WWG1WGA: Qanon’s Shipwreck Movie Motto

18 min readNov 16, 2020

The origins of Qanon’s motto “Where We Go One, We Go All” aren’t talked about much. Some of them say it was engraved on the ship’s bell JFK used. It’s really on the bell in Ridley Scott’s 1996 shipwreck drama White Squall.

The film is mentioned by name in a couple of Q drops, and some of those guys are big fans. When I learned this, I watched it to find out more. If you wanted a recruitment film to get young boys and creepy gym teachers into your suicide cult, this is the movie you would pick.

It’s based on a real shipwreck that happened in 1961. A man bought a ship and decided to run a sailing school on it, only he didn’t bring any sailors. He brought high school students, his wife, a cook, and a few academic teachers. They hit a sudden storm and crashed near the Florida Keys. Six people died in real life, and the boat they used in the movie has this bell on it.
Ridley Scott’s movie opens with the protagonist/narrator leaving home by himself for the first time. He’s going on vacation and wants to fight with his dad about it.
The film is very specific about what bothers him. He’s upset because he has no experience making decisions on his own. He’s always done what his parents want, and he resents it when his dad is fine with this brochure he picked out. The sailing school is unaccredited, and the dad thinks the narrator could get a full ride to Yale like his brother did, but the kid yells, “I’m not my brother!” and the dad supports him. He’s not opposed to sailing classes, there’s no reason why he would be.

The kid gets angry because he realizes the trip might look good on a college application. He constantly talks about his identity in terms of his father’s expectations, and understands other people through that lens because he assumes it’s a common dynamic.

The edits are quick. He meets the other boys, who are all identical, and as they board the ship they’re ambushed by a man quoting “The Tempest”. He’s a fictionalized version of their English teacher, who did not participate in the production.

They ask what that means, and he says “It’s the song you’ll all be singing!” He’s energetic and cheerful about delivering portents of death, and his character also drowns.

When the students enter their room, they meet a greased up naked boy. He holds up a picture of his brother and says, “See this? He’s dead.” Having introduced the experience of loss in the context of male nudity, the film moves on.

On deck, the boys line up for inspection by the captain. He notices one wearing a cross and says “You’ll want to lose that”. These boys are very young - in court at the end, you find out one is only 15. Again the film frames piety – not obedience, but obedience to the family and that which was previously obeyed without question – as something to give up in the maturation process. In this case it’s not exchanged for freedom, but a sinking ship.

The captain lectures them on the seriousness of living at sea. It’s supposed to be inspiring and prepare them for the workload, but it underscores that there are no professional sailors on board. Even in 1961, it would have been normal to accompany a crew of kids like that with more adults who know how to manage the ship in an emergency.

The real ship that sank had previously been owned by a Dutch company that used it for training because it was small, and they had about six sailing instructors for twelve students. The Ocean Academy that was fictionalized in the film carried fourteen students and one sailing instructor, the captain himself.

He shows them the bell with “Where We Go One, We Go All” written on it. This motto is repeated in various contexts.

A major theme of speeches in the film is discipline, but in practice discipline is absent. The captain says nothing happens on the ship that he doesn’t know about and don’t test him. He verbally stresses the need for order and takes a cigarette from a kid who is smoking, but doesn’t react when the kid immediately produces another cigarette.
His first signals about discipline are that it’s a pretense to enable permissiveness, and that remains consistent. By stressing total discipline and then turning a blind eye to various behaviors, a type of encouragement is created. He says “don’t test me”, but rewards the boys when they test him. It’s unclear whether a disobedient student sank the ship in real life, but a lack of discipline is literally what kills them in the plot here. This scene with the cigarette isn’t a cool moment for a rebellious boy at sea, or the introduction of a tough but fair captain, it’s telling you how they die.

While they work on cleaning the ship up and getting it ready, a boy played by Jeremy Sisto arrives late. His father has him dressed in a suit and makes a show of disrespecting the captain. He asks if an albatross is bad luck, and the captain says only if you kill one. Tonally, this is presented as a win for the captain.

