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Some QAnon followers lose hope after inauguration

"I don't think this is supposed to happen," one QAnon follower posted as Joe Biden was sworn in.
U.S. President Donald Trump campaign rally in Moon Township, Pennsylvania
People with QAnon signs attend a campaign rally with President Donald Trump in Moon Township, Pa., on Sept. 22.Tom Brenner / Reuters file

Some QAnon conspiracy theorists, in public and private internet forums and chat rooms, were despondent Wednesday as their prophecy of an Inauguration Day coup to keep Donald Trump in power failed again as President Joe Biden was sworn into office.

The situation left some QAnon adherents with no choice but to write off the conspiracy theory entirely, but others continued to maintain that it was still developing.

QAnon supporters believed Wednesday's inauguration was an elaborate trap set by the former president, wherein Democrats would be rounded up and executed while Trump retained power. Various other doomsdays theorized by the QAnon community have also come and gone without incident.

But in contrast with the events of those days, Biden's inauguration leaves the community with little daylight. As their predictions failed to come true, radicalized QAnon members expressed their sense of betrayal on messaging apps like Telegram and forums named after their failed doomsday scenario, The Great Awakening.

While Biden took the oath, a top post on a QAnon forum read "I don't think this is supposed to happen" and wondered, "How long does it take the fed to run up the stairs and arrest him?"

Other users became immediately dejected, realizing that their dreams of a bloody coup were not going to be realized.

"Anyone else feeling beyond let down?" a top post on a popular QAnon forum read. "It's like being a kid and seeing the big gift under the tree thinking it is exactly what you want only to open it and realize it was a lump of coal."

One of the largest QAnon groups on Telegram closed comments to let everyone "take a breather" after Biden's inauguration. When it reopened after it was accused of censorship, thousands of users expressed 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.

Ron Watkins, the former administrator for the message board and QAnon hub 8kun and a major force behind false conspiracy theories surrounding the election results, seemed to capitulate, posting a note to his more than 100,000 followers: "We gave it our all. Now we need to keep our chins up and go back to our lives as best we are able."

QAnon influencers fled to fringe apps like Telegram and Gab after years of unbridled growth on larger platforms, including Twitter and Facebook, which banned QAnon accounts and content last year. Facebook reported Tuesday that it had removed 60,000 pages, groups and accounts that had promoted the conspiracy theory since November.

Some QAnon followers spent weeks preparing for a nationwide blackout starting at noon on Inauguration Day, warning friends and family in text chains and Facebook messages to buy CB radios and stock up on food. They believed Trump would announce martial law through the Emergency Alert System before carrying out mass arrests.

Travis View, who hosts the conspiracy-debunking podcast QAnon Anonymous, said those who make money on the conspiracy theory are having a harder time persuading adherents to keep the faith after such a spectacularly wrong prediction.

"QAnon influencers who have built large audiences over the past three years continue to encourage their audiences to 'trust the plan,'" View said. "Many rank-and-file QAnon followers are expressing anger and disillusionment."

Some QAnon followers stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, including a man wearing a QAnon shirt, while leading a pack of protesters toward the Senate chamber.

In QAnon chats captured by the fact-checking technology company Logically.AI and reviewed by NBC News, QAnon supporters drew hard lines shortly before the inauguration began and immediately felt embarrassed when the coup did not occur.

"God help us we're beyond ready. If nothing happens I will no longer believe in anything," one supporter said at the beginning of inauguration.

"We all just got played," another said moments later.

Logically.AI researcher Nick Backovic said that while it does appear that many QAnon followers are giving up after this last failed prophecy, he has seen white supremacist recruiters "raid" QAnon groups with the explicit goal of recruiting disillusioned and hopeless conspiracy theorists.

"There are lots of people feeling shocked, cheated and angry. As scary as that is on its own, it's the rest I'm most worried about," Backovic said. "We're seeing a lot of neo-Nazis preying on the potentially disenchanted Q people."

In the days after the Capitol riots, white supremacist groups expressly targeted "Parler refugees," or Trump fans who they believed could be radicalized after the conservative social media platform Parler was at least temporarily shut down and QAnon was banned from Twitter and Facebook.

"Focus less on trying to red pill [or recruit] them on WW2 and more on how to make them angrier about the election and the new Democrat regime," read a white supremacist recruitment message on Telegram. "Heighten their burning hatred of injustice."