Update (7/29/21): Following the publication of this article, the conference was removed from Eventbrite. The event page on the platform now says, “This page is not available.”
The event management and ticketing platforms Ticketmaster and Eventbrite are profiting from selling tickets to an upcoming conference organized by a supporter of the QAnon conspiracy theory who also has ties to a QAnon militia group. Multiple other QAnon and anti-vaccine influencers are also scheduled to attend the conference, which seemingly violates the rules of both platforms.
The conference, called “BardsFest,” is scheduled for late August and claims it “will bring together God fearing, Christ loving Patriots from all over the United States and the World” to “hear some of the nations most powerful voices of GOD, Liberty and Freedom.” The conference’s website links to Eventbrite and Ticketmaster for attendees to buy tickets. Notably, both platforms take a cut of the ticket sales.
Even though the conference description is somewhat vague, the list of people planning to attend heavily suggests that the conference will be dedicated to spreading extremism and misinformation, including about the 2020 presidential election, the coronavirus pandemic, and vaccines. (The conference will be held in Missouri, a current hotspot for coronavirus cases nationally.)
The event is being organized by BardsFM, a podcast hosted by QAnon supporter Scott Kesterson. In a video uploaded on July 24, Kesterson appeared on the show of fellow QAnon supporter Jeffrey Pedersen (known online as “intheMatrixxx”) to promote the conference and discuss QAnon. During the show, Kesterson called those who were arrested for allegedly participating in the January 6 insurrection at the United States Capitol “patriots.”
Kesterson is also reportedly coordinating with a QAnon militia group called 1st Amendment Praetorians, according to that group’s founder. 1st Amendment Praetorians has listed BardsFest as an upcoming event on its site.
Other QAnon influencers are also attending. Zak Paine, a QAnon show host who participated in part of the insurrection, announced in a video on July 22 that he had spoken with Kesterson and said, “I am being asked to speak at the event,” adding, “I’m totally going to do it.” Pedersen said during a July interview with an anti-vaccine influencer that he would also be attending the conference. Greg Locke, a pastor who has spread coronavirus, vaccine, and QAnon misinformation, is also listed as a speaker at the conference, as is MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who has multiple QAnon connections and has spread misinformation about voter fraud. And Joe Flynn, the QAnon-supporting brother of former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, is also listed as speaking. Kesterson has also said that QAnon-supporting musician J.T. Wilde will be attending.
Additionally, multiple known anti-vaxxers are listed as speakers, including Del Bigtree and Clay Clark, a Tulsa, Oklahoma, businessman who has organized similar QAnon-adjacent/anti-vax events around the country (Kesterson has suggested his conference will build on Clark’s organizing). Another speaker, Eric Nepute, has been charged by the Federal Trade Commission for falsely claiming his products were more effective than vaccines at preventing COVID-19. Several other anti-vaxxers are listed as speakers, such as Carry Madej, a speaker at the January 6 pro-Trump rally before the insurrection who has falsely claimed vaccines are being used to kill people; Andrew Wakefield, who helped catalyze the anti-vaccination movement due to discredited work suggesting a link between vaccines and autism (and who has become increasingly involved with the QAnon community); and Tom Renz, an attorney who has falsely claimed that 45,000 people have died from coronavirus vaccines.
At least two listed speakers, Christiane Northrup and Sherri Tenpenny, are members of the “Disinformation Dozen” influencers identified in a report by the Center for Countering Digital Hate as the originators of an estimated 65% of vaccine misinformation spread on Facebook and Twitter. Both Tenpenny and Northrup have previously endorsed QAnon shows -- in fact, Tenpenny is the anti-vaxxer who encouraged Pedersen to attend the conference during an appearance on his program. Tenpenny has also worked with 1st Amendment Praetorians, and Kesterson has said while interviewing her that they are friends. And another listed speaker, Lee Merritt, is an anti-vaxxer who is also a member of the medical misinformation group America’s Frontline Doctors. Merritt is also connected with 1st Amendment Praetorians.
This is not the first time a ticketing platform has struggled to enforce its rules over misinformation and extremism. Eventbrite has on multiple occasions offered tickets for events from QAnon supporters, and it only removed them (and instituted a ban on QAnon) after reporting by Media Matters. The platform also removed ticket pages for an America’s Frontline Doctors tour only after Media Matters’ reporting.