“The fact that a significant plurality, if not potentially a majority, of our voters have been deceived into this creation of an alternate reality could very well be an existential threat to the party,” Meijer, a freshman congressman from Michigan, told the network.
Adherents claim, groundlessly, that a Satanic cabal of Democrats and Hollywood stars secretly manipulate world events and run child trafficking networks. They revere Donald Trump as a savior figure, who will dismantle the cabal.
“When we say QAnon, you have the sort of extreme forms, but you also just have this softer, gradual undermining of any shared, collective sense of truth,” Meijer said. He told CNN that conspiracy theories fuel “incredibly unrealistic and unachievable expectations” and “a cycle of disillusionment and alienation” that could lead conservative supporters not to vote or could even lead to more violence like the January 6 attack.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger is another GOP congressman who has publicly criticized the movement and has formed a PAC to fight the rise of conspiracy theories in the GOP and provide backing to anti-Trump Republicans facing primary challenges.
He told CNN that the QAnon movement could fuel conflict: “Do I think there’s going to be a civil war? No. Do I rule it out? No. Do I think it’s a concern, do I think it’s something we have to be worried about? Yeah.”
In the wake of the Capitol riot, a small group of GOP lawmakers has called for the party to distance itself from Donald Trump’s legacy. In an op-ed in January, Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska warned that QAnon was destroying the GOP.
A documentary filmmaker believes he has finally uncovered the true identity of “Q,” the shadowy figure behind the extremist QAnon movement.
Ron Watkins, the longtime administrator of the 8kun message board, slipped up during an interview with Cullen Hobart, the filmmaker behind the HBO series “Q: Into the Storm.”
In a recorded interview, Watkins spoke to Hobart about how he shared claims about voter fraud in the wake of Trump’s 2020 election loss. Watkins let down his guard for a moment, giving Hobart what he argues is key evidence that Watkins and “Q” are the same person.
“It was basically three years of intelligence training, teaching normies how to do intelligence work. It was basically what I was doing anonymously before, but never as Q,” Watkins said to Hobart.
Watkins then tries to backtrack, grinning and clearing his throat, saying: “Never as Q. I promise. I am not Q.”
“Ron had slipped up: he knew it, and I knew it – and after three tireless years of cat-and-mouse,” Hobart said in the video.
It was long speculated by those investigating the QAnon movement that Watkins, the site’s administrator, was the one posing as the shadowy “Q.” The possibility that Watkins was himself the author of more than 4,000 messages from “Q” that had been posted on the 8kun message board since 2017 has also been floated.
Watkins and his father, Jim Watkins, who owns the 8kun message board, have claimed on multiple occasions to have back-channel access to “Q,” allegedly a high-level operative and prophet privy to the inner workings of the US government.
One of the biggest conspiracy theories propagated by QAnon – a movement born on online fringe message board 4chan – was that Trump was fighting a “deep state” cabal of pedophiles.
This means that a poster’s identity cannot be ascertained or linked to their tripcode, so Watkins duo could have easily covered up the fact that they were the ones using the “Q” tripcode – and with that, the “Q” identity – all this time.
But with this level of anonymity, any hints as to who “Q” actually is have been buried. Until now.
Speaking to CNN anchor Anderson Cooper on AC360, Hobart said: “There was a lot of ‘lore’ around (Watkins) in QAnon, and he’s also one of the admins of the site where Q posts. I thought that it was possible that he would know more about Q than anyone else.”
Hobart added that he thought Watkins wanted the “credit” for QAnon but continued to deny that he was “Q” for fear of the legal ramifications.
“I’d always been waiting for that moment where Ron would slip up. I think it happened as the result of super-optimism, where he had gotten away with it for so long, and he wasn’t really watching his words,” Hobart added.
Rachel Wightman works full-time at Concordia University, St.Paul, but started teaching six-week seminars part-time after watching a worrying number of people in her community became misguided by online misinformation.
The presidential election prompted Wightman to give her first workshop at her local Mill City Church in Minneapolis in early 2020. But the coronavirus pandemic paired with the Black Lives Matter protests made her workshops a lot more pertinent, so she decided to organize more.
“I remember the day our pastor was talking about racism and saying we have to check our inputs, meaning we have to get inputs from people who are different in order to understand this issue,” Wightman told Insider. “That was the moment for me where it really clicked. I knew I had to continue giving people tools to get to these inputs.”
In the last few weeks, the librarian has become inundated with requests from other pastors from around the US asking her to give her workshops to their congregations.