One kid gets caught in the rigging by his neck, and another one sees it happen. Instead of trying to get him down, he calls for help and the captain has to perform the rescue. It turns out the kid on the ground is afraid of heights.

The captain is understandably angry and gives him some words about discipline. He makes the kid cry and climb the ropes. But the way it plays out in practice is less harsh-but-fair discipline and more bondage and discipline. The old man insists on climbing with him, face to face and screaming the entire time. They don’t get very far before the kid (age 15-17) pees all over both of them and the captain lets him get down.

The film cuts to the adults sitting uncomfortably together. There are four on the ship, and this is the only time they appear as a cohesive unit. They seem guilty, and conscious that they’re tied to an unstable man. The captain says these kids are green and need to be taught.

The cook says he has an education in psychology, and that making kids pee on you isn’t a way to develop their character. Above all, this tells you that the filmmakers understood the content they were presenting. When they make a tonal decision to frame the captain as winning an argument, when they have a character who’s framed as weak or villainous introduce a salient point about safety or responsibility, they realize what they’re doing.

And that’s what they do here – the captain shouts the cook down, brags about getting pissed on by a teen, and the film moves on as if the conflict was resolved. Throughout, the tone is very patriotic: narrated from the perspective of one of the young boys who’s being manipulated, without a wink from the music department or anything.

As they finally head out to sea, “unity” is being stressed. They’re instructed to sing together in order to show that “all thoughts are one”. This is the third “value” being bullet pointed and illustrated by the movie, after “order” (the cigarette scene) and “discipline” (pissing his pants).

In a quick one-off pseudo-joke, one of the teens starts kissing on the captain’s wife. The captain says “leave my wife alone!” and that’s the end of it, no hard feelings. These are all supposed to be underage high school students, but they cast athletic 20-somethings. They spend a lot of the movie not just mostly naked, but like oiled up. I’ve never seen so much fucking body oil in a theatrical feature.

This film has a very clear vision of who it’s for, and it’s one of Scott’s lowest grossing productions. It has two audiences: impressionable young boys and old men who jack off to vintage fitness magazines. The kind of guys who do things like hire younger men to fuck their wives, or invest in movies.

At night, the children exchange their own ideas about mental health. The one whose brother is dead has a night terror, and the narrator whose brother is alive wakes him up to give hm some advice. “If it happens again, just say ‘1-2-3 wake up!’ out loud in the dream, and you’ll wake up.” He says it’s the only useful thing his dad ever taught him.

The grieving and traumatized boy seems impressed, but it’s never addressed whether or not it helps his nightmares. The only callback is when he’s dying himself, trapped below deck, and tries to use it to “wake up” from a real emergency.

There’s some carousing when they land in an unidentified Caribbean port and some hookers steal $7 from one of them. There are some weird sex conversations throughout because they’re teenage boys, but I already told you who this movie is for.

They stop in a bar and the film goes quiet for a minute. One of the boys is reflective, drunk and sad. He says his parents don’t fuck anymore. With this established, the teen movie feels ready to continue.

The next lesson (we’re on #5: previously we learned 1) Order, 2) Discipline, 3) Unity, and 4) Billy’s parents don’t fuck anymore) is about integrity. Two boys catch another one cheating in a class. They don’t want him to be kicked off the boat, so instead of turning him in, they beat him up and lecture him. In tears, he admits he cheated to get on the boat in the first place – he says he’s basically illiterate and doesn’t know how to do anything but doctor grades. The other students offer to tutor and protect him “on the condition” that he “promises not to cheat anymore”.

He asks “why would you do this for me?” and one says “Because we’ve got a hard-on for you.” I forget if it’s the same kid from the bar. Immediately after this, the movie introduces girls.

As part of the Ocean Academy program, they’re obligated to host a day cruise for some Dutch schoolgirls. They’re presented as an opportunity to formally flirt as a rite of passage, like a cotillion. There’s a sporty montage with Link Ray-type music. The montage pauses to show you how it’s going: one of the guys is lecturing the girls about how the steering wheel works. Some lose interest and start talking amongst themselves. He snaps at them to pay attention, like “Ahem! Ladies!” He’s so happy when it works. The music picks up again.

