COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — For years, legions of QAnon conspiracy theory adherents encouraged one another to “trust the plan” as they waited for the day when President Donald Trump would orchestrate mass arrests, military tribunals and executions of his Satan-worshipping, child-sacrificing enemies.
Keeping the faith wasn’t easy when Inauguration Day didn’t usher in “The Storm,” the apocalyptic reckoning that they have believed was coming for prominent Democrats and Trump’s “deep state” foes. QAnon followers grappled with anger, confusion and disappointment Wednesday as President Joe Biden was sworn into office.
Some believers found a way to twist the conspiracy theory’s convoluted narrative to fit their belief that Biden’s victory was an illusion and that Trump would secure a second term in office. Others clung to the notion that Trump will remain a “shadow president” during Biden’s term. Some even floated the idea that the inauguration ceremony was computer-generated or that Biden himself could be the mysterious “Q,” who is purportedly a government insider posting cryptic clues about the conspiracy.
For many others, however, Trump’s departure sowed doubt.
“I am so scared right now, I really feel nothing is going to happen now,” one poster wrote on a Telegram channel popular with QAnon believers. “I’m just devastated.”
Mike Rothschild, author of a forthcoming book on QAnon called “The Storm is Upon Us,” said it’s too early to gauge whether the wave of disillusionment that swept through the QAnon ranks Wednesday is a turning point or a fleeting setback for the movement.
“I think these people have given up too much and sacrificed too much in their families and in their personal lives,” he said. “They have believed this so completely that to simply walk away from it is just not in the realm of reality for most of these people.”
On Wednesday, as it became obvious that Biden’s inauguration would proceed, many QAnon message boards and online groups were bombarded by hecklers and trolls making fun of the conspiracy. Some longtime QAnon posters said they planned to step away from social media, if only temporarily.
“Trump has said, ‘THE BEST IS YET TO COME.’ I’m not giving up,” Telegram user Qtah wrote in an announcement to his 30,000 subscribers that he was taking a social media break.
Some groups seized the moment to try to recruit disillusioned QAnon supporters to white supremacy and other far-right neofascist movements like the Proud Boys. On Wednesday, for example, an anonymous poster on 4chan posited in a thread that “this would be the perfect time to start posting Nat Soc propaganda in Q anon groups. Clearly, this is a very low point for Q believers, and once people have been broken, they will look for ways to cling back to hope again.” Nat Soc stands for national socialism, commonly referred to as Nazism.