8chan, the notorious image board connected to several mass shootings, was taken down earlier this week in the aftermath of the El Paso, Texas attack. And while that has many implications, most of them good for humanity, one of them stands out: "Q"—the central figure in the deranged conspiracy theory known as QAnon—has lost its main platform.
QAnon, the theory that posits that Donald Trump is trying to take down the "deep state" secretly controlling the US government, is largely built upon the titular leader "Q" leaking information to the public, mostly over 8chan. You would think the loss of that account would be devastating to the movement.
But experts say the loss of QAnon's leader, for now, is not going to stop Q's followers, who have built an entire ecosystem across the internet.
In a video posted on August 8 entitled "QAnon - Great Awakening Cannot be Stopped! - Rise up Patriots! 8chan or Another Way!" a YouTuber comforted her audience, saying that everything is going to be OK. It's par for the course of recent QAnon content.
"Don't worry about it, we're going to find a way," she said. "We found a way all this time. They've punched us and we've gotten back up; we're going to get back up after this one."
"Nothing is going to stop this movement," she continued. "Nothing."
On top of hosting the conspiracy community, 8chan has a history of breeding violent extremists and white nationalists. On August 3, a gunman open fired in Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and 22 people were killed and 24 were injured. Patrick Crusius was arrested in connection to the crime. Before the shooting, Crusius reportedly posted a manifesto to 8chan explaining the killings were a response to immigration.
The recent mass shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, and Poway, California, were also announced on the online message board in advance of the attacks.
In response to the El Paso shootings, Tucows pulled registar services to the website and Cloudflare won't provide DDoS mitigation to the site—meaning anti-fascists can take the site offline by directing massive amounts of traffic that will overload the servers.
The incidental deplatforming of 8chan has not dealt QAnon a fatal blow. The many followers of the conspiracy, similar to the YouTube vlogger mentioned above, aren't going to let anything—even their main figure going away—stop them.
The QAnon conspiracy is fluid and ever-changing, focused on Trump fighting an ever-escalating war against the "deep state" and an international cabal against pedophiles. Followers, who number in the tens of thousands (possibly more), believe Q is an insider who posts vague messages on 8chan explaining this war, and their job is to "decode" and unpack them.
Some of the more well-known claims are that the Clintons and other Trump opponents are state criminals who will face military tribunals and be publicly hanged, and that a drug known as adrenochrome is being harvested from children.
QAnon supporters are "frustrated at best," Travis View, a co-host of the QAnon Anonymous podcast, told VICE. "They've been trained to believe that everything that happens is part of the 'plan' so they are able to roll without [8chan] for the moment."
Like a child taking off their training wheels, View believes the group has grown past the need for Q. "Ultimately, the QAnon community doesn't need Q," he said. "Even if Q went dark, they would still spin new conspiracy theories with the framework and thought-terminating cliches (like 'trust the plan') that Q has provided them."
The "trust the plan" mantra can be found in almost all the content posted by both the true QAnon adherents and the grifters who have climbed onto the movement. When Q disappeared for weeks before, it was the same—the followers never lost their faith.
Rick Ross, a cult expert, told VICE for a previous story about QAnon that the community bears the hallmarks of a cult. And because it's unfolding online, it becomes hard to penetrate. Followers "spend all their watching time Q material on YouTube, dialoguing with different people online, and becoming consumed by that world online," Ross said. Even if Q goes away, that community will still exist.
Mike Rothschild, a freelance journalist who has written extensively on QAnon, told VICE he interviewed several Q followers who told him that "even if Q never posted again, they had more than enough to work from." Several QAnon followers who spoke to VICE reiterated this notion, with one follower saying, "We carry on despite any and all setbacks."
Rothschild doesn't believe that 8chan is gone for good but even if it is and Q never posts again he believes the movement will carry on. "Q followers are too far gone and too invested to walk away from the movement," Rothschild said. "Many have lost families and friends over this, and Q is a large part of their identity. They will still believe in Q, even if Q never makes another drop."
A recent video posted by View on Twitter and retweeted widely shows a woman talking about what QAnon means to her. "Q is you and Q is me. Q is logic. Q is a plan to save the world," the woman said. "Q is not a secret but Q is secretive. A carefully crafted secret education that anyone can have access to."
Many online have commented on the video's quasi-religious nature, including Rothschild who says he believes Q is "evolving from a conspiracy theory into a religion."
"The Q community's reaction to periods of silence from Q is proof of that," Rothschild said. "They still believe, still research, still make memes, and still wait for 'the storm' to come, even through long absences and disconfirmations."
QAnon has grown bigger than Q and there may be no putting this modern monster back in the box. As Views puts it, the absence of a leader doesn’t always mean the end of a movement.
“After all, the fact that Paul the Apostle hasn't written any new material in a while didn't stop the growth of Christianity."
Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.