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The QAnon 'Storm' Never Struck. Some Supporters Are Wavering, Others Steadfast

A man wears a QAnon shirt while boarding a shuttle bus in Londonderry, N.H., on Aug. 28, 2020.
Joseph Prezioso
AFP via Getty Images
A man wears a QAnon shirt while boarding a shuttle bus in Londonderry, N.H., on Aug. 28, 2020.

Former President Donald Trump did not declare martial law in his final minutes in office; nor did he reveal a secret plan to remain in power forever. President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were not sent to Guantánamo Bay. The military did not rise up and arrest Democratic leaders en masse.

Instead, Biden took the oath of office and became the 46th U.S. president on Wednesday.

For some supporters of QAnon, this was an earth-shattering turn of events. Or rather, nonevents.

QAnon is less a baseless conspiracy theory than an umbrella of many baseless conspiracy theories, but it centers on a belief that there is a shadowy cabal of pedophilic, satanic world leaders. For years, a mysterious figure called Q has issued promises that this cabal is on the verge of being exposed and defeated by Trump in a cataclysmic event that QAnon calls "the Storm."

The baseless, often bizarre claims have gained a shocking amount of traction with the public. A recent NPR/Ipsos poll found that 17% of Americans believe that a group of Satan-worshipping, child-enslaving elites is trying to control the world, and another 37% aren't sure about the false allegation. And two women who have expressed some support for QAnon, Lauren Boebertand Marjorie Taylor Greene, are now sitting members of Congress.

Now that Trump has left office, some QAnon supporters are baffled — or even giving up.

New York Times tech columnist Kevin Roose tweeted out screenshots from groups on Telegram — a popular messaging service for QAnon supporters — on Wednesday, after the transfer of power was officially complete. "Been played like fools," one wrote.

Roose notedthat one particularly prominent QAnon figure publicly announced that supporters need to "go back to our lives as best we are able," rather than continue trying to overthrow Biden's presidency.

Will Sommer, who tracks conservative media and is working on a book about QAnon, wrote in the Daily Beastthat even late on Wednesday morning, QAnon groups were still hopeful that the mass arrests would materialize. But after noon, "the mood changed quickly," Sommer wrote, with supporters saying they felt fooled by Trump and felt sick.

Feeling fooled may not lead to a return to normalcy. One researcher told NBC News that frustrated, disappointed Q followers could be prime targets for radicalization by other extremist groups, like neo-Nazis.

And, of course, not every Q follower is giving up the faith (an appropriate word — some argue that Q is best understood as a religious movement).

The Times' Roose noted Q fans arguing with each other, with some declaring the movement over while others insisting the Storm was still coming. NBC's Ben Collins and Brandy Zadrozny took a look at one of the largest QAnon Telegram groups, which briefly shut down on Wednesday and reopened with "a range of reactions: confusion and realization that QAnon was in fact a hoax, as well as renewed commitment to the conspiracy theory, despite its unreliability."

Researcher Travis View told The Washington Postthat it was only a "minority ... facing reality," while others are simply shifting their expectations.

It's a process they're familiar with, after all: A multitudeof Q predictions has failed to materialize, and that has never stopped the conspiracies from spreading.

Like apocalyptic cults that persist despite a noteworthy lack of apocalypse, QAnon may survive the failed prophecies around the inauguration just like it has survived other failed prophecies before.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.