In the days leading up to Trump’s impeachment, his online followers watched in horror as his pardons, which were supposed to go to allies and supporters, were instead given to people who were naturally boggy: white collar criminals convicted of tax fraud, friends of the family , Steve Bannon, even the Democrat Kwame Kirkpatrick.
“To recap, Trump will forgive Lil Wayne, Kodak Black, high-profile Jewish scammers … No pardon for middle-class whites who risked their livelihood by” going to war “for Trump,” one user grumbled a white supremacist channel on Telegram, the encrypted messaging service that has gained thousands of new subscribers since the January 6th Capitol Riots.
Conspiracies flew from the mouth by Fox News host Tucker Carlson – this Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, blackmailed Trump for pardoning Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, which further angered MAGA hardliners. Trump’s anti-immigrant base, which has been with him since he first ran for president in 2015, failed when he granted amnesty to tens of thousands of Venezuelan migrants.
“Please vote to convict,” said Ann Coulter tweeted to GOP senators.
And the QAnon community, a group that had desperately hoped Trump had one last trick to stay in power and fight the nebulous forces of darkness in Washington, broke out in despair when Joe Biden became President of the United States . It got so bad that a prominent QAnon online forum threatened to ban users who posted negative content.
“There is great sadness and confusion in the Q world over the plan that seems to be passing and it feels like Q has given up on it,” Mike Rothschild, a disinformation researcher working on a book on QAnon, told POLITICO. “But I think it quickly turns into a determination to continue down the path.”
Taken together, the reactions on the MAGA Internet show a mosaic of anger, denial and disappointment that the former president let down in his last days.
Without their leader having to guide the next steps, the MAGA coalition – the extremist militants, the hate groups, the conspiracy theorists and the Stans – begins to get involved.
“The movement is now self-propelled,” said Shane Creevy, a disinformation researcher at Kinzen, a data analytics firm that tracks down online falsehoods and works with social media companies to counter potential threats. “If Trump is gone, the head has been beheaded, but that doesn’t mean this will go away. The big question is what happens next.”
Since the January 6 riots that resulted in five deaths and numerous arrests across the country, more right-wing influencers like Ben Shapiro and Dan Bongino have scaled back support for possible challenges to the November election results. But instead of appeasing their millions of online followers, the effort has sparked a backlash as posters label these high profile figures as traitors for not fully supporting the uprising.
It was noticeable that there was no instruction from Trump.
Without his Twitter account, the ability to communicate with his base was muted. The polished videos posted on the official White House Twitter account were received with suspicion. But in the run-up to inauguration day, Trump supporters, QAnon acolytes and extremist militias at least still hoped that the outgoing president would hold it to the establishment on the way to the door.
On encrypted message boards and digital apps, followers dubbed January 19 “National Popcorn Day” in the hopes that they would take a front-row seat to the mass arrests of antifa activists and possibly Trump to enforce martial law rotate the choice.
As the hours drew nearer to Biden’s swearing-in, online chatter grew tense and various online users questioned the loyalty of others as they grew increasingly desperate that “The Storm,” or the violent overthrow of Deepstate agents, would never happen .
On the telegram channels of the white supremacists – some of which have tens of thousands of supporters – the anger soon spread into outright hatred of Trump, as did a call to the outgoing president’s more mainstream supporters who had misled them.
“Let this be a wake-up call for QAnon followers and norms,” read a post just before the inauguration. “Nobody comes to save you. Nobody can defeat this evil Marxist machine. “
Under allegations and counter-allegations, different parts of Trump’s base began to turn on each other. QAnon supporters beat militia groups claiming they were part of the state’s conspiracy to undermine Trump and the January 6 riots on Capitol Hill were part of an elaborate coup attempt, either by sections of the federal government, Black Lives Matter activists, or bizarrely China. They even turned against certain QAnon celebrities – Lin Wood, Sidney Powell, and Michael Flynn – for hyping them.
Elsewhere, mainstream MAGA voters mocked the QAnon groups’ unwavering belief that Trump was the savior – even the last time he boarded Air Force One when he left the White House.
“It was all a fraud from the start. Promises made and not kept, ”wrote one user on TheDonald.win, a website that has been inundated with conspiracy theories in recent weeks and incites violence against the QAnon movement. “You sat on your bum and waited for someone else to do what everyone should have done for themselves.”
Several members of the QAnon community went out of their way to suggest Biden would now implement the underlying beliefs of conspiracy theory or even that the incoming President had switched faces with Donald Trump. As a sign that Trump’s reign was really over, former 8kun administrator Ron Watkins, one of the few who supposedly knew the identity of the mysterious Q, posted a post on Telegram surrendering to the inevitable.
“We have sworn in a new president and it is our responsibility as citizens to respect the Constitution, whether or not we agree to the specific details of the sworn officials,” Watkins wrote.