On Wednesday, Jan. 20, the moment the clock reached noon, it was over, and the radical factions of Trump’s violent fanbase were left reeling.
For the army of online conspiracy theorists and racists who gathered behind Trump, Inauguration Day 2021 was meant to be a culminating moment. But under Trump’s watch, the long list of prophecies they’d been told would finally happen never came. His online followers watched with horror in the days leading up to Trump’s departure from office as his pardons that were supposed to go to allies and supporters went to individuals who were inherently swampy: white-collar criminals convicted of tax fraud, family friends, Steve Bannon, even Democrat Kwame Kirkpatrick.
One user in a white supremacist channel on Telegram said, “So just to recap: Trump will pardon Lil Wayne, Kodak Black, high profile Jewish fraudsters … No pardons for middle-class whites who risked their livelihoods by going to ‘war’ for Trump.”
Conspiracies that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had blackmailed Trump out of pardoning Wikileaks creator Julian Assange, further infuriating MAGA hardliners, flew out of the mouth of Fox News host Tucker Carlson. As he gave amnesty to tens of thousands of Venezuelan migrants, Trump’s anti-immigrant base, which had been with him since his initial run for president in 2015, flipped out.
Ann Coulter tweeted, “Please vote to convict,” to the GOP senators.
The QAnon community, a group that believed Trump had one last plan to remain in power and fight against the dark forces in Washington, erupted in desperation when Joe Biden became president of the United States. It got so bad that one popular QAnon online forum threatened to ban any users who posted negative content.
“There’s a lot of grief and confusion in Q world over the plan seeming to fizzle out, and feeling as if Q abandoned them,” Mike Rothschild, a disinformation researcher working on a book about QAnon, told POLITICO. “But I think that will very quickly turn into determination to continue down the path they’ve committed to.”
The reactions across MAGA’s internet show a mosaic of rage, denial, and disappointment that the former president let them down in his final days.
Without their leader to direct the next steps, the MAGA coalition is starting to turn on itself.
Shane Creevy, a misinformation researcher at Kinzen, a data analytics company that monitors online falsehoods and partners with social media firms to address possible threats, said: “The movement is self-driving now.” she added, “With Trump gone, the head has been decapitated, but that doesn’t mean this is going away. The big question is, what happens next?”
More prominent right-wing influencers like Ben Shapiro and Dan Bongino have scaled back their support for future challenges to the November election outcome following the Jan. 6 riots, which resulted in five deaths and hundreds of arrests nationwide. But the attempts have produced a backlash instead of soothing the millions of online followers, with posters calling these high-profile figures traitors for not completely endorsing the uprising.
Any direction from Trump was visibly absent.
Without his Twitter account, there was a subdued desire to connect with his base. The polished videos posted on the official Twitter account of the White House have been met with skepticism. But in the build-up to Inauguration Day, at the very least, Trump backers, QAnon acolytes, and extremist militias still held out hope that the outgoing president will stick it to the establishment on the way out the door.
Followers marked Jan. 19 as “national popcorn day” on encrypted message boards and digital applications in the expectation that they will have a front-row seat to the mass arrests of Antifa campaigners and, potentially, Trump enforcing martial law to turn the election around.
The online chatter grew tenser as the hours ticked closer to Biden’s swear in, with numerous online users questioning others’ allegiance, while gradually becoming desperate that “The Storm,” or the violent overthrow of deep-state agents, would never materialize.
In white supremacist Telegram networks, some of which have tens of thousands of followers, the outrage rapidly boiled over into overt contempt for Trump, as well as a call-to-arms for the more conventional followers of the outgoing president that they had been deceived.
“Let this be a wake-up call for QAnon followers and normies,” one post read just ahead of the inauguration. “No one is coming to save you. No one man can defeat this evil Marxist machine.”
Different sections of Trump’s base started to turn on each other amid allegations and counter-accusations. Militia organizations were hit by QAnon backers, alleging that they were part of the deep-state conspiracy to overthrow Trump and that the Jan. 6 protests on Capitol Hill were part of an elaborate coup plot, either by parts of the federal government, activists for Black Lives Matter or, bizarrely, China. They also turned against Lin Wood, Sidney Powell, and Michael Flynn, several QAnon celebrities, for hyping them up.
Elsewhere, conservative MAGA voters mocked the unbending conviction of QAnon groups that Trump was the savior even when he last boarded Air Force One on his departure from the White Houses.
“It’s all been a con from the start. Promises made and not kept,” one user posted on TheDonald.win, a website that has been flooded with conspiracy theories and calls for violence in recent weeks, in reference to the QAnon movement. “You sat on your butt waiting for someone else to do what everyone should have taken care of themselves.”
Several QAnon group members scrambled to say that Biden was now going to implement the conspiracy theory’s underlying principles, or even that the new president had swapped faces with Donald Trump. But in a sign that Trump’s rule was truly over, former 8kun administrator Ron Watkins, one of the few people who supposedly knew the mysterious Q identity, published a post about Telegram surrendering to the inevitable.
“We have a new president sworn in, and it’s our responsibility as citizens to respect the Constitution regardless of whether or not we agree with the specific details regarding officials who are sworn in,” Watkins wrote.