For the Turtle Creek Chorale, which organized the gathering, every concert should have a message. They sing about injustices and intolerance and the people harmed by both.
Sean Baugh, the artistic director, said he chose songs such as “Make Them Hear You” from the musical Ragtime and “Let There Be Peace On Earth” because they speak to peace, coming together and finding common ground.
“It’s been a very long time since we’ve felt the need to do something like this,” Baugh said. “The choruses like ours during COVID kind of learned we lost our voice a little bit and so coming out of COVID, we know we have to speak on issues and injustice and intolerance, and so here we are today to sing and put some good in the world.
"We’re just trying to bring a little joy and counteract some of those messages that are being put out today in Dallas."
Those messages were on full display inside the QAnon-linked For God & Country Patriot Roundup over the Memorial Day weekend.
The chorale had caught wind of the event a couple of months ago and has been planning a peaceful counter-protest since. About a dozen members of various choirs turned out. One of the last community events they did followed the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando.
"We’re just trying to bring a little joy and counteract some of those messages that are being put out today in Dallas." - Sean Baugh, Turtle Creek Chorale
A group called Patriot Voice organized the QAnon event. The faces behind the group are the couple John Sabal and his partner Amy. On the social media platform Telegram, the two go by QAnon John and QueenAnon Amy. Since the news first broke of their convention, they refused time and again to speak to most media outlets, and several journalists were denied access to the gathering.
Promotional material for the event often included an acronym that stands for “where we go one, we go all,” a popular QAnon slogan cribbed from the film White Squall. QAnon John and QueenAnon Amy have insisted that their event wasn't tied to QAnon, but their Telegram channel and the list of speakers say otherwise.
The FBI has called QAnon a domestic terrorist threat. The conspiracy theory is multifaceted, but it revolves around the idea that the so-called “deep state” is controlled by pedophile Hollywood elites and powerful Democratic politicians, all of whom are supposedly acting against the former president. Followers of other conspiracy theories can find a warm welcome among the Q crowd.
As The Turtle Creek Chorale sang, supporters of former President Donald Trump and QAnon acolytes waved signs and chanted at passing cars just down the street.
On top of seeking justice for Prince, they also believe the presidency was stolen from Trump and ballots cast in the last election should be recounted.
Stearns is from Massachusetts, but he’s been staying in Corpus Christi with the group. They came to Dallas for the roundup. Though they were in town because of the convention, no one in the group attended or watched the livestream. He said while their messaging is similar, they don't see eye-to-eye with the Q Con organizers.
"This is where everybody is, but they're up in their buildings right now," Stearns told me. "I don't know. You have to pay for passes. That's not for the people. We're for the people. That's just one of the big things that they're failing to see and God's really making that apparent."
Tickets for the event cost $500-$1,000. Organizers said the high ticket price would help weed out possible infiltrators.
"You have to pay for passes, that's not for the people. We're for the people." - Kevin Stearns, QAnon supporter
Besides a meet-and-greet at the Omni, most of the convention was supposed to be held at Gilley's in Dallas, but there was a venue change. The organizers said they’d only announce the new venue to ticket holders closer to the event. The Omni was mostly just being used as a place for attendees to stay while in Dallas.
Sabal and Amy claim they decided to pull out of Gilley’s because of the “absurd harassment and threats” the venue was getting for the event. Though they kept their lips shut, the new location was leaked on Friday.
According to Sabal and his partner, Dallas is only the beginning. They said they're planning an event they want to take place in Las Vegas. The couple wants to call it the For God & Country Patriot Double Down.
Hundreds of attendees piled into Eddie Deen’s Ranch, a short walk from the Omni, to hear such speakers as retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the ex-national security adviser to Trump, and Sidney Powell, formerly a lawyer for both Flynn and Trump. Some of the proceeds went to Powell’s nonprofit, Defending the Republic.
Powell describes her nonprofit as a legal defense fund to protect the integrity of U.S. elections. She and several others were sued by Dominion Voting Systems, a Denver-based voting technology vendor, for spreading lies the company aided in stealing the election from Trump. (There is no evidence the election was rigged.)
But QAnon believers may have walked away from the convention feeling confused. The theory includes the belief that members of the cabal are being punished through military tribunals. Followers will also say everything that has happened, including Trump losing the election, is part of the plan. But Powell, who came on stage to Alicia Keys' “This Girl Is On Fire," told the audience at Eddie Deen’s no military tribunals were going on and she didn’t know of such a plan.
"I don't have any evidence that there's some grand underlying plan pursuant to which all this is going to be made right,” Powell said. “I don't want to give anybody false hope that this is happening."
Once the proof of Trump’s win is revealed, she said, he can be reinstated as president. Powell also called President Joe Biden “a demented old pervert who can’t even tie his shoes.”
