Biden inauguration leaves QAnon believers in disarray
Followers of the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory are split over how to react after Joe Biden’s inauguration confounded their predictions that Donald Trump would remain president in order to punish his enemies in the “deep state”.
Many reacted with shock and despair as Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th US president.
“I just want to throw up,” said one in a popular chat on the Telegram messaging app. “I’m so sick of all the disinformation and false hope.”
For weeks, QAnon followers had been promoting 20 January as a day of reckoning, when prominent Democrats and other elite “Satanic paedophiles” would be arrested and executed on the orders of President Trump.
But, as Mr Biden took his oath and no arrests were made, some in the QAnon community had an uncomfortable meeting with reality.
“It’s done and we were played,” wrote another.
In the hours that followed, thousands more made similar comments on platforms like Gab, Telegram and other online forums where believers go to discuss the conspiracy, after being kicked off mainstream social media in the wake of the Capitol riots.
Doubt even seeped into posts by some of the biggest influencers of the movement, as some started to question the phrase “trust the plan” – a key QAnon slogan that has been used by Q, an anonymous figure whom followers believe to be an influential government insider.
“This is a very difficult day for all of us,” said one influencer whose Twitter account with 200,000 followers was recently suspended.
“Today’s inauguration makes no sense to the Christian patriots and we thought ‘the plan’ was the way we would take this country back.”
The QAnon community “risks fracturing”, said another influencer on Gab, a right-wing social media platform, adding that “real friendships might be irreparably damaged because people are angry”.
A number of extremist and neo-Nazi Telegram channels have already tried to capitalise on the chaos in the QAnon community, asking their members to seek out and convert distraught followers.
With frustration sweeping over their circles, however, some influential accounts told followers to keep the faith and not give up so easily.
One popular Telegram channel reassured its 130,000 subscribers that Mr Trump and the Q team were still in control behind the scenes, and the “evil deeds” of the deep state would be exposed “over the next four years”.
Some doubled down, criticising those who in their view had rushed to judgement.
One claimed Mr Biden was running his administration as an inmate inside a military compound, but he “doesn’t know it yet”.
Later in the day, Ron Watkins, one of the most influential figures in the QAnon community, called on his followers to move on – to the surprise of many observers.
The son of Jim Watkins, the man behind 8chan and 8kun – message boards filled with extreme language and views, violence and extreme sexual content on which Q posts – Ron Watkins has been one of the main purveyors of election conspiracies and played a vital role in encouraging some QAnon supporters to gather in Washington DC on 6 January.
“We gave it our all,” he said to his 120,000 subscribers on Telegram.
“Now we need to keep our chins up and go back to our lives as best we are able.”
As inauguration day drew to a close, QAnon communities were still filled with mixed emotions.
Some said they were waiting for “Q”, who has been largely silent since election day, to post as they had so many unanswered questions.
And some expressed hope that Mr Trump would communicate directly with them soon.
However, a considerable chunk of the community remains steadfast in their belief, urging one another to remain patient and keep the faith.
It is difficult to predict where the movement goes from here.
But some experts and researchers think that QAnon, which has successfully duped hundreds of thousands of followers into thinking they were the only ones able to stop a global cabal of criminals ruling the world, will not simply vanish overnight.
Followers “will likely remain a threat until they can exit the QAnon space”, tweeted extremism researcher Marc-Andre Argentino.
“Even without QAnon, without ‘Q’, without Trump, the core elements that lead these individuals to believe in QAnon will still remain and they will need to find outlets for their conspiratorial mindsets and their anti-democratic ideals,” he added.