Recent polls show that white evangelicals have one of the highest levels of vaccine skepticism in the United States. According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll published in January, just under a third of US adults say they will probably or definitely not get the vaccine, compared to 44% of those who identify as white evangelicals.
Another poll by the Christian research organization Lifeway Research found that more than 45% of protestant pastors said they had often heard congregants repeating conspiracy theories.
“As a librarian, I’m seeing this huge information landscape every day, and I feel like it’s incredibly overwhelming for people,” Wightman said. “We’ve all spent this past year in this hyped-up environment where everything feels urgent and stressful, so I try to encourage people to take some space and say: ‘Okay, I’m going to figure out how to slow down and make sense of everything around me.'”
Due to the pandemic, Wightman meets most of her students on Zoom. Together they talk about everything from how to identify fake photographs, the ways in which algorithms work, fact-checking sources, and how to avoid being judgmental when friends post something inaccurate online.
Wightman stressed that while the training is a good space to talk about all the information people find online, it is also “politically neutral.”
“We’re not here to talk about your opinion on the latest legislation or our president. We are here to talk about how do you evaluate what you’re finding online … and how that overlaps with your faith,” she said.
For the librarian, it is also important to keep faith at the center of her teachings.
“I want to also bring in this perspective of Christianity. As Christians, we need to ask ourselves, if you have this faith of loving your neighbors, in what spaces does your faith show up?'”
The librarian said her workshops had been received well by many churchgoers, who vary in age and race. Many are also taking the training to help family members who have succumbed to online misinformation, Wightman said.
Dr. Christopher Douglas, a professor of English at the University of Victoria, specializing in Christian literature, politics, and epistemology, thinks having training is essential in this day and age.
“Misinformation is in some sense baked into white evangelical churches as many of them reject science, scholarship, and mainstream journalism,” Douglas told Insider. “It’s a small step from disputing the science of evolution and climate change to doubting the efficacy of masks and vaccines in fighting the pandemic because it all comes from a common source, which is mainstream ‘secular’ science.”
Douglas believes 2020’s pandemic and election exacerbated this problem as many feel like their political opponents are trying to “destroy Christian America and to take away what they call their ‘religious freedoms.'”
This is why Christian churches need training like Wightman’s, Douglas said. “Public institutions like libraries, colleges, and universities all have a role to play in developing critical thinking and critical media literacy skills,” he said.
Even though Wightman is balancing her new work with a full-time job, she said she’s proud of what she’s accomplished so far and hopes to continue doing more workshops in the future.
“A lot of people think librarians just sit around and read all day, so it’s been fun to bust that myth open a bit,” said Wightman. “We’re teachers, we’re about connecting people with information, and so be able to do that in a new way that feels so relevant is very exciting.”
As a young woman, Benscoter spent five years in the Unification Church but left in 1979 after her increasingly desperate family arranged to have her deprogrammed.
Reflecting on this time, Benscoter said she is all too familiar with the “shame and indignation” that a person experiences when they leave a cult.
This led her to set up a non-profit called Antidote, which runs support groups for people who have been engrossed in cultic ideologies and are trying to reconnect to reality.
In recent months, and especially since the Capitol riot on January 6, Benscoter has become the last hope for relatives of people lost to the QAnon delusion.
Her work has become as prevalent as ever. According to a recent Ipsos poll, more than 40% of Americans said they believe the deep state, a term used by QAnon and other conspiracy theories, is actively working to undermine Former President Donald Trump.
Around 17% of participants said they think that a “group of Satan-worshipping elites who run a child sex ring are trying to control our politics and media” – another core belief of the discredited conspiracy theory.
Recent news reports have described how the QAnon conspiracy theory has seeped into all corners of society and as a result, has ripped apart families, devastated friendships, and broken up romantic partners.
Benscoter told Insider that her inbox has been flooded with around 100 new emails a day. Most of them are from concerned family members of QAnon followers who are desperate to build bridges.
While there is no quick fix, Benscoter said she is able to give people the tools to “begin to break down barriers … so that they can be more effective in helping their radicalized loved one get to the point where they might consider the possibility that they’ve been taken advantage of or lied to,” she said.
One approach Benscoter teaches family members is to speak to their loved ones in a gentle, non-judgmental, and open-minded manner.
“You can’t argue facts, because they’ve already come to believe that any source of information outside of what they’re digesting is a lie, and is evil,” Benscoter said. “But if you can have them take a look at the possibility that maybe they were tricked or taken advantage of or lied to, then that’s already a good starting point.”