They’re all going to a dance in port at the end of the day, but Jeremy Sisto’s dad shows up to take him to a restaurant. Everybody gets to go but him. Jeremy cockblocked, they fight.

Back at the party, the main kid is trying to fuck a Dutch girl in the bushes. In contrast with the foreignness of the Black women they’ve met in other ports, who were sexually experienced yet unavailable and take your $7, or the captain’s wife who is only available in their context as subordinates, the Dutch girl is available because she’s foreign. She speaks no English so he can’t ruin it for himself, and her aggressively Nordic appearance combined with the organized nature of the outing makes her availability seem more about politics than personal sluttiness.

They don’t get to fuck though: Jeremy Sisto shows up drunk and smashing lamps. He collapses in the dirt and says “I don’t hold up under scrutiny”. Again, the script shows a discordant self-awareness.

The captain and his wife have a scene in a banquet room while the teens dance outside. It’s very different from the rest of the movie. The doomed, ghost story subtext of the script is on camera here.

She says they met at a dance like this and never danced again. He extends a hand and they dance. The entire time, a table set with food is in the foreground, totally ignored, and a kitten is on the table eating it. This is ghostly on two levels: first, they’re framed as the ghosts of the childrens’ future (one that lacks dancing or committment because they were set up as part of a Connecticut high society social engineering scheme), and second, they’re framed as dead by ignoring the table while it’s devoured by animals.

The students are in English class again, studying Homer. One goes, “Piss on Homer, I want to live in it.” The other students laugh , but the teacher says “That’s the spirit, Dean!” Fiction, specifically Homer and in a broader sense the film itself, is treated as a noble source of inspiration for real-world action.

After class Jeremy Sisto is still agitated, and this time he picks up a harpoon gun and shoots a dolphin. They pull it up on deck and the captain has to kill it. Sisto keeps yelling, “It’s just a fish! It’s just a fish!” The question of whether or not a dolphin is a fish comes up in court later.

He gets kicked off the boat, but some of the other students find that consequence extreme because “we’re supposed to be a crew”. The pee-pants kid is especially defensive because he’s been brutalized into Stockholm syndrome.

The narrator and a few other kids agree that the dolphin killer deserves a second chance and take their case to the captain. The narrator is their spokesman, and here’s what he comes up with:

“It’s his father. Our parents sent us here because they want us to change, but all they do is try to keep us the same” – again expressing no personal volition, only reaction to being “expected for”.

“He has all these expectations about who his son should be, but he doesn’t even know who [Jeremy Sisto] is.”

The captain isn’t moved by this. He ultimately sticks to the decision, but that night his wife argues with him about it. She says impulsively murdering a dolphin isn’t bad enough to be removed from a ship’s crew or a high school class. She’s meant to be the empathetic voice of reason here, framing his decision to boot this unstable kid as evidence of his disciplinarian nature instead of as the bare minimum. Depending on what wildlife laws were like at the time, letting him off the ship quietly might even have been a favor to him.

The narrator worries that the captain is just like their real dads after all.

The boy who pissed himself earlier finally gets the nerve to climb the ropes to ring the WWG1WGA bell for their friend Jeremy as he packs his shit and leaves. The message is clear: no matter how briefly or artificially you’re assigned to a group, it’s best to forgive them for violent crimes.

Back on the ship one of the boys says he’s pissing fire. He caught VD from the girls at the Lutheran school. Visually, this is compared to the discovery of fire by cavemen. The wife gives him a shot of penicillin. Managing this type of grimy rite of passage for underage boys is a task that this Ocean Academy has really taken on for itself here, it’s not clear that it was pitched to the parents as a racist fuck cruise or what the reality of the expedition was in 1961.

