On Nov. 4, 2020, Jim Marchant answered a knock on his hotel-room door. That moment would change his life.
Marchant, a former Republican state representative, had just checked into a suite at Las Vegas’s Venetian resort to plot out his attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election and save Nevada for Donald Trump. After losing his own congressional bid in the same election, Marchant felt sure that something had gone badly wrong.
Then he heard the knock. When he opened the door, Marchant came face-to-face with an enigmatic QAnon conspiracy theorist named Wayne Willott, who goes by the alias “Juan O. Savin.”
“Guess who showed up at my suite?” Marchant said at a Las Vegas QAnon convention in October 2021, when he recounted his meeting with Willott for the first time in public. “It will blow you away. You saw him Saturday, you saw him yesterday. Juan O. Savin!”
The crowd exploded in cheers at the mention of Willott’s alias. While the 65-year-old Willott remains all but unknown outside of QAnon, he’s a figure with growing influence in both the conspiracy-theory universe and the broader conservative movement. Along the way, many of Willott’s supporters have come to believe he’s John F. Kennedy Jr. in disguise. He’s also befriended Q-friendly celebrities, including comedian Roseanne Barr and The Passion of the Christ star Jim Caviezel.
At the Venetian, Willott and Marchant set to work to uncover “the fraudulent election.” But by May 2021, they were looking to the future. They convened a meeting of conservative activists, donors, and media figures, all focused on seizing the secretary of state offices that administer elections.
The group that emerged from that meeting, the America First Secretary of State Coalition, now stands poised to have its candidates win offices in key battleground states. One of the group’s candidates, Kristina Karamo, has already won the Republican nomination for the position in Michigan. Another candidate, 2020 election denier and Arizona state representative Mark Finchem, has won Trump’s endorsement and looks set to win his state’s primary as well. If victorious in the general election, both candidates could play a key role in how electoral votes from their states are allotted in 2024.
“If one of these candidates in the future gets elected, there is a QAnon influencer that could help lead to a constitutional crisis,” said Alex Kaplan, a Media Matters for America senior researcher who has reported on Willott’s political efforts.
The significance of Willott’s role as a co-founder of the America First coalition has gone mostly unnoticed outside of a few articles, even as the secretary of state candidates describe him as a sort of guru. Willott’s ability to organize viable candidates represents QAnon’s voice within the Republican Party, as the proto-fascist movement grows from its base as an online conspiracy theory claiming Democrats are blood-drinking Satanic pedophiles into one that could soon affect how elections are administered.
Despite his growing influence, almost nothing has been reported about Willott’s background. The Daily Beast has amassed the most extensive reporting on Willott yet, from his background as a second-rate investigator looking into Bill Clinton in the 1990s to his reinvention as the cosmopolitan secret agent Juan O. Savin, to his new role as a power broker on the far right.
Willott grew up in the Seattle area, and appears to still live there. In the 1970s, he started working as a private investigator, and as recently as 2009 was still working on insurance investigations in Alaska. Court records show Willott videotaping potential worker’s compensation claimants to see if they were really injured, checking if they were genuinely too injured to perform yard work. Those cases were far from the high-stakes clandestine work he would later claim to have carried out as “Juan O. Savin.”
It’s not clear how Willott first became involved in conspiracy theories. But by the 1990s, Willott was a bit player in the Arkansas political scene, where reporters and Republican operatives criss-crossed the state looking for dirt on then-president Bill Clinton.
Willott worked as an investigator calling into a talk radio show hosted by Michael Reagan, one of Ronald Reagan’s sons. In one bizarre incident covered by the conservative magazine The American Spectator in 1997, Willott began surveilling an amateur sleuth in the Clinton-dirt demimonde, who was himself tailing another Clinton adversary who was friends with Willott. James Ring Adams, a reporter who covered the saga for the Spectator, compared the misadventures of Willott and his cohort to the Mad magazine feature “Spy vs. Spy.”
“He certainly was a bottom-dweller back then,” said Adams.
Willott engaged in political activism in his native Washington state, too. In 1997, The Olympian newspaper reported on a rally organized by Willott against the state’s child welfare agency. In a foreshadowing of QAnon’s future allegations that Child Protective Services agencies are funnels for Democratic child sex traffickers, Willott and his fellow protesters claimed that the agencies were effectively stealing children from their parents.
For nearly 20 years after that, Willott’s political trail goes cold. He appears to have continued working as an insurance investigator in Alaska, according to court records. Willott couldn’t always carry out that work satisfactorily—in one case, the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board ruled that Willott was “not a credible witness” after reviewing footage he had accidentally recorded of himself disparaging both his surveillance target and his client.
Willott resurfaced in public life in Barack Obama’s second term, riding a wave in fringe-right media. By 2013, he had stopped using his own name in the conspiracy theory community, becoming a recurring guest on conspiracy theorist Douglas Hagmann’s talk radio show under the alias “W the Intelligence Insider.”
With Hagmann’s help, Willott transformed himself from a little-known activist into a whistleblower from far inside the deep state whom Hagmann described as the “real American James Bond.” Hagmann claimed Willott was somehow involved in the collapse of the Soviet Union. Willott insisted he had global connections — in an email to writer and Hagmann associate Marinka Peschmann, he promised to investigate an intelligence matter with a “Russkie” friend.
Hagmann described Willott to his audience as a “millionaire.” But court records in Washington reveal that Willott has a history of financial problems.
