In the early hours of Election Day, Q, the anonymous forum poster whose cryptic messages are the basis for the QAnon conspiracy theory, uploaded a picture of a huge American flag along with a quote from Abraham Lincoln, and promised followers that “together we win.”
But almost a week later, with President-elect Joe Biden declared the winner of the election, and some followers beginning to question their beliefs, Q has not been heard from since.
The length of the absence is not unprecedented. There have been gaps of weeks or months previously. In 2019, when Q’s former home 8chan was shut down, they didn’t post anything for three months until they reappeared on the rebranded 8kun.
But given how central President Donald Trump is to the conspiracy theory, Q’s current lack of messages to their millions of followers is possibly his most significant period of silence to date.
Still, over the last three years Q has done such a good job of convincing followers that America’s elite are operating a cannibalistic child sex trafficking ring, that most are simply ignoring the fact that Trump lost and continue to believe that this is all part of the plan.
“Some QAnon followers are bewildered, but most are still trusting the plan,” Travis View, a conspiracy theory researcher, told VICE News. “Honestly, QAnon is so Trump-centric that there's little hope of followers accepting defeat until Trump does. And even then it's not a guarantee.”
Biden’s victory might look from the outside a significant blow to the QAnon community, which views Trump as their hero.
But, to those deeply invested in the baseless conspiracy movement, the results are just more evidence that Q was right all along, and that the Democrats and the “deep state” are secretly controlling all aspects of society.
So rather than questioning their beliefs, they are leaning even further into the conspiracy — and this time, in the void left by Q, it is Trump and his allies are guiding the way.
QAnon believers are boosting many of the same baseless conspiracy theories the Trump team has been sharing on social media in recent days, according to Julian Feeld, host of the QAnonAnonymous podcast.
These include Sharpiegate, a claim that says Trump voters had their ballots invalidated because they were forced to fill them out with sharpies; a theory that ballots are printed with secret watermarks that if verified could prove voter fraud; and the conspiracy theory that posits that the deep state used a supercomputer called Hammer and software called Scorecard to digitally alter the vote count.
“There's certainly a smaller minority freaking out, but the vast majority still believe Trump is going to win the election despite what the mainstream media projects,” Feeld said. “Many are caught up in new election-related conspiracy theories promoted by QAnon promoters.”
Other major QAnon figures are flagging the Jan. 20, 2021 inauguration date as a red line for the movement, claiming the event simply won’t take place.
“A lot of the influencers are really establishing that as the final deadline, this is something we haven't really seen before,” Frederick Brennan, the founder of 8kun told VICE News. Brennan noted that previously, major figures within the movement have hedged their bets, always giving themselves an out if some predictions didn’t come true.
“They were wrong a lot before but were always able to fall back on the complexity of the plan [but] they're really marrying themselves to no inauguration,” Brennan said. “Certainly after Biden is inaugurated the Q landscape will change dramatically.”
But no matter what happens, the damage has already been done.
On Thursday night, two men were arrested after the police were tipped off about a possible attack on a vote counting center in Philadelphia. The car the men were driving was plastered with QAnon stickers and one of those charged, Antonio LaMotta, was a QAnon believer.
Aside from high-profile incidents like this, much of the real harm being done by QAnon is being seen by friends and families of believers. On the QAnonCasualties thread on Reddit, for instance, people talk about how the narrative that the election was stolen is having horrific real-world impacts.
Under the headline “I hoped I’d never have to write this” one Reddit user wrote: “My aunt who was ultra QAnon shot herself earlier today, she left a note saying she was terrified the cabal was coming for her and her kids because of Trump's loss.”
There are dozens of reports from family members of QAnon supporters showcasing how the election result has not diminished their beliefs, but has in fact reinforced them.
Of course, it is important to remember in all of this that Q is not real and the reason for Q’s absence could simply be down to a change in those in charge of the website where they post their “Q drops.”
Last week, Ron Watkins, the administrator of 8kun — and son of the site’s owner Jim Watkins — resigned suddenly. When VICE News asked him what he resigned, Ron Watkins said he had fallen “in love with woodworking and plan on focusing all my efforts into mastering it.”
Brennan said that if Watkins has left the website, then “assuming he had a system to insert Q drops into the database…his replacement needs to get up to speed and is perhaps scared of doing something wrong and getting caught.”
But whatever the reason for Q’s silence, the reality is that the QAnon movement is going nowhere, even when Trump does eventually accept that he has lost the election and leaves the White House.
“Did Christians give up their faith because no holy texts were created after the Council of Carthage established the biblical canon in 397 AD?” View asked. “The cessation of revealed information typically doesn’t mark the end of a faith-based movement. If anything, it merely marks the end of the beginning.”