As Joe Biden was inaugurated on Wednesday, some people breathed in a sigh of relief to see that the Trump administration had finally come to its end. Others, like followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory completely melted down as they realized the so-called “Great Awakening” they had been waiting for wasn’t coming after all.
Followers of the conspiracy theory have long believed that Democratic politicians and celebrities were involved in a Satanic international child sex trafficking network. They were also holding out hope that on January 20, 2021, Donald Trump would declare martial law and round up his political enemies for execution at the Guantánamo Bay detention center.
Some adherents prepared for a nationwide blackout ahead of the inauguration, as they believed Trump would alert them that the arrests were being made. On Wednesday morning, they remained encouraged that those arrests were coming, noting that Trump had 17 flags with him onstage at his farewell event at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. They noted that Q is the 17th letter of the alphabet and therefore, this could not be a coincidence.
Among the Democratic elite who were supposed to be arrested and executed, according to the conspiracy theory, was the incoming president. Instead, Biden’s inauguration went off without a hitch and the former president took off for the last time from the White House to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
If any of us are lucky, we won’t hear from Trump again, but QAnon supporters were a wreck as everything they believed in fell apart. "It's done and we were played," one person wrote in a Telegram channel. Another wrote, “I just want to throw up. I'm so sick of all the disinformation and false hope." Ironically, it was disinformation that led people to the QAnon conspiracy theory in the first place.
The QAnon conspiracy theory first started gaining traction in right-wing spaces in October 2017 after Pizzagate went viral the year prior. At the time, some people were led to believe that Democrats were running a child sex trafficking network out of the D.C.-based pizzeria, Comet Ping Pong. Since then, supporters of the theory have made a number of predictions, including that Hillary Clinton would be arrested for her role in the activities (which do not actually exist) and that the government was preparing for riots.
None of these things happened, of course, and a lot of QAnon followers are expressing anger and disillusionment as a result. Many people who follow the conspiracy theory said they were “sick to [their] stomach” on forums and that it was the “Worst day in American history” after the mass arrests didn’t happen, according to a tweet posted by Daily Beast reporter Will Sommer. One post on the Great Awakening forum was titled, “If Q Was a Fake, Why Didn’t Trump Denounce It?”
Meanwhile, a moderator of the forum warned that posts questioning the validity of Q would be banned, writing, “this IS NOT over HAVE patience,” Slate reports. Some followers still have hope and have started coming up with new theories. “Like many of you, I am in shock by today’s [events] and then I realized why it had to happen and that Q told us it would happen and, why this NEEDED to happen,” read one post on a QAnon forum, according to The Guardian. The post went on to explain the new theory in detail.
Despite the major Q theory unraveling, researchers of the far right are concerned about where these splintering supporters will go next. Following the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, QAnon communities have made their way to platforms that are less regulated when it comes to white nationalist and neo-Nazi organizing. And while the theory is already thriving on antisemitic tropes, some people worry adherents of Q are only a few clicks away from entering and radicalizing further to the right in white nationalist digital spaces.
It's unclear what will happen next with Q, QAnon, or the fake satanic cabal of Democrats they seem to believe is running the world. What we do know is that QAnon will probably live in the dark corners of the internet (or Facebook) for a little while longer, though hopefully only to fade from memory, much like Donald Trump himself.