Dispatches From Q-Land is a monthly Paste series delving into the seamy underbelly of the QAnon conspiracy theory on right-wing social media platforms such as Parler, Gab and Telegram. It’s a disturbing task, but only by paying attention to these dangerous extremists can we understand the nature of their ever-evolving delusion at any given moment, and hope to understand what they might do next.
The 2022 midterm elections were supposed to be a referendum on an unpopular Democratic president in form of Joe Biden, but it’s since become clear that they’ve turned into something else entirely: An unexpected show of strength for the country’s left-wing party, in an election where they were widely expected to lose badly. Much is still up in the air, such as the all-important Senate races in Nevada and Arizona, but with betting markets currently predicting Democratic victories, the national conversation has drifted away from any Biden topic, onto a new fall guy: Donald Trump. The former 45th president suddenly finds himself embattled, with establishment Republicans eager to ditch the party’s reliance upon Trump as a figurehead after his hand-picked candidates such as Mehmet Oz and Herschel Walker failed to secure victories. And lo and behold, the notably robust victory of Ron DeSantis in the Florida governor race has given conservative media the exact figure they’ve been wanting, someone to crown as the new de facto leader of the Republican party going forward.
Over in Q-Land, though, it’s a very different story. It should come as no surprise to anyone who has studied the QAnon space, as we have, that they’re not planning on abandoning Donald Trump any time soon, because they really have no choice but to stick by him. The delusional conspiracy theorist mindset is deeply rooted in Trump as its central figure and messiah, and they take their cues directly from him. So when Trump responds to the midterm disappointment with tantrums and attacks directly against the likes of Ron DeSantis, his Anon followers interpret this as their cue to turn against the same far-right figures who last week were their allies.
If there’s one thing we can count on in this world, it’s that Trump will always be a slave to his own ego.
In effect, what we’re talking about here is a far-right civil war that has just been ignited, playing out across the fringes of the internet, on (ineptly designed and operated) “free speech” social media hubs such as Gab and Trump’s own Truth Social. On one side, you’ve got pragmatic, everyday Republicans sick of Trump, allied with dangerous white nationalist realists who fear their power is slipping away. On the other end, you’ve got QAnon lunatics, still believing that Trump will arrive in a flash of light as they all ascend to heaven together. In the process, it’s been fascinating to see the user bases of these right-wing sites, often characterized as homogenous, finally split away from each other in radical ways. It’s a conflict threatening to rip the base of the Republican party completely apart.
GOP Pragmatists vs. QAnon Delusions
The impossibly vast constellation of conspiracy beliefs that are all welcome in the broader QAnon sphere (anti-vaxxers, flat earthers, aliens, chemtrails, weather control, etc.) have often been good bedfellows for the Republican rank and file in the years since 2016, so they were often tolerated by cynical political operatives who recognized a chance to mobilize right-wing voters who typically didn’t engage much in the democratic process. Basically, the average GOP congressman didn’t care, as long as the nuts got to the polls.
As the influence of Trump wanes, however, as demonstrated by the failure of his highest-profile, hand-picked candidates, Republican operatives are calculating that the conspiracy babble and constant focus on Trump has become more damaging to the electability of candidates than it is helpful. Donald Trump is becoming electoral poison; a figure to be kept as far away from viable candidates as possible so he doesn’t taint them with his influence. Ron DeSantis, meanwhile, is seen by these political pundits and GOP kingmakers as a shiny new toy, just as right-wing in terms of policy as Trump but without nearly as much disagreeable baggage, or ability to rile up oppositional voters. This pragmatic, cynical side of the Republican establishment wants to see DeSantis assume ideological control of the party as soon as possible, so they’re throwing Trump under the bus for midterm losses and loudly suggesting that it’s time for a change of guard.
