state operatives who are threatened by her posts. — HBO

The arrests of Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, NXIVM founder Keith Raniere and other famous figures beginning in 2016 were regarded as vindication by Crokin. “This is just the beginning,” she declared in a YouTube video. “The Storm is officially here.”

She dismissed the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements as distractions constructed by the cabal, instead crediting Trump with this widespread reckoning on sexual harassment, assault and trafficking. (It should be noted that accusations against Trump loyalists including Brett Kavanaugh, Trump himself and recently Rep. Matt Gaetz have been dismissed by Crokin as deep-state distractions.)

She reported another false data point: that Trump had made an unprecedented 1,500 child trafficking-related arrests in his first 30 days in office. This was shared widely, including by actress Roseanne Barr, which delighted Crokin. She had a less cordial brush with celebrity when Chrissy Teigen and husband John Legend threatened to sue Crokin after she tweeted that the couple “flaunt illuminati symbolism” and “run in circle with people who rape, torture & traffic kids.” Crokin was spared a lawsuit but lost her verification on Twitter due to the incident.

Crokin has gone on to accuse other celebrities such as Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Lil Nas X of being tools of the cabal due to their fashion and music video aesthetics. A favorite target of hers is experimental performance artist Marina Abramović, who often incorporates dark, shocking imagery into her exhibitions, including “spirit cooking” events frequented by high-profile art enthusiasts. Ever the literalists, QAnon followers see Abramović’s work as bald displays of witchcraft and an effort to desensitize the masses to violence and mind control. The comedy Zoolander serves the same purpose, according Crokin and her ilk.

In August 2018, Crokin got into a surfing accident while on vacation and lost two of the fingers on her right hand. She took to Twitter to assure her followers she was recovering — and share a meme depicting a cloaked Death on the beach handing her a glass of champagne next to the words “HILLARY 2020,” which Crokin said “captures the vision I had in the ocean after I looked at my hand and saw that two fingers had been severed.” In a video posted later, she speculates that Clinton or Abramović could have engineered her accident.

“All these people [I expose] dabble in witchcraft and spirit cooking. So, do these people do witchcraft against me? Of course they do,” she said. “And I wouldn’t be surprised if they were casting spells on me the night before.”

In fact, “literally nothing would surprise me,” she tells Hoback in Q: Into the Storm. “So, you know, if you tell me aliens are real and the Earth’s flat or whatever—”

“Wait,” Hoback interrupts. “The Earth’s flat wouldn’t surprise you?”

“No.”

“Really?”

“I expose people who literally rape and eat babies,” Crokin replies. “To me, if that is able to exist in this world, I think anything is possible.”

A thumbnail for a YouTube video posted by the channel “The world and Prophecy.” Crokin’s own YouTube channel was deactivated as social media sites cracked down on QAnon content between 2019 and 2021.

Ryan Stoldt is a Ph.D. candidate in the UI School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Partnering with UI Journalism Prof. Brian Ekdale and funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense, he is about to embark on a three-year study of internet radicalization.

Past studies have focused almost exclusively on web-born terrorists, he said. His research is more broad.

“We’re much more interested in our study of the kind of radicalization that everyday people are going through, where they’re becoming more accepting of the extreme,” Stoldt explained.
The study will explore radicalization on three levels.

“One of them is the extremity of the belief,” how mainstream or fringe it is. “The second is going to be the strength of that belief. There are people, it sounds like Liz, who are like, ‘QAnon is 100 percent correct.’ And then there are a lot of people out there that are probably like, ‘There might be something there, I don’t really know.’”

The third degree of radicalization, Stoldt says, is “the ways that you are willing to support that belief.” For QAnon followers, this could range from sharing a meme or voting for Trump to criminal acts, such as the attempted coup at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Anecdotal evidence has pointed to social media algorithms as drivers of radicalization, Stoldt said. Indeed, “QTubers” like Crokin garnered millions of views when YouTube’s algorithm was still programmed to recommend or even autoplay one conspiracy video after another, guiding viewers down the rabbit hole. But there’s likely more to it, Stoldt said, including personal grievances, feelings of persecution, traumatic life events and social networks.

“A trend we see across extreme movements generally is the creation of an in-group narrative where … there is a very concrete evil in the world, and we are fighting against that. This is the Satanic group of pedophiles, for QAnon.”

Radical movements don’t need to incite or enact violence in order to hurt people, Stoldt said. “We very much believe that the personal is political, people’s beliefs play into their daily actions.”

“Symbolic acts of violence,” such as perpetuating racist ideas about minorities and immigrants, spreading lies about COVID-19 and alienating skeptical family members, are all negative effects of radicalization that are potentially preventable — and will likely take more proactive measures than Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites deplatforming far-right extremists in the wake of Jan. 6.

Stoldt said he’s well aware of how hard it is to deradicalize people after they’ve been “awakened.”

