When does a prophecy cult discard its central prophecy?
The answer to that question, revealed through decades of research and written about in classic books like “When Prophecy Fails” is usually never. And that answer has never held more true than in the days leading up to Joe Biden’s inauguration one year ago.
Despite the failure of dozens of lawsuits, multiple audits, and even a last-ditch attempt to persuade Vice President Mike Pence to install Trump for a second term (or possibly hang him) the unthinkable—to QAnon believers—took place. Biden stood on a bunting-draped dais taking the oath of office, about to become the 46th U.S president. Theoretically, believers in the QAnon conspiracy theory, who had spent months claiming that Biden would never take the White House, should have been crushed and inspired to walk away from their movement.
Some despaired, but many, many more were steadfast, tempered by the belief that everything would be OK and none of what was happening was actually real. There were breathless efforts to push potential theories, like that it was “a time of 2 presidents” or that “events need to happen” this way. Some even hedged harder, saying that Biden would need to technically be inaugurated for the “crime to be completed.”
In the year since the inauguration, most of the same people who held out hope then still do. Despite no sign of Trump returning to office (or any mechanism that would make this even possible), followers continue to believe their faith will be rewarded at any moment, and Trump will come back. Many don’t even believe he left at all.
Jan. 20, 2021 could have been an off-ramp. Instead, it was a roller-coaster ride. But when the loop finished, die-hards strapped in for another go, and haven’t left since.
Many Q diehards, in the hours before the inauguration, still truly thought that at the very last second, Biden would be prevented from being sworn in. There would be a Supreme Court ruling, a military coup to prevent the inauguration, or Biden and his cronies would be arrested just before noon for his assumed crimes against humanity. The details didn’t matter, only the outcome.
As Q believers would say, echoing Q drops from shortly before the election, “it had to be this way.” Looking back at their social media posts from Inauguration Day, it becomes clear that while a few believers expressed frustration or gave up (and did so anonymously), the movement as a whole stood firm in believing that Biden’s inauguration was one more step along the path to getting everything they wanted.
Q social media was full of the same optimism that could be seen on Jan. 6, and indeed, the entire leadup to the 2020 election.
On the Q research board on 8kun, threads were going up all morning from anons declaring that “Operators Are Active” and “The ‘Greatest Show on Earth Is Only Hours Away!‘” One declared it was the “Anon Super Bowl – Patriots Vs Stealers Edition” (never mind that the Patriots and Steelers both play in the AFC) and optimistically thundered “It’s Not Over Until We Say It’s Over.”
Bigger influencers were similarly optimistic. Major Q promoter We the Media told their quarter of a million Telegram followers the night before that “it’s time to CRAWL for those last few inches” and “[Trump] will not fail us,” while promoter Jordan Sather laid down a long list of “habbenings” taking place just before the oath, including a great unsealing of classified documents and mass pardons—all of which would hamstring Biden from the very beginning.
Some took the massive National Guard presence in D.C. that day, a response to the violence of Jan. 6, as proof that the military was going to take control and prevent Biden from taking the oath. There were even QAnon theories that thought the Guard was U.S. Marshals in disguise, there to make mass arrests at the last second.
Even as it became clear that there would be no final countermoves, Trump devotees still held the line.
But Biden was sworn in and Trump had already absconded to Florida. Nobody was arrested, no last-second rulings saved the day, nothing happened. There would be no “time of 2 presidents” or actions by “operators” or anything else. It was all for nothing.
And so the disconfirmation studied in “When Prophecy Fails” took place, and all of that optimism and elation curdled, if just for a moment.
Media outlets wrote breathless pieces quoting Q believers who declared that they’d “been had” and would “no longer believe in anything” and felt physically sick at what they saw a betrayal by Trump to take control and prevent Biden from the Oval Office. Many loudly quit the QAnon movement with a huff, saying that they’d been scammed and that none of it was real. Or they declared they were done with Trump himself and would never support him again.
“I’ve had a sense of dread since election night,” declared one anon on 8kun. Others took their anger out on Q as well, with one dejectedly writing “Q just lost all credibility today. ‘Be careful who you follow.’ Yeah, be careful following this Q stuff. I’m done. I will no longer put one ounce of effort into this.”
Even former 8kun administrator Ron Watkins seemed to acknowledge that the hope of last-second deliverance was a failure, posting his infamous message extolling Trumpers to hold on to the “friends and happy memories” they made during the Trump years and get on with their lives. For a few hours it really did seem like the Q movement in particular, and Trump’s rabid online supporters in general, might really be wavering.
But just like they had every time a Q prophecy had failed or a deep state figure went unpunished, the disconfirmation was swept aside.
The vast majority of believers quickly and efficiently began the process of justifying why everything had to happen the way it did, why a crushing loss was actually a crushing blow against the deep state. Even as Biden settled into his new gig over the next few days, Q believers disregarded the opportunity to leave Q behind, and dug deeper into their belief Trump would return to office.
Nothing they were seeing was real, and nothing they were told was happening was happening, The events of the day weren’t disrupting their delusions, they were reinforcing them. By clinging to their faith in Trump, they set the stage for what the Q movement is now—still full of wild, unguarded optimism that the great event is about to happen. It’s just a different great event that’s about to happen. All of the endless hope that Trump will be reinstated or is still running the government in secret started in the hours after the inauguration, when Q believers were given a choice between walking away and doubling down and chose to double down.
A year after Biden’s inauguration, much of Trump’s base—which embraced Q’s mythology of a secret war between patriots and the deep state—still believes this. Polling throughout Biden’s first year has remained steady in showing that well over a third of Americans believe the election was stolen. And at least one poll went further than that, showing 3 in 10 Republicans believe Trump would be “reinstated” to office through some non-existent means.
And any major promoter who even hinted at being done with Q or Trump, like Ron Watkins, quickly came back to him.
Of course, anyone watching the wild ride Q believers took on Jan. 20 last year wouldn’t be surprised. It was just another loop on the roller coaster that they got on long ago.