Another former Moonie, Dr. Steven Hassan, a mental health counselor and author of “The Cult of Trump”, has made educating people about mind control his life’s work after he left the Unification Church in the 1970s.
He told Insider he too has witnessed a dramatic increase of interest in his work ever since QAnon. Like Benscoter, Hassan believes it’s important to not stigmatize those who have fallen prey to disinformation.
“The public tends to blame the victim when trying to understand why they get involved with unhealthy cult groups and they believe people are weak or stupid or something’s wrong with them,” said Hassan.
“When really, it’s more a case of they were lied to, and were incrementally influenced to adopt certain beliefs and behaviors. And that, in a sense, is not their fault.”
Hassan recently launched a hashtag campaign, #IGotOut, which he hopes will make it easier for QAnon followers to seek help.
Leaving a cult is by no means easy, he said, but it is possible. For him, that moment came when he woke up as he was driving into the back of a trailer truck after he had been deprived of sleep for days.
The almost fatal accident put him away from the group for three weeks, which led him to reach out to his family who then organized an intervention.
Hassan is hopeful that other family members can also help those who have been lost to QAnon but believes it is ultimately up to the person themselves to leave.
“Family members can help, the media can help, but in the end, I think people almost always get themselves out of cults. Not because someone’s pushing them, but because they realize with time that it isn’t what they thought it was,” Hassan said.
“In the meantime, I’m encouraging family members and friends to get educated about cults, and how to talk effectively and strategically with people involved in these groups and engage them with love and respect, and curiosity and asking questions in a non-confrontational way.”
One week after a federal judge decided Jacob Chansley would remain in jail until his trial, the court has released two new videos that appear to disprove one of Chansley’s claims about his participation in the January 6 insurrection.
In a jailhouse interview with “60 Minutes+” earlier this month, the self-described QAnon Shaman, his lawyer, and his mother all repeated the claim that Chansley had only entered the Capitol because police officers had “waved” protesters in, signaling to Chansley that the move was “acceptable.”
But in a March 8 motion remanding Chansley into custody, Judge Royce Lamberth skewered Chansley’s story, saying the 33-year-old “blatantly lied” about his alleged invitation into the building and referenced video footage obtained by the government that Lamberth said disproved Chansley’s claims about Capitol police officers.
“Not only is [Chansley] unable to offer evidence substantiating his claim that he was waved into the Capitol, but evidence submitted by the government proves this claim false,” Lamberth wrote. “A video submitted by the government captures protesters breaking through the windows of the Capitol building.”
On Tuesday, the court released that footage.
The two videos, first obtained by Law & Crime, depict the chaos inside and outside the US Capitol on January 6 as a pro-Trump mob appears to accost Capitol Police officers and eventually begins smashing the windows to enter the federal building en masse.
In the first video, Chansley can be seen standing on scaffolding in the air, holding an American flag as the crowd chants “stop the seal.” Chansley is easily identifiable in both videos by his outfit, which includes red, white, and blue face paint, a horned headdress, and a bare chest.
The second video depicts a similar mob near the building, screaming “this is our country!” The protesters begin banging on the windows until they shatter and then start climbing through to enter the building. At the same time, Chansley and several others can be seen entering the building through a door.
It is unclear how or when the doors were opened.
There don’t appear to be any police officers or security guards near the door as the crowd storms in, and no officers can be seen in the video waving protesters in.
“The government’s video shows that [Chansley] blatantly lied during his interview with ’60 Minutes+’ when he said that police officers waved him into the building,” Lamberth wrote. “Further this video confirms [Chansley] did not…enter, as defense counsel represents, in the ‘third wave’ of the breach. To the contrary, he quite literally spearheaded it.”
Chansley’s lawyer, Al Watkins, however, told Insider Tuesday that “it is strongly suggested the videos are one dimensional.”
“Subsequent scrutiny of the video footage (including the The New Yorker video specifically cited by the Government) has given rise to the identification of numerous ambiguities, irregularities, inconsistencies, timeline issues and concern about the assertions of the Government about the actions of Mr. Chansley based on the Government’s video footage,” Watkins said in a statement.
Watkins also issued a request for members of the public to “provide any video footage which depicts the Shaman in or around the Capitol on January 6, 2021,” and has set up an email address for the public to send any evidence, according to the outlet.
