What happens when hard reality meets hardened conspiracy theories? It almost never ends well, as we learned at Jonestown, so perhaps the sudden realization that today’s inauguration wasn’t a mass-arrest event could have been worse. On QAnon sites and social media, many — but not all — of the society’s participants realized what it meant.
“We all got played,” as one participant succinctly summed up, and another wrote, “We’ve been had”:
As Trump boarded Air Force One for his last presidential flight to Florida, many QAnon adherents — some of whom had earlier this month stormed the Capitol in a siege that left at least two QAnon devotees dead and others in jail — began to wonder whether they’d been duped all along.
When one QAnon channel on the chat app Telegram posted a new theory that suggested Biden himself was “part of the plan,” a number of followers shifted into open rebellion: “This will never happen”; “Just stfu already!” “It’s over. It is sadly, sadly over.” “What a fraud!”
Not everyone was ready to throw in the towel — especially those who benefited more materially from the madness:
But on Wednesday, as reality dawned, QAnon promoters who had gained thousands of online supporters by promising to decode Q’s arcane posts — and profited off their audience, by selling QAnon merchandise or online subscriptions along the way — scrambled to spin the truth of Trump’s loss or shift the goal posts of a deadline four years in the making.
One QAnon channel on Telegram with 40,000 subscribers noted that the last sentence of Eric Trump’s farewell tweet — “ … the best is yet to come!” — was also a common slogan for QAnon adherents, failing to mention that the phrase is a commonly used cliche. Another QAnon channel with 35,000 Telegram subscribers, devoted to the “Great Awakening,” highlighted Trump’s final remarks as president: “We will be back in some form — Have a good life. We will see you soon.”
“It simply doesn’t make sense that we all got played,” one QAnon channel on Telegram said.
The best part of the scramble was one particularly ironic attempt at reverse engineering reality. What if Donald Trump’s secret weapon in this grand plan was … Joe Biden?
Some QAnon believers tried to rejigger their theories to accommodate a transfer of power to Mr. Biden. Several large QAnon groups discussed on Wednesday the possibility that they had been wrong about Mr. Biden, and that the incoming president was actually part of Mr. Trump’s effort to take down the global cabal.
“The more I think about it, I do think it’s very possible that Biden will be the one who pulls the trigger,” one account wrote in a QAnon channel on the messaging app Telegram.
Apparently no one considering that new explanation wondered why Trump would have claimed for two months that Biden stole the election if Biden was his Super Secret Q Deputy. Anyway, later missives from Q Central made it pretty clear that the entire gig was up. Instead of worrying about the secret pedophiliac cabals running the country, one major Q figure wrote, let’s just remember the good times we all had:
Followers hoping for guidance from “Q,” the pseudonymous message board user whose posts power the movement, were bound to be disappointed. The account has been silent for weeks, and had not posted Wednesday.
Ron Watkins, a major QAnon booster whom some have suspected of being “Q” himself, posted a note of resignation on his Telegram channel on Wednesday afternoon.
“We have a new president sworn in and it is our responsibility as citizens to respect the Constitution,” he wrote. “As we enter into the next administration please remember all the friends and happy memories we made together over the past few years.”
The “happy memories” that involved being taken in by con artists and cultists? Riiiiiiiiiight. Our Twitter pal Jeff B was one among many who properly translated this last missive:
lol this motherf***er literally just signed off by saying “maybe Q was the friends we made along the way” https://t.co/cni3XT4OTi
— Jeff B., who on earth is this guy?? (@EsotericCD) January 20, 2021
It’s easy to dunk on the thousands or more people who genuinely got taken by these con artists and hucksters. They shouldn’t have fallen for it, but that can be said of the people at Jonestown and Heavens Gate, too. They got victimized by malicious pot-stirrers, and we should be at least relieved that the Qollapse didn’t produce more destruction than it might otherwise have. Our ire should be directed at the hucksters who ran and profited off of the QAnon lie, and should be recalled whenever any of them launch their “new projects.”
For the rest of us, we should attempt to redirect the inchoate anger and frustration that led so many down that primrose path to more constructive action. Our republic needs evidence-based policies and ideologies, structured around transparency and reliability rather than rumors of secret cabals. When the conservative movement rejects the latter and returns to the former, we will all be better off, and our country made stronger through rational public engagement.
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