YouTube videos promoting a JFK Jr. conspiracy theory earned hundreds of thousands of views despite the platform’s QAnon crackdown
Some of the videos pushing the conspiracy theory, which drove crowds of QAnon adherents to Dallas, are monetized
YouTube has allowed dozens of videos to push a QAnon conspiracy theory about the late John F. Kennedy Jr. despite the platform’s supposed crackdown on QAnon content and accounts. Some of those videos -- which earned hundreds of thousands of views collectively -- have ads, meaning they provide revenue to both the creators and the platform.
The bogus QAnon conspiracy theory revolves around an anonymous account known as “Q,” which claimed to have an inside scoop showing former President Donald Trump had a secret plot that would take down his enemies, the “deep state,” and a cabal of Democratic pedophiles. Supporters of QAnon have been tied to violent incidents and participated in the January 6 insurrection, and government agencies have issued internal warnings over the false conspiracy theory.
In October 2020, YouTube announced a crackdown on QAnon content as part of its “efforts to curb hate and harassment by removing more conspiracy theory content used to justify real-world violence.”
Among those who support QAnon, a subset say that Q somehow showed that John F. Kennedy Jr. -- the son of former President John F. Kennedy -- who died in 1999, is somehow still alive and may team up with former President Donald Trump, even possibly becoming his running mate. Even though Q rebutted this claim in 2018, some QAnon supporters continue to believe it.
Some QAnon supporters even believe that certain QAnon influencers, such as Vincent Fusca or Juan O. Savin, are in fact JFK Jr. Since early November, QAnon supporters have gathered in Dallas at the location where the senior Kennedy was assassinated, claiming that he and his son will reappear and then team up with Trump -- all part of a theory that Trump will be somehow reinstated as president.
Videos pushing the conspiracy theory
A review by Media Matters found that the JFK Jr. conspiracy theory has spread on YouTube in the year since the platform’s supposed QAnon crackdown. Our review, which used the tracking tool BuzzSumo, found more than 40 YouTube videos posted since November 2020 that referenced “JFK Jr.” or “John F. Kennedy Jr.” in their titles, has at least 8,000 views each, and directly pushed the conspiracy theory. These videos together accumulated a total of more than 900,000 views.
One video, with more than 100,000 views, was titled “DEEP LOOK INTO THE RUMORS SURROUNDING JFK JR. & JUAN O'SAVIN!” -- referencing one of the QAnon influencers some supporters believe is JFK Jr. -- and featured a woman who says that “it looks like [Savin] could be JFK Jr.” The woman speculated about whether he is “a big part of that movement that was the 16 plus one letter of the alphabet” -- referring to Q, the 17th letter of the alphabet. The video has ads, meaning both YouTube and the account made money from the conspiracy theory. (Another video pushing the conspiracy theory from the same channel has more than 30,000 views and also featured ads.)
Another channel pushed the conspiracy theory regarding Savin in multiple videos featuring Q posts, with more than 90,000 combined views.
Many of the videos came from a channel that claimed to be airing audio from QAnon influencer Michael Brian Protzman, who is known online as “Negative48” and is one of the main figures behind the gathering in Dallas. The channel now appears to have been banned, but the videos amassed at least 190,000 combined views before that. They generally featured Protzman’s online name with a “Q” over the “8.”
Another video featured what it said is a man known as “Pryme Minister” -- reportedly a member of the gathering in Dallas -- who claimed that JFK Jr. had said he was vice president. It has more than 50,000 views.
Other content directly invoking or promoting Protzman and the conspiracy theory has spread on the platform as well. YouTube has even allowed hashtag pages for videos associated with Protzman (and Savin), making videos pushing the conspiracy theory easier to find by organizing them in one place.
Another video with ads that pushed the conspiracy theory -- one of several from the same channel that have ads -- said that “Mike Lindell is giving a date of the return of President Trump and Vice President JFK Jr. as August 13” and that “there are 200 million armed and dangerous American citizen patriots who [are] ready to see this show get on the road.” The user behind that video has also made one that mentions Protzman as one of the sources for these claims.
There are a number of other videos on the platform pushing the conspiracy theory, such as: a video featuring a Trump-JFK Jr. flag that includes the QAnon slogan, “where we go one, we go all”; a video with more than 80,000 views claiming to show proof that JFK Jr. is alive and in “disguise”; a video claiming Trump called out to JFK Jr.; and a video of a man claiming that JFK Jr. went on Marine One with Trump.
YouTube has repeatedly struggled to enforce its QAnon crackdown, such as allowing the circulation of QAnon shows and the spread of the QAnon March 4 conspiracy theory. These videos also highlight the platform’s ongoing monetization crisis: YouTube has repeatedly allowed channels to run ads on both videos that violate the platform’s own rules and videos pushing misinformation in general, making money off of these videos in the process.