Given that supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory are facing the reality of Joe Biden’s presidency – something they believed could never happen – the movement appears to be looking for a way forward as some abandon their beliefs so researchers.
QAnon is a loose set of unfounded beliefs based on the disproven notion that a cannibalist cabal of liberal elites who pervert children and harvest their blood to stay young at the behest of interdimensional demons or psychic vampires, depending on the follower.
Supporters believed that former President Donald Trump was chosen to defeat the Cabal based on “drops” from an anonymous character named “Q” on the 4Chan imageboard.
The conspiracy gained momentum in 2017 after Q made his first cryptic drop, and encapsulated numerous other unsubstantiated theories, such as those from the anti-vaccine movement, which claims that shocks cause disease and incite violence, including conspiracies to kill the then candidate Biden.
Come to terms
When Biden – Q believed part of the liberal cabal – took office, some pushed for platforms like the encrypted messaging app Telegram and the far-right social media site Gab for supporters to trust the plan, a common phrase that stands out relates to a nebulous plan for the military and Trump to intervene.
One user told his Q compatriots to hold the line “for a few more hours, maybe even a few more days” in case there was a twist. This is evident from a screenshot shared by Alex Kaplan, a senior researcher at Media Matters for America.
Here’s a QAnon influencer already preparing to move the goal posts on QAnon when Biden takes office. pic.twitter.com/AIFOVoETjY
– Alex Kaplan (@AlKapDC) January 20, 2021
“If you don’t trust Q right now, trust DJT,” said the user with Trump’s initials.
But others seemed to realize they had been betrayed. “We had it over,” wrote another user.
The QAnon conspiracy traveled from imageboard to imageboard as domains hosting such websites banned them. QAnon’s home base prior to Biden’s inauguration was 8kun, a successor to 4chan, the place where Q released its first drop.
Even Jim Watkins, a leading figure among Q supporters for his role as administrator of 8kun who raised his public profile after losing Trump in the November election, has admitted QAnon’s defeat.
“We have sworn in a new president and it is our responsibility as citizens to respect the Constitution, whether we agree to the details or not,” Watkins said in a post-inaugural statement from Biden, urging people to to return to their lives.
Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters, told Al Jazeera that the movement is unlikely to go away.
Carusone said in an interview that the original Q supporters, who viewed Trump as some sort of savior, could turn to other groups, “new blood within the QAnon movement is somehow prepared and ready to wage this fight.”
QAnon regained momentum in April as the COVID-19 pandemic spread rapidly in the US and people searched for vaccines for hope.
“At that point, they started questioning each other with the anti-Vaxxers on Facebook. So they had a massive influx of anti-Vaxxers into the QAnon movement and vice versa,” said Caursone.
He warned that the myriad of QAnon views are likely to invade Biden’s COVID-19 response. He also warned that others on the far right would be “increasingly radicalized”.
Far right reach
Dr. Heidi Beirich, co-founder and chief strategy officer of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, has similar concerns.
She said Al Jazeera QAnon supporters appeared “like a mature group of people to be targeted for recruitment”.
Although QAnon followers are believed to be largely white, the conspiracy was not openly racist rhetoric favoring a coded language.
Beirich, who has been researching the far right for decades, said the militia movement is likely the new home for QAnon and Trump supporters.
“They have certainly become more against immigrants and against Muslims in recent years, but they don’t portray themselves as white supremacists.”
But members of the militia movement were reportedly active in the deadly uprising in the U.S. Capitol on January 6th.
Edward Caldwell, a leader of the Oath Keepers, a militia that frequently recruits former military personnel, has been charged with conspiracy by US prosecutors over his alleged role in the riot.
Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers, urged militiamen to be ready to “defend” themselves against the Biden administration.
Members of the Oath Keepers provide security to Roger Stone at a rally the night before groups attacked the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC on January 5, 2021 [File: Jim Urquhart/Reuters]”It’s just amazing that Trump stole the elections under him and stole the country like that,” said Rhodes on Wednesday in the program of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
“You had to set up local militias in your cities and counties, and like the founders, you had to pick you up, refuse to obey, and when they come for you, defend yourself.”
It remains unclear what will become of QAnon, and Beirich said it was possible that many of those involved in the movement could return to their lives, as Watkins urged.
Even so, complaints remain about what was believed to be an election stolen, and Beirich was concerned about a recent YouGov poll that saw 20 percent of voters, including 45 percent of Republicans, approving the storming of the Capitol.
“That’s 20 million people who don’t think this election is fair and who don’t think our institutions are legitimate,” she concluded.