You always want to cover up the Evil Apple, okay?”
The early-morning sun in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, glints off the holographic stickers the vendor hands us as we fumble to remove our cell-phone cases. “They’re telling you, ‘You’re satanic, you’re Luciferian, you’re worshiping them.’ You’re bowing down to them right there. Do you see the Evil Apple? This is where it all started, guys.”
On this weekend in May, Christopher Key, who also goes by “Vaccine Police,” wears an off-white blazer over a faded red T-shirt cut low enough to reveal two New Age crystal necklaces resting on his tan skin. Also around his neck: something that looks from a distance like a plug-in bathroom air freshener. This device, he explains, creates an invisible four-foot bubble of purified air around the wearer.
The stickers, which he says neutralize our iPhones’ harmful and enervating frequencies, are free of charge. Key’s real product is Miracle Mineral Solution: a naturopathic all-purpose remedy that he says can eliminate all your medical troubles for good if you drink enough of it. “Chlorine dioxide!” he exclaims with an enormous smile as he swirls the mixture around in a Dixie cup. “This is the most amazing product in the world. Remember when President Trump said ‘Drink bleach’? This is it!” The customers lean forward excitedly. One takes out her pocketbook.
The ReAwaken America tour — a multicity event hosted by a man named Clay Clark and Trump’s disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn — features rows of merchandise booths that sell everything from Trump playing cards to self-published apocrypha to bedazzled gun-shaped purses. But no table of any sort receives more traffic than Key’s MMS operation. As I walk past the table on the second day, I overhear a woman ask Key whether he thinks the bleach would work if mixed surreptitiously into someone’s coffee. Her husband, despite her pleading, has received the COVID-19 vaccine. She does not want him to die.
By this point, I understand her concern. Over the course of this conference, no fewer than ten people who call themselves doctors tell us the science is clear: This woman’s husband and I have both made a terrible mistake. The COVID vaccine has rewritten our DNA and sterilized us. Every shot we receive decreases our immune systems by 50 percent. Even if we somehow avoid infection, graphene nanoparticles are assembling themselves in our bronchial tubes and preparing to choke us to death. And that’s not even to mention the horrors the deep state has in store for us when it emits its 5G frequencies and triggers the release of HIV and the Marburg virus into our ruined bodies.
“This is sacrificing children to Moloch,” declares Christiane Northrup (who despite claiming to be a doctor does not have a current medical license) without a hint of irony. “You need to understand that this is the religion of the demonic cult that has been running the planet since the time of Genesis. And their time is up!”
If this all sounds like crackpot ravings from the very edge of society, you would be only half-right. This event may have more tinfoil per capita than a Reynolds Wrap warehouse, but it is anything but fringe. The speaker roster includes New Age healers, conspiracy podcasters, and self-declared prophets as well as trusted members of Trump’s inner circle. Kash Patel, a Trump loyalist once described as swinging “the biggest dick in D.C.,” speaks for half an hour on defeating the deep state. The two most infamous recipients of Trump’s last-minute presidential pardons are here: Roger Stone and Flynn, considered a scoundrel and a traitor in many corners of America but a persecuted hero here. Eric Trump is also in attendance — not exactly an A-lister but a Trump nonetheless. Halfway through the conference, Clark breathlessly announces that Donald Trump Jr. just signed on for an upcoming New York stop.
None of these men holds high office, but all of them have the ear of the man who controls a Republican Party in thrall to the idea that the 2020 election was stolen from him. Under such circumstances, what could be more useful than a movement fueled by prophecy and paranoia, ready to help a man chosen by God to fight a battle against ancient forces of darkness? Or, to translate it into the demented vocabulary of QAnon, a deep-state cabal of child-murdering pedophiliac elites?
“If justice cannot take place in the Department of Justice and in the corrupt courts, then how can justice be served?” American Media Periscope founder John Michael Chambers asks the crowd, then answers his own question. “Gitmo!” he screams. “A new courtroom for war-crime trials at Guantánamo Bay. The stolen election will be exposed and then decertified.”
