With a history of bankruptcy, bannings and bizarre conspiracy beliefs, it’s little wonder that Tim Stewart, the nation’s most prominent follower of QAnon, chose the nom-de-plume “Burn Notice” for his Twitter posts.
This is a term intelligence agencies use when an agent or a source is officially scrapped or “burned” for providing fabricated or unreliable information.
Tim Stewart outside his Botany home.Credit:Rhett Wyman
Citing “co-ordinated harmful activity,” Twitter banned Mr Stewart’s account “Burn Notice” with its handle @BurnedSpy34 last year for posting unverified and dangerous material linked to the far-right American group QAnon.
Earlier this month, the Herald broke the news that ABC management had asked current affairs program Four Corners to delay a program on the supposed connection between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Mr Stewart. This revelation has put the 52-year-old town planner firmly back in the public eye.
Now the Herald can reveal that Mr Stewart was bankrupted from 2012 to 2015, following the collapse of his business which ran a string of caravan parks in Queensland. His name has also recently featured in a corruption inquiry and his business dealings include links to a trio of one-time bankrupt Liberal powerbrokers in the Sutherland Shire.
The Prime Minister has never espoused any QAnon-style conspiracy theories and, for his part, Mr Morrison has angrily rejected any links to QAnon.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison with Tim Stewart.Credit:Facebook
“I find it deeply offensive that there would be any suggestion that I would have any involvement or support for such a dangerous organisation. I clearly do not,” he said last week. “It is also disappointing that Four Corners, with their inquiries, would seek to cast this aspersion not just against me, but by members of my own family. I just think that is really poor form.”
Before his Twitter banning, Mr Stewart’s accounts show his fierce support of QAnon, a loose group of conspiracy theorists who believe there is a secret “deep state” plot acting against then-president Donald Trump as well as a cabal of Satan-worshiping paedophiles who rule the world and control politicians and the media.
Mr Stewart’s Twitter posts promoting the conspiracy group may have gone unnoticed in ordinary circumstances. However, his wife Lynelle has a long-standing friendship with the Prime Minister and his wife Jenny. Mrs Stewart, who has known the Morrisons through their church activities since they were all children, was employed up until recently as Mrs Morrison’s personal assistant. These relationships were first reported in The Guardian in October 2019.
Mr Stewart’s estranged sister Karen, who ran for the Greens in Camden, has previously said it was “absolute rubbish” to claim her brother and Mr Morrison were just associates. She told News Corp last year that the two couples were close family friends.
Meanwhile, it’s Mr Stewart’s networking with other colourful Liberal figures, who have questionable business track records, that have raised eyebrows. The town planner has been working closely on development applications with Matt Daniel, also a former bankrupt, whose name has cropped up in his capacity as a planner at two corruption inquiries. Property developer Rene Licata is also one of Mr Stewart and Mr Daniel’s politically well-connected clients.
Mr Licata, also a previous bankrupt, operates property development group Manta Group. In 2014 his wife Marie Simone, also a former bankrupt, received a good behaviour bond after pleading guilty to four charges of obtaining money by deception. Ms Simone, a councillor on Sutherland Shire, is a key Liberal party fundraiser. She is also the president of the Caringbah Liberal Party branch, where her friend Mr Daniel, himself a former Sutherland Shire councillor, is also a paid up branch member, as is her developer husband.
President of the Caringbah Liberal Party branch Marie Simone with her husband, property developer Rene Licata. Credit:Facebook
In 2017 Mr Licata and Mr Daniel established the Commercial and Economic Planning Association which claims to represent the interests of smaller developers. According to CEPA’s website, in September 2019 they charged $350 per head for members and guests to dine with the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison.
Like Mr Stewart, Mr Daniel has had some setbacks in his business dealings. His accountant Sam Cassaniti was jailed for tax fraud and the former mortician’s development company collapsed owing creditors $5 million. Mr Daniel has featured in back-to-back corruption inquiries. In April it was revealed that Mr Daniel’s planning company was lobbying Canada Bay councillors for favourable rezonings on behalf of then Liberal MP John Sidoti.
