QAnon Congressional Hopeful Hijacks Scottsdale’s School Board Meeting

Ron Watkins attends a Trump rally in Florence, Arizona.
Ron Watkins attends a Trump rally in Florence, Arizona. Gage Skidmore
QAnon luminary and long-shot Arizona congressional candidate Ron Watkins disrupted the Scottsdale school board meeting Tuesday night.

“Communist school boards are now indoctrinating our children,” Watkins shouted at members of the Scottsdale Unified School District board during the otherwise routine public comment portion of its meeting.

“Critical racist theory is teaching [children] to be racist against white people,” he said, riffing on the conservative rally cry against critical race theory, which for much of the right has become a catchall for any discussion of racism in America and, particularly, its impact on Black communities.

Then, he turned to his political campaign pitch: “I am running for Congress,” he said, promising to enact legislation to “stop the communist creeps.”

Watkins is hoping to represent Arizona’s District 2, formerly District 1, in the U.S. House of Representatives. The largely rural district includes cities such as Flagstaff and Prescott but also the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe communities.

Even after school board president, Julie Cieniawski informed Watkins that there was no electioneering permitted during public comment, he refused to sit down and yield his time for several minutes, video of the meeting shows. A shouting match ensued.

As he concluded, the small gaggle of parents and attendees who gathered to watch erupted into cheers.

A school board meeting in a city like Scottsdale, it seems, is now an ideal platform for fringe politicians like Watkins. The once sparsely attended meetings have become new battlegrounds for right-wing politicians. And local civic leaders who volunteer as board members have become pariahs.

Phoenix New Times contacted four Scottsdale board members for comment. Only Cieniawski replied, in a lengthy statement.

She said that while the board “honors and appreciates public input,” she was forced to ask Watkins to stop speaking when he began campaigning.

Then, she turned to the larger problems that public schools in Arizona are facing.

“We are underfunded, understaffed, underrepresented, and legislation continues to be introduced which limits local governance and the education opportunities of our children,” she continued. “Education seems to have become a political tool.”

Watkins announced his congressional run in Arizona back in October. He’s hoping to unseat Democrat Tom O'Halleran alongside a number of Republican challengers, including current state representative Walt Blackman.

The campaign is Watkins’s first foray into politics. So far, without polling data or fundraising figures, he has yet to prove himself as a serious candidate. He’s best known for his previous gig running the message board 8chan (now called 8kun), which is owned by his father, Jim Watkins. Some QAnon researchers suspect the two to be behind the original, anonymous posts on the forum from “Q,” which spurred the sprawling QAnon conspiracy movement.

Among fringe alt-right communities, Watkins is a celebrity. He’s relatively new, though, to Arizona and certainly to Scottsdale. He claims he has a Sedona address and weak (and so far unproven) family ties to the state, but most recently he has lived abroad, in Japan and the Philippines.

It's too early to say where Watkins stands in the polls or in terms of campaign donations

Reached by phone, Watkins said he had chosen to speak in Scottsdale due to the district’s recent, high-profile scandals.

Over the last few months, Scottsdale’s school board has been embattled — attracting so much furor that the local conflict spilled into the national spotlight. At first, the story was typical.

Like school boards around the country, Scottsdale board officers faced mounting opposition last summer from a small fraction of parents opposed to district mask policies and a curriculum perceived in some circles as excessively liberal.

But then, in November, a small group of those parents discovered that someone had compiled a Google drive folder containing extensive records — divorce papers, business filings — on the more vocal parents in the district. It appeared to have been created by the father of the then-president of the school board, Jann-Michael Greenburg. Greenburg himself also had access to the folder — now notorious as "the Scottsdale dossier."

The story made waves on the conservative media circuit. Greenburg eventually stepped down as president, although he remains on the board. Scottsdale police investigated and determined that there was no crime committed and that everything contained in the dossier was a public record. A recall campaign rustled up by the parents failed.

Still, the scandal has stubbornly remained a talking point for right-wing evangelists.

On the phone with New Times, Watkins again called the board “communist.” Pressed on what policies, exactly, he opposed, he brought up the district’s mask mandate. But Scottsdale no longer has a mask mandate. It was dropped in November, after months of pressure from parents. Only staff at the schools, not students, are required to wear masks indoors.

Watkins also announced at the meeting that he plans to take legal action against the school board members for, supposedly, breaking the law. He sent New Times photos of his demands, which claim that board members have broken 27 “state, federal, and international laws.” The documents insist that the district end its “gay rights week” and “propaganda of vaccines.” It’s unclear if Scottsdale schools even have a week celebrating LGBTQ students.

His stunt had racked up nearly 100,000 views on Telegram by Wednesday. Watkins took the opportunity to request campaign donations from his half a million followers.

“Every single penny counts,” he said.
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Katya Schwenk is a staff writer for Phoenix New Times. Originally from Burlington, Vermont, she now covers issues ranging from policing to far-right politics here in Phoenix. She has worked as a breaking news correspondent in Rabat, Morocco, for Morocco World News, a government technology reporter for Scoop News Group in Washington, D.C., and a local reporter in Vermont for VTDigger. Her freelance work has been published in Business Insider, the Intercept, and the American Prospect, among other places.
Contact: Katya Schwenk