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QAnon faces the music

Supporters of former President Donald Trump who thought he was about to stop the inauguration, seize power and crush his enemies were left blinking in the sunlight Wednesday as President Biden took the oath of office.

Why it matters: It's an inflection point for anyone who realizes they've been strung along by QAnon and related strands of pro-Trump magical thinking. They could either retreat from conspiracy theories or tumble deeper down the rabbit hole.

Driving the news: Pro-Trump Telegram channels and other online forums were filled Wednesday with posts from users angry and disappointed that Trump did not black out U.S. communications networks and send in the military to arrest Biden and other Democrats and celebrities.

  • "The military, law enforcement, fbi, cia, and doj all betrayed their oath to the constitution and the american people," read one top-ranked post on a leading pro-Trump forum.
  • "Jesus was dead for three days before he was resurrected. Never lose hope," read another on a separate forum for QAnon believers.

Between the lines: Those two currents — frustration vs. lingering hope that there's still a grand plan to be revealed — dominated far-right online spaces Wednesday.

  • Once Trump lost re-election, it was inevitable that it would come to this. QAnon-style thinking, in which a secret plan to secure total victory over the left is just around the corner, has grown increasingly central to many Trump supporters' worldview, as GOP Sen. Ben Sasse warned in The Atlantic last week.
  • Biden's inauguration marked a hard stop of a sort that QAnon believers haven't had to confront since the conspiracy theory began in 2017.

The big picture: QAnon prophecies have failed before — all of them, in fact.

  • But that hasn't stopped QAnon, which began as a close cousin of the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, from spinning out into a sort of grand unifying conspiracy theory.
  • Along the way, it has absorbed countless far-right, science-skeptical and simply contrarian views, involving topics ranging from child trafficking to 5G to vaccines to medical masks.
  • The question now is what happens to that broad coalition, now left angry and aimless.

What's next: "If #QAnon begins to splinter soon, we'll need to pay attention to the emergence of potentially violent offshoots," tweeted Colin Clarke, director of policy and research at the Soufan Group, a security consulting firm.

  • "We know some adherents possess the propensity for extreme violence, those who feel duped could grow exceedingly desperate & seek to lash out. Humiliation fuels rage."

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