Joe Biden is inaugurated as President of the United States on January 20th. At that moment, millions of Americans who subscribe to the QAnon cult will face a moment that will test their faith and shake their world to the core. The resulting cognitive dissonance will be unprecedented in American history and the fallout will be unpredictable and potentially dangerous.
The QAnon conspiracy theory contains many elements that have long pervaded far-right beliefs: satanic panic, anti-Semitic slander, Illuminati control, a new great awakening, and similar notions. However, what makes QAnon unique – beyond its diffusion beyond modern message board and social media technologies – is its focus on one man: President Donald Trump. In the Q world, Trump is the messiah, the god emperor, the infallible 5-D chess master who knows everything and can do something wrong. To them, he’s the only person standing in the way of a fallen world dominated by adrenochrome addicted satanic communist cannibals who are creating a new world order where all debts are wiped clean, free energy is released, and the cabal, who held back humanity will be exposed and executed in secret military courts.
But all of this depends on Trump remaining President. In some sects of QAnon, it is believed that enough Americans must be “red-pilled” to prepare to recreate society once the shock of the “storm” in which their enemies are destroyed has hit and the role of Q Fulfills; In other cases, Trump has full control over the fact that they all simply “see a movie” – the more dramatic the better at a time of historical transition that (in their worldview) has not been seen since the time of Jesus.
So QAnon is not just a conspiracy theoretic cult like many in the history of the American right, but a personality cult and a cult of power. Power cults are closely tied to the world’s worst authoritarian regimes and require significant cognitive gymnastics to sustain them. The Great Leader is invincible and infallible, but he is also beset by insidious enemies both inside and outside. Umberto Eco famously wrote about fascist ideologies: “The enemy is both strong and weak. By continually shifting the rhetorical focus, the enemies are too strong and too weak at the same time. “So it is with Trump: At the same time, the smartest and strongest saint who ever gave up his billionaire lifestyle to save the world, but also gives up the greatest forces of evil in human history.
Traditionally, prophetic cults survive even if the underlying prophecies are found to be false. “Q” has been wrong countless times, but you don’t seem to mind because the date of “The Storm” can be pushed back easily. The classic text “When Prophecy Fails” shows that believers often double their beliefs after predictions fail for the same reason that players find it so difficult to break away from a loss. Sunk cost errors can be highly destructive and prophecies can be reinterpreted endlessly.
But it’s a little more difficult with power cults. When Hitler and the Third Reich fell, it was much more difficult to maintain the Nazi ideology of inherent superiority. Cults rarely survive the overthrow of the leader without a literal apotheosis of the founder, and those revolving around a politician rarely successfully cross the secular religious threshold.
Since QAnon is ultimately driven by a desire to see white Conservative Christians in complete dictatorial control of the land and to drop all of their enemies from the gallows in Guantanamo Bay, and depends on the supreme infallibility of their chosen one, it becomes much more difficult to maintain Belief system when the leader no longer controls the armed forces and an enemy sits as commander in chief in the Oval Office. This is why most of the followers still believe that there will be some magical miracle that will prevent Biden’s inauguration.
But the dam is beginning to break. Some beg for a sign because the “Q” has gone dark. Others ask if they have been betrayed. The far right leaders turn to each other and key Q-oriented personalities. After being constantly drawn to the likes of Lin Wood and Sidney Powell, followers get restless.
Yes, some will come up with elaborate theories to continue. There is already speculation that Trump will not really be able to arrest Biden until he receives a president’s paycheck, that there will be two concurrent initiations – one false and one real – or other even more fanciful ideas. Most likely, there will be those who believe (as some have already suggested) that Trump was right all along, but simply didn’t have the strength to cross the Rubicon and seize dictatorial power, or even that he himself was part of the control system was.
But it will be a very ugly time for most of the millions of “Q” disciples. Even if their belief in “Q” and Trump is shaken, their underlying belief in a world of darkness and demons remains. As QAnon expert @PokerPolitics notes:
I’ve seen so many QAnon promoters say, “If we’re wrong about Trump, we’re done.” because they see the “Trump saves the world” level of history only as the top level, and if it needs to be removed, so be it.
The layer below. The layer around the Global Satanic Pedovore Ring. That will always be true to these people. That’s right, even if the Trump stuff isn’t right. To know the truth about the world, one must know that Satan’s powers have been gaining strength for centuries or more.
Combined with the general conservative dominionist white supremacist angry that America is becoming less Christian, less white, and less patriarchal over time, the angry desperation is likely to mount. Trump psychologically enabled her to feel powerful, but there were also many reasons to believe that her wishes would be granted. QAnon’s cognitive dissonance created a puzzle for them that revealed itself during the Capitol Rebellion. If Trump was in control then why the need for a private insurgent army? If Trump wanted the insurgent army there, why didn’t he help them? Why did he leave her? Has Trump been attacking her all along?
When Trump is gone, the mania of empowerment will turn into anger of disempowerment and a sense of fleeting dominance that is almost nullified. Prophecies about the destruction of their enemies will disappear. The question that hovers over America is whether the cult will accept that they have been betrayed or whether there will be more upheaval.