The Arizona-native is facing six charges and up to 20 years in prison over his role in the riot. In addition to accusations that he illegally trespassed when breaching the Capitol, court records claim Chansley also clashed with Capitol police officers, went into the Senate chamber, and left a note on then-Vice President Mike Pence’s dais saying “it’s only a matter of time, justice is coming.”
He had watched as other spiritual advisors, including the self-proclaimed “Trump Prophet” Mark Taylor, incorporated wild and dangerous QAnon beliefs into their sermons on YouTube, and as organizers of the Christian Jericho March gathered in Washington, DC, days before the insurrection, urging followers to “pray, march, fast, and rally for election integrity.”
So when hundreds of President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol hours after his premonition, Swieringa was shocked, but not surprised.
“I think some of the signs had been there all along and it just all came to a perfect storm,” Swieringa told Insider.
The pastor said he had been worried about so-called “Christian nationalism” since Trump was elected into office in 2016. (Neither Swieringa nor any of the other pastors interviewed for this story say who they voted for in 2016 or 2020.)
He became even more concerned when, in 2018, some elderly members in his own congregation started sending him “disturbing” QAnon videos. When Swieringa brought these to the attention of his superiors, they were mostly dismissive, telling him they didn’t know what QAnon was.
Swieringa felt increasingly uncomfortable when a large part of his congregation said they believed the pandemic was a hoax.
The 61-year-old pastor had been taking the pandemic very seriously, partly because his wife was considered at risk. A bout of pneumonia in 2019 had left her with permanent scarring in the lungs.
“It was at that point when I put my foot down and said, ‘I’m not going to preach in front of a congregation that wants to sing and not wear masks,'” Swieringa said. “But they still wanted me to preach in front of them without wearing a mask.”
He said the church offered to him a plexiglass barrier to preach behind, but he felt it wouldn’t make much of a difference in an enclosed space.
“We agreed to separate at that point, and so it felt pretty cordial at the time. But I found out later that there were really hard feelings amongst the congregation, and many of them felt like I abandoned them,” Swieringa said. “It was heartbreaking.”
Swieringa left the church in December 2020 after eight years of service.
He now works part-time at the Kibbie Christian Reformed Church in South Haven, 30 miles away from his original job. His new church has a mandatory mask rule.
One in four white evangelicals believe in QAnon
Swieringa is not the only pastor who has struggled with the rapid spread of conspiracy theories and misinformation in his congregation.
According to a poll released in January by Lifeway Research, more than 45% of protestant pastors say they have often heard congregants repeating conspiracies about national news events.
Another survey by the conservative American Enterprise Institute found that more than a quarter of white evangelicals believed in QAnon, and that three in five believed that President Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 election was “not legitimate.” Those rates were the highest in any religious group.
The trend has prompted hundreds of evangelical pastors and faith leaders to speak out. In February, more than 1,400 of them published an open letter condemning “radicalized Christian nationalism” and the “rise of violent acts by radicalized extremists using the name of Christ,” The Washington Post reported.
Among them is Jared Stacey, a Southern Baptist youth pastor from Virginia, who ended up leaving the church altogether after QAnon and other conspiracy theories began to divide his congregation.
He moved to Scotland in December, where he now studies Theology at the University of Aberdeen.
He told Insider he left to “create some space,” adding that pastoring in 2020 was “a struggle” for many faith leaders.
“I do think that a lot of pastors are burdened right now and need a friend,” Stacey said. “It’s not easy watching people that you’ve invested time in becoming radicalized so quickly right in front of you.
He said that while some people might say that politics shouldn’t be discussed in churches, there comes “a point where refusing to talk politics is a false front for protecting the political sensibilities of your stakeholders.”
“That is why there is a theological need to address what the Bible would describe as telling lies or having a false God,” he added.
But keeping up with the information online is not always easy, and Stacey worries that the church is falling behind in the race to bring Christian messages to a world that spends most of its time online.
“The church is going through the biggest information shift since the printing press,” Stacey said.
The road to recovery from QAnon
One person trying to use technology to reach more Christians who have become affected by QAnon is Derek Kubilis, the senior pastor of Uniontown United Methodist Church in Ohio.
Kubilis runs the Cross Over Q podcast, which offers “healing for QAnon followers and family members from a Christian perspective.”
The pastor started the podcast after the Capitol riot, and since then received a wide range of listeners, including former QAnon believers who have told him that the podcast has been part of their recovery.
“When I saw crosses being carried alongside QAnon banners and a noose as those folks marched on the Capitol I just knew I had to do something, but from a Christian perspective,” Kubilis told Insider.
