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OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

The disappointment after The Storm

A Trump 2020 sign and a QAnon flag

A Trump 2020 sign and a QAnon flag are displayed in front of a home. Credit: Pacific Press/LightRocket via Ge/Pacific Press

Disillusionment ran deep in QAnon land after the inauguration of President Joe Biden.

Biden wasn’t supposed to be sworn in. So said Q, the unknown internet user whose posts beginning in 2017 spun a bizarre conspiracy theory that has gained millions of adherents worldwide and scores here on Long Island.

The theory says, or said, that a secret cabal of Democrats, Hollywood elites and government officials who are cannibals and pedophiles and Satan worshippers operating a global child sex trafficking ring was plotting against then-President Donald Trump. Trump, the hero in this fantasy, was waging secret war against the cabal. After losing to Biden, according to the morphing theory, Trump would stage an actual coup, declaring martial law, arresting his political enemies, hauling them before military tribunals, and holding mass public executions — what Q’s followers called "The Storm."

It wasn’t the first Q prediction not to come true, but some lies die hard. And some foxholes are too deep to escape.

Some QAnon followers did seem to wake up. Deflated and dejected, their online posts ranged from "this is an embarrassment" to "im the official laughing stock of my family now" to "OMG none of this was real" to, simply, "It’s over."

But others doubled down. This is typical, say experts who study conspiracy theories: Renouncing Q would be an admission you were wrong. So some followers saw a message in the 17 American flags behind Trump as he made his farewell address — Q is the 17th letter of the alphabet. Some noted that the black-and-gray coat worn by first lady Melania Trump in her final address looked like the static viewers would see on their TVs when Trump’s coup was blacked out. Still others took as a sign the end of Eric Trump’s farewell tweet — " ... the best is yet to come!" — overlooking that fact that the popular QAnon slogan also is an age-old classic.

Laugh off the ridiculousness of it all, but there is real danger here. Q believers were among the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, inflamed by another lie about a stolen election. While some of them might be disappointed that Q’s Armageddon did not occur, they still desire it. And that, conspiracy theory experts say, can lead them to pursue their own solutions. Rejection and detachment are conduits to rage. It’s no wonder neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other extremist groups are recruiting disenchanted Q adherents online.

Now, some in these far-right groups have their own problems with Trump’s abdication, as they see it. The Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters and America First reportedly have been criticizing him on a Telegram channel, with America First leader Nicholas Fuentes writing off Trump as "very weak and flaccid." The Proud Boys, who thrilled to Trump’s call during one debate to "stand back and stand by," called him "a total failure" on Telegram and even welcomed Biden to the White House, writing, "At least the incoming administration is honest about their intentions."

The believers remain a problem for the Republican Party, whose leaders have played too much footsie. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, for example, never disavowed newly elected Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a QAnon follower whom GOP Sen. Ben Sasse dubbed "cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs." Sasse, writing in The Atlantic, was clear about the stakes: "The GOP must reject conspiracy theories or be consumed by them."

The same is true for our nation. Some 17% of Americans believe the QAnon theory, per an NPR-Ipsos poll released just before New Year’s. That’s an alarming number — whether they think Trump might still be the one to bring about the exorcism of the elitist satanic pedophiles or whether they plan to do the job themselves.

Michael Dobie is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

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