The Camelot Castle Hotel in Tintagel, Cornwall, may be themed on Arthurian legends but the flag flown over its tower last year stood for a more modern myth.
The hotel’s owner, John Mappin, a scion of the family that founded the Mappin and Webb jewelry firm, is a leading figure in the UK QAnon movement, a violent conspiracy theory that helped to inspire the riots in Washington on January 6.
Guests at the hotel, which displays a Q flag, said that the owner left conspiracy theory material in their bedrooms.
Mr Mappin hosts an online TV channel to spread the cult-like movement. He has become one of the public faces of QAnon in Britain; others include Jodie Kidd’s brother, a computer programmer and a former Labour councillor who once claimed that his mother was an alien.
The Q Does Not Stand for “Quest”
The hoax is based on thousands of anonymous, cryptic posts on the message boards 4chan and 8chan. They claim to be written by a government official and suggest that administrations around the world are hiding a satanic pedophile network and only President Trump will stop them.
The bizarre conspiracy, which has been repeatedly disproven, has gained so many followers that some have begun to refer to it as a mass delusion. It encompasses dozens of other theories. Experts say its spread is in part thanks to how easily existing conspiracies can be fitted to the movement.
British QAnon groups on Facebook gained tens of thousands of members last year before they were banned. On Telegram, the messaging app, similar numbers join group chats and channels spreading daily or hourly updates.
Administrations around the world are hiding a satanic pedophile network and only President Trump will stop them.
Jack Kidd, 48, the brother of Jodie, the model, appears frequently in QAnon podcasts and video shows from his Highland estate. He also believes that the coronavirus is a hoax.
Though he is one of the more respectable faces of the movement, he was removed from Facebook and Instagram for spreading misinformation.
Since Mr Mappin, heir to the Mappin and Webb jewelery business, which holds a Royal Warrant, hoisted a Q flag above the battlements of Camelot Castle Hotel last January he has hosted a regular video broadcast called Camelot TV. In a coded message to his 20,000 subscribers, he likened QAnon to an oak tree. “If the roots are strong, all will be well in the spring … 2021 is all about the rebirth of our civilisation,” he said.
Mr Mappin, 55, a Scientologist and soft porn actor, is a supporter of Mr Trump, whom he met in 2017 after awarding him an “Honorary Camelot Castle Knighthood”. Recent guests at Camelot Castle said that “conspiracy theory material” had been left in their bedrooms. Claire Birch, who spent a night at the hotel last summer, said that a magazine left on her bed claimed that Mr Mappin had developed a technology to prevent war. “It read like he was positioning himself as a guru who could share his secrets with you,” Ms Birch, 37, from Dawlish, Devon, said. “It made me feel incredibly uncomfortable.”
Mr Mappin said that he knew nothing about the material in guests’ bedrooms. “We raised a flag above Camelot Castle on New Year’s Day of 2020 to highlight emerging freedom-related phenomena that we predicted would become part of the narrative,” he said.
Recent guests at Camelot Castle said that “conspiracy theory material” had been left in their bedrooms.
Gregory Davis, a researcher for Hope Not Hate, the anti-fascist organization, said that despite the absurdity of many of his views Mr Mappin, with a Twitter following of more than 160,000, should be regarded as a “dangerous figure”.
“The problem is that all this seems so bizarre that the threat level of QAnon has been quite obscured,” he said. “He himself has shied away from making very explicit statements about bloodshed. But all this ‘never concede’ [the presidential election] business is an advocation of overturning democracy.”
A Hope Not Hate report last year found that QAnon was not yet deeply rooted in the UK but was a growing issue. The authors wrote that anti-Semitism was “inherent” to the conspiracy and that it could become a recruiting tool for the far right.
They said that its “highly emotive” narratives could inspire violence, as seen on January 6 in Washington, where insurrectionists flew “Q” flags. One prominent member, Jacob Chansley, 33, the “QAnon shaman”, was due in court in Arizona on January 11 to answer charges of civil disorder, threatening congressional officials and disobeying a police officer. Since the events at the Capitol, QAnon supporters have been removed from most social media platforms. Twitter claimed that it had taken down 70,000 accounts. But The Times found QAnon adherents selling books on Amazon and urging people to convert their funds to cash and gold before a societal collapse.
Amazon promised to remove QAnon merchandise and materials but by the end of that same week the movement’s books could still be bought.
Martin Geddes, an Oxford graduate and computer programmer from Staines, was an early adopter of QAnon. His website describes him as a “polymath”, “patriot”, “scientist” and “artist”.
Mr Mappin, 55, a Scientologist and soft porn actor, is a supporter of Mr Trump, whom he met in 2017 after awarding him an “Honorary Camelot Castle Knighthood.”
His book, a series of essays predicting that Mr Trump would lead mass trials of Democrats live on television in a “Nuremberg 2.0”, has shot up Amazon’s best-sellers chart since the Capitol riots, with more than 1,000 downloads and purchases a week. At one point Geddes had more than 200,000 Twitter followers and went to America to meet other QAnon believers. He declined an interview with The Times but said that he became interested in QAnon after Jimmy Savile’s abuse was revealed.
Simon Parkes, a former Labour councillor from Whitby, north Yorkshire, was briefly famous after claiming that his real mother was a 9ft tall, green alien. He claimed that he had sex with aliens. Since leaving the council his views have become more extreme.
On Bitchute, a video site popular with neo-Nazis, he has 100,000 followers and more than 650,000 on YouTube. A group chat on Telegram dedicated to reposting his videos recently gained 21,000 members in four days.
During the Capitol unrest Mr Parkes claimed that Bill Gates was about to be arrested and that Mr Trump would address the nation. His predictions were proven wrong so quickly that some felt he was undermining the movement.
Sebastian Gorka, a former adviser to Mr Trump, tweeted: “QAnon is dead, thanks in part to Simon Parkes. Good.” But QAnon supporters were not so easily deterred. In global chat groups, one said that Mr Parkes was “saving this world from near destruction”. Another said simply: “I choose to believe him.”
Emma Yeomans is a graduate trainee for The Times of London
Tom Ball is a London-based journalist
Andrew Ellson covers consumer affairs for The Times of London