Wednesday brought the inauguration of President Joe Biden — and a reckoning for a group of Very Online posters who claimed to know the truth. QAnon, the collective conspiracy theory that has sadly convinced a not-so-insignificant portion of the American populace that there is a cabal of rich and powerful people participating in child sex trafficking and other crimes, started to have a breakdown as it became more and more obvious that Biden would indeed be sworn in as president and the promised mass arrests of the supposed criminals were not coming. That fact sent the group spiraling into chaos, as members grasp at straws and come to the realization that they've bought into a lie.
The coping mechanisms have taken many forms. Some have decided that Biden is actually in on the whole thing and will execute the plans former President Donald Trump started to set in motion. Others have completely fallen off the wagon and appear to be waking up from the delusion that has engulfed their life for the better part of four years.
It can be hard to discern parody from genuine belief with QAnon, as the things that the group espouses are deeply disconnected from reality. Take, for example, the Face/Off theory that arose shortly before the inauguration. The theory, posted on 4Chan, posits that Biden has already been arrested for his crimes. ("What crimes?" you ask? Take your pick, it really does not matter.) Knowing that the general public must not be alerted to this fact, the poster alerts fellow Q followers that an experimental surgery has been carried out to swap the faces of Biden and Trump, allowing Trump to continue serving as commander in chief while disguised as President Biden.
Others, perhaps sensing that the face-swap procedure is too unbelievable and could probably not hold up to scrutiny, found a different, more plausible explanation: Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence's brains have actually be implanted into the bodies of Biden and new Vice President Kamala Harris. This will allow them to serve at least one, and potentially two more terms — something that would otherwise be illegal but does not seem to be of any concern to the "law and order" candidates.
It sounds too bonkers to imagine anyone truly believes these theories, and there are plenty of trolls who have infiltrated QAnon communities simply to mess with folks who are dedicated to the cause. But QAnon backers got awfully close to coming to a similar conclusion on Inauguration Day. With Biden's swearing-in growing increasingly inevitable (and eventually going off without a hitch), influencers with the Q community started floating a new theory: Biden was in on it the whole time. In posts made on Telegram, a QAnon influencer suggested that the reason Biden has not yet been arrested is not because he didn't actually commit a crime, but rather because he's been a part of Trump's secret plan all along. Other influencers started clinging to the theory, seeing the logic behind it, as impossible as that may seem.
The idea that Biden has been “part of the plan” is perhaps one of the more delusional ways that the Q community is coping with the reality that Trump will not be remaining in office. Some mods are preaching patience, convinced Biden will in deed come through and advocating for simply sitting back and letting things play out in the meantime. Their conviction in Trump appears to be unshaken and, against all odds, they seem to believe that Q will be proven correct in the end.
Of course, there are folks who are rapidly losing faith. Several QAnon chats have been flooded with people who are disillusioned with the movement, waking to the fact that they have been lied to and misled for four years. It has resulted in posts stating, "Q was wrong," or that Q "sadly was not able to fulfill the promise."
Perhaps the most damning moment for the Q community was a post from Ron Watkins, the former 8chan admin who helped foster the QAnon community at a time when the conspiracy theorists were being banned from mainstream social media platforms. In the post, Watkins admits that "we have a new president sworn in" and calls on QAnon believers to "respect the Constitution" even if they don't believe that Biden's presidency is legitimate. "Please remember all the friends and happy memories we made together over the past few years," he wrote, apparently sincerely.
Ah, yes. The real conspiracy was the friends we made along the way. It's a shame that so many isolated themselves from their families and support groups to get there, but QAnon unfortunately does not care about collateral damage.