On Thursday, the Washington Post and CBS News broke the news that Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, had frantically texted with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in the weeks following the 2020 election and leading up to the Jan. 6 insurrection to discuss an array of conspiracy theories alleging that the presidential election had been stolen by Democrats.
The implications of the report are astounding for a number of reasons. First, it means that the wife of a sitting Supreme Court justice was deeply enmeshed in Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Second, it means that this justice’s wife could come under scrutiny by the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack. Third, it means that in January when Clarence Thomas was the lone dissenting vote in an 8–1 decision by the court to allow the release of National Archives documents surrounding the events of Jan. 6 to the select committee, he was protecting documents that might implicate his wife—a clear conflict of interest that should have demanded recusal. It’s uncertain how all of this will play out, though Democrats do not seem to have the votes to impeach and remove Thomas, who was released from the hospital on Friday after spending several days there with an infection, and will thus likely not attempt that route.
There’s much more that has yet to be made public: The Post reported that the exchanges “pause after Nov. 24, 2020, with an unexplained gap in correspondence.” What we do know now, though, is just the full extent that Clarence Thomas’ wife has embraced the most radical and demented conspiracy theories of QAnon and Alex Jones.
Specifically, the Post describes a deleted YouTube video forwarded to Meadows by Thomas. It’s worth diving deeper into that clip to further understand just how far into QAnon territory Thomas has gone, and how the conspiracy theory about “watermarks” that captured her attention after the election still animates many conservatives.
Here’s how the theory is introduced in the Post report:
The first of the 29 messages between Ginni Thomas and Meadows was sent on Nov. 5, two days after the election. She sent him a link to a YouTube video labeled “TRUMP STING w CIA Director Steve Pieczenik, The Biggest Election Story in History, QFS-BLOCKCHAIN.”
Pieczenik, a former State Department official, is a far-right commentator who has falsely claimed that the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., was a “false-flag” operation to push a gun-control agenda.
The video Thomas shared with Meadows is no longer available on YouTube. But Thomas wrote to Meadows, “I hope this is true; never heard anything like this before, or even a hint of it. Possible???”
“Watermarked ballots in over 12 states have been part of a huge Trump & military white hat sting operation in 12 key battleground states,” she wrote.
Thomas further said she believed that the Bidens might ultimately be locked up in Guantanamo Bay, quoting a passage about “military tribunals for sedition” that had circulated on right-wing websites.
The deleted video appears to be this Nov. 5 interview with Pieczenik with Infowars host Owen Shroyer.
In it, Pieczenik—a former Carter administration official who has spent recent years writing spy novels—describes a theory that has become foundational to those who claim the election was stolen.
As Pieczenik said to Shroyer:
This is really a sting operation, contrary to what everybody else said. Trump knew this was happening. Eric knew this was happening and warned the public. I knew this was happening, however I could not say anything about it. What happened was we marked, watermarked every ballot with what’s called the QFS block chain encryption code. In other words we know pretty well where every ballot is, where it went, and who has it, so this is not a stolen election. … All of this is part of the sting operation we’re running. And let me tell you that 48 hours ago, not only did we put markers on those ballots, but I can say now with the permission of people in the intelligence community and elsewhere that we have sent out thousands and thousands of national guard to 12 different states. … This is our counter-coup against the Bidens. … [Arrests are] coming not just down the road, they’re being implemented. … People will be arrested as of tonight, tomorrow, and it will go on for quite a while and this was a total sting operation. … We use [the watermark] in any way that we need to use it in terms of counting, knowing which ones were fake, which ones were not, it’s a very sophisticated code.
For anyone not steeped in this world, this is all a bit challenging to even comprehend. The debunking website Snopes, though, wrote a comprehensive explanation of this conspiracy theory a week after it emerged. As Snopes explains, “QFS” is short for “quantum financial system,” a supposedly secret financial system that conspiracy theorists believe was passed into law in the 1990s and will wipe out debts. “A ‘quantum blockchain system’ is like the ‘quantum financial system’— an imaginary notion,” Snopes notes. According to this “nonsensical” theory, the technology was supposedly embedded by the federal government on ballots to differentiate real ballots from false ones that were allegedly dumped into the system by Biden and his backers. As Reuters journalist Brad Heath reported, this specific conspiracy theory was supported by at least one of the affiants in an early Trump election lawsuit in Michigan. As that “witness” wrote on Facebook:
On Sunday, November 8, 2020, a recount of ballots nationwide was being done by elite units of the National Guards [sic]. To prevent fraud, official ballots had been printed with an invisible, unbreakable code watermark and registered on a Quantum Blockchain System. As of writing, in five states, 14 million ballots had been put through a laser scanner – 78% of which failed because there was no watermark to verify the ballot. Of those ballots that failed, 100% had checked for Biden.
When Ginni Thomas referred to the “white hat sting operation in 12 key battleground states” in a text to the White House chief of staff, she was referring to a theory that the Trump administration secretly watermarked millions of ballots in order to catch the Democrats in the act of stealing the election. Conspiracy theorists also understood a connection between the “watermarking” theory and a 2018 QAnon thread which cryptically warned adherents to “watch the water.” And QAnon—the cultlike belief in a Democratic cabal of child predators—received a boost this week from a series of Republican attacks about child porn sentencing during Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearings.
At this point, you might be thinking that more than a year after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, these theories might no longer hold as much sway in the world Thomas inhabits. However, less than a year ago, the Cyber Ninjas’ ostensible audit of the election results in Arizona used ultraviolet lights to hunt for secret watermarks that had allegedly been inserted by Trump. And just this week, Alabama’s Republican attorney general refused to say that Biden had been legally elected. Meanwhile, Shroyer—the Infowars host of the program on which the theory originated—is fighting charges related to his presence at the Capitol on Jan. 6 by claiming that if he deserved arrest “then Jesus Christ or the Dalai Lama would have been arrested for trying to be a peacemaker.”
Ginni Thomas was also at the Trump rally that sparked the mob attack on Jan. 6. Meanwhile, her husband continues to sit on the nation’s highest court and participates in cases that might directly implicate his wife. The distance from the furthest reaches of far-right fairy tales to the highest seats of power has almost never been shorter.