Links and Comments: True Believers Scorned

The QAnon cult is reeling from the evaporation of the promises Q and a certain former president made about what would happen on inauguration day. It’s like those many examples over past centuries of apocalyptic cults, anticipating the end of the world or the arrival of aliens on a particular date, and then hastily explaining away the failure of their prophecies to come true, as best they can to prevent fleeing adherents. Most of the time they fail, and disappear, which is why we’ve never heard of them.

Prediction: QAnon fans will regroup. They will explain away the failures of January 20th. They will revise their predictions. As those earlier failed cults did.

Now we are seeing such a cult react to failed prophecies in real time. To wit:

Politico: Trump leaves QAnon and the online MAGA world crushed and confused, subtitled “The prophecies did not come true. And people are fuming about it.”

The pardons went to Democrats, lobbyists and rappers, with nary a “patriot” among them. The mass arrests of Antifa campaigners never came. The inauguration stage at the Capitol, full of America’s most powerful politicians, was not purged of Satan-worshipping pedophiles under a shower of gunfire. Even the electricity stayed on.

The moment the clock struck noon on Wednesday, Jan. 20, it was over — and the extreme factions of Trump’s diehard base were left reeling.

Forbes: ‘We All Got Played’: QAnon Followers Implode After Big Moment Never Comes. Among this piece’s key facts:

QAnon adherents appeared to have fractured into two groups on popular far-right message boards Wednesday, with some realizing their crackpot conspiracy theory was a fraud, while others tried to somehow keep the flame of the Crazy Candle alive.

Washington Post: QAnon believers grapple with doubt, spin new theories as Trump era ends, subtitled “The administrator of 8kun, the longtime Internet home of the mysterious Q, says it’s time to move on, and a moderator on Wednesday wiped Q’s ‘drops’ from the website”

QAnon, as with most online creations, probably will not disappear any time soon. On Tuesday night, a small crowd of picketers rallied with signs urging “Repent or Perish” outside Comet Ping Pong, the D.C. pizzeria at the center of Pizzagate — the 2016 conspiracy theory from which QAnon was born.

View predicted that the QAnon community may shrink in the coming months but also become more fervent in their commitment to its ideas.

“History has taught us far-right movements don’t cool off during a Democratic administration,” View said. “The people who stick with it are going to become even more radicalized and potentially more dangerous.”

CNN, The Point: Is the QAnon movement dead?

Wednesday was a rough day for believers of this conspiracy theory. The reaction has been mixed.

Some believers seem to be coming to the realization they have been duped. For some of them, it was confirmation of suspicions they have had for a while. They feel like Trump has betrayed them.

NPR: The QAnon ‘Storm’ Never Struck. Some Supporters Are Wavering, Others Steadfast

QAnon is less a baseless conspiracy theory than an umbrella of many baseless conspiracy theories, but it centers on a belief that there is a shadowy cabal of pedophilic, satanic world leaders. For years, a mysterious figure called Q has issued promises that this cabal is on the verge of being exposed and defeated by Trump in a cataclysmic event that QAnon calls “the Storm.”

And, via a FB post (this is not a site I regularly visit), this:

Religion Dispatches: QAnon’s Predictions Haven’t Come True; So How Does the Movement Survive the Failure of Prophecy?.

Fascinating article about the general phenomenon of cult prophecies. What happens when they fail? I’ll quote:

  • Spiritualization: the group states that what was initially thought of as a visible, real-world occurrence did happen, but it was something that took place in the spiritual realm.
  • Test of Faith: the group states that the prophecy was never going to happen, but is in fact a test of faith: a way for the “divine” to weed out true believers from those unworthy.
  • Human Error: the group argues that it’s not the case that the prophecy was wrong, but that followers had read the signs incorrectly.
  • Blame others: the group argues that they themselves never stated that the prophecy was going to happen, but that this was how outsiders interpreted their statements.

This sounds much like the way believers rationalize away those controlled studies that show that intercessory prayer doesn’t work.

I’m not making fun of QAnon adherents, exactly; actually though, I am astonished by their gullibility. I find the phenomenon a fascinating example of how human nature creates approximations that lead to fantasies about how the world works. And one of my theses is that these can be harmless, in the sense that these people still live their daily lives, have children, and carry on the race. Until they start insurrections on the Capitol.

There is a rich history of such cults, as mentioned above, and mostly they wither and die and are forgotten, except for being written up in books about such phenomenon, some of which I have.

The obvious comparison or contrast of such cults is with traditional religions, despite their own failure of their prophecies to come true, yet which endure for thousands of years. Thus, Jesus still hasn’t reappeared, despite promises 2000 years ago that he would return within the lifetimes of his followers. Yet people are still Christian, and many are certain Jesus will return in *their* lifetimes. The psychology is the same, I think.

This is where we cue the Sunk Cost Fallacy. And tradition (for example), vast and intricate and soul-fulfilling. But only a guide to an enriching fantasy; not to a reality.

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