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‘I’m the only person she’s revealed her beliefs to’: How QAnon followers are dealing with being wrong

The QAnon conspiracy movement predicted that right now, Donald Trump would still be president of the United States but instead, supporters were left disappointed yet again.

Key points:

  • QAnon is an extreme conspiracy theory movement based on message board posts made by a user known as Q
  • The movement falsely believed Donald Trump would be inaugurated on January 20 this year, despite losing the election
  • Meagan, an Australian woman, says she is worried for a life-long friend who recently admitted she believed in QAnon

The movement keeps prophesying events that never end up happening, but believers are somehow able to keep justifying their continued belief.

Many adherents to the QAnon conspiracy theory believed right up until the moment Joe Biden was inaugurated that Mr Trump was about to enact martial law and arrest Mr Biden, said researcher of extremism and longtime observer of QAnon, Travis View.

“They also thought that he might get sent to Guantanamo Bay or possibly even be executed, along with many other Democrats, for their supposed crimes.

“This was part of the fantasy, certainly.”

These false beliefs were widespread among the mob that attacked the US Capitol on January 6.

A large crowd of people gather outside the US Capitol building. Many are waving US flags, or Donald Trump supporter gear

A large crowd of people gather outside the US Capitol building. Many are waving US flags, or Donald Trump supporter gear

QAnon supporters were a significant contingent in the mob that stormed the US Capitol this year.(AP: Jose Luis Magana)

But those shocking events and the inauguration of President Biden have not had the impact one might think.

“That did cause a minority of QAnon followers to simply walk away or drop off and realise they’d been duped,” said Mr View.

“The majority, however, even if they initially expressed shock, they still continue to double down.”

A common way followers of QAnon cope with failed prophecies has been to continually move the goalposts. In the latest attempt at this, several prominent QAnon conspiracy theorists have claimed Mr Trump will be inaugurated on March 4.

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The date was the original date listed in the US constitution but it has not been used in almost 90 years.

“When this March fourth date passes without incident, yet again, they’ll simply set a new date,” said Mr View.

What it’s like to have a friend become a QAnon believer

Supporters of QAnon believe that a user dubbed Q who began posting on the internet message board 4chan was actually a high-ranking government insider, communicating a secret plan to them in a series cryptic and vague statements referred to as “drops”.

Adherents believe there is a global cabal of elite paedophiles who control the world and also believe that former-president Trump is the secret leader of a resistance movement against this cabal and that his plan is to unleash a day of reckoning called “the storm”.

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The idea has spread beyond American borders and there now are supporters all over the world.

Meagan, an Australian woman who shared her story on condition of anonymity, has been scared by the descent of a longtime friend into the conspiracy theory.

“I’ve known her for a good 35 years and she’s a really smart woman, she runs a business, she’s got a family.

“She’s always been a solid, wise person in my mind.”

Meagan said her friend had been a Trump supporter for a while but late last year, after Mr Trump lost the election, things took a turn.

A laptop computer sits open on a bed in a dark room showing an email account on screen.

A laptop computer sits open on a bed in a dark room showing an email account on screen.

Meagan said her friend had been drawn to QAnon after watching videos she found online.(Unsplash: Jay Wennington)

“She was just absolutely convinced that it was fraudulent and that everything the mainstream media was telling us was was a lie.”

Then, she revealed to Meagan that she believed in QAnon and believed that soon celebrities, business people and political leaders would be arrested by pro-Trump forces.

“I was the only person she’d been able to reveal to this extent what her beliefs were.”

Meagan told her friend that if Mr Trump was actually inaugurated as president on January 20, she would eat her hat. Her friend responded that she would do the same if Mr Biden became president.

“I actually started researching bakeries near her to get a MAGA [make America great again] hat made, so that she could actually eat the cake.”

But sadly, when Mr Biden was inaugurated, Meagan’s friend moved the goalposts on her and said Mr Trump would now be inaugurated on March 4.

“She said that the inauguration was a pre-record.

“She did not believe that Biden was actually the president, even though he had been inaugurated.”

Why do followers of debunked conspiracies stay loyal?

The behaviour of QAnon followers who have stuck with the movement is actually quite similar to the behaviour that has been observed among followers of cults, he said.

“What these QAnon followers get out of the community isn’t necessarily the predictions.

“They enjoy, basically, being part of the group, feeling like they have esoteric knowledge, feeling like they are part of a revolutionary movement; that they’re helping to usher in a golden age and they’re helping to do away with evil.”

“Studies show that when people are highly committed to this kind of belief system, they can continue to move the goalposts indefinitely.”

A person wearing a t-shirt supportive of QAnon holds a US flag and screams amid a crowd of demonstrators.

A person wearing a t-shirt supportive of QAnon holds a US flag and screams amid a crowd of demonstrators.

Many QAnon supporters were unlikely to leave the movement simply because its theories turned out to be untrue, said Mr View.(Reuters: Stephanie Keith)

Mr View said that while some supporters may drift away from the movement, he feared that those who remain could become even more extreme in their views.

“If someone has sort of invested years of their life for QAnon, if someone has made personal sacrifices, such as separating themselves from their friends or their family, it would be very difficult to imagine what, if anything, would allow a QAnon believer to give all that up.

“Giving up QAnon at that point would have to make that person confront the fact that all of that sacrifice was for nothing.”

His fear is that followers could become prime targets for recruitment for more organised extremist groups like Neo-Nazis.

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“As time goes on, there is a risk that we’re going to see even more violence than we have from QAnon followers.”

While Meagan remains concerned for her friend and hopes she will find her way out of the movement, she said she was committed to the life-long friendship.

“She’s definitely one of my closest friends and somebody I turn to when I need a friend in life.”

She hopes there is no violence in future and is instead hoping humour can help break through to her friend.

“Fingers crossed that there is no more violence happening.

“I’m going to be speaking to the cake shop and my friend can expect to be receiving a MAGA hat cake on March fifth.”

Read our full coverage of the US election and its aftermath.

Posted YesterdayWedWednesday 24 FebFebruary 2021 at 3:25pm, updated 3hhours agoThuThursday 25 FebFebruary 2021 at 5:21am

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