However, they’re now being handcuffed and demonized by the very same sect of delusional conspiracy theorists they fostered for 6 years or more. QAnon influencer accounts are leading the charge on Truth Social—which as become the de facto home of QAnon content in the last year, migrating away from the likes of Parler and Gab—accusing Republican officials, pundits, media and everyone else of essentially being embroiled in a demonic plot to take Trump down. And in their minds, Ron DeSantis, a guy they all loved a week ago, is wrapped up in this anti-Trump plot as well. Arizona governor candidate and election-denying fascist Kari Lake even went so far as to suggest that her state is counting the ballots slowly in an effort to poison the national conversation against Trump-picked candidates, of which she is one, and elevate DeSantis in the process.
Trump is naturally egging all of this on through his communications on Truth Social, his own self-imposed prison after the lifetime ban from Twitter—something that Elon Musk still hasn’t reversed. His ramblings are equal parts sad and contradicting, as in this delicious two-piece in which he assures followers he’s NOT ANGRY about midterm results, but simultaneously that he HATES FOX NEWS SO MUCH BECAUSE THEY’RE SO UNFAIR! Get ready to likely see a lot of these types of tantrums against right-wing news media in the coming months.
Last year, I would have expected the response in an online community like Gab to look much the same, but it’s actually transformed quite a bit. When Trump established Truth Social as his own little haven, full of sycophantic worshipers, prominent QAnon influencer accounts on Gab began to migrate over, finding it to be a perfectly fertile breeding ground for unquestioning belief, without the undercurrent of resentment against Q and Trump that has become increasingly common on Gab.
You might wonder: Why would a Gab user be against Trump? In reality, they have a lot of problems with him. For one, the baseline antisemitism of the place has become a raging inferno over the course of the last year, and these anti-Semitic posters generally hate Trump because of his connections to Jewish media figures and his attempts to court Jewish voters—they all went berserk on on Gab last month when Trump said he’d “done more for Israel” than any other president. Just look at the top response to that post, one of the few I’d be comfortable printing here.
But it’s not just that—many Gabbers also dislike Trump for various reasons that a rational adult in normal society would never even consider, such as Trump’s attachment to “Operation Warp Speed” and its perceived role in the development of the vaccines for COVID-19. Because these people tend to hate the vaccine or believe it to be poison, they hate that Trump has repeatedly tried to take credit for the vaccine, received it himself, and has urged others to receive it. Likewise, they hate Trump’s support for even limited gun control, such as red flag gun laws. Essentially, this collection of organized racists, militia types, and fake intellectuals hanging out on Gab have slowly come to the conclusion that Trump isn’t genuinely far enough to the right for them, and they’ve finally (and correctly) perceived that Trump’s only motivation is personal power and narcissism. As an alternative, they’ve turned to DeSantis, who they hope could be like an “improved” version of Trump, one who cares more about enacting far-right policies rather than boosting his own celebrity. The midterms have given them a perfect catalyst to make a clean break from the Trump worship, resulting in this corner of the far-right world suddenly becoming notably anti-Trump.
That simply can’t happen on Truth Social, the former president’s uniquely pathetic social media platform. The result is a total impasse: If Trump attacks DeSantis or any other prominent Republican, the Q-folks have no choice but to follow along. They’re in too deep, and even if they can perceive how this could completely divide political conservatives in the U.S., there’s nothing they can do about it. I can only assume that even if DeSantis were to win the Republican nomination for president in 2024, many of these QAnon true believers—the ones who are still there, on Truth Social—would be begging and pleading for Trump to run third party, effectively splitting the vote once again. For political liberals, that might very well be the best possible outcome. These people make it clear: They will NOT accept anyone other than Trump, even if it’s someone they were praising yesterday.
In the end, there’s still a lot up in the air at the moment. We don’t know for sure which way the Senate will shake out, and some Republican come-from-behind victories here would likely lessen the calls for Trump’s immediate political ouster, and the subsequent elevation of DeSantis. But these lines of fracture that have been exposed in the far right aren’t likely to go away no matter what happens, and they’re likely to keep spreading until the entire online presence of the Republican party is divided into bitter, warring camps. And for the rest of the country, it’s probably safe to say that the further the QAnon adherents get from actual power, the better.