We do know that the next part never happened. They’re attacked by Cubans. A Cuban warship starts firing on them and demands to board and look for refugees. The cook, who in real life was not Cuban or Puerto Rican, is a secret Cuban posing as a Puerto Rican. The Communists look everybody over, menace the children, and break the ship’s compass before leaving, implying that they bear some responsibility for the accident later. The narrator says, “We navigated through the warships and only later learned they were en route to a little known destination called....The Bay of Pigs.”

The captain puts on a brave face about the broken equipment. He says “A real sailor only needs the stars.” Maybe if they had that mythical “real sailor” on board things would have turned out better, but as it is they didn’t even have actual sailors.

They go ashore on a mostly uninhabited island near Panama. They run around wooping with sticks. The narrator says, “I finally understand Homer.”

One of them finds a weird book buried in an old ammo box and they all sign their names in it. That’s probably what cursed their boat.

The narrator “doesn’t want to go back to being what [he] was before.” He says out loud, “I’ve been acing tests my whole life and still don’t know who I am.” Another student says, “I’ll tell you who you are: the glue that holds the people around you together.” Group cohesion is presented as a substitute for self-knowledge, or an answer to questions about the self. Gang or cult membership is offered as a third option to a minor who’s struggling to differentiate himself from his family.

They’re sleeping when the storm hits. “The Storm” is a huge part of Qanon’s mythos but they seem to disagree about what it means. They think it’s a storm of partisan prosecutions targeting their enemies, or a storm of violence. The real English teacher, who survived and has no relationship to the character, thinks this storm was a wind shear.

The real ship was on its side in ninety seconds. In reality, maybe there was nothing they could do, but the film has a moral mission. The fictive teacher McCrea wakes them up with “ask not for whom the bell tolls” and conflates dying on an ill-planned cruise with manhood.

In the movie, they have to fight the storm for almost twenty minutes. Scenes of disaster are intercut with frames centering the bell that says WWG1WGA. It doesn’t reflect their situation: they don’t all die, and they aren’t working together. The teenage boy working the steering wheel ignores several orders and turns the sail in the wrong direction, it’s explicitly what capsizes them. All the other adults and one or two of the kids die. The rest of them are rescued by the Coast Guard and brought onshore in Ft. Lauderdale.
They’re mobbed by press and picked up by their parents on live TV. The narrator’s dad takes him shopping and loudly asks an employee if they carry “boxer shorts”. The boy runs and hides. He’s crying and having flashbacks. He makes no vocalized attempt to snap out of it with a kitschy platitude.

The captain is going to be tried for negligence. The children strategize together because they don’t understand how irrelevant they are to the process at this point. They think Jeremy Sisto’s dad is suing because his son got kicked off the boat, even though getting kicked off saved his life. Sisto lives locally, and the narrator confronts him, but immediately afterward we cut to the courtroom, where a judge says the Coast Guard requested the tribunal.

”Tribunals”, “WWG1WGA”, and “The Storm” all feature so prominently in Qanon’s myths and merch that you’d think more of them would have watched this movie by now. The only person on trial is the captain, and the only people who got caught in a storm were on his boat.

Under cross-examination the captain admits laxity and says he’s never seen a “white squall” before. The prosecutor seems to think this type of weather condition might not be real, but it’s unclear why that would be exculpatory either way.

The prosecutor asks if he “really felt” this crew was up to the conditions. Skipper responds to the effect that they had travelled 12,000 miles together by the time they capsized. He appears to intend that as an endorsement of their readiness, even though it’s explicitly shown that the children he called “green” earlier did their jobs wrong and sank the ship.

The prosecutor says “they’re only boys,” and the captain bristles. “They’re much more than that, SIR.” The boys are in the courtroom watching this, preparing to testify. He puts their pubescent egoes between himself and an account of why they were steering his ship in those conditions at all. The script has been jarringly honest about the character of the captain and the ways this trip was doomed from the start, and the prosecutor is brutal. But the delivery does everything it can for the defense. Nobody can stay mad at a Jeff Bridges character, and people who say accurate things to him are painted as slovenly idiots immediately afterward. The captain looks so bad in his testimony – until the prosecutor, in the process of stressing the seriousness of various incidents, says a dolphin is a fish. The captain triumphantly corrects him. “They’re mammals, sir”. That settles it then, not guilty for manslaughter of his wife.

