Jan 20, 2021 - Technology

The online far right braces for life after Trump

A man wearing a QAnon T-shirt stands in a parking lot

Photo: Joseph Prezioso / AFP via Getty Images

The online far right is about to face a cold reality it long denied was a possibility: the post-Trump era.

What's happening: Fringe-right internet users are broadly poised to enter the Biden era in one of three states: Denial, disenchantment or determination to use the moment to their advantage.

Catch up quick: Since the election, the idea that Trump would, any day now, reveal evidence of a massive voter fraud conspiracy and somehow nullify the election has grown increasingly mainstream on the right — especially among believers in the QAnon conspiracy theory.

  • That belief led directly to the Capitol siege. Now, a great many people primed for that moment are about to watch Joe Biden take the oath of office.

Here's where the different groups stand:

The true believers: Many people still believe Trump is about to impose martial law, blacking out communications and media networks and seizing control of the airwaves via the emergency broadcast system.

  • Some people are taking to ham radio and other alternative communications networks to ensure they can stay in touch after the promised blackout, notes NBC News.

The disillusioned: Some have turned on Trump, angry that the president has attempted to distance himself from the Capitol riot.

  • The truly furious may be a small sliver of the broader right. Recent polling indicates that Trump's strong support among Republicans remains sturdy even in the wake of the Capitol siege.
  • But those frustrated that Trump didn't find a way to somehow stay in office are a larger group, and one about to grow larger when "The Storm" — QAnon's imagined moment when Trump would launch mass arrests of his political enemies and cement his hold on power — doesn't happen.

The opportunists: The most radical of the far-right fringe see a recruitment bonanza in the large body of people who will be left angry and aimless as Biden takes office.

  • Extremism researchers have watched pro-Trump Telegram channels and other forums become fertile territory for violent extremists like the Boogaloo movement, which wants to incite a second civil war, to pick up fresh followers.
  • There's a well-established radicalization pipeline on the far right that includes its own lingo. "Redpilling," for instance, borrowed from The Matrix, refers to opening people with mainstream views up to far-right perspectives.
  • "Blackpilling" is a step further, referring to induction into a nihilist worldview that holds violence as the only solution for defeating the left.

The bottom line: A spell will not be broken at noon. It's unclear what will happen to the many people who have found their places in pro-Trump internet communities that are still all-in on nullifying the election — and whether the transfer of power will tamp down on online extremism or drive people further into far-right online enclaves.

Go deeper