Jason Sullivan, a social media expert who worked with Trump ally Roger Stone during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, told the audience how to use the internet to get their messages out. He also spoke about election fraud (which hasn't been proven) and made a noose gesture around his neck when referring to Hillary Clinton.
If that didn’t get people fired up, Flynn's seemingly calling for a coup must have. An audience member asked Flynn why a coup, like the one that killed hundreds earlier this year in Myanmar, couldn’t happen in the U.S. Flynn responded: “No reason. I mean, it should happen here.”
When word of this got out, Flynn issued this statement: “There is NO reason whatsoever for any coup in America, and I do not and have not at any time called for any action of that sort. Any reporting of any other belief by me is a boldface fabrication based on twisted reporting at a lively panel at a conference of Patriotic Americans who love this country, just as I do.” He blamed the “fake news media.”
Ahead of the event, the organizers were turning down media requests right and left.
“We’re going to have very selective media, and it’s going to be conservative media,” Sabal said on the Patriot Transition Voice web show. “There’s going to be pretty much next to no mainstream media. We’re looking at a couple possible international media sources.”
In a Telegram post, Sabal told his more than 25,000 followers that Logan Strain, one of the hosts of the widely popular QAnon Anonymous Podcast, and the Daily Beast’s Will Sommer (who’s working on a book about QAnon) both tried to purchase tickets to the Dallas event, but they would not be let in.
Strain, who until recently criticized the conspiracy theory under the pseudonym Travis View, had his ticket canceled just days before the convention.
But Sommer said he never received an email canceling and refunding his ticket. So, he got on the list, was given an access pass and walked right into Eddie Deen’s Ranch. Sommer sat among the crowd of so-called patriots gathering material for his upcoming book for nearly two days.
Sunday afternoon, though, someone noticed Sommer in the crowd. It wasn't long before the organizers called the Dallas Police Department to escort him out. As he was taken out of the building, the crowd rose in a standing ovation. As Sommer was escorted out, Sabal and Amy followed QAnon influencer Jordan Sather while he filmed the interaction. Sather also spoke at the convention.
“You weren’t supposed to be here,” Sather told Sommer. Sabal and Amy also tried to say Sommer’s ticket was canceled and refunded and that he was trespassing. He told DPD and the organizers there was no deception, he bought the ticket under his own name, it hadn’t been canceled, but that he was happy to leave. Later that day, Sommer posted a screenshot from the site his ticket was purchased from showing it was still valid.
A reporter for Vice was also pulled out. "QAnon John just yanked my conference pass from me and yelled about VICE ruining lives," Vegas Tenold said on Twitter. "No more Patriot Roundup for me, and I'll never stop being amazed at how these people blame journalists for reporting the buck wild things that they say."
"QAnon John just yanked my conference pass from me and yelled about VICE ruining lives." - Vegas Tenold, reporter
Flynn and Powell were the big-ticket items, but some prominent Texans also appeared on the bill: Texas GOP chairman Allen West, U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert and Commissioner of Agriculture Sid Miller showed up. Lin Wood, the attorney and conspiracy theorist based in Georgia, was also supposed to speak, but he canceled just days before.
West, like many other speakers, encouraged listeners to get involved in local politics. He also said they could celebrate Memorial Day by standing up to the leftists supposedly trying to take over the country.
Gohmert didn't seem to have much of a message during his time on stage at the event. He spoke about how mean-spirited the left is, and how he was too embarrassed to ask for ketchup for his meatloaf during one of his first dinners with Trump. (As Gohmert recalls, though, Trump also ordered the meatloaf, put ketchup on it and then tried to convince him to put ketchup on his mashed potatoes.) Later, he argued that the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol wasn't that big of a deal compared to Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The other speakers spewed homophobia, transphobia, misinformation about the pandemic (repeatedly referring to it as the "plandemic") and false claims about an alleged pedophile cabal in the U.S.
Viki O'Brien is the CEO and producer of her Texas-based media company, Relevant Entertainment. She told the audience to strap in. O'Brien went on to explain that Walt Disney was a level 33 Free Mason, an organization she said is meant to indoctrinate the masses. They do this, in part, through entertainment, pop culture and media. She said preteens are bombarded with transgender narratives and satanic symbolism and that transitioning genders makes people more like Satan.
Attendees left the convention having spent thousands of dollars on auctioned items like a baseball bat signed by Flynn ($8,000), as well as a blanket adorned with a Q logo signed by Flynn, Wood and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell. But, they also left having been told they needed to stop being so nice. They needed to become more involved. They needed to double down.
Outside the Omni on Saturday, the musicians played for a couple of hours. Stephen Price, who's been with the Turtle Creek Chorale for three decades, said it was important to deliver their message: one of love and equality for all.