Matt Daniel photographed in 2013Credit:Nick Moir
Mr Daniel and Mr Stewart also featured in ICAC’s investigations into questionable planning decisions made by Canterbury Council. Documents tendered at the inquiry show the pair were on the payroll of controversial property developer Charbel “Charlie” Demian who was lobbying the council and its planners for major expansions to his development sites.
The ICAC inquiry also showed that Mr Daniel was using the services of the now-disgraced former Liberal MP Daryl Maguire to help lobby planning officials and other ministers on behalf of Mr Daniel’s clients.
The kickbacks Mr Maguire sought for advancing the business interests of Mr Demian eventually proved to be Mr Maguire’s undoing. ICAC has since referred both Mr Maguire and Mr Demian to the Director of Public Prosecutions to consider whether they should face perjury charges. No adverse findings were made about Mr Daniel or Mr Stewart, who did not respond to the Herald’s inquiries.
The FBI first identified QAnon and its army of supporters as a “dangerous extremist group” in August 2019. Just how dangerous the group has become is evident from the number of QAnon adherents who have been criminally charged over the storming of the US Capitol building on January 6. Followers believe that “Q,” supposedly a secret intelligence official, has been leaving clues urging them to mount an insurrection against the evil forces of the “deep state”.
One of the apparent clues that the QAnon supporters have latched onto is the phrase “ritual abuse”. On October 22, 2018 Mr Stewart’s Burn Notice account tweeted: “A new conversation began today in Australia.” Mentioning that it was a “stepping stone,” he also said the Prime Minister “took control of the narrative powerfully and commenced phase 1 of our restoration.”
A prominent QAnon figure from the US was pumped. “Do my ears deceive me?,” asked Joe M. “The new Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison must be a rider in #TheStorm.”
Tim Stewart’s text message exchange about ’Ritual abuse” sent five days before the Prime Minister’s speech.
What they were referring to was that earlier that day the Prime Minister used the words “ritual abuse” in his national apology to survivors of institutional sex abuse.
Private messages on the encrypted app Signal, which have been released by Eliahi Priest, a former close associate of Mr Stewart, show that in the days prior to the speech Mr Stewart had been urging his wife to tell Mr Morrison it was essential that he use the term “ritual abuse” in his apology.
According to screen images of their private conversations Mr Priest has posted on his Facebook page, Mr Stewart and others believed that this phrase was a secret code for sexual abuse victims to make contact.
“Well said Scott,” tweeted Mr Stewart’s son Jesse that same day. Jesse also included the hashtags #RitualAbuse. #StopChildTrafficking and #WWG1WGA. The latter is a rallying cry for QAnon members which stands for “Where We Go One, We Go All.”
There is no indication that Mr Morrison was influenced to shape his speech to include those words or that his choice of words was in any way related to QAnon.
Mr Stewart’s son has previously accused former foreign minister Alexander Downer of being a “traitor” over the latter’s role in passing on information to US authorities in 2016 about the Trump campaign’s alleged connections to Russia.
Apart from retweeting bizarre comments made by his son, Mr Stewart regularly retweeted comments from another prominent Australian QAnon supporter, @KillAuDeepState. Before he, too, was banned by Twitter, this account was operated by a struck-off psychiatrist from Dee Why, on Sydney’s northern beaches. Dr Russell McGregor was found guilty of professional misconduct and was banned from practising as a doctor in 2020. The NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal held his publishing of his “bizarre beliefs about global conspiracies and other disturbing matters” had the potential to place “vulnerable psychiatric patients of the practice at risk.”
In July 2019 Dr McGregor posted a tweet which included three images featuring blue and white stripes. One was Julia Gillard, in a striped jacket, greeting Hillary Clinton. Another was a property with a striped wall belonging convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and, lastly, a striped backdrop on the Ellen DeGeneres show.
“Nothing to see here,” tweeted Dr McGregor.
Mr Stewart, who retweeted Dr McGregor’s post, also tweeted that the arrest of Epstein exposed a satanic cabal involving many world leaders and celebrities.
The unwelcome attention on Mr Stewart and his incendiary beliefs will ensure “The Storm” will not disappear any time soon with news that the ABC’s Four Corners program will now air on Monday.
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