The prosecutor says there was no discipline on the ship. Skipper makes a face like that’s ironic. He trained them to behave in certain ways in certain social situations and encouraged them to start Dutch families, and maybe that seems like discipline to him despite the badly managed storm that killed his students and staff.

When the first kid is testifying, he says the captain did something to prevent some wire from electrocuting them. The implication that the captain had expressed one safety concern sends the prosecutor into a panicked sweat, walking in circles and mopping at his face with a rag. It’s like in a Chick tract when someone shows a sinner a bible.

The prosecutor manages to collect himself and asks how old the kid is. He’s 15. The prosecutor asks if he’s a professional sailor, and the kid looks confused, like he didn’t know that was a real job.

The kid who crashed the ship takes the stand. He tries to accept responsibility, but before the prosecutor can explain that he’s a minor and the boat didn’t belong to him, Captain Bridges interrupts. He says he won’t “let” a 17 year old take the blame. He “offers” to give up his license and tries to flee the scene. “If you want my ticket, if that will ease your pain, that’s the least I can do.” He rips up a copy of his license and actually goes for the exit.

The narrator, who also doesn’t understand that this is a criminal trial, jumps up and says “Don’t you walk out on us!” He gives a speech about how they all knew the risks so it’s everybody’s fault. He pulls the ship’s bell out of a bag. It says “where we go one, we go all”, but it doesn’t look like they’re having this trial on a submarine. They’re not sharing risk at this point either, they don’t all have licenses to lose or a chance at a prison term.

What he’s offering to share is guilt.

The kid says, “Our parents sent us and we chose to go, so why invent a reason to pin it on just one person?,” “You told us ‘Where we go one, we go all’ and we believed you,” and “Let us carry this together.” This is the final speech of the film, summing up its sentiments.

Leaving aside that this is being “pinned on” the captain because that’s how boats work, this speech is doing a lot. Centrally, it frames teens as capable of informed consent, and consented-to activities as illegitimate targets for prosecution even if several people die.
Group identity is framed as a way to subsume guilt and protect members (especially leaders) from prosecution. It’s given little more substance than that – the elevation of guilt as the destination to which they “all” “go” diminishes both the watery grave their companions went to and their inevitably separate futures.

Guilt is also substituted for accomplishment as a mark of completing the puberty ritual that this ocean class was supposed to be. Instead of gaining agency or facility, he tries to borrow the defining feature of the man who lead the trip: failure.

This kid has been through a lot. His isolated, wealthy Connecticut upbringing left him with nobody to emulate but his own father, and he became desperately attached to the first adult stranger who let him feel grown up. After weeks at sea, a lifetime at that age, there was a terrible storm that killed his friends. All he wanted was maturity, to be told what maturity is so he could inhabit it, but he never finds out.

Instead, he commits to the captain as an embodiment of maturity. Because guilt is all the captain has left, and because the child doesn’t have experience with carrying actual responsibilities, he thinks the captain is being generous by letting them “share the burden”. He calls guilt over this ill-fated vacation “the burden of sea-captains and men” – superficial imitation of his role model is close enough to manhood for his purposes. He says he would go out with the man who planned, staffed, and equipped this voyage again.

It’s no surprise that Q promoted this movie. It’s exactly what you’d want cult members to internalize, especially if you planned to kill a lot of them. Given that Steves Bannon and Mnuchin have a history of producing films, I had to know who made this.

Ridley Scott’s production company Scott Free made a lot of movies around this time that could be considered recruitment videos, including GI Jane and Blackhawk Down. This one may have been a little too niche for the box office. He does a lot of small political projects it turns out, like a series of TV adaptations for Bill O’Reilly’s “Killing Whoever” series.

It’s not worth speculating on the CIA’s involvement in the film industry – we may never know the full truth and indications are they’re not always that subtle. It is worth reflecting on the way the military preys on teens who may be struggling with their identities. But ultimately, we all need to be wary of people who tell us to be proud of walking into senseless danger.