The QAnon conspiracy theory drove many of former president Donald Trump's followers into the U.S. Capitol in a violent bid to overturn the election, but despite that failure -- and others certain to come -- adherents are clinging to the delusional belief that has become something of a religious community to them.
After that failure and Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president, QAnon adherents set their sights on March 4, which had been Inauguration Day until the ratification of the 20th Amendment in 1933, as the day Trump would return to the White House -- but it's probably not going out on a limb to predict that won't happen, either, but experts told Vox that won't likely shake their faith.
"One of the weirder things I discovered when I began reporting about QAnon is that the true believers don't care who Q is," said Adrienne LaFrance, an executive editor for The Atlantic. "Naturally, I wanted to know who was behind the hoax. But to the QAnon devout, Q's identity simply did not matter. This observation was key to my realization that the QAnon movement doesn't behave merely like a pro-Trump conspiracy theory but instead like a baby religion, born on the social web and spread by Q's acolytes to extremists who feel the movement's anti-establishment message in their bones."
Experts envision QAnon morphing into some other version of itself, like the Millerite doomsday cult of the 1840s that splintered into today's Seventh-Day Adventist Church, but experts predict the lines between the conspiracists and mainstream Republicans are blurred -- sometimes with the unwitting help of Democrats looking to score political points.
"I understand and even agree that the GOP has to be held to account on their embrace of this movement, [but] I also think it could drive the party deeper into the arms of its furthest-right fringe," said Charlie Warzel, a New York Times opinion writer who studies online culture. "Basically, our political leaders really underestimate just how much a huge portion of the country values the ability to piss off liberals, and how much those who love to see elites angry/uncomfortable/upset are willing to excuse the people who can deliver on 'triggering the libs.'"
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), a newly elected congresswoman who has endorsed the conspiracy, is a perfect example of that type of Republican, he said, because she understands intuitively how to use liberal outrage to build political power.
Warzel's Times colleague Kevin Roose, a tech reporter, predicted that QAnon would run its course without Trump as its animating spirit, but he thinks its core beliefs -- every mainstream narrative and institution was suspect, and all real knowledge comes from individuals doing their own "research" online -- would become a permanent feature of American life."Even if QAnon dies, I fully expect that many of its core beliefs will get watered down a bit, stripped of the Q-related language, and dissolved into Republican Party orthodoxy," Roose said. "I wouldn't be surprised if there is some kind of a 'Patriot Party' made up of ex-QAnon believers and MAGA dead-enders that forms ahead of the 2022 midterms, and I wouldn't be shocked if that cohort pushed the entire Republican Party in a more conspiracy-minded, reality-denying direction. "By 2024, Marjorie Taylor Greene may look like a moderate," he added.