Law enforcement agencies are stepping up security around the U.S. Capitol Thursday ahead of reports that QAnon supporters convinced Donald Trump will become president that day could turn violent.
U.S. Capitol Police have already reported a possible militia plot to attack the Capitol on March 4, and said in a statement that they have “taken immediate steps to enhance our security posture” over several days.
What’s not clear is how many QAnon believers are actually on board with the idea that Trump will return to power that day, or plan to take any action themselves.
Supporters of QAnon, the pro-Trump conspiracy theory that holds that Trump is conducting a secret war against a nefarious cabal of cannibal-Satanists in the Democratic Party and other liberal institutions, were well-represented in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
Out of the more than 250 individuals who have been charged for storming the Capitol on Jan. 6, dozens openly posted about their belief in QAnon and other conspiracy theories. The fur-covered conspiracy supporter known as the “QAnon Shaman” entered the Senate chamber and left a threatening note for Vice President Mike Pence, while another QAnon supporter in a “Q” shirt was captured menacing police officers, later claiming he helped lead the attack on the Capitol to make sure QAnon got credit for the attack.
Many QAnon believers who had been promised that Trump’s presidency would bring about a sort of American utopia, along with a violent purge of his opponents in a moment known as “The Storm,” were stunned on Jan. 20 when Joe Biden was sworn into office. In QAnon chat rooms, some supporters said Biden’s successful inauguration caused them to suspect the outlandish conspiracy theory was fake, while others described physical revulsion at the feeling they had been duped.
At least some QAnon believers, though, decided that Biden hadn’t really become president. Instead, they borrowed an elaborate theory from the anti-government sovereign’s citizens movement that holds that the United States has been, since the 1870s, a corporation, not a country. In this telling, the United States is a business indebted to bankers in London, and no laws passed since then have been legitimate.
A faction of QAnon supporters claimed that, as a result, Trump would return on March 4—the original date of the inauguration until 1933—as the head of the “real” American government.
The March 4 theory has been more popular with average QAnon believers than the promoters who make up the conspiracy theory’s public face, according to Travis View, the co-host of QAnon-tracking podcast QAnon Anonymous. While many QAnon leaders have claimed the March 4 is a trap meant to arrest QAnon believers or blame them for violence, “Q”—the anonymous figurehead of the entire movement—hasn’t posted online since December, meaning there is no force to either embrace or dismiss the March 4 idea.
View compared the March 4 beliefs to the idea, controversial even within QAnon, the John F. Kennedy Jr. faked his death to help Trump take on the “deep state.”
“I think this is another situation in which the rank-and-file QAnon followers picked up on it, but it seems to be an embarrassment to some of the more established QAnon promoters,” View said.
On Telegram, the messaging app and social media network where many QAnon believers ended up after being banned from more mainstream platforms in the aftermath of the riot, top QAnon leaders have urged their followers not to gather on March 4, claiming the focus on the date is a ruse meant to undermine them. With “Q” silent, others have cited a “clue” from Q that mentioned both the word “trap” and the phrase “March 4” as proof that the date is meaningless in the QAnon canon.
January 6 was widely embraced by both QAnon supporters and other hardcore Trump supporters as a key date, given that it marked Congress’s count of the electoral votes. Plotters openly discussed plans to violently attack the Capitol to disrupt the vote count, and protesters made plans to carpool to Washington swell the pro-Trump numbers in the city. By comparison, there has been significantly less open discussion about March 4.
“The main QAnon promoters—they are not on board, they are decrying this as a false flag,” View said.
Whatever happens on March 4, QAnon has already been tied to three murders. Most recently, a QAnon believer allegedly murdered an amateur legal expert who deployed sovereign citizen tactics in court.
The role of QAnon in the Capitol riot has also continued to be highlighted in the alleged rioters’ court cases.
Jacob Chansley, the self-described “Q Shaman” who was among the first to storm the Capitol while carrying a spear and a bullhorn and wearing a headdress, claimed to be a “leader” of the violent conspiracy. He even wore the elaborate costume in several Arizona arrests to raise awareness of QAnon, prosecutors previously alleged.
A Federal Aviation Administration employee who took a selfie in front of House Speak Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) office was arrested after he claimed to have “Q clearance” to enter the Capitol. Prosecutors state Kevin Strong allegedly told a witness QAnon he had declared that World War III was going to occur on Jan. 6 and that he had a “WW1WGA” flag—representing the popular QAnon slogan “where we go one, we go all”—at his house. Strong also told the witness he believed the QAnon “Storm” was going to cover the cost of a truck he had recently bought, according to a criminal complaint.