After spending years awaiting “The Storm”—the moment when President Donald Trump would supposedly eliminate the so-called “deep state” and expose an elite child-sex trafficking cabal— adherents of the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory were forced to reckon with the fact that their movement was little more than delusional fantasy.
Despite attempts to keep the hope alive, QAnon followers watched in dismay as Trump left Washington, D.C., for Florida Wednesday morning while Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. With no military coup, no dramatic scenes of revolution, and no mass executions or retaliatory violence as prophesized, QAnon adherents began to wonder if they had been deceived.
“It’s over. We were played,” one follower said on a QAnon Telegram channel with more than 30,000 subscribers. “I’m going to throw up now.”
Some QAnon channels attempted to maintain optimism by theorizing that “Biden will be the one who pulls the trigger” that leads to “The Storm”, that “Biden is Q,” and even that the 17 flags at Trump’s farewell speech—Q is the 17th letter in the alphabet—was a sign to “trust the plan.” Yet while QAnon channels and influencers scrambled to make sense of the collapsing narrative, many followers seemed disillusioned by the latest spin.
“[Q] has left me here looking out over the sea watching and waiting,” a QAnon disciple said on Telegram. “No word, no letter, no sign. Nothing tangible on which I can depend. I could wait forever but no true sign.”
QAnon took root on the infamous 4chan discussion board in October 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. 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.
It is worth noting that Q has not posted online since Dec. 8, when the anonymous figure sent out a YouTube link of a pro-Trump montage set to the Twisted Sister song “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” And while QAnon influencers continued to predict a stunning victory for Trump and the so-called patriot movement by Jan. 20, Biden’s inauguration was a body blow that leveled many of the movement’s followers.
“I’m crying and tired of this pain,” said one post on a QAnon channel. “All the evil is being praised right now while we sit and watch. No arrests, no swamp reveal. Nothing.”
As reality set in, some key figures within the QAnon community appeared to change their tune. Ron Watkins—the former administrator of the 8kun message board that was home to Q and is also linked to white supremacy, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, various other hate crimes, and multiple mass shootings—called on his followers to respect the incoming administration.
“We gave it our all,” Watkins said on Telegram. “Now we need to keep our chins up and go back to our lives as best we are able. We have a new president sworn in and it is our responsibility as citizens to respect the Constitution regardless of whether or not we agree with the specifics or details regarding officials who are sworn in.”
Given that Watkins is reportedly one of a handful of people who could verify Q’s drops, his apparent resignation from the movement shocked remaining QAnon diehards. When one adherent asked why Watkins posted that message, another responded, “because he is a fraud.”
While the QAnon fantasy continues to unravel, several of the movement’s channels were overrun by people who came to pour salt over wounded believers. “Guys, I have to admit that I came here to see people’s worldviews get shattered. You were ostracized by your families for believing this crap/ Some lost your job, and all have disconnected from reality. And now that you see that it was all a load of horseshit,” one Telegram user posted, “It brings a tear to my eye to get to experience it with you.”
Despite Q’s silence over the past six weeks, the anticlimactic end to Trump’s presidency, and QAnon boosters abandoning ship, it is unlikely that the movement will come to an immediate end. Several QAnon followers were elected at all levels of government, including Marjorie Taylor Greene, who was elected to Congress in November 2020, and former UFC champion Tito Ortiz, who who was elected to Huntington Beach’s city council and became the mayor pro tem. Meanwhile, white supremacist groups have reportedly tried to recruit from QAnon channels.
However, given that the unhinged conspiracy theory was unable to fulfill a single of its countless predictions, it is possible that the movement’s best days are long behind it.
With Biden officially inaugurated, one QAnon follower was clearly disgruntled. “We all got arse fucked,” he told the channel.