The continuation of QAnon: the eternal sunshine of an election that never ended

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Thiago Vahia Malliagros
Thiago Vahia Malliagros is a brazilian historian focused on conspiracy theories and contemporary far right ideologies.

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At this moment, without Americans knowing, a secret battle is being waged for the soul of America. Brave patriots in Maricopa county, Arizona, have managed to force an audit of the county’s Presidential election votes, by a third party company. The results of the audit will surely expose the corruption at the heart of the 2020 election, and then others counties will follow their lead, and soon the result of the election will go to the rightful winner: Donald Trump.

That is of course the version of reality currently prevalent in the QAnon community; for the rest of the world, the election is over, and Joe Biden won fairly.

Many researchers and watchers of the QAnon movement held the belief that, after the loss of Donald Trump and after Joe Biden assumed office, the conspiracy would break apart. How would the narrative that Trump was taking down a shadowy cabal work when his opponent, who is believed to be part of the evil conspiracy, sits in the White House? At the time, I believed QAnon followers would shift to other conspiracies, and that in the end the movement would collapse due to this fundamental contradiction, and only the hardlines would survive.

I am sad to say that myself and many of my colleagues were wrong; the movement didn’t fracture, it survived the shock in November and even managed to twist itself to accept the loss. One big narrative in particular helped this happen: the persistent idea that the election was stolen.

At the time of writing, it has been more than 6 months since America’s 2020 presidential election 2020, and the results have been counted and recounted. No discrepancies or distortions have been found – it was a clean and fair election according to international parameters and US national ones, too.

Still, Donald Trump has insisted both before and since the election that the office was stolen from him, and that he actually won by a landslide. These claims were incentivised by the conspiratory and conservative movements leading to events of January 6th, as I’ve written about in a previous article. Those beliefs haven’t gone away, which inevitably raises the question: how can they keep the flame of this belief alive if, in theory, any chance of success has gone? The answer, for his supporters, was to demand audits of every county in the states Trump lost.

They started with Maricopa county, crowdfunding to pay for the recount and demanding local representatives for the right to conduct an audit. They won.

Curiously, instead of a federal or licensed auditing company, responsibility for the audit was given to a company called CyberNinjas, who have no prior experience in auditing election. The reason why they won the contract was simple: owner of the company, Douglas Logan, believes that the election was stolen from Donald Trump, and the entire process of recounting the votes has been based around this belief, to an almost comical extent.

Auditors for CyberNinjas tried using UV lights on the ballots, based on a conspiratory belief that the ballots had a watermark to prove they were original. They’ve also looked for traces of bamboo in the ballot paper, in the mistaken belief that this would prove the ballots came from China. They were even planning to go door-to-door asking some of the residents if they voted in the election, to see if they could find evidence of fraud (CyberNinjas would not disclose how they intended to identify which residents to visit, raising concerns that it could target and intimidate voters).

Throughout the entire auditing, CyberNinjas has continually demanded more and more data not necessary to the recount. Every difficulty they encounter in getting the data they’re seeking is considered part of the conspiracy to hide the fraud, meaning that if (or, indeed, when) they don’t get the result they’re looking for, they can blame the supposed lack of co-operation, and claim they were not given the data they needed to do their job in time.

Man standing in a group of people who are wearing Trump 2020 paraphernalia - the man is wearing a red QAnon t shirt. [CC 2.0]

The scheme has not gone unnoticed, with Trump followers in other counties requesting that biased third parties be hired to do their recounts. Again, all of this action and confusion is predicated on the insistence that the election was stolen, and the person most responsible for this continued fantasy is Donald Trump, who uses every interview and every sliver of attention to reiterate how wronged he has been. If people thought he would return to silence after the election and play no further role in politics, they were wrong.

The unshakeable belief in stolen elections and the blind faith in everything being changed by this recount is what is fueling this movement now. We have to understand that QAnon is a movement based on the belief that something is happening to take down evil itself: it is no longer the case that a conspiracy theory can be about a handful of identifiable big bad guys. Instead, contemporary conspiracy theories are more often about destruction and defeat; that every day is one day closer to the day of judgment.

The narrative that the election was stolen and that at any moment, any day now, the true results will come out and take down the deep state in order to put Trump in power is, to a conspiracy theorist, perfect. It resembles the original QAnon, which promised that soon the truth would come out and the evil would be destroyed and Trump would continue in power. This is what allows movements like QAnon to survive and thrive within the other conspiracies focused around Trump. In their universe he didn’t lose; it was all part of the plan to reveal the deep state and to show Americans what a Biden Administration would look like, causing all Americans feel disgusted with the Democrats and reject them, redpilling them (ie showing the truth of the world to them), making everyone call for the return of Trump.

Only at that point would the election fraud be revealed, and one by one every state would revert to Trump, who (in this universe) won more than 400 electoral college votes. The American people would awake even more, and, like a phoenix emerging from the ashes, Trump would assume his position as president again, healing the nation.

To those in the real universe, this is obviously nonsensical and illogical, especially considering that all the recounts are being done by companies with explicit pro-Trump biases. With that in mind, even if they actually were able show discrepancies in the real results, their conclusions would be immediately disputed in court and take years to solve, lasting all the way until the 2024 election. Still Trump knows, or at least appears to realise, that it doesn’t matter if these recounts work or not, what is important is that they exist.

The primary purpose of the recounts is to give to Trump’s conspiratorial base this chance of a dream, that the results will change and their savior will return, making sure they do not lose the devotion they have for him. The recounts also serve to bolster Trump’s fragile ego, protecting his belief that all Americans love him, it’s only the mass media that hate him.

Sadly, then, this mythh of the stolen election will continue – most likely, the conservative media and their followers will keep pushing it until 2024. Meanwhile, lawmakers in Republican states are changing election laws to make it even harder to vote, or at least harder for some people to vote. Each of these voting restrictions is justified by the conspiracy that the results were fraudulent and it’s only by tightening the voting system that they can prevent such an evil happening again.

In reality, Republican politicians know that the election was not stolen, and that the voter restrictions they’re ushering in will predominantly disenfranchise minorities, because they know that Trump’s Republican party can only win if minorities are discouraged or prevented from voting. The stolen election myth is just another instance of conspiracy theories serving as justification and cover.

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