Disillusionment hits ranks of QAnon faithful as Trump leaves office

NEW YORK • For three years, adherents of the sprawling QAnon conspiracy theory awaited a so-called Great Awakening, scouring anonymous Web postings from a shadowy "Q" figure and parsing statements by then US President Donald Trump, whom they believed to be their champion.

On Wednesday, they grappled with a harsh reality check: Mr Trump had left office with no mass arrests or other victories against the supposed cabal of Satan-worshipping paedophile cannibal elites, especially Democrats, he was ostensibly fighting.

Instead, Democratic President Joseph Biden was sworn into office, leaving legions of QAnon faithful struggling to make sense of what had transpired.

In one Telegram channel with more than 18,400 members, QAnon believers were split between those still urging others to "trust the plan" and those saying they felt betrayed.

"It's obvious now we've been had. No plan, no Q, nothing," wrote one user.

Some messages referenced theories that a coup was going to take place before the end of Inauguration Day. Others moved the goalposts again, speculating that Mr Trump would be sworn into office on March 4.

Mr Jared Holt, a disinformation researcher at the Atlantic Council, said he had never before seen disillusionment in the QAnon communities he monitors at this scale.

"It's the whole 'trust the plan' thing. Q believers have just allowed themselves to be strung from failed promise to failed promise.

"The whole movement is called into question now."

A poll with more than 36,000 votes conducted in another QAnon Telegram channel before Mr Biden's swearing-in ceremony showed that more than 20 per cent of respondents predicted nothing would in fact happen and Mr Biden would become president, according to the Q Origins Project, which tracks the movement.

However, 34 per cent believe "the military & Trump have a plan coming in the near future", even while acknowledging the transfer of presidential power.

The anonymous person or people known as "Q" started posting the vague predictions that would become the basis of the QAnon movement on message board 4chan in 2017, claiming to be a Trump administration insider with top secret security clearance.

The number of followers exploded with the arrival of the coronavirus last year, providing a sense of community missing in many people's isolated pandemic lives by encouraging participants to "do their own research" and contribute findings to the crowd.

In another development, the Proud Boys, a far-right group, which had declared its undying loyalty to Mr Trump after the Nov 3 presidential election, is now mocking him.

By this week, the group's attitude towards Mr Trump had changed.

"Trump will go down as a total failure," the Proud Boys said in a Telegram channel on Monday.

As Mr Trump departed the White House on Wednesday, the Proud Boys have also started leaving his side.

In dozens of conversations on social media sites like Gab and Telegram, members of the group have begun calling Mr Trump a "shill" and "extraordinarily weak", according to messages reviewed by The New York Times.

They have also urged supporters to stop attending rallies and protests held for Mr Trump or the Republican Party.

The Proud Boys' anger towards Mr Trump heightened after he did nothing to help those in the group who face legal action for the Jan 6 Capitol violence.

Other far-right groups, such as the Oath Keepers, America First and the Three Percenters, have also started criticising Mr Trump in private Telegram channels, according to a review of messages.

REUTERS, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2021, with the headline 'Disillusionment hits ranks of QAnon faithful as Trump leaves office'. Subscribe