How a new religion could rise from the ashes of QAnon

Social psychologists call this phenomenon cognitive dissonance. In their classic treatment, When Prophecy Fails, Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter studied the case of the Seekers, a small UFO religion that believed that they would leave the Earth in a flyer saucer before daybreak on Dec. 21, 1954. After the non-arrival of extraterrestrials, the group’s leader, Dorothy Martin, changed her name and continued to prophesy. Festinger and his colleagues concluded that when groups are deeply convinced that they are correct and individuals have social support from other members of their group, beliefs can be maintained even in the face of overwhelming counter evidence. According to Festinger, fringe members of a movement experiencing a moment of cognitive dissonance are more likely to admit they were wrong, but devotees double-down, reinterpret, and regroup.

Though Festinger’s work has been criticized by others, the theory can explain how some people cling to their belief structures even when they have been proven wrong. In the case of QAnon this has already happened. Hilary Clinton was supposed to have been arrested three years ago. Joe Biden was never supposed to have become president. As Chine Labbe, European managing editor at NewsGuard told the Financial Times, “there’s been lots of predictions from the beginning, none of which have come to fruition… but this didn’t prevent the [QAnon] Movement from growing.”

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