While some pastors, including Stacey and Swieringa, opted for private conversations with their congregants to warn against the dangers of misinformation, Kubilis does it publicly.
In his podcasts, he debunks theories, speaks about how they’re dangerous, and preaches about the importance of unity.
“Members of the clergy are expected to maintain a certain kind of distance from secular politics … both in order to preserve the unity of our congregation, and to make sure that we don’t unduly influence elections,” Kubilis said.
“But I don’t believe that QAnon is inherently political. It starts with politics, but these are people’s lives, in relationships, that we’re talking about.”
Kubilis is aware that the recovery from QAnon radicalization is by no means a short one, but he’s hopeful that his efforts will bring Christians back home eventually.
“It takes a lot of courage, time, and patience,” he said. “But when you hear the stories of people who are being hurt, in the families that are falling apart, you recognize that it is absolutely necessary.”
Boebert was speaking to Fox News on Saturday about the ongoing security measures that have been implemented around the Capitol following the insurrection on January 6, which led to five people’s deaths.
This week, measures were ramped up even more amid fears of potential violence from QAnon followers on March 4 – the day they believed would be Former President Trump’s second inauguration.
“No one on the outside can get into the Capitol, it is only staffers and members of Congress who are allowed at the people’s house,” Boebert said, according to Newsweek. “At our nation’s Capital. This is complete bonkers that we are keeping people out of the US Capitol. There’s clearly not a threat. There was nothing that happened on March 4.”
“The Democrats are obsessed with conspiracy theories and they won’t let them go,” she continued. “We have a border fence around the People’s house, with miles of razor wire. And Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi wants to keep it up.”
“Everything that I’ve heard of Q, I hope that this is real because it only means that America is getting stronger and better, and people are returning to conservative values,” she said last year, according to the Guardian.
QAnon began in 2017 as an online myth that claimed that the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would soon be arrested, based on an unfounded allegation that she was involved in child sex trafficking.
The GOP congresswoman has previously also made headlines for being a vocal and provocative defender of gun rights, including the release of an ad where she said she would carry her handgun on the Capitol grounds. She also owns her own restaurant called Shooter’s Grill, where customers can openly carry guns.
“Do you ever notice,” Carlson said. “How all the scary internet conspiracy theorists – the radical QAnon people – when you actually see them on camera or in jail cells, as a lot of them now are, are maybe kind of confused with the wrong ideas, but they’re all kind of gentle people now waving American flags? They like this country.”
Carlson’s words came just a day after Washington DC police were put on high alert due to intelligence reports that far-right groups were planning to breach the US Capitol building once again.
It was feared that QAnon believers could wreak havoc on March 4 – the day on which many thought former President Donald Trump would be reinstated.
A small group of QAnon followers flew all the way from California to Washington DC on Thursday in the hopes of watching Former President Donald Trump’s inauguration that never materialized.
March 4 had become a highly anticipated date for followers of the QAnon conspiracy theorists, who believed it was the date Trump would be sworn in for a second term in office. Until 1933, March 4 was the date of the presidential inauguration.
But while thousands of National Security Guards patrolled Capitol grounds and the House of Representatives canceled their session, only a small number of Trump supporters actually showed up.
Among them was a group of QAnon followers, who had flown all the way from California to watch Trump’s return to power. Couple Karyn and John Carson had taken time off work to make the trip and spent the week in the city waiting for something to happen.
“Every day that we’re here, we’ll probably come out around noon and see if anything transpires,” Karyn, 52, told Reuters. “If it doesn’t happen, we’ll obviously be sad ’cause it didn’t happen while we were here, but we believe that it will happen. It just hasn’t happened yet.”
The couple believes the 2020 election – won by President Joe Biden – was fraudulent and that the military will restore Trump to power by the end of March.
However, the Carsons told Reuters they condoned the deadly attack on the Capitol in January and that they had no intention of using violence to restore Trump to power.
“It may seem foolish to some people that we came all this way to see something that may or may not happen, but we don’t care,” Karyn told Reuters.
The belief that Trump will be sworn in on March 4 is rooted in theories promoted by the obscure sovereign citizen movement.
With the passing of March 4, experts predict that QAnon will continue to invent new dates to look forward to in an effort to perpetuate mind games.
“Reality doesn’t really matter,” Nick Backovic, a contributing editor at the fact-checking website Logically, told Insider this week. “Whether QAnon can survive another great disappointment, there’s no question – it can.”
“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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.”