Over the past few weeks, dozens of QAnon conspiracy theorists have gathered at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, believing they will witness the return of John F. Kennedy, Jr., who will reinstate Donald Trump as president.
They are led by Michael Protzman, a longtime Federal Way demolition contractor who has plunged down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories in recent years, according to court records and interviews, and is now leading what one QAnon expert has called a cult that can take a sinister turn. …
Protzman, 58, has amassed nearly 100,000 social media followers on his Telegram channel, where he is dubbed “Negative48,” quickly becoming one of QAnon’s influencers. His channel features streams of QAnon-created and other plots, including Trump memes, vaccine lies, and anti-Semitic content.
In Dallas, his group’s antics – near the site of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 – caught national news and social media attention. Occasionally, Protsman is seen wearing a tin foil hat making strange speeches in which he recites strings of numbers, translating words into numerical values that he claims predict the future or reveal hidden knowledge.
“I am QAnon King 174 … Yes, I am going home 174. Yes, John F. Kennedy 174. Yes, I am Jesus Christ 174. Yes, John F. Kennedy 174!” he shouted to enthusiastic followers in Dallas during a loud speech posted on YouTube in early November. One listening man passed out during a performance.
(A simple code used by Protzman, known as Gematria, assigns a number to each letter in the alphabet, so A = 1 and Z = 26. The numbers in each phrase add up to 174.)
Protzman’s emergence as leader of QAnon came as a shock to one relative, Michael Appiah of Spokane, when he stumbled upon a news account last week.
“I look online at this QAnon deal, I start reading the article and I say, ‘Oh my God, this is my son-in-law! Appia said in an interview. “I look at it and start crying. This is my sister’s husband. I thought, “Oh, my poor sister.”
It is unclear how long Protzman has been in Texas. He did not respond to messages sent via Telegram asking for an interview. When a Dallas Morning News reporter approached him, he cursed and refused to speak, the newspaper reported last week.
Returning home to Washington, he is separated from his wife, who called the police on July 31, 2019 to report that he pinned her to a bed at their Federal Way home, according to court records.
Protzman’s wife filed for divorce the previous month and the couple got into an altercation during which he held her and said that “if he couldn’t get it, nobody could,” a Federal Way police officer wrote in the indictment papers.
Protzman would not physically let his wife leave until she agreed to marriage counseling, she told police, describing Protzman as “blind rage.” She walked barefoot to a neighbor’s house to call emergency services.
“For the past two weeks, Michael has behaved differently, didn’t shower, didn’t work and believed in government conspiracies,” Protsman’s wife told police, according to a likely cause.
When the police approached the house, Protsman told the officers that they had no power over him, and fought with them, “trying to physically defeat the officers.” He was taken into custody and charged in August 2019 with one count of unlawful imprisonment in connection with domestic violence.
The case dragged on for over a year amid the coronavirus pandemic, and in June of this year, the charges were dropped “after discussion with the victim,” records show. (The Seattle Times does not release the names of victims without permission, and Protzman’s wife did not respond to messages requesting interviews.)
Government sales documents show that Protzman and his wife started the business, Eclipse Demolition, in 2007. It was administratively dissolved last year by the state after it was unable to keep its registration.
Appiah said that his sister and Protsman have been separated for years, although their divorce is not final. The couple have an adult son and daughter.
He recalls that Protsman used to listen to conservative radio broadcasts when he drove to work. “He became interested in culture. He traveled extensively throughout Washington, listening to bloody radio stations and talking about conspiracies, Appia said.
Appiah recalled how a few years ago Protzman put forward a theory involving Queen Elizabeth II of England – “a whole conspiracy about money and the queen, as well as who controls the economy.”
Last week, a man living near the house that Protzman and his wife bought in 1995 described a former neighbor who acted strange a few years ago, telling anyone who listens to his theories about the financial system.
“He walked around the neighborhood. His big thing was silver. He was totally addicted to the Internet and buying silver. He said you should buy silver, ”said the man, who asked not to be named for confidentiality reasons.
The man said that Protsman called him “brainwashed” after he told Protsman he didn’t mind leaving his money in traditional retirement accounts.
Even for the peripheral QAnon belief system, which revolves around the idea that the world is ruled by a clique of Satan-worshiping pedophile cannibals, and that Trump has a secret plan to destroy them and imprison or execute his enemies, Protzman’s group in Dallas has proven outlandish.
He originally claimed that J. Kennedy, Jr., who died in a plane crash in 1999, would return on November 2, but moved the goalposts when that did not happen, according to Vice News, which reported extensively on Protzman and his followers.
Dozens of people have joined Protzman in Dallas, some flying across the country, leaving worried friends and family behind. Some members of the group extorted money, which, according to news reports, raises concerns of exploitation.
Katie Garner, a woman who spoke to Vice News, said her sister gave the group about $ 200,000 and was forced to drink hydrogen peroxide solution to prevent COVID-19.
“She left her kids for this and doesn’t even care. For this she lacks birthdays and holidays. She truly believes this is all real and we are crazy trying to get her to come home. But she won’t, ”Garner told Vice. “I don’t believe she will ever come back after this. We are in mourning. “
The behavior of Protzman and his followers is causing growing concern among some who closely monitor QAnon and other far-right extremists.
“It worries me that you have a small, very iconic group of people who are waiting for this great event and are being manipulated by this leader who controls their actions,” said Mike Rothschild, author of The Storm Above Us, a book about the QAnon conspiracy movement.
However, Rothschild noted, the group does not appear to commit any crimes yet.
Although Rothschild studied QAnon for years, he and other researchers with whom he contacts were not familiar with Protzman until his arrival in Dallas.
“Nobody knows who this guy was; we’ve never heard of him, ”said Rothschild. He didn’t realize how quickly Protzman got followers until he checked his Negative48 Telegram channel.
Protsman created the channel on March 13, claiming that he would show “how Trump speaks in the code and what the code is.” Since then, he has created thousands of additional posts.
This first Telegram message came a day after a lawsuit was filed in King County Supreme Court for the ransom of the title to the house he still owns with his wife, as court records show.
The house is due to be auctioned in February as the couple has $ 47,594 in arrears.
Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.