The crowd is on its feet, a roar filling the theater. “Freedom!” Chambers shouts. “It’s up to each and every one of us! Where we go one …”
Without a moment’s hesitation, the crowd completes the QAnon slogan: “We go all!”
It is a rare mask-off moment for an otherwise QAnon-free gathering. Despite the presence of QAnon luminaries such as Ann Vandersteel, Gene Ho, Scott McKay, and Mel K, and despite many additional guests with a history of appearances on Q-related podcasts, the only direct QAnon reference comes from Clark as he pushes back against allegations that ReAwaken America is a QAnon event.
Clark, who has appeared on multiple QAnon-affiliated podcasts, is nonetheless correct: The thing at the heart of ReAwaken America goes beyond QAnon. Here, disparate conspiracies knit themselves into a single, smothering narrative of good against evil. New prophets have stepped into the void left by the December 20, 2020, disappearance of Q, the movement’s founder, proclaiming they would rather drink bleach than receive a lifesaving vaccine in the name of Jesus.
Welcome to QAnon 2.0.
Every 15 minutes at ReAwaken America, the audience learns of yet another catastrophic threat to God, American values, and humanity itself. COVID as a DARPA-funded bioweapon, the vaccine as a population-control measure disguised as science, masks and lockdowns as long-game oppression designed to break your spirit. Heavenly vengeance against America for aborted fetuses and the existence of trans people. The Great Reset. Cancel culture. And, of course, the stolen election.
Some speakers bring glad tidings as well. A miracle COVID cure the doctors don’t want you to know about, perhaps, or investment advice guaranteed to make you money while the world falls apart. Above all else, ReAwaken America bombards attendees with prophetic guarantees of ultimate victory.
This grab-bag approach is not an accident for the Evangelically minded elements of the tour. “I hear all the time: ‘I came to see Eric’ or ‘I came to see General Flynn,’” tour facilitator Aaron Antis said on a podcast. “They did not come to meet Jesus. And that’s what ends up happening to these people.”
Nor is it a problem for secular speakers whose theories do not align with the rest of the tour. “I will talk to literally anybody,” Jason Bermas, a producer of the 9/11 conspiracy-theory cult classic Loose Change, tells me. “I think Elon Musk is a very, very dangerous person. Where else am I going to get the chance, in front of a bunch of people that may have a positive viewpoint of that man, to be able to show that type of information and open those types of eyes?”
Mike Rothschild, a journalist and QAnon expert, agrees that cross-radicalization allows everyone on the tour to find a wider audience. It also helps QAnon undergo a metamorphosis. “I think it’s a rebranding of the movement,” Rothschild says, noting that the Q brand has outlived its usefulness. “It makes them look like they’re part of that crazy movement of people who are waiting for JFK Jr.”
The conspiracy formerly known as QAnon has proved wildly elastic, able to absorb the far right’s many conspiracy theories into one overarching whole. “It’s really a health-freedom/stolen-election/anti-cancel-culture thing,” Rothschild says. “And everybody believes in some aspect of that conspiracy even if they don’t believe in the whole thing.”
All of this has been facilitated by Clay Clark, who is not well known outside this strange community. Within it, he seems inescapable. At one point, he appears on the screen above the stage receiving a baptism. Clark takes off his shoes, then is in the ocean. He is tipping backward, baptized, saved. He emerges from the water happy, clapping. Fade to white.
Clark is a Tulsa businessman who boasts on every website he’s ever created of his 2007 title of “State of Oklahoma Young Entrepreneur of the Year.” He has founded several ventures including a DJ service, a wedding-photography outfit, a barbershop, and a business consultancy. He has written 16 books including Do Your Job: A Look Under the Hoodie, Podcast Domination 101, and Fear Unmasked 2.0: Killing the Spirit of Fear, Explaining the Great Reset, and Giving You an Action Plan to Save America.
Clark did not believe in God until his son, born blind, miraculously regained his sight. Even after that, Clark saw God as an entity that was far away and disinterested. “I didn’t really believe that satanic, Luciferian people actually existed. And I didn’t really believe that there was a lot of power and authority in the name of Jesus Christ,” he has said.
