(Citizen Free Press) — For years, believers in QAnon’s conspiracy theory had been waiting for the moment when a grand scheme was put in place and secret members of a supposed Satanic pedophile network at the highest ranks of government and Hollywood would suddenly be exposed, arrested and possibly even publicly executed. They were almost always sure it would happen soon, but “The Storm” never came, and the timing of Joe Biden‘s inauguration was the last possible chance for President Donald Trump to put the plan into action.
But when Biden raised his hand and vowed to defend the Constitution, becoming the nation’s 46th president, nothing happened.
The anticlimax sent QAnon’s followers into a frenzy of confusion and disbelief, almost instantly shattering a collective illusion that had been fueled and amplified by many on the far right. Now, in addition to being scattered across several smaller websites after Facebook and Twitter cracked down on QAnon-related content, believers risk having their own world turned upside down, or perhaps on its feet.
Between disappointment and new theories
Members of a QAnon-centric Telegram channel and some users of the 4chan image panel pledged to keep the faith. Others announced that they renounced their beliefs. Still others came up with new theories that were intended to bring the final showdown further into the future. One of the ideology’s most visible icons, Ron Watkins, known by the online nickname CodeMonkeyZ, called on his followers to “come back to our lives.”
“QAnon’s staunch supporters are confused,” said Daniel J. Jones, president of Advance Democracy, a nonprofit nonpartisan organization that tracks extremist groups and misinformation online. “After years of waiting for the ‘Great Awakening’, QAnon supporters seemed genuinely shocked to see President Biden successfully take office. A significant percentage online write that they are tired of QAnon, while others are doubling down and promoting new conspiracies.
The diversity of reactions underscores the uncertain future now facing the QAnon movement, which tech companies had allowed to metastasize to their platforms for years but didn’t start taking serious action until 2020.The unsubstantiated conspiracy theory has been circulating since 2017. In addition to alleging a vast child trafficking conspiracy, those lured into the theory claim that government bureaucrats who make up a ‘deep state’ were quietly working to undermine the agenda. of President Donald Trump. Trump himself fueled the claims by refusing to publicly denounce them on national television.
And the people who identified themselves as part of the QAnon movement were among the crowd of Trump supporters that stormed the Capitol earlier this month.
There was enthusiasm among QAnon fans before the ceremony
In the aftermath of the riots, QAnon supporters eagerly awaited the moment of Biden’s inauguration.
“As the noose tightens around the deep state, some people are increasingly desperate to discredit Q,” posted a 4chan user Wednesday morning. I guess what they say is true. The criticisms are louder the closer you get to your goal. ”
But after Biden’s swearing in began and ended, panic ensued.
«They promised us arrests, denunciations, military regime, classified documents. Where are they ?? !! ”wrote a member of the QAnon-linked Telegram channel, which has nearly 128,000 subscribers.
“I’m scared, I feel sick to my stomach, but I stand firm,” said another.
“Well babies are still being raped and eaten, any damn minute GOD,” said another.
Some began to accept the truth.
“Biden is our president,” said a fourth user on the Telegram channel. It’s time to put our devices down and get back to reality. If something happens, something happens, but for now I will log out of all social networks. It’s been fun, guys, but sadly it’s over.
Other believers insisted that the lack of a climax was itself part of the plan, theorizing that Trump simply “allowed” Biden to become president “by appearances,” while the former reality TV host would be the one pulling the strings. “Everything that happens in the next 4 years will actually be done by President Trumps,” wrote one 4chan user.
They fear more violence
“It’s a burning mess, frankly,” Carla Hill, a researcher at the Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism, said of the various reactions from QAnon believers. Frustration began to seep in. There is some shame, some anger… A series of [nuevas] conspiracies are arising from this and they are arguing among themselves.
The apparent ease with which some QAnon believers have been able to adjust the theory to accommodate new events underscores how elusive conspiracy theory can be. But the proliferation of new theories and beliefs could also lead to a split in the movement and, some extremism experts warn, to a possible new crisis in mental health.
As the QAnon believers delved deeper into the conspiracy theory, they built a comforting belief system around it, said Marc Ambinder, a senior researcher studying underinformation and misinformation at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism from the University of Southern California.
“The ‘plan’ was far more powerful in the abstract than anything that could be offered in the real world to counter it,” he said.
Mental problems in sight
But now, as many QAnon supporters increasingly face reality, the resulting cognitive dissonance could break them down, Ambinder said, with potentially devastating consequences.
“This kind of event is the kind of thing that can make someone who is already incredibly anxious, at the time of a horrible global pandemic, feel like they are completely on edge,” Ambinder said, saying he fears more violence similar to the one that the country witnessed in the United States Capitol two weeks ago.
In recent weeks, Citizen Free Press has seen Trump supporters embrace the idea of martial law in large numbers on various social media. Earlier this week, a Telegram account that was allegedly run by General John Hyten, deputy chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the moment some supporters had been waiting for – Trump finally acting and using the military to crush his enemies – was arriving. A spokesman for General Hyten told Citizen Free Press on Tuesday morning that the account is “an absolute forgery” and added that the Pentagon was “actively working” to remove it.
Siege on social media
Major social media have stepped up their crackdown on QAnon lately. On Tuesday night, Facebook said that since August it had removed about 18,300 Facebook profiles and 27,300 accounts on its Instagram subsidiary for violating its policies against QAnon. The company has also removed 10,500 groups and 510 events for the same reason.
Last week, Twitter said it banned more than 70,000 accounts promoting QAnon.
But that may not be enough. People sucked into conspiracy theories don’t hear authoritative voices, Ambinder said, but rather voices they consider authoritative to defend their worldview.
Although Trump may no longer be president, he and his political allies, some of whom still serve in government, could be the only ones with the chance to return QAnon believers to the real world, according to Ambinder.
“For the sake of hundreds of thousands of people who are still trapped in the alternate world of QAnon and have no idea what to do,” Ambinder said, “this is when Republicans who cynically and deliberately spread the false rumor that the election they were stolen, they must step forward ”.
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