- QAnon followers believed that March 4 would see former President Donald Trump reinstated as president.
- It was just the latest date in a long line of bizarre goalposts that continually shift.
- Followers of the conspiracy theory are looking forward to future dates that will herald epic changes.
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“Don’t be disappointed,” wrote one subscriber on a popular QAnon Telegram channel late Thursday night. “The race is not run yet and I have reason to believe March 20 is also possible.”
Another believer posted a similarly optimistic message. “We still have 16 days,” they wrote. “Lots can happen between now and then!”
With the passing of March 4, a highly-anticipated date for the conspiracy group, followers remain characteristically delusional.
With the uneventful passage of yet another supposedly momentous date, QAnon fans spent Friday morning urging followers to look forward and “keep the faith.”
QAnon’s March 4 failure
When “the Storm’ – the promise of mass arrests and executions on Joe Biden’s Inauguration Day -amounted to nothing, followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory scrambled for a new date to imagine Trump’s fictional swearing-in ceremony.
March 4, like several fruitless dates that preceded it, was born out of a convoluted political fantasy.
QAnon adherents borrowed from the obscure US-based sovereign-citizen movement to suggest that Trump would return to power on March 4, 2021. Sovereign citizens “believe that they get to decide which laws to obey and which to ignore,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit organization that tracks extremism.
The conspiracy-theory movement will continue to invent new dates to look forward to, or else their years of obsessional beliefs will all have been for naught, say far-right experts.
“Reality doesn’t really matter,” Nick Backovic, a contributing editor at fact-checking website Logically, where he researches misinformation and disinformation, told Insider. “Whether QAnon can survive another great disappointment, there’s no question – it can.”
The March 4 theory is rooted in a bizarre belief that argues all laws after the 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, are illegitimate.
The 20th Amendment, which moved Inauguration Day from March 4 to January 20, is viewed by sovereign citizens as invalid.
Therefore, proponents of this conspiracy theory insisted that Trump would restore a republic that has been out of action for over 150 years on the day when former presidents were sworn-in.
Travis View, a conspiracy theory expert and host of the QAnon Anonymous podcast, previously told Insider that it’s based on a “blind faith” that Trump can “fix everything.”
A series of no-shows
Before March 4, the QAnon follower’s calendar was marked with a string of dates that were once hailed as moments of reckoning that didn’t happen.
In 2017, the first “Q drop” – the cryptic messages from the anonymous “Q” figure whose guidance runs the movement – claimed that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would be arrested because of an unfounded allegation that she was involved in child sex trafficking. This, of course, never happened, but the QAnon conspiracy theory was born.
Devotees of the conspiracy theory then eagerly anticipated the Mueller report’s release in 2019, expecting its findings to lead to the arrest and possible execution of leading Democrats. Once again, this resulted in nothing more than disappointment for QAnon believers.
Then, in a bid to reconcile their belief that Trump would remain president, they believed January 6, which went on to be a deadly insurrection at the US Capitol, was a precursor to “The Storm” – a violent event that would result in the execution of child-abusive elites.
The goalpost was then moved to January 20, based on the claim that Trump would seize power prior to Biden taking his oath.
But Trump was not inaugurated again on January 20 and instead left Washington to move down to his Florida home. In the hours after Biden’s inauguration, some QAnon believers were left confused and crestfallen.
Mental gymnastics ensued, with some QAnon influencers arguing that Biden’s inauguration had happened in a Hollywood studio and was therefore invalid; others claimed that Trump sent signals during his final pre-inauguration address indicating that he’d remain in office. These influencers again promoted to their followers the idea that somehow, their theory was not yet over.
“QAnon is dealing with a very difficult cognitive dissonance situation,” Michael Barkun, professor emeritus of political science at Syracuse University, told Insider.
Naturally, some believers become fed up with failures
Several top QAnon voices disavowed the March 4 conspiracy theory in the days leading up to Thursday. These influencers have likely been attempting to keep their followers on-board with the conspiracy theory despite its myriad disappointments, Backovic told Insider.
A Wednesday post on a QAnon Telegram channel with nearly 200,000 subscribers called the plan “BS,” though the same page told their followers that the “new Republic” would begin on March 4.
Another top conspiracy theorist told their 71,000 subscribers on Wednesday morning that a “Q drop” contained a hint that the March 4 conspiracy theory was a false flag. “March 4 is a Trap,” the post said.
Whenever QAnon’s prophecies are proven wrong, the movement does lose some support, Backovic said.
In the days after President Biden’s inauguration, many QAnon believers did express a desire to leave the movement, fed up with the lies they’d been told. Even Ron Watkins, once QAnon’s top source for voter-fraud misinformation, told his 134,000 Telegram subscribers in the afternoon of January 20, “Now we need to keep our chins up and go back to our lives as best we are able.”
QAnon influencers calling the March 4 conspiracy a “false flag” also helps place blame on others in case things go awry like they did on January 6. Finding a scapegoat is a common tactic for extremists, according to Backovic.
After the Capitol insurrection, QAnon supporters and other pro-Trump protesters – and several Republicans in Congress – spread the false claim that antifa, the anti-fascist movement, staged the deadly coup attempt on the Capitol.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said when he testified before Congress on Tuesday, no evidence antifa was involved in the riot.
In addition to focusing on specific dates, QAnon has evolved and adapted to include other conspiracy theories and enter more conventional spaces.
Last spring, the movement pivoted to focus on ending human trafficking, making “Save the Children” its new battle cry. QAnon leveraged on mainstream social media, including Instagram, where lifestyle influencers spread it.
Then, last fall, QAnon extremists joined with other right-wing groups to protest Biden’s election win as part of the Stop the Steal movement, which caused the Capitol insurrection.
With nothing happening on March 4, believers look forward (again)
The latest disappointment has already resulted in new dates being introduced with increasingly desperate explanations.
Some QAnon influencers have suggested that March 20 is when Trump will seize control, misinterpreting the Presidential Transition Enhancement Act of 2019, which streamlines the presidential transition by providing certain services to the previous administration 60 days after the inauguration.
The claim, first made on a popular QAnon Telegram channel, appeared to be making ground with supporters offline, too. A QAnon supporter interviewed by The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel said he believes Trump remains in command of the military and will be inaugurated on the 20th.
—Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) February 28, 2021
But core followers of the conspiracy theory are reluctant to throw all their weight behind a particular date.
In another Telegram message board for QAnon believers, one post encouraged people to remain open-minded about Q’s plan. “Dates for late March, April, May, and more dates in the fall have been tossed out there,” the post said. “While we can speculate and hope, no specific dates have been landed on… don’t get caught up in the dates, watch what’s happening.”
For those tempered by repeated disappointment, some are simply set on a resounding victory for Trump in 2024.
“Whether it’s some date in March or whether ultimately it will be a second Trump term after an election in 2024,” Barkun told Insider. “There will be some further set of explanations and a further set of dates.”
And the cycle continues.