Now he knows better, in part because of a 2013 prophecy by Kim Clement, a singer-songwriter who some believe speaks with the voice of God. The prophecy, which Clark heard for the first time in 2020, states, “There is a man by the name of Mr. Clark, and there is also another man by the name of Donald. You are both watching me say, ‘Could it be that God is speaking to me?’ Yes, He is!”
“He has an almost messianic view of himself,” Rothschild says. “It’s all very bound up in prophetic Christianity.” God’s plan began unfolding almost immediately. Clark found himself planning a ReAwaken America rally with Flynn. What started as a one-off anti-mask event in 2021 has become a sort of conspiratorial snowball, rolling from state to state and getting bigger with each stop.
Not everyone has enjoyed the ride, though. At the bar, I meet a couple who have had an incredibly disappointing VIP experience. The tickets, at $500 each, are supposed to come with a reserved seat, a duffel bag full of merch, a backstage pass, and dinner with Flynn. But upon arriving, they discover that Clark oversold the event. They wait over an hour while staff members scramble to find them and other VIPs proper seating. The duffel bag turns out to more closely resemble a reusable grocery bag, and no one has any details about dinner with the general. Exhausted and furious, the couple plant themselves at the bar, searching for a bright side. At least her money helped the speakers afford to do the research they do, she says, until the woman on the other side of me informs her the speakers do not get paid.
Her face falls. “A thousand dollars and they’re not getting any of the money?”
The sun is beginning to set over Myrtle Beach as hundreds of the ReAwakened make their way toward the ocean for the baptism. The weather is cool, but the predicted rain has failed to emerge. I overhear several people praise God for this miracle. “He wants His people to come home,” someone says.
As the clouds above grow pinker, the pastor instructs them to form a line. The first candidate slowly wades into the surf, two volunteers guiding her to the waiting pastor, who tilts her body back and submerges her in a cresting wave. She springs up, an expression of pure joy on her face, and hugs him.
The next candidate steps forward, then the next. A massive line has formed, and the exercise begins to take on an assembly-line quality. Step up, go out into the surf, feet up, lean back. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, congratulations. Have a nice day.
Family and friends stand to one side and record their loved ones receiving the sacrament. One of them is wearing a “Trumpinator” T-shirt.
The people on this beach — and at the conference — are a fairly even mix of men and women. They skew older; when Flynn asks all the grandparents to stand up, about three-quarters of the audience does so. They are, for the most part, white, and they tend to wear the genre of clothing found in every Target and Kohl’s across America. When a speaker asks who lives nearby, approximately half raise their hands. I suspect most people here live in the same kind of place, however far away it may be. A lot of my own family members live there too.
Behind me, volunteers join prophets named Amanda Grace and Manuel Johnson in laying hands on individuals who wish to receive prayer. A woman with curly graying hair collapses to her knees beneath their arms. They hold her gently as she cries the deep and ugly sobs of someone putting down a burden she has carried far too long. “She’s okay,” the person next to me says after taking a closer look. “She’s filled with the Holy Spirit.” A more secular explanation might involve feelings of togetherness and acceptance, the human touch. Whatever it is, there seems to be a real shortage of it.
“A lot of people I talked to this morning said they’re having some problem with their families when they share the truth with them,” Clark says to the crowd early the second day. “Can anyone relate to this?” Their applause suggests many of them could. He reads them a Bible verse he finds helpful, Matthew 10:34–39:
For I have come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.
“My summary,” he tells the crowd, smiling, “is ‘Deal with it!’”
“‘I’ve been losing my friends, losing my family over all this’ — I’ve heard all that,” the QAnon “Patriot Streetfighter” Scott McKay declares as he stalks the stage a few hours later, trademark tomahawk in hand. “You too?”
The audience murmurs assent.
“Let me explain something to you. The birth canal is only the entry point; it’s not your family. Look around you: Here’s your ascendant family. This is the one that counts!”
Soon after, a pastor tells the audience Satan will work through your family members to entice you to get the vaccine.