Image Courtesy of Daily Mail
By Isabel Love
The Whole Story with Anderson Cooper premiered its newest episode, Waiting for JFK: Report from the Fringe on Sunday, September 24. CNN reporter Donie O’Sullivan investigated the story of a certain fringe QAnon cult for an entire year, interviewing those involved in order to gain an understanding of the mysterious group.
The documentary reported that the cult is considered extreme even by members of the wider QAnon movement. While many proponents of QAnon believe in conspiracies, like stolen presidential elections and the corruption of the so-called “deep-state,” members of this smaller sect also believe that President John F. Kennedy and his son John F. Kennedy Jr. never died.
Cult leader Michael Protzman—also referred to as “Negative 48” by his followers—was exposed to such conspiracy theories beginning in 2015, according to his mother Colleen Protzman. Colleen was interviewed by O’Sullivan and provided an inside look into Michael’s life in the documentary.
Michael Protzman rapidly amassed over 80,000 followers on the social media platform Telegram by sharing the JFK conspiracy, citing a numerology system called Gematria as the basis for these beliefs. Gematria is a sort of code that works by assigning numbers to each letter of the alphabet. For example, because JFK Jr.’s plane crash took place on 7/16/1999, Protzman concluded that the “seven could be six and one. Sixty-one is the red tie that Trump wears. One twenty-two equals JFK Jr. alive.” Protzman’s own moniker “Negative 48” derives from Gematria. The number 48 corresponds to the word “evil”, and thus, negative 48 means negative evil.
In 2021, Protzman brought his followers together in Dallas. They assembled at the Grassy Knoll (an area near where JFK was shot), under the assumption that JFK and JFK, Jr. would finally return to seize power over the U.S. government. According to those interviewed in the episode, cult members believe that the Kennedys are descendants of Jesus Christ (along with other popular QAnon figures, like Donald Trump and General Michael Flynn), and so are destined to save America.
While these beliefs are often dismissed by the general public because of their outrageous nature, experts from the documentary like Diane Benscoter encourage Americans to consider the cult’s impact on emotionally vulnerable people. Besides illuminating the cult’s harmful political activities, the documentary also shares the shocking stories of families affected by the cult. Claudette and Carmen Richter, family members of Klaus Richter, a former Protzman follower, offered their testimony regarding his experience.
After Richter left his family to join Protzman, he suffered a serious accident and was rushed to the hospital. By the time Claudette and Carmen arrived at the scene, another Protzman follower, who falsely claimed to be Klaus’ sister, had been making medical decisions on his behalf. Klaus Richter later died from his injuries.
Erica Vigrass, the sister of another Protzman follower, urges those who know someone in danger of becoming radicalized by similar conspiracy theories to “take it seriously”. Her message adds to the documentary’s emphasis on the damage that cults cause not only to their victims but to their friends and families as well.
Michael Protzman has since passed away from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident in June of 2021, but his followers remain unconvinced of his whereabouts, with some believing he is still alive and in hiding. The documentary concludes with Benscoter stating that empathy is integral when helping people escape cults and return to normal lives. Colleen Protzman hopes that the issue can be laid to rest, agreeing that it is time for her son’s followers to finally leave his rhetoric behind.
Waiting for JFK: Report from the Fringe can be accessed by pay TV subscribers on CNN.com, CNN-supported apps, and Cable Operator Platforms. Audio from The Whole Story with Anderson Cooper is also available for free as a showcase on CNN’s website.