The leader of a QAnon cult who convinced thousands of people that former president John F. Kennedy and his son JFK, Jr. are still alive has died, VICE News can exclusively report.
Michael Protzman, 60, died last Friday in the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota a week after an accident at the Meadow Valley Motocross track in Millville, Minnesota. Protzman’s death was confirmed to VICE News in a phone call with the Minnesota Department of Health.
Protzman died as a result of “multiple blunt force injuries” after he “lost control of his dirt bike” according to a report from the Southern Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner’s Office, which was obtained by VICE News.
Protzman, who was known to his followers as Negative 48, was from Federal Way in Washington State and owned a demolition company prior to his emergence as a QAnon guru in early 2021.
Protzman rose to notoriety in 2021, when the Telegram channel he ran garnered tens of thousands of followers. In that channel, Protzman mixed QAnon conspiracies with a bastardized version of Gematria, a Jewish numerology system, which he claimed to be able to use to predict the future.
Protzman gained national attention in November 2021 when he convinced hundreds of his followers to travel from all across the U.S. to Dallas, where he claimed that JFK and JFK Jr. would reappear at Dealey Plaza, on the spot where JFK was assassinated in 1963.
When that didn’t happen, Protzman’s conspiracies simply changed, and over the next 18 months he would alter and change his predictions to suit his needs and keep his followers on board. Ultimately he claimed that he was in direct contact with former President Donald Trump and that Trump was in fact JFK Jr. in disguise.
After the Dallas gathering, Protzman spent 18 months crisscrossing the U.S., attending multiple Trump rallies. He was accompanied by a rotating band of followers, whom he ordered to cover his accommodation and food costs.
Numerous followers abandoned their families and spent their life savings following Protzman.
“She left her children for this and doesn't even care,” Katy Garner, whose sister fell under Protzman’s spell, told VICE News in 2021.
“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, I don’t believe she will ever come back from this. We are in mourning.”
“Protzman impacted the lives of so many families in such a negative way, families were torn apart, many members lost their assets due to following him,” an open-source researcher going by the name ‘Karma,’ who has tracked this cult closely since its inception, told VICE News. “Some of these families will never be the same. I do hope those that followed him, reach out to their families and make amends.”
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.
The inner circle shut down comments on his channels and in at least one case, kicked a follower out of their Truth Social group after they asked a question about Protzman’s condition this week.
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.
VICE News spoke to several family members of Protzman’s followers and all said that their loved ones have dismissed the news of Protzman’s death as fake. In another Telegram channel populated with Protzman’s followers, one admin wrote that they would be removing all posts regarding his death “until we have absolute verification.”
In one case however, one of Protzmans’ followers has put her name forward as a potential replacement leader of the group. “They killed Michael Protzman’s character so I take over Negative48 crew, follow me,” the follower wrote on Facebook.
“Protzman’s death won’t change anything right away, I believe new conspiracies surrounding his death will evolve,” Karma said. “But I do think his followers will dwindle and move on to other influencers over time.”