President Trump’s defeat and the week-long disappearance of its anonymous prophet have forced supporters of the baseless movement to rethink their beliefs: ‘Have we all been conned?’
A QAnon adherent speaks to a crowd of Trump supporters outside the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office, where votes were being counted Thursday in Phoenix. (Dario Lopez-Mills/AP)
President Trump’s election loss and the week-long silence of “Q,” the QAnon movement’s mysterious prophet, have wrenched some believers into a crisis of faith, with factions voicing unease about their future or rallying others to stay calm and “trust the plan.”
The uncertainty has been compounded by the abrupt public resignation, also last Tuesday, of Ron Watkins, the administrator of Q’s online sanctuary on the message board 8kun.
Q has gone quiet before. But the abrupt lack of posts since last Tuesday — Election Day, which the anonymous figure had touted for months as a key moment of reckoning — has sparked speculation and alarm among the movement’s most ardent followers.
Some QAnon proponents have begun to publicly grapple with reality and question whether the conspiracy theory is a hoax.
“Have we all been conned?” one user wrote Saturday on 8kun.
“HOW CAN I SPEAK TO Q???? MY FAITH IS SHAKEN. I FOLLOWED THE PLAN. TRUMP LOST!!!!!!!!!!! WHAT NOW?????? WHERE IS THE PLAN???”
Trump’s defeat threatens to undermine the tale that Q, a supposed top-secret government operative, has woven over years: that Trump and his allies would soon vanquish a cabal of “deep state” child abusers and Satan-worshiping Democrats, exiling some to the U.S. detention facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
QAnon, a baseless conspiracy theory, is fueled by right-wing outrage online and in the real world. (Elyse Samuels/The Washington Post)
[QAnon learns to survive — and even thrive — after Silicon Valley’s crackdown]
QAnon believers treat Q’s thousands of cryptic posts as scripture, and many stretch to connect them to real-world events, often in nonsensical ways.
Some prominent Q believers said Trump’s back-to-back golf outings over the weekend were proof that the president was in control and that all was going according to plan.
Others connected Rudolph W. Giuliani’s bizarre Saturday news conference at Four Seasons Total Landscaping, on an industrial block in Philadelphia between a crematorium and an adult-video store, with two Q posts in the past year in which he used the words “landscape.”
One QAnon account, known as Praying Medic, told its more than 400,000 Twitter followers that many supporters “had to be talked off the ledge” in the past week but that Trump’s strategy remained in motion.
Praying Medic tweeted: “He’s going to stick the knife in and twist it. He has no plans to leave office. Ever.”
Travis View, a researcher and co-host of the podcast “QAnon Anonymous,” said he expects that whoever is behind the Q “drops”
— as Q’s messages are known — is just waiting to see how things shake out. Q has disappeared for weeks at a time before, shaking some loyalists, including during a three-month absence last year following a public revolt over the message board’s ties to real-world terrorist attacks.
In the meantime, QAnon’s devoted fan base has been left to struggle with the meaning of Trump’s election loss — which many argue was actually a win.
“The majority reaction from QAnon followers has been outright denial,” View said. Many expect Trump will seal his reelection through his team’s so-far-unsuccessful legal skirmishes, and “if that doesn’t happen and Joe Biden is inaugurated on Jan. 20, the cognitive dissonance will be absolutely as big as it’s ever been for QAnon followers.”
[He’s a former QAnon believer. He doesn’t want to tell his story, but thinks it might help.]
Many of Q’s posts read like conspiratorial gibberish. They generally outline how shadowy forces have gained power over the American republic and how Trump is cleverly working behind the scenes to engineer their destruction.
Q’s last “drop” featured an Abraham Lincoln quote about “a new birth of freedom,” an image of a big American flag and a YouTube link to the theme song of “The Last of the Mohicans,” the 1992 movie about the French and Indian War.
That YouTube page has itself become a town center for Q believers, with more than 35 million views and 27,000 comments.