“I do this research, and I’m pretty sure my grandma fully believes in QAnon. There’s nothing I’m going to be able to say to get through to her,” he said. “She’ll even ask me about this project researching radicalization online, and she just does not understand that this is the kind of stuff we’re actually researching, and not the Satanic cabal.”

Liz Crokin as she appears in the 2020 film ‘Out of Shadows’ — still

Just as well-spoken conservative commentators Tucker Carlson and Ben Shapiro are able to dispense white nationalist talking points to a more mainstream audience than far-right firebrands such as Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos, Kaitlin Bennett and even Q themself, Liz Crokin provides a pseudointellectual front for an outlandish ideology. In interviews and blog posts, Crokin touts her self-styled identity as a veteran journalist fighting a wicked Goliath.

“One of the appeals of QAnon is that it’s a pretty common stance to be like, ‘I’m against pedophilia.’ You’re not going to have many arguments against that,” Stoldt observed. “So I think that kind of soft front works as a way of legitimizing their beliefs, because they’re like, ‘Well, you agree with me on this. So let’s talk about this thing, this is just a little bit more extreme,’ and you continue down that rabbit hole of extremity.”

Many QAnon believers begin their red-pilling by joining online communities (and in some cases, even attending in-person demonstrations) and consuming media claiming to represent the #SaveTheChildren movement, a soft front for QAnon that exaggerates and mischaracterizes the very real issue of human trafficking. If QAnon is Wonderland, #SaveTheChildren and its variants are the white rabbit luring Alice towards the hole.

Crokin features prominently in Out of Shadows, a 77-minute film project that stuntman-turned-conspiracist Mike Smith released in January 2020. Thought to have reached more viewers than the notorious conspiracy video Plandemic, Out of Shadows “blends real historical events with imagined ones, leaning on the authenticity of the former to justify the wild extrapolations of the latter,” as Tarpley Hitt puts it in the Daily Beast. Smith, Crokin and others discuss MK Ultra and Project Mockingbird, Luciferian symbols, the cabal, Abramović, Pizzagate — and do not mention Q once.

This was intentional, according to the anti-conspiracy researchers behind the podcast QAnon Anonymous. They describe Crokin’s fanbase as a “wine mom QAnon following.”

But beyond her mom-friendly, #SaveTheChildren façade, Crokin shares many of the noxious beliefs of her fellow anons. She amplified the #FilmYourHospital hashtag that endangered healthcare workers and patients in the early months of the pandemic, seeking to prove COVID-19 is a lie of the cabal and China. She has also openly expressed anti-Semitism.

“Pedophilia is rampant within the Jewish religion, from what I’ve researched,” Crokin said on The Richie Allen Show in 2017. “I’ve also discovered that predators prey on children at Jewish camps. Now, it is interesting how pedophilia has been exposed within the Catholic church but there hasn’t been a huge scandal about the pedophilia that goes on within the Jewish community. We do know that the Jews control most of the mainstream media and Hollywood.”

Liz Crokin in her L.A. residence during a 2018 interview with Cullen Hoback, featured in HBO’s ‘Q: Into the Storm’

The big wins Marjorie Taylor Greene predicted for Crokin seem not to have arrived.

Joe Biden’s inauguration was “a punch in the gut,” Crokin admitted in an online post, although she doesn’t acknowledge the legitimacy of his election. Indeed, she has ceded no ground to the deep state in 2021, though her conspiracy content, once imbued with righteous fury, are now often tinged with melancholy.

Relegated to the fringe, free-speech social media site Telegram, she asks for prayers, writes bitterly about ex-believers who still have verified social media accounts on more mainstream sites and pleads with followers not to “lose faith” and to “believe in President Trump.”

“All I want for today is for some news to break exposing Pizzagate,” she posted on Feb. 8. “That’s all I want everyday & there is no gift more important to me than this.”

When Crokin joined the Q movement in 2017, there were mass arrests, executions and vindication to look forward to. Now, after at least 18 Q predictions have failed to manifest, most Q influencers have lost their primary revenue streams (Crokin was kicked off everything from Instagram to Etsy), Q has stopped posting and the Jan. 6 insurrection brought more critical attention to QAnon than ever, Crokin’s soft front seems to have hardened.

“I still trust The Plan & Q,” she declared on Telegram. “Yes, the Deep State is using Biden’s ‘inauguration’ as ammo to attack the Q movement but so what? Seriously, who cares? I’ve been consistently & relentlessly attacked since 2016 for exposing Pizzagate. I lost my career, reputation & almost everything but did I crawl into a corner & cry to my mommy? No! I kept fighting and fighting and fighting.”

“So just stop. If you’re bailing out now — you’re weak.”

Emma McClatchey followed her purchase of Liz Crokin’s $4.99 ebook with a $10 donation to the Domestic Violence Intervention Program. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 294.


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