For QAnon believers, the promised "storm" never came. Donald Trump is out and Joe Biden is in at the White House. There was no final-day declaration of martial law, no mass arrests, no continuation of the Trump presidency. All of which raises the question: What happens now to the conspiracy movement that believes Trump was going to bring down a global cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles? Coverage:
- A split: Based on the immediate reaction seen online, QAnon seems to have "fractured into two groups," writes Jack Brewster at Forbes. One camp is feeling duped and seething about it: "It's done and we were played," wrote someone on the Telegram app, per the BBC. The other camp is keeping the faith and counseling patience.
- Morphing: Some believers are adapting their views to the new reality, with a theory emerging that Biden has been part of the plan all along, notes Kevin Roose of the New York Times. Biden, not Trump, will be the one who "pulls the trigger," in the words of one post on Telegram. Roose also tracked the "desperation setting in on QAnon Telegram" here. Researcher Alex Kaplan also tracked real-time reaction during the inauguration here.
- Key voice: "We need to keep our chins up and go back to our lives as best we are able," wrote one of QAnon's biggest voices, Ron Watkins (son of Jim Watkins, owner of 8kun, once known as 8chan). "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," he wrote. Many believe Ron Watkins is the "Q" who started it all, though he denies it, per the Washington Post.
- Signs: Adherents sticking to the original theory are seeing signs. One online flurry emerged when someone noticed that Trump was surrounded by 17 flags at his farewell address. Q is the 17th letter of the alphabet. "17 flags! come on now this is getting insane," read a post on one QAnon forum, per the Post. "I don't know how many signs has to be given to us before we 'trust the plan,'" added a commenter. Others were pleased Trump's son Eric used the phrase "the best is yet to come," popular in QAnon circles, in his farewell post on Twitter.
- Big picture: The disarray isn't unexpected, Graham Brookie of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab tells the Post. "It's something that has long been true of conspiracy theories: When they don't come to fruition, they shift their delusions to the next thing." He called attention to comments on Trump's final video suggesting "it wasn't quite time for the Great Awakening, but it's coming soon and this is how."
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