In 1980, a bank sued Willott, alleging that he had run up more than $3,000 in debt and asking for permission to seize his sports cars to pay it off. In 2014, a trust representing Willott’s relatives successfully sued to evict him from a family home in Seattle and claim back rent.
Willott also has a history of tax liens from the IRS, with the tax agency hitting him with a lien for $11,453.37 in 1997 and a lien for $299,000 in 1999.
As “W,” Willott warned Hagmann that the Obama administration had decided to murder the radio host. He claimed Obama would soon crack down on freedom-loving Americans, an idea that was soon repeated by Glenn Beck, magnifying both Willott and Hagmann’s prominence on the right. Hagmann also interviewed Willott with a new Willott alias, “Juan O. Savin,” in which Willott laid out his globe-trotting adventures as an investigator and claimed he had uncovered proof that world elites share alien DNA strands.
Willott’s association with Hagmann would also come to reveal his true identity. In 2015, Peschmann sued Hagmann, accusing him of slandering her in an imbroglio related to the supposed government assassination plot Willott had revealed. Peschmann mentioned Willott repeatedly in the lawsuit, tying his legal name to the “W the Intelligence Insider” persona.
In January 2019, Willott began to appear on an online show hosted by Field McConnell, a commercial airline pilot turned 9/11 conspiracy theorist. After QAnon began, McConnell latched onto the movement. In these appearances, Willott used his “Juan O. Savin” persona to promote QAnon.
It’s not clear why Willott chose his alias, “Juan O. Savin,” which is meant to be play on the numbers “107.” It could be a pun on James Bond’s designation as “007,” or a more obscure reference from gematria, the fringe numerological theories popular with Willott and other QAnon believers.
A faction of McConnell’s fanbase began to believe, based on these elaborate numerological theories, that Willott was John F. Kennedy Jr. in disguise. As part of McConnell’s orbit, Willott also played a minor role in the story of Cynthia Abcug, a QAnon-believing mother who allegedly planned an armed assault on a foster home where her son was living. According to Joseph Ramos, who joined Abcug as she fled from police in October 2019, Willott met with Abcug as she evaded law enforcement for months after her alleged plot was uncovered.
When FBI agents finally caught up with Abcug in Dec. 2019, Willott fumed in an email to a friend that was later published online by one of Willott’s enemies, moaning that her plight made QAnon believers look like “hillbilly militias and internet patriot kooks.”
“The Q operation cannot endorse or appear to assist this type of idiocy,” Willott griped in the email, which was later published online by one of Willott’s rivals.
Willott’s run with McConnell wouldn’t last long, however. In November 2019, police arrested McConnell over his QAnon-fueled harassment of a Florida attorney. As McConnell began a long journey through the justice system, prolonged by his insistence on hiring amateur QAnon-sympathetic lawyers instead of an actual attorney to represent him, Willott branched out. He started appearing on more QAnon online shows, taking care to hide his face in videos—except when he accidentally reversed the camera, revealing his true identity.
Thanks to his ties throughout the conspiracy theorist community and rumors that he’s JFK Jr., Willott’s star shot up on the right in 2020 and 2021. Signed copies of his book promoting QAnon have sold for hundreds of dollars on eBay. With Q, the originator of QAnon, silent since Dec. 2020, Willott quickly became one of the leading sources of QAnon information.
Willott’s rise to the top of the QAnon heap was abetted by the other QAnon promoters’ refusal to take the coronavirus vaccine. In the course of just a few months, two anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists who had promoted Willott, Robert David Steele and Cirsten Weldon, both died of Covid-19.
“He just slid in and took over,” said Jeff Beach, a former QAnon promoter who has left the movement and now researches its leaders.
On May 1, 2021, Willott and Marchant formalized their secretary of state coalition with a meeting in Las Vegas of roughly 40 people. According to Marchant, attendees included Overstock.com founder Patrick Byrne, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, and former Claremont Institute president Brian E. Kennedy.
“I got to work, Juan O. Savin helped,” Marchant said.
In his QAnon convention speech in Oct. 2021, Marchant described the meeting as “truly eventful, even historic.” Conservative media outlets were represented, too. Jim Hoft, the owner of popular right-wing hoax blog The Gateway Pundit, confirmed to The Daily Beast that his brother Joe Hoft attended the meeting via Zoom.
Byrne and Kennedy didn’t respond to requests for comment. Lindell told The Daily Beast he doesn’t know Willott.
Willott made his first public appearance as Juan O. Savin, pulling up in a sports car as his fans cheered. In his speech, Willott, wearing a cowboy hat, made his usual rants about the deep state. His appearance at the event thrilled his adherents and created a split among rival QAnon leaders, who consider him a huckster even by the already low standards of their community.
But the real revelation about Willott’s sway on the right came at another event at the conference, where it became clear that Willott is held in great esteem by the secretary of state hopefuls. At the QAnon convention, California secretary of state hopeful Rachel Hamm, seated alongside Finchem, Karamo, and Marchant, cited Willott’s predictions about a future prison for top Democrats in Guantanamo Bay.
“Remember, Juan told us the other night that if we can’t get justice through our courts, he has built another one,” Hamm said. “Remember? He said that the other night. We built one at Gitmo, they said.”
“Plan A: See Juan,” Marchant, himself a candidate for Nevada secretary of state, said.
“Juan has been very good to us,” Hamm said.