One of the most popularly voted comments reads: “It’s not just about trump, it’s good versus evil , light versus darkness! Victory of the light!!”
Q’s posts have no set schedule, and the network of pro-QAnon websites has sought to reassure anxious followers about Q’s absence since Election Day.
“Q has been dark for 7 days,” the website Q Alerts states. “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.”
“Do not worry. Do not be afraid. THERE IS A PLAN. IT IS A GOOD PLAN,” the QAnon supporter Major Patriot tweeted last week.
[Trump’s comments on conspiracy theory are celebrated: ‘This was the biggest pitch for QAnon I’ve ever seen’]
As QAnon’s influence and popularity grew since the first Q drop in 2017, a robust network of sites has emerged to assemble and aggregate Q’s posts for a broader global fan base. But Q’s posts continue to be released only on 8kun, the rickety message board once known as 8chan that revels in hateful bigotry and violent memes.
The site saw a major change of its own on Election Day, a few hours after Q’s last post, when Watkins tweeted that he was resigning following a “self-imposed civic duty protecting the final fortifications of online free speech.”
The last week, Brennan said, has shown how much the movement has begun to grow beyond Q itself, as a core group of prominent pro-Trump influencers began pushing viewpoints beyond the anonymous figure’s central teachings. Many of those influencers have also sought to profit off their growing audiences through paid subscriptions and online sales.
Over the past week, Brennan said, “the major influencers have set themselves in narratives without Q saying anything.”
The election did provide QAnon believers some cause for optimism, including winning representation in Congress.
Marjorie Taylor Greene, a booster of QAnon talking points, won her unopposed House race in Georgia. Lauren Boebert, who earlier this year said she hoped Q was real but who has since sought to distance herself from the conspiracy theory, also won a competitive race in Colorado.
[From helicopter repairman to leader of the Internet’s ‘darkest reaches’: The life and times of 8chan owner Jim Watkins]
They have also gained subtle nods of support from Trump’s political following. On a town hall stage last month, Trump said he knew nothing about QAnon but echoed one of its audience’s central talking points: that “they are very much against pedophilia.”
Trump’s senior adviser Stephen Miller further bolstered the conspiracy theory last month by baselessly claiming that Biden would incentivize “child trafficking on an epic global scale.” Trump’s former adviser Stephen K. Bannon also said on a podcast last month that QAnon “appears directionally to be correct.”
Rita Katz, the executive director of SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors online extremism, said she expects the QAnon following will continue to grow online, regardless of who created or operated its presence online.
“It’s a dangerous network. It’s a dangerous movement that truly believes that Biden and other Democrats are killing kids,” Katz said. “And now, with Biden’s projected victory, the QAnon movement believes with the same zealous certainty that the whole thing is a sham. And that’s a major problem, because … these aren’t a bunch of harmless keyboard warriors — they’re adherents of a movement that has resulted in real-life violence.”
The FBI said last year that QAnon and other “conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists” represented a major terrorism threat. Its supporters have been linked to kidnapping plots and violent threats, including in 2018, when an armed man in Arizona barricaded a bridge at the Hoover Dam with an armored truck.
QAnon followers have more recently pushed one another to keep the faith. On the far-right message board Gab, one user reposted a Q drop from June: “These are the times that try men’s souls.”
For some core QAnon believers, who call themselves “digital soldiers,” the election seemed to fuel new calls for violent action in the real world.
“WAR,” one QAnon account wrote shortly after the race had been called on Saturday, in a tweet that has been retweeted more than 1,000 times. “Patriots will handle from here,” it read, alongside a “storm” emoji.
Drew Harwell and Craig Timberg
November 10 at 8:45 AM ET
Drew Harwell is a technology reporter covering artificial intelligence and the algorithms changing our lives.
Craig Timberg is a national technology reporter for The Washington Post. Since joining The Post in 1998, he has been a reporter, editor and foreign correspondent, and he contributed to The Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the National Security Agency.