Barry’s Blog # 352: Breathing Together, Part Five of Eight

Part Five: Save the Children!

I see it (the New Age movement) fundamentally shaped by an impulse to the irrational…it seems to lack any critical evaluation of itself. – Terence McKenna 

The psychotic drowns in the same waters in which the mystic swims with delight. – Joseph Campbell

In March of 2020, a book with no stated author – QAnon: An Invitation to the Great Awakening – entered the list of the top 75 of all books recently sold on Amazon. It alleged that Hollywood celebrities and top Democrats rape, torture and murder large numbers of children, often to drain “adrenochrome,” a substance that allegedly keeps them alive.

In August NBC described a group that had formed in July:

“Freedom for the Children” has organized more than 60 rallies in 26 states and Canada…local media coverage of the events has been widespread and credulous, almost never mentioning the events’ QAnon connections. Indeed, many of the signs seen at rallies ask why the media is reporting on COVID-19 or Black Lives Matter protests instead of “the real pandemic” of missing children.

Most of the organizers and attendees appear to be women. Annie Kelly, who studies digital extremism, notes:

…there’s something about QAnon that makes it stand out in the world of Trump-adjacent online groups: Its ranks are populated by a noticeably high percentage of women. Many of the congressional candidates who have voiced their support for QAnon are women…Even more alarming are the believers who have demonstrated their willingness to hurt people…Plenty of far-right conspiracy theorists, such as the neo-Nazi believers in “white genocide,” make similar claims about defending children but cannot point to such gender diversity across their ranks. So what is going on?

…At the heart of QAnon lies an undeniably frightening ethos that demands harsh punishment, even execution, for its ever-growing list of political enemies. History teaches us that sex panics do not end well for society’s most vulnerable minorities…(Rejecting QAnon) becomes more personally and politically difficult if the theory’s adherents