As my previous post made clear, Donald Trump, while President of the USA, was an integral part of the bizarre QAnon conspiracy theory. When Trump was defeated in the 2020 US Presidential Election, many commentators wondered what would become of QAnon and its huge number of supporters. It may have been thought that the conspiracy theory could not possibly continue, but some were more pessimistic. For example, Alex Bradley Newhouse, research lead at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies’ Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism was quoted as saying “The growth of QAnon has pretty fundamentally changed the entire landscape of American conservatism, and I would say international right-wing politics as well, by completely desensitizing wide swaths of the populace to these conspiracy theories that have taken on a life of their own outside of QAnon itself.”.
After the Presidential Election
After the Election, many QAnon supporters joined the campaign suggesting that there had been “massive electoral fraud”. When that campaign was finally defeated, many QAnon supporters accepted that “the game was up”. Even Ron Watkins, the longtime 8kun administrator, and once the cult’s primary source for bogus Trumpian “election fraud” updates on Telegram, dismissed other followers’ desperate claims that Joe Biden’s inauguration had been faked on a Hollywood sound stage to tell his 134,000 subscribers on 20 January: “Now we need to keep our chins up and go back to our lives as best we are able.”
Others turned to platforms like Gab and Parler to share views on where the movement would go next. Core followers continued to believe things like the idea that Hillary Clinton drinks the blood of children. A second group, the “Save our Children” camp, continued to hold the view that the US Government is complicit in a widespread paedophile ring. Experts worried that QAnon’s connections with extremist organisations would lead to further real-world violent incidents.
Some QAnon supporters turned to online support groups, recognising the damage that belief in the conspiracy theory had done to them, and their families. An Australian ex-believer called Jitarth Jadeja created a Reddit forum called QAnon Casualties, which currently has over 150,000 members, and now also has a podcast. After the election, mocking QAnon supporters online became very popular, but Michael Frink, who moderates a QAnon recovery channel on Telegram, advises against this as he thinks it will only alienate people further. Ziv Cohen, a forensic psychiatrist and expert on extremist beliefs at Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University, predicted that QAnon believers would respond to Trump’s defeat in one of three ways: (1) those who merely dabbled in the cult will move on; (2) extreme believers may migrate to radical anti-government groups; (3) those who used QAnon “to help them make sense of the world, to help them feel a sense of control” may simply revise the cult’s twisted narrative to fit the new reality, rather than admit that they have been fooled.
Those in the latter category included believers who thought that on March 4, which was the original inauguration date in the United States (until 1933), Donald Trump was going to swoop back in and say, “I’ve been President all along, I’m taking a second term!” followed by the mass cabal arrests of “The Great Storm”. When March 4 came and went without incident, attention shifted to March 20. QAnon believers’ switch in emphasis to March 20 apparently stemmed from a misreading of the Presidential Transition Enhancement Act of 2019 which “extends support provided by the General Services Administration to the president- and vice president-elect for up to 60 days after the inauguration”. Sadly for the faithful, March 20 too was a non-event for QAnon. Despite these disappointments, true believers continued to speculate about dates in April, and even May!
How QAnon is Evolving
Now that we are further away from the election, it appears that QAnon groups are increasingly devoting their energies to conspiracy theories around coronavirus vaccination. According to the Q News Official TV group on Telegram, these vaccines are not saving lives, but are bioweapons created by an evil cabal (which now includes Big Pharma) to cause infertility, to facilitate social control, and even to alter the genetic makeup of Homo sapiens. On encrypted chat app groups on Telegram and elsewhere, including the dark web, links can be found to videos with names like “Murder By Vaccine-The Evidence Mounts!” and “Doctors and Nurses Giving the Coronavirus Vaccine Will Be Tried as War Criminals”. Telegram channels mix posts from conspiracy theorists, such as Alex Jones, with tributes to Trump, and posts promoting resistance to mask-wearing, coronavirus testing and vaccination. Jones, whose material was deleted from several mainstream platforms for hate speech violations in 2018, said that vaccination campaigns were lethal in one recent clip of his online show posted to Telegram. As well as embracing COVID-denial and anti-vaccination ideas, QAnon has morphed to include other bizarre notions, eg fears about contrails and 5G wireless technology.
QAnon channels on Telegram and social media sites are promoting the idea of demonstrations against public health measures designed to control the pandemic. Misinformation is being spread about how elites might be using vaccination, and techniques such as lockdown to control the population.
A report published by the Network Contagion Research Institute, which tracks misinformation and extremism online, cautioned that attempts to crackdown on mainstream internet sites, eg Facebook and Twitter, might backfire, fueling vaccine resistance and making it harder for researchers to keep track of group activities. The report also warned that several potent online conspiracies are showing signs of merging into a broader populist, anti-government movement distrustful of outsiders and traditional sources of authority. This convergence was predicted by many, including Anna Merlan in her article “The Conspiracy Singularity Has Arrived” on vice.com in July 2020.
The origin of QAnon makes it highly likely that it’s followers will almost exclusively be Republican voters. There are two Republican Members of Congress who have expressed support for the conspiracy theory: Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert. In his 2016 book “Who Rules the World?: Reframings”, the prominent left-wing intellectual Noam Chomsky stated “With the rightward drift, the Republican Party’s dedication to wealth and privilege has become so extreme that its actual policies could not attract voters, so it has had to seek a new popular base, mobilized on other grounds: evangelical Christians who await the Second Coming, nativists who fear that “they” are taking our country away from us, unreconstructed racists, people with real grievances who gravely mistake their causes, and others like them who are easy prey to demagogues and can readily become a radical insurgency.” Bearing in mind the fact that Trump won 74,222,958 votes, (46.8 percent of the votes cast) IE more votes than any other presidential candidate has ever won with the exception of Biden, it seems to me that the Republicans under Trump were pretty successful!
It is impossible to know how many of these voters were QAnon sympathisers, or how likely it is that believers will increase or decrease between now and the next Presidential Election. Trump has been remarkably quiet recently, but he has not ruled out the possibility that he, or one of his family members, will run in 2024. If they do, there is little doubt that they will be keen to harness QAnon, or whatever it evolves into.