When President Biden was sworn in Wednesday with ample pomp and little drama, much of America sighed in relief. But the lack of a last-minute military takeover and mass arrests of Democratic lawmakers — no prophesied “Storm,” no “Great Awakening” — threw adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory into disarray, according to reviews of their reactions on Telegram, Gab, and other social media. The Proud Boys, a far-right group that formed in 2016 and quickly became some of former President Donald Trump’s most militant supporters, “also started leaving his side,” The New York Times reports.
After Trump lost his re-election bid in November, QAnon influencers, the Proud Boys, and other far-right groups stuck by his side, echoing Trump’s false claim that Biden stole the election. “Hail Emperor Trump,” the Proud Boys wrote in a private Telegram channel. As December turned into January, several Proud Boys urged Trump to “Cross the Rubicon.” QAnon boards started promising Trump would declare martial law and seize back control for a second term, first on Jan. 6, then Inauguration Day.
The sentiment started to turn when Trump, on Jan. 8, released a video denouncing the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, in which QAnon believers, Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, America First militants, and the Three Percenters participated. One Proud Boys Telegram channel lamented Trump’s “betrayal” and called him “extraordinarily weak.”
On Monday, the Proud Boys posted, “Trump will go down as a total failure.” Then Trump declined to pardon any of the Proud Boys arrested for the Capitol insurgency. After Biden was inaugurated, the Proud Boys Telegram group shrugged: “At least the incoming administration is honest about their intentions.”
Followers of the cultish pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy, meanwhile, “grappled with anger, confusion, and disappointment Wednesday,” The Associated Press reports. While hope of martial law and restoring Trump through violent overthrow sprang eternal for some Q believers, others — including early Q channeler Ron Watkins, believed by many to be the pseudonymous Q himself — threw in the towel. Yet others appear ripe for recruitment by the Proud Boys and other white supremacist and neofascist groups.
“I think these people have given up too much and sacrificed too much in their families and in their personal lives,” Mike Rothschild, author of a forthcoming QAnon book, told AP. “They have believed this so completely that to simply walk away from it is just not in the realm of reality for most of these people.”