Sabmyk Creator Says QAnon-Style Conspiracy Is Just a Game

A German artist has admitted that he set up a QAnon-inspired online disinformation network as an art project, telling Newsweek it was "a game."

When the Sabmyk network emerged on social media platforms last December, it shared posts promoting a messianic mythology that linked its eponymous savior to the Bible's Noah and the so-called Atlantean sword of Shahnawaz.

The mythology around Sabmyk played into well-established conspiracy theory tropes, claiming the savior would lead an "awakening" against a cabal of celebrities, scientists, bankers and company owners manipulating the general public.

The network grew rapidly, particularly on the encrypted messaging app Telegram. By March, Newsweek found a combined following of 1 million subscribers across 140 Telegram channels.

Many of the channels seemed designed to appeal to QAnon believers, with names such as WWG1WGA—an abbreviation for the QAnon rallying cry "Where we go one, we go all—Q Donald Trump and Q Speaking. These three were among the most popular, with thousands of followers between them.

Many of the posts on these channels would be copied from QAnon accounts and pasted alongside messages about the Sabmyk mythology, identified by a double XX symbol.

Newsweek found posts that promoted anti-Semitic and vaccine conspiracy theories. One of the many false claims was that Baron Rothschild drew up a contract with Hitler so the Nazi dictator would persecute Jews in order to drive immigration to Israel. This post was viewed by more than 250,000 people.

On April 3, a 76-page document was posted to numerous Sabmyk channels. In it, Berlin-based artist Sebastian Bieniek admitted that he had set up the network and described the project as "great art."

The document was structured as a diary and the entry dated March 23 was called "Fake or Art." It read: "Art depicts reality in the form of an obvious (because it is impossible) fake. The landscape painted on is a fake, but it feels realistic, then it's big art.

"Judged by the fact that I have convinced a lot of people within a relatively short time, it is great art."

Newsweek contacted Bieniek for comment, asking whether he thought it was dangerous to use anti-Semitic posts lifted from QAnon in this way.

In a response emailed to Newsweek, translated from German by Google, he denied any anti-Semitic intention.

Bieniek said: "I wanted to clarify again that I did not make a statement that corresponds to any old or new anti-Semitic narrative or statement, but only used characters from the QAnon pool and recombined them."

The artist added: "If you were to take scenes from Indiana Jones out of context and put them in a different context, you could also claim that Steven Spielberg is an anti-Semite. Yes, if you work according to the alienation principle, then you can turn anyone into an anti-Semite, but you would be lying and you would be falsifying.

"As an artist, I am allowed to, because as an artist I 'play' something different (new) with it. As an artist, I don't make claims about reality and that's why I am allowed to."

He said of the Rothschild post: "As far as the audience ratings (clicks, views) are concerned, like Spielberg, I naturally want to achieve the highest possible ratings and I think it's actually insufficient that I only had 250,000 viewers. I mean, I could have easily earned a thousand times more."

Asked whether using QAnon material was dangerous because the movement has been likened to a cult, he replied: "Yes, I deserved a cult too. Unfortunately, I don't have one. As far as I know, I don't have a single cult follower. Not a single one who would have given a cent for me."

Bieniek also described his project as a game.

In a second message to Newsweek, he added: "I don't give a…for policy or anything that wants to stop my play. I just create an immortal game, that was already understood three thousand years ago and will still be understood when nobody understands what corona or Trump is.

"It's the kind of games people talk about when sitting around the bonfire. A game one can wonder, laugh and think about. A game where everything is possible and where everybody can be everybody. That's what Sabmyk is about and nothing else."

However, researcher Gregory Davis, who first profiled Sabmyk for the British anti-racism organization Hope Not Hate, said the conspiracy theories it shared could have "real-world consequences."

Davis said: "Whatever Bieniek's intentions might have been, he was actively promoting disinformation with real-world consequences, such as making false claims against vaccines, promoting QAnon and alleging that the US elections were stolen.

"His posts were viewed by hundreds of thousands of people, and the fact that he did not believe his lies he was promoting only makes the whole project more reprehensible."

The Anti-Defamation League also expressed its concerns that anti-Semitic conspiracies could "mainstream hate" even if presented as art.

Amy Iandiorio, an investigative researcher at the ADL, told Newsweek: "It is always wrong to promote anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, even for the sake of art.

"Stylizing or attempting to mainstream hate is dangerous and online conspiracies can spark real-world actions. It is irresponsible to post hateful or conspiratorial content to a platform with such a wide reach because, despite an artistic intention, the message is harmful to communities and allows online spaces to continue to act as echo chambers for hate."

Sabmyk-linked accounts were also found on Facebook and Twitter, but these were removed from the platforms after Newsweek alerted the tech giants that banned QAnon content was being shared on them.

Newsweek has contacted Telegram for comment.

Artist Sebastian Bieniek admitted being behind Sabmyk
German artist Sebastian Bieniek set up the Sabmyk online conspiracy network as an art project. Sebastian Bieniek

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