Future Tense

This Sure Isn’t the Election QAnon Wanted

The president is losing, their prophet has gone silent, and no one defeated the deep state.

A supporter wrapped QAnon flag at a pro-Trump rally in Arizona.
QAnon is in a state of disarray. Olivier Touron/AFP via Getty Images

Everyone, at some point, has to deal with being on the losing side of a presidential election. But followers of QAnon, the message board–fueled conspiracy theory contending that Donald Trump is waging a covert war against pedophilic Democratic elites, appears to be in disarray as the votes trickling in make it more and more certain the president will not serve a second term. “The storm” that Q discipiles thought was coming turned out to be a wet blanket.

On 8kun, the seedy imageboard where the movement’s anonymous leader Q posts messages to his followers, QAnon followers can’t quite agree on how to process Trump’s likely defeat. As NBC’s Ben Collins reported, Q has not posted anything since Election Day, and his followers are becoming more and more agitated at the silence. Ron Watkins, son of 8kun’s owner Jim Watkins and the administrator of the site, also resigned from his role on Election Day. With his site privileges, Ron was able to control the Q account whenever he wanted and very likely has some sort of working relationship with whoever is posting as Q, who claims to be a government official with “Q-level clearance.” Many in the movement believe that Joe Biden is a pedophile; their reactions to his likely victory have ranged from assurances that a Trump loss is part of a greater plan to calls to take up arms in a civil war. “Remember that the movement is about ideas and the PEOPLE and not Trump himself,” one 8Kun poster wrote. Another wrote, “Q, you bastard. Don’t you dare go quiet on us right now. Don’t you fucking dare go ghost mode.”

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The QAnon followers on 8kun have also been behind misinformation around voting irregularities that have spread to certain corners of the right. As Media Matters reported, Q posted a message in 2018 that contained the phrase “watch the water.” Some believers think that this is a reference to watermarks and that the Department of Homeland Security has been secretly watermarking ballots to catch the forgeries that Democrats are supposedly making. Needless to say, there is absolutely no evidence that this is happening (and the federal government doesn’t even create ballots), but the conspiracy theory has wormed its way into online spaces where Trump supporters are questioning the election results, such as the now-suspended Stop the Steal Facebook group and on TikTok. The Daily Beast’s Will Sommer further reported that Vincent Fusca, a prominent figure in the Q community whom many followers believe is really a still-alive John F. Kennedy Jr., has been acting as a poll watcher in Pittsburgh.

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On Twitter, there was infighting among adherents when Tracy Beanz, a prominent QAnon influencer, replied “he’s right” to a tweet from Breitbart’s former editor in chief mocking the conspiracy theory’s adherents for “sit[ting] at their computers waiting for their next morphine drop when folks should be on the streets protesting.” QAnon followers weren’t happy with her comment, with some accusing her of being disloyal to Q and luring believers into the street where they’d be vulnerable to antifa.

This likely won’t be the end of QAnon—with or without Q, with or without Trump. Prior to Facebook’s ban of QAnon accounts, there were thousands of groups on the platform devoted to the movement with millions of members each, which gives us a rough sense of the size of the following. “They’re clinging to the fantasy that Trump is going to win, and everything going on is just a show to lull the deep state into submission,” said Mike Rothschild, a QAnon researcher and author of The World’s Worst Conspiracies. “Overall, they’re going to hang on to the fantasy until Biden is inaugurated, then I think they’ll shift onto the back foot, taking the role of the oppressed rather than the ones in control. It’s actually a more comfortable place for conspiracy theory believers to be.” And it’s not like they have no hope left in the U.S. government. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has openly supported QAnon, won a U.S. House seat in Georgia on Tuesday. Lauren Boebert, who’s also expressed support for Q, won a House seat in Colorado. Other QAnon congressional candidates ran long-shot campaigns in reliably Democratic districts and were not successful.

Fortunately, the election unrest has not resulted in the QAnon-related violence that some had feared. Philadelphia police did arrest two men on weapons charges on Thursday night, one of whom was later identified as a QAnon believer.

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society.

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