For the past three weeks, a group of Trump supporters and QAnon believers met online, swapped theories and eagerly awaited the conspiracy's violent climax. I was listening in. This is what they sounded like.
As President Biden's inauguration ticked closer, some of Donald Trump's supporters were feeling gleeful. Mr. Trump was on the cusp of declaring martial law, they believed. Military tribunals would follow, then televised executions, then Democrats and other deep state operatives would finally be brought to justice.
These were honestly held beliefs. Dozens of Trump supporters spoke regularly over the past three weeks on a public audio chat room app, where they uploaded short recordings instead of typing. In these candid digital confessionals, participants would crack jokes, share hopes and make predictions.
“Look at the last four years. They haven't listened to a thing we've said. Um ... there's going to have to be some serious anarchy that goes on. Otherwise, nothing is going to change.”
I spent the past three weeks listening to the channel - from before the Jan. 6 Washington protest to after Mr. Biden's ine an obsession, something I'd check first thing every morning and listen to as I fell asleep at night. Participants tend to revere Mr. While the chat room group is relatively small, with only about 900 subscribers, it offers a glimpse into a worrying sect of Trump supporters. Some conspiracists like them have turned to violent language in the wake of Mr. Trump's electoral loss.
“If the Biden inauguration wants to come in and take your weapons and force vaccination, you have due process to blow them the [expletive] away. Do it.”
Times Opinion has included audio clips from the chat in this story because the group is public. Names and any identifying information have been omitted.
There's a persistent belief that the online world is somehow not real. Extreme views are too easily dismissed if they're on the internet. While people might say things online they would never do in person, all it takes is one person for digital conspiracies to take a deadly turn. That should be clear after the Capitol riot, which was largely organized online and resulted in five deaths.
To participants, the channel is mainly a way to share and “fact-check” the news, cobbling theories together from fringe right-wing websites, posts on Facebook, and private channels on the messaging apps Telegram and Signal. They say their main focus is reinstituting paper ballots.
But the conversation can also turn dark, like when they speak longingly about “brutal” televised executions or simply ask, “Can the people declare war inside the country if they wanted to?”
Key to sustaining their beliefs is the expectation that the other shoe is always about to drop. One prediction, concerning “10 days of darkness,” was perpetually about to come true in the form of media blackouts, social media bans or power outages.
Nearly every day, there were signs that the “10 days of darkness” had begun in some form. Power outages in India and at the Vatican were possible signs. Then blackouts were reported across the world. Then state-of-emergency orders were circulated for various storms, recalling a Q catchphrase, “The storm is coming.”
“It'd be wise to stock up water, canned foods, ammo and cash, gasoline in your vehicles,” one said days after the Washington rally.