A Berlin-based performance artist and art dealer has been accused of being the man behind a sinister conspiracy theory network on social media seeking to attract followers away from the QAnon cult.
British anti-fascist group Hope Not Hate (HNH) says its research indicates that Sebastian Bieniek, a 45-year-old German art world personality, is responsible for a string of 136 channels on the unregulated messaging app Telegram that post QAnon-related misinformation while seeking to promote a strange quasi-religion centered around a Messianic figure known as Sabmyk, the pre-ordained ruler of the world.
The QAnon conspiracy theory, itself evolved from the earlier Pizzagate urban myth, claims that a shady cabal of devil-worshipping paedophile Democrats and celebrities runs the US government in secret and that Donald Trump has been engaged in a war against it behind the scenes.
The cult’s popularity spread on social media throughout the coronavirus pandemic but Mr Trump’s defeat in November’s presidential election and the subsequent inauguration of Joe Biden has caused even the group’s most ardent believers to lose faith, its latest deadline for the ex-president’s return amid a bloody uprising passing on Saturday without incident.
Support for the QAnon movement became increasingly international and spread to Europe during lockdown but now appears to be slowly falling away as its prophecies continue to disappoint, with the Sabmyk Network identified by HNH poised to capitalise by offering disaffected zealots a new fantastical narrative to believe in.
According to HNH researcher Gregory Davis, the network consists of Telegram channels intended to appeal to different fringe collectives around the world, including disillusioned Trump supporters, British anti-Muslim groups, evangelical Christians, believers in UFOs and anti-vaxxers. Some channels are named for Trumpworld figures like Michael Flynn and Rudy Giuliani, others after fictional regional newspapers such as The London Post, The Liverpool Times and Chicago Reporter.
It posts in English, German, Japanese and Korean and reaches over 1m subscribers in total.
The largest of its offerings, the Great Awakening Channel, cannibalises its title from Q mythology and has attracted over 134,000 followers. Its posts typically receive over 200,000 views. Other channels in its stable seeking to profit from the earlier movement are entitled Q Donald Trump, Q Speaking and WWG1WGA, an acronym for the cult’s rallying cry: “Where we go one, we go all”.
Rather than feed followers content on the pet themes they appear to be dedicated to, such as Mr Trump’s disproven claims of election fraud or dislike of London mayor Sadiq Khan, the channels are instead populated with QAnon stories.
Their actual purpose, though, appears to be spreading the word about Sabmyk, a leader whose coming was apparently foretold by the Biblical Noah and who will lead an “awakening” by wielding the all-powerful “Sword of Shawunawaz”, once owned by the “Orion Kings of Atlantis”.
Much of the mythology originates from a website apparently set up by a 55-year-old Iranian artist living in Germany named Princess Ameli Achaemenes, who claims to be the descendent of Persian royalty and tells of how the ancestral sword was returned to her by billionaire Hungarian financier George Soros in 1992, dating the weapon back through history and claiming it was depicted by Heraclitus and Pablo Picasso.
A Facebook account for a woman of that name was reportedly set up in 2018 and her website is one of several devoted to the narrative and its fables that were set up early last year, only really gaining traction in December. The only image of Princess Achaemenes on the site depicts a woman posing in front of a minaret but wearing a niqab so that her face is concealed.
However the HNH investigation alleges that she is fictional and an invention of Mr Bieniek, who has sold artwork on eBay under her name as well as other pseudonyms like “Vincent Van Volkmer”, “Arthur Sosna” and “Elias Maria Reti”.
“Bieniek sells artworks under all four names through a string of eBay accounts, a trade which appears to be fairly lucrative,” writes Mr Davis in the new HNH report. “The six accounts we have identified have made sales totalling €24,000 in the past three months alone.”
The key giveaway, the group said, were a number of posts proclaiming that Sabmyk could be identified by the “17 V-shaped scars” on his arm, the result of a “prophetic ceremony at the age of 24”.
Mr Bieniek reportedly took part in a disturbing performance art piece entitled “Hand Without a Body” in 1999, when he was precisely that age, in which he self-harmed once a day for 16 consecutive days.
If Mr Bieniek is behind the project, his motivation for spreading the invented mythology is far from clear.
He is, however, according to Mr Davis, “an obsessive self-publicist with a long history of social media manipulation” who has been proven to own at least 30 “sock puppet” accounts that he has used to edit his own Wikipedia page in 44 different different languages (one of these being “Elias Maria Reti”). The German version of his page has been deleted four times, most recently in January 2021.
He also wrote a book in 2011 called RealFake that detailed a campaign to promote himself and his artwork through deception.
“His long history of social media manipulation seems more like an obsession with fame and attention rather than an art project,” Mr Davis told The Independent of his possible motivations.
“It seems unlikely that he believes much or any of the anti-vaccine or QAnon material he is churning out, and more likely that he had identified those communities as likely to be receptive to his attempt to build a cult around himself.”
Tellingly, Mr Bieniek told the arts magazine The Studio Visit in a 2015 interview: “The internet pushes society to greediness of recognition... It is also very dangerous if you believe that it means reality.”
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