Twitter took action against a pair of President Trump's close associates Friday, banning them from the platform as part of a broader effort to contain the QAnon conspiracy movement.
Trump's first national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell were both suspended under Twitter's "coordinated harmful activity" policy. Ron Watkins, who previously ran 8kun (formerly 8chan) also saw his account removed.
"We’ve been clear that we will take strong enforcement action on behavior that has the potential to lead to offline harm, and given the renewed potential for violence surrounding this type of behavior in the coming days, we will permanently suspend accounts that are solely dedicated to sharing QAnon content," a Twitter spokesperson told TechCrunch.
In recent months, each figure has promoted QAnon, an elaborate constellation of conspiracy theories purporting that President Trump is waging a secret battle against a cabal of political enemies who engage in child sex trafficking, among other baseless claims.
As part of Trump's post-election legal team, Powell became a heroic figure to the QAnon crowd, which believes that a master plan being orchestrated behind the scenes will give the president a second term. Powell also amplified the Dominion voting machine conspiracy, which claims devices from that company switched votes from Trump to Biden. Dominion Voting Systems is suing Powell for $1.3 billion over the false claims, arguing that her "viral disinformation campaign" has damaged its business.
Flynn embraced the QAnon movement last year, reciting an oath and saying the popular QAnon motto "where we go one, we go all!" Flynn has also been actively involved in Trump's quest to overturn the results of the November election. In what was then a shocking scandal, Flynn pleaded guilty for lying to the FBI in 2017. Last year, the Justice Department dropped the federal case against Flynn and Trump eventually issued his former adviser a pardon.
Of the three, Watkins is the furthest from Trump and the closest to the heart of QAnon. As the administrator of QAnon's central online hub, Watkins played a key role QAnon's explosion into the mainstream over the last few years. Beyond the ranks of believers, some QAnon observers believe that Ron Watkins or his father Jim Watkins are the mysterious "Q" figure, perpetuating the elaborate scheme by doling out cryptic bread crumbs for QAnon adherents.
Twitter first began restricting QAnon content in mid-2020, citing similar concerns over real-world harm. The new enforcement plan goes much further, and Twitter's new commitment to permanently suspending any QAnon stands to have a much bigger impact.
We’ve been clear that we will take strong enforcement action on behavior that has the potential to lead to offline harm. In line with this approach, this week we are taking further action on so-called ‘QAnon’ activity across the service.
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) July 22, 2020