QAnon emerged in 2017 through anonymous, fringe online message boards before migrating to Twitter, Facebook and other mainstream platforms that were slow to purge the conspiracy theory from their sites.
Although Facebook and Twitter platforms vowed last year to rid their sites of QAnon, accounts with thousands of loyal followers remained until this month, when the tech companies finally disabled thousands of users who used violent rhetoric to encourage protests of the election results at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Twitter announced it had suspended more than 70,000 QAnon accounts in the days following the riots. Facebook, meanwhile disbanded more than 57,000 pages, groups, Facebook profiles and Instagram accounts this month. Trump also was barred from using his Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts.
The crackdown sent some of the conspiracy theory’s most ardent promoters fleeing to less populated social media sites like MeWe and the Telegram messaging app, where they quickly raked in thousands of followers.
But the social media companies’ suspensions paralyzed QAnon chatter on the sites, with mentions of popular QAnon hashtags like #FightforTrump and #HoldTheLine declined by roughly 90 percent, according to an analysis by media intelligence firm Zignal Labs.
Other QAnon believers still found ways to promote their message on Facebook and Twitter, urging followers to hold out hope that Trump would find a way to stay in office or expose the “deep state” network of government leaders who they believe operate a child sex trafficking ring.
Videos and posts on Facebook, Telegram and YouTube predicted Trump would take over the emergency broadcast system to declare martial law and arrest prominent Democrats.
“This presidential inauguration that we’re going to see coming up … I’m telling you it’s going to be the biggest thing we’ve ever seen in the history of the United States,” one pro-Trump singer, who promotes QAnon conspiracy theories, warned in a Facebook video viewed more than 350,000 times since Monday.
But the peaceful transfer of power from Trump to Biden came and went Wednesday.
Among the most notable defectors appeared to be Ron Watkins, a prominent promoter of election fraud conspiracy theories who helps run an online messaging board where QAnon conspiracy theories run wild.
“We gave it our all,” Watkins wrote in a Telegram post, minutes after Biden was sworn into office. “Now we need to keep our chins up and go back to our lives as best we are able.”
Travis View, a conspiracy theory researcher who co-hosts The QAnon Anonymous Podcast under his pseudonym, said Watkins encouraged Trump supporters to travel to Washington for the Jan. 6 rally that led to the Capitol riots.
“He did a lot of damage to a lot of people,” he said. “He’s responsible for a lot of pain.”
Other QAnon followers spent their time online Wednesday calling Biden an illegitimate president and accusing Democrats of pulling off voter fraud. Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has expressed support for the conspiracy theories, called for Biden’s impeachment across her Twitter, Facebook and Telegram accounts as the new president was sworn in.
Other followers continued to hunt for clues that QAnon prophecies would be fulfilled, with several social media posts noting that Trump’s speech Wednesday was delivered in front of 17 American flags — a significant number to QAnon conspiracy theorists because “Q” is the 17th letter of the alphabet.
“I believe the game is still being played this is not over!” one QAnon user wrote to his 26,000 Telegram followers moments after Biden took office.
Article by Michael Kunzelman, Amanda Seitz, and David Klepper. Seitz reported from Chicago and Klepper reported from Providence, Rhode Island. Associated Press reporter Garance Burke in San Francisco and researchers at the University of California, Berkeley’s Human Rights Center Investigations Lab and the Investigative Reporting Program contributed to this report. This article originally appeared on APNews.com.