What’s TuAnon? The California Dolphins fan who started it explains the movement, fallout

David Santiago/dsantiago@miamiherald.com

The movement — if you want to call it that — was hatched 13 months ago on couches in four living rooms in California, Utah, Arizona and Boston.

Four thirtysomething friends, all Dolphins fans and erstwhile South Florida residents, were collectively commiserating about the team’s 1-7 start and what they viewed as unjust criticism of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

“There was a lot of slander going around, especially on Tua,” said Jason, the general contractor from Temecula, California, who was group texting with his buddies that day.

“It felt like there needed to be a movement to defend Tua from slander. And what better way to do it than political satire and hyperbole? We were thinking, we’re 1-7. As a fan base, this sucks. How can we make it better?”

And thus was born “We Are TuAnon,” the defend-Tua-at-all-costs Twitter account, a parody of Q-Anon, the far-right American political conspiracy movement that spawned in 2017.

Jason operates the account but declined to give his last name, citing security reasons. (And he can’t be certain his employer would approve.)

For more than a year, the general contractor from Temecula has posted hundreds of tweets praising Tua and those who also praise him, and deriding those who don’t.

You send him a video of Tagovailoa underthrowing a pass? He will respond with a tweet of the ChargersJustin Herbert or another quarterback doing the same.

Tua supporters — such as ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky — gain instant TuAnon adulation.

“TuAnon are not delusional, crazy fans hiding in the woodwork,” he tweeted on March 31. “We believe in our quarterback, and we believe he can lead us to the promised land.”

“Expect a lot of apologies this year,” he tweeted on April 26. “TuAnon remembers. We have been hard at work collecting receipts for this upcoming season. You can avoid this. Join us. Join TuAnon. Be on the right side of history.”

The story here isn’t that some guy in his living room started a defend-your-quarterback account, or that they launched it with a creepy but creative video of a shadowy figure wearing a Dolphins mask.

The story is how the account has taken off, amassing a Twitter following of close to 22,000, with a significant jump after the Tua-led comeback win in Baltimore.

ESPN’s Mina Kimes, Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio and popular digital media company Barstool Sports have all mentioned TuAnon. So has Tagovalioa’s trainer, Nick Hicks, which is especially meaningful to the account’s creators.

“Nick Hicks has told me that Tua knows about it and he likes it,” Jason said. “They all think it’s funny. [Knowing that] was the moment of ‘wow, this is surreal, this is crazy.’”

Jason has monetized the account by offering to narrate video greetings for fans on Cameo. For $20, he will don a Dolphins mask and say “This is TuAnon” and wish you a happy birthday.

“We’ve donated all the money — $200 — to Tua’s foundation,” he said. “People will ask for me to roast their friend because he doesn’t believe in Tua. I’ll say whatever they want me to say, but if it’s too vulgar, I’ll turn them down. We didn’t want to profit off this. That didn’t feel right.”

Jason, who said he was a running back in high school, and his three buddies suspected Tagovailoa would thrive with a better supporting cast, as he has. Tagovailoa leads the NFL in passer rating.

But their faith in Tagovailoa was mostly rooted in two other areas:

“I was not a Brian Flores supporter,” Jason said. “His relationship with Tua was toxic. I’ve had an employer who was toxic, and it wasn’t my best work. Coaching matters, and Tua and Mike McDaniel are a good fit.”

Also, “not everyone develops at the same time. Maybe we were bad in high school and got better professors and started doing well.”

Jason makes clear that he doesn’t believe in Q-Anon and that the Twitter account is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, though the belief in Tagovailoa is genuine.

“It’s almost using political commentary in the best way I know how,” he said. “I never expected it to blow up the way that it has.”

There have been some amusing moments along the way.

Former NFL defensive lineman Chris Long “was slandering Tua, calling him a weak-armed quarterback who would never be any good,” Jason said.

Jason challenged Long on Twitter, and Long said “meet me in California,” which was quite a coincidence because Long seemingly didn’t know Jason lived there.

Jason took a video of Temecula and sent it to Long.

Some pundits don’t understand why Tagovailoa supporters behave like this.

NBC’s Peter King said on Twitter this week: “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a group of fans as paranoid and defensive about a player as the pro-Tua folks. Enjoy his great run, people. What fun is it, really, to pick out a critic here or there? I don’t get this.”

Jason’s response?

“I think for two years, people were discrediting and throwing bad energy on his name. And when we come back and say we were right this entire time, it’s about the fan base chirping back because we’ve taken it for a year.”

So does TuAnon believe that Tua can do no wrong?

No, Jason said. “No quarterback can do no wrong. Everybody makes mistakes.”

But the creator of the account always was more optimistic than most about what Tagovailoa can become. He has “exceeded anybody’s expectations this season. I think he can be a top-five quarterback. Before this season, I thought he could be top 10.”

Jason has traveled to Miami for two Dolphins games this season and chuckled when he saw Dolphins fans wearing masks like the one he donned in the video. “It’s validating,” he said, adding that he resists the temptation to identify himself to other fans.

What would be the best moment possible for TuAnon?

“Tua acknowledging it one day or even reaching out to us,” Jason said. “I don’t know if his family knows about it. That would be the moment of satisfaction.”

Whether that moment ever happens or not, Jason is proud of his work.

The account “will be around as long as it’s needed,” he said. “I don’t think my job will ever be done…. It was almost popular to hate him. I made it popular to like him.”