“I think Trump is gone,” one wrote on the messaging platform Telegram. “If you think about it, he never said most of what we expected, Q said it, etc. We were putting phrases together and trying to read into things. Trust the plan can mean anything.”
Someone replied that they believed a plan—as long teased by “Q,” an anonymous user on a fringe forum—to uproot Donald Trump’s enemies was still proceeding apace. But another member of the chat offered a more practical action plan: a fascist slogan, an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, and a link to another, even more fringe Telegram channel.
The QAnon conspiracy theory falsely accuses Trump’s opponents of satanic pedophilia and cannibalism, and has merged with compatible theories that falsely accuse his opponents of election fraud. But with Trump out of office and no sign of the movement’s much-anticipated mass arrests, some Q believers are looking for new answers. And members of other violent movements are seeking out those disillusioned fans in the hopes of converting them to new and more militant ideologies.
Among them are militia groups, members of a hate church, and advocates for secession from the United States.
“QAnon is really ripe territory for recruitment,” said Jessica Reaves, editorial director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. At the heart of that crossover, Reaves told The Daily Beast, are shared conspiratorial beliefs between QAnon followers and other militant sects. That mingling was on full display at the deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, when Jacob Chansley, better known as the “QAnon Shaman,” allegedly stormed the building alongside members of paramilitary groups.
But some of the intermingling began long before Trump’s election loss. In the run-up to voting, members of far-right paramilitary groups like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers endorsed elements of the discredited theory.
“The militia and anti-government side is probably where you’re going to see the most crossover,” Reaves said, adding, “There’s a very conspiratorial idea about government power that’s shared between anti-government extremist groups and QAnon people.”
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Many adherents, Reaves continued, “seem to be looking for some sense that they are solving a puzzle, or getting to the bottom of something. And of course there’s no actual bottom to it, but that doesn’t seem to deter anybody from diving in headfirst.”
Some QAnon fans have eagerly taken up teachings from the anti-government “sovereign citizen” movement, members of which falsely claim to be emancipated from the U.S. and its laws. A Vice investigation found members of the QAnon movement sharing bogus legal documents that claimed Trump will be sworn in as president on March 4. Members of the sovereign citizen movement have been identified as key players in decades of violent attacks targeting the government, often stemming from incidents like property disputes or police pulling them over.
Other far-right groups, which did not embrace QAnon, appear to be taking a more cynical approach toward recruiting from the floundering movement.
In multiple far-right Telegram channels, users encouraged each other to disguise themselves as run-of-the-mill Trump fans and infiltrate pro-Q chat rooms.
“We’ve already been doing this since they came here by the millions, but now the time spent on our own channels should be fully directed toward MAGA. Bonus points if you disguise yourself as a Trumpster,” wrote the administrator of one Telegram channel, who included a list of MAGA and QAnon channels to target. The administrator, who routinely shares racist content, wrote that the real mission would be to “promote secession” from the U.S.
That channel is itself an attempt to impersonate the Trumpist right, falsely claiming to be the official Telegram of the social media site Gab. Gab’s CEO, who advertised his site as a censorship-free platform after Twitter banned prominent QAnon accounts, told The Daily Beast that the channel “is impersonating me and is infringing on Gab’s trademark. I have reported it to Telegram multiple times but it has not yet been removed.” A spokesperson for Telegram did not respond to a request for comment.
Members of wildly anti-Semitic “Christian Identity” movement have also eyed QAnon as a potential poaching ground, an observer of the movement noted on Twitter.
“Have at it boys,” one member of a Christian Identity-heavy Telegram wrote of a QAnon group, encouraging fellow travelers to prey on the adrift crowd. “You want recruits and to spread our message? Hop in.”
“In that big chat, no one called me out for anti-Semitism,” another wrote. “People are so demoralized right now they don’t give a shit anymore.”
Reaves, the ADL researcher, said while she doesn’t see movements like Christian Identity being the primary recruiter of QAnon burnouts, the two crowds share disturbing themes.
“Christian Identity is incredibly apocalyptic in its worldview, as is QAnon,” she said. The former, which is explicitly white supremacist, has previously been linked to terroristic groups like “The Order” in the 1980s, and invoked Jews in (now-failed) prophecies of world-ending violence.
Anti-Semitism—itself often grounded in conspiracy theories—is a common theme uniting QAnon believers and Christian nationalists, according to a study published in the Washington Post this week. And crossover between conspiracy movements and the far right is hardly unprecedented. The Flat Earth movement, while on its face apolitical, includes at least two believers who’ve released badly produced rap songs that salute both Flat Earth and Adolf Hitler. White supremacists have also made inroads in Facebook groups for vaccine conspiracy theories, in an attempt to persuade less-radical anti-vaxxers to watch videos on luridly racist websites.
Multiple QAnon Telegram channels already show signs of strain from infiltrators peddling their own ideologies. In one, a user dismissed QAnon but promoted posts from the Proud Boys and the “Boogaloo” movement, members of which openly lust for a new civil war. (The user’s avatar was a picture of Robert Packer, a man arrested for allegedly storming the Capitol, wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” shirt.)
Often, the infiltrators and the real QAnon movement—members of which have openly called for Mike Pence’s execution for failing to overturn the election, and the mass slaughter of the left—were indistinguishable.
In one popular Telegram post, a user encouraged “demoralized” believers to take inspiration from an armed standoff between federal agents and an anti-government group headed by Cliven Bundy in 2014. “Hundreds of God fearing men showed up and pointed rifles at the feds and they were forced to back down,” the person wrote.