As new President Joseph R. Biden took his oath of office, his hand atop a massive family Bible, confusion, anger, and grief washed over some of the worst corners of the Internet. Refugees from the QAnon conspiracy subreddit, now huddled together on a new website, took turns assuring each other that everything they were seeing was all part of the unfolding of the grand Plan they’d spent years breathlessly awaiting. “I HAVE ZERO DOUBTS,” one wrote. But others weren’t so sure. “WTF?,” another wrote. “He’s being sworn in now.”
“Anyone else," another wrote, "feeling beyond let down right now?”
In the weeks leading up to Biden’s inauguration, the worst elements of Trump’s coalition— Nazis, white supremacists, Q-mesmerized “patriots,” Proud Boys, Telegram lurkers, and all-purpose far-right shitlords—managed to hold out hope. On one website for Trump fans banished from Reddit, TheDonald.win, many users had assured one another that not only would Biden never take office, but that Trump, naturally, would never leave it. Instead, they claimed to each other—in a refrain that was once ironic and seemed less so all the time—that he would ascend to the role of “God Emperor.” On the morning of January 20, QAnon fans urged each other to “Enjoy the show,” dotting their posts with popcorn emojis, meant to symbolize all of them sitting back and watching Armageddon rain down on the Satanic cabal they’d been led to believe rules the world.
Instead, Trump quietly boarded a helicopter and flew away, Biden was sworn in without a hitch, and these increasingly addled and radicalized people were left to turn on each other.
“I have to say I am amazed that there's not even a single protest going on,” one TheDonald.win user wrote. “Honestly we really are the cucks in the end. Sat back and watched it all happen.”
Users on MeWe, a Facebook alternative to which many far-right users have decamped, mourned the victory of Satan and posted impassioned screeds.
"The Biggest Fraud In American History... It's A Disgrace To The Constitution America And GOD," one user wrote. "Thou Shall Not Steal... This My First And Last Post To This Abomination Of Justice."
This is a bizarre, dangerous, and volatile moment for Trump’s most impassioned and hateful fans. They have been forced to recognize that the glorious reckoning they dreamed of would not come to pass, that Trump would not and will not usher in either—take your pick—God’s kingdom on earth or a white ethnostate. And in that moment, these people are vulnerable to any new bad idea that comes along.
This is a bizarre, dangerous, and volatile moment for Trump’s most impassioned and hateful fans.
On Telegram, the .win sites, and the other corners of the internet where people have gathered in the wake of a mass ejection from the major social-media sites, they are declaring they no longer believe in anything. This moment is ripe for just about anything: The dawn of new conspiracy subcultures, so-called “blackpilling” (when radicalized people turn to far-right and white supremacist beliefs), and, of course, individual acts of domestic terror.
One of the pinned tweets on a large QAnon forum reminds Q adherents that it’s important to “take care of your mental health today.” A great majority of the users on the site seem despondent and directionless. At least one group, the Proud Boys, has seized upon the void Trump’s departure has left in his followers' lives. On one of their official channels on Telegram they tell Trump fans “here is hope. Not for Trump to become president, but there is hope for our future. Abandon the GOP. Embrace the ultranationalist 3rd position.”
(Gavin McInnes was a co-founder of VICE. He left the company in 2008 and has had no involvement since then. He later founded the Proud Boys in 2016. McInnes says he left the Proud Boys in 2018.)
On InfoWars, Alex Jones—for whom the Trump era represented both a glorious rise and equally precipitous fall—seemed subdued. For commentary, he brought on Elmer Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers, who appeared sitting in his car, shot from below at the most unflattering possible angle, apparently on his cellphone. “We no longer have a legitimate sitting president,” Rhodes told Jones, who nodded, grimly.
Moments later, Jones, sounding especially hoarse, pivoted joylessly to one of his signature supplement ads. “With all these pressures, you need a high quality multivitamin,” he told his audience tonelessly.
Not all are despondent, however. Some are already thrilled by the idea that Trump is apparently speculating about forming a Patriot Party. A few actually started a Patriot Party website, which is built around “small government, America First, and Big Freedom.” They await further instruction from their leader.
“Party and website are both works in progress,” reads the fine print at the bottom of the website. “Please stay tuned.”
Additional reporting by Ben Makuch.