Bailey, a 23-year-old in Upstate New York, messages me from his computer in the corner of his mom’s living room. “I’m trying to apply to jobs, and they’re having a meltdown,” he says, referring to his mom and her boyfriend. “They keep repeating, ‘How is it this close? How can they’” — meaning Biden supporters — “‘be this stupid?’”
The room is tense. Bailey’s mom and her boyfriend have CNN on one TV, Fox News is blaring on another and Steven Crowder is on a third. For weeks, they were “so smug” that Joe Biden would get arrested and/or Trump would win in a landslide. But the red wave they predicted didn’t happen, and now they’re on edge. “They think no matter who wins, there will be violence,” Bailey says. “They’ve bought emergency water, gasoline, ammunition. They’re treating it like it’s going to be an apocalypse no matter who wins. And it’s frightening. The fear-mongering from Fox News and right-wing media is working, and people are stocking up on everything they need to prepare for a civil war.”
Last month, Bailey returned home from active duty “to a family of strangers.” “I don’t recognize my mother anymore,” he says. “They have no interest in anything that doesn’t come from Trump or their ‘Q-drop’ app.”
In the time he was gone, his mom and her boyfriend had fallen prey to QAnon, the cult that believes Donald Trump is a deity sent to destroy a satanic ring of Democrat pedophiles. The FBI deems QAnon a domestic terrorist group, but thanks to Facebook, YouTube and the president’s refusal to denounce them, QAnon membership has exploded since the start of the pandemic.
With the election, of course, Q’s prophecy hangs in the balance. Trump either retains power over the country and QAnon has been right this entire time, or he loses to Biden because Democrats stole the election thanks to “suddenly [finding and counting votes] days after the election.” As it stands, “Q” has remained silent, but QAnon cohorts took Trump’s 2 a.m. victory speech as gospel.
As such, people living with QAnon believers aren’t optimistic for the future — no matter what happens. More than anything, they’re just hoping to make it through the next couple nights. “Yesterday and today have been messy, to say the least,” says Addie, a pseudonymous 15-year-old in Delaware. “My mom has kept Fox on the last two days, 24/7, and it’s miserable. I can’t escape it and I feel terrible.”
Addie and her mom were best friends before Trump was elected, she tells me. But after the 2016 election, “it seemed like the mom I loved died and the beast who lives today was born. Everything since has been about Trump and Q, but the last few days have been unbearable.
“It’s midnight and I’m sobbing my eyes out,” she adds. “I just want to get away from this.” (She’s planning to escape to a friend’s, sister’s or aunt’s house.)
Reddit’s r/QAnonCasualties, a community of family and friends who have lost loved ones to QAnon, is rife with anxiety about the election and the next few days ahead. “I am very afraid of the coming days,” wrote one redditor on Tuesday, a self-described 20-year-old in a Midwestern swing state. Besides herself and her older brother, most of her extended family has fallen prey to QAnon, she explains. And while her dad loudly predicts a resounding Trump victory “by 10 million votes,” he’s quietly stockpiling guns in case the opposite happens.
“He never liked guns before, but he got them because his QAnon friends told him they’d be taken away if Biden wins,” she continues. “He’s been talking about how he has his guns ready if something happens.”
If Biden hangs on and wins, Bailey says his mom will believe the country is on the brink of a civil war. “They’ve convinced themselves they’re an army,” he tells me, fearing they’ll be inclined to “incite violence during an unrelated protest.” If Trump wins, he adds, “they will continue telling themselves that Donald Trump is their savior and that he is exposing the ‘deep state.’”
“The way they’ve become so smug, it’s sickening. They say, ‘Everything will be out on the table after November 3rd,’ and that ‘this whole COVID thing will be over after November 3rd, too,’” Bailey says. “I keep quiet. I know I’m outnumbered, and I’ve been told I’ll be sorry and that I’m a sheep who needs to ‘wake up.’”
While keeping an eye on his mom’s emergency stash of gasoline and ammunition, Bailey’s main focus, as with Addie’s, is to move into his own place. “With me being a veteran in a combat role, looking for a decent job in the civilian world is difficult, but hopefully I’ll soon be able to move into a new home with my girlfriend,” he says. “I definitely need to get out.”
“We’re becoming an idiocracy — I mean, a QAnon believer just got elected to Congress,” he concludes. “[QAnon] is a bear waiting to be poked. An entire online religion is now our country’s sleeping beast.”