Even a cult leader’s death does not kill the cult

Two years ago I wrote about a particularly bizarre cult surrounding John F. Kennedy Jr. that believes that he faked his own death and would be returning as serial sex abuser Donald Trump’s (SSAT) running mate for 2024. A large crowd of believers of this cult congregated at Dealey Plaza (where JFK was assassinated) in November 2021 on the 58th anniversary of his death thinking that both father and son would appear there. Spoiler alert: They did not appear.

The leader of this particular QAnon subcult was someone named Michael Protzman who also went by the label Negative48.

Protzman seems to believe that JFK and Jackie Kennedy were the second physical incarnations of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and direct descendants in a genealogy so bizarre not even Dan Brown would touch it, with JFK Jr. as the Archangel Michael and Donald Trump as the Holy Spirit.

The Negative48 cult is tearing families apart, as Vice’s David Gilbert recently reported. Katy Garner, a nurse from Arkansas, told Gilbert that she had essentially lost her sister to Protzman’s cult in the months since the November 2020 election.

“She left her children for this and doesn’t even care. She is missing birthdays and holidays for this. She truly believes this is all real and we are the crazy ones for trying to get her to come home. But she won’t,” Garner said. “I don’t believe she will ever come back from this. We are in mourning.”

Garner said that, under Protzman’s direction, her sister now is required to drink a hydrogen peroxide solution and take “bio pellets” to ward off COVID-19, and her phone calls are monitored. She also has handed over about $200,000 to the cult.

Protzman had told his followers that they should become comfortable with dying because only then will they know the truth, evoking ominous comparisons to the Jim Jones cult. He himself may now know the truth because he died on June 30th after he lost control of his dirt bike on a motorcross track. But that seems to have only strengthened the beliefs of his supporters.

After his accident two weeks ago, details about Protzman’s condition were tightly controlled by his inner circle of half a dozen followers. While they initially told followers in an online chat that Protzman had a “potential brain injury” and told them to pray for him, the inner circle has refused to answer any follow up questions about his condition.

Shelly Mullinax, who was one of Protzman’s earliest followers but had a falling out with him and other members of the group last year, remains convinced of the conspiracies Protzman concocted about JFK. She believes his death is all part of the plan.

“If that was the plan that God had for him, I know that everything is going to be revealed soon,” Mullinax told VICE News on Wednesday.

Mullinax said that in recent days someone in her group had claimed Protzman “was taken out” but she dismissed that.

She did however claim that the person who died was in fact just one version of Michael Protzman, “the evil version” and that the good Michael Protzman—who is in fact JFK Jr. in a mask—is still alive and well.

His followers did not seem to care that none of his predictions came true nor that the messages are so contradictory, such as that JFK Jr. would return as SSAT’s running mate, that SSAT was actually JFK Jr. in a mask, and that Protzman himself was JFK Jr. in a mask. This obsession with JFK Jr. is a little perplexing because he was never an iconic figure in his own right, famous just for being his father’s son, and also someone whose politics was nowhere close to their own.

There has always been a paranoid, conspiratorial tendency in American politics. But SSAT’s emergence as a major political player and his loss in the 2020 election seems to have completely unhinged some people in ways that I could never have predicted.


  1. Holms says

    Seemingly normal people can come out with some surprisingly weird fact claims without warning. A friend of my mum, a genial little old lady, was chatting pleasantly about nothing much and seemed as far away from the wild-eyed US lunacy as could be imagined, until she revealed unprompted she believed the covid vaccines were derived from the stem cells of aborted babies. Conversation stalled a tad after that.

    Luckily such lunacy has yet to invade mainstream political parties here, remaining very much the reserve of the fringe parties and independents.

  2. says

    I don’t think that conspiracy theorists are any more prevalent, or weird, than they were 100, 200 or even 1,000 years ago. I simply believe that they are more noticeable to the rest of us because the Internet has given them a platform.

  3. outis says

    That’s the thing, right now.
    Once upon a time, there was the “Dorftrottel”, the village idiot, muttering in a corner with his nose in his beer, til he was kicked out for the night. And nobody paid any attention, at most he could be used as a target for some cheap laughs on slow evenings.
    Now? Ye gods, the idiots have reached critical mass. And it’s all over the place, to the point that anyone can invent an idiot conspiracy one day, and find himself with a gaggle of followers from all over the world a week later.
    I suppose we shall see what we shall see, but it’s pretty sobering to realize what a fragile accomplishment the Enlightenment was.
    And concerning this one Kennedy-centric cult, I had not realized that it was so far advanced that some wide boys were able to monetize it. Grifters gonna grift, eh.

  4. birgerjohansson says

    There was a John Kennedy jr. who died in a plane crash 1999.
    Might this be the person they thought had faked his death?

    I recall the accident, because of the hateful comments American conservatives made on internet.

  5. jrkrideau says

    @ 66 birgerjohansson

    That’s him. It only took me 5 minutes to figure that out (he says proudly).

  6. jrkrideau says

    There has always been a paranoid, conspiratorial tendency in American politics.

    Indeed. Andersen, Kurt. 2017. Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History. Random House

  7. says

    There has always been a paranoid, conspiratorial tendency in American politics.

    Richard Hofstadter wrote “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” in 1964, with roots back in the 1950s, so this is not a new observation!

    @9 Elrond Hubbard…

    Great, now I’ve got this image in my head of Scientologists with pointy elf ears.

  8. birgerjohansson says

    “Dorftrottel”- I will remember this! 😊

    Donald Dorftrottel . The dorftrottels on Fox News…

  9. sonofrojblake says

    “now I’ve got this image in my head of Scientologists with pointy elf ears.”

    You’re welcome. Better than the reality, eh?

  10. Silentbob says

    @ 12 sonofrojblake

    Dude. Say ‘Yeshua bar Yosef’ or ‘Jesus son of Joseph’ but don’t swap languages halfway through the sentence, you just look like an idiot.

  11. birgerjohansson says

    SilentBob @ 14
    What does Hebrew “Bar-Abba” mean? Is this just “son of Abba” instead of a name?

    And what does “ben” mean? It pops up in Hebrew names a lot.

    If you worry about mixing languages, welcome to the lunar mountain “Pico peak “.

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