Is the QAnon Fantasy Unravelling? 

QAnon
Columbia, South Carolina - USA - November 7, 2020: Trump supporters march around the SC State House in protest of the former Vice President Joe Biden (D) wining the 2020 presidential election. (Photo: Crush Rush / Shutterstock.com)

Nestled in the heart of Southlake, Texas, is a 130-acre town square filled with more than a hundred lifestyle shops and dozens of fine dining restaurants. The shopping district—one of the finest in the Dallas-Fort Worth area—is home to quaint boutiques, fine jewelry stores, and even a selection of parks and green spaces equipped with water fountains. And on Friday, Nov. 6, the family-friendly space was overrun with demonstrators protesting against any declaration of President Donald Trump’s defeat in the 2020 presidential election.

The protest, organized on social media by a pair of young women who call themselves the Patriot Sisters, attracted a reported 75 people, many of whom brandished “Thin Blue Line” American flags and signs emblazoned with the words “TRUMP 2020.” One woman strummed a guitar and sang religious songs, while other protesters prayed and declared that “voter fraud should be stopped in the name of Jesus.”

The group also attracted supporters of the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory, including one man carrying a cellphone on a selfie stick, which he used to record the protest while chanting religious declarations interspersed with statements about child-trafficking and pedophilia—dog whistles used by QAnon adherents.

“We will not lose this nation and allow human trafficking to continue,” the man carrying a selfie stick said in a video titled “Prayer Rally for TRUMP! #Trump2020 #PrayForTrump #TheGreatAwakening.”

“We will not lose this nation and allow pedophilia to continue…we declare that no darkness will triumph in these last days. Praise you, Jesus,” he said. (The Great Awakening is a term associated with QAnon, as well as with religious-right activists who believe God is using Trump to bring spiritual revival to the U.S.)

The Patriot Sisters run popular Instagram and TikTok accounts, which they have used to promote the anti-mask movement, anti-Black Lives Matter rhetoric, and pro-Trump propaganda and misinformation. They have even made a post using the #SaveOurChildren hashtag, which was hijacked by QAnon followers to push falsehoods about the purported exploitation of children by liberal elites.

While they may not necessarily be ardent supporters of QAnon, the Patriot Sisters’ attraction of some of the conspiracy theory’s impassioned followers not only emphasizes the recently formed overlap between evangelical Christians and QAnon, but also highlights the current state of despair festering within the movement – a despair centered around a single question:

What now?

A Crisis of Faith

Election night was supposed to signal a key moment in Q’s long-touted reckoning.

The anonymous prophet fueling the QAnon movement spent years flooding the internet with unfounded conspiracies, proclamations about the so-called deep state’s cabalistic control of the United States, and Trump’s role as the anointed savior fighting off the forces of evil. The posts began on the infamous discussion board 4chan in Oct. 2017, where an anonymous poster claimed to have “Q clearance” granting him access to classified information at the Department of Energy, including nuclear secrets. Q quickly amassed a large following through his posts (known as “Q drops”), and the movement grew among right-wing circles.

QAnon eventually morphed into a virtual cult where supporters claim that a cabal of elite pedophiles made up of Hollywood actors, Democrats, and other high-ranking officials is behind a global child sex-trafficking ring. The unfounded conspiracy theory also alleges that Trump is planning a day of reckoning known as “The Storm,” during which thousands of these deep state actors will be arrested. Many believed that the supposed reckoning and the eventual defeat of the deep state would begin with Trump’s victory in the 2020 election.

Joe Biden’s victory served as a body-blow to the movement’s ardent followers.

Q’s final drop before the election was on the morning of Nov. 3, and featured an Abraham Lincoln quote from 1863, in which the former president declared “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.” The drop also bore the image of an American flag and a YouTube link to the theme song of the 1992 film “The Last of the Mohicans.”  The YouTube link was viewed more than 35 million times and features more than 28,000 comments, mainly from loyal followers of the QAnon movement.

“This is the Q message board today,” read one comment. “A genius way to get past the sensors. Seeing all the recent comments makes me proud win or lose. WWG1WGA.” (The code denotes QAnon’s best-known slogan, “Where we go one, we go all.”)

While Q’s followers gathered in earnest to witness a reckoning that never came, Q himself was mysteriously silent. Even the operators of the website Q Alerts, which keeps track of the Q drops, attempted to reassure followers regarding their prophet’s suspicious absence. “Q has been dark for 9 days. At times Q strategically goes dark for days, weeks or in some cases months. Be sure you have some type of Q Alerts in place so you are notified when Q drops again. If your browser shows a red bell icon at the bottom/right, that is a great place to start.”

Q’s disappearance (which lasted for nine days until the anonymous figure resurfaced again on Nov. 12) coupled with Trump’s defeat in the presidential elections, led to a range of responses from his followers. Some stood their ground and doubled down on the conspiracies, while others began to question whether they themselves had been fooled. Followers (known as Anons) flooded forums, Telegram chats, and Q-friendly spaces to discuss the events, share their despair, and seek comfort from others.

“We Have (sic) been told time & again Trump wins in the end!! Don’t give up so easily, if you believe don’t give up,” one poster told a QAnon group of several hundred members on Telegram. Another responded that “giving up is NOT an option for me!!”

This is not the first time that QAnon believers have faced disappointment. One of the initial claims of the conspiracy theory was that Hillary Clinton would be arrested and imprisoned in 2017. When that did not happen, QAnon followers recalibrated and decided that Clinton had been placed under house arrest and was wearing an ankle bracelet. Even her appearances in public only emboldened them to raise the stakes and claim that the deep state had replaced her with a clone.

Then in 2018, Q claimed that Republicans would dominate the midterm elections and reclaim the U.S. House of Representatives. This, of course, did not come to pass, and while this likely impacted some of Q’s followers, the movement only continued to grow over the next couple of years.

Q’s nine days of silence during a critical time in the supposed reckoning left a power vacuum within the cesspool of conspiracies on 8kun, the message board formerly known as 8chan that has been linked to white supremacy, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, various other hate crimes, and multiple mass shootings. Following three mass shootings in 2019 (Christchurch, New Zealand, in March; Poway, California, in April; El Paso, Texas, in August) where each of the assailants used 8chan as a platform to post their manifestos, 8chan went offline in August 2019 and rebranded in Nov. 2019 as 8kun.

While 8kun quickly became a home for Q’s posts, the site saw a surprising shift on Election Day. Shortly following Q’s Nov. 3 drop, Ron Watkins—son of 8kun owner Jim Watkins—revealed that he was “resigning as the admin of 8kun effective immediately.” According to the Washington Post, Watkins resigned to focus on his “health and marriage” and that he had “no thoughts or insight” into why Q had not posted in over a week.

Given that Watkins was one of a handful of people who could verify Q’s drops, several fake Q posts appeared over the following days which caused mass confusion among Anons before being discredited. Others spammed the forums with biblical passages comparing Moses’ miraculous parting of the Red Sea to QAnon’s ongoing fight against the deep state. The posts served the purpose of preying on vulnerable believers who were seeking answers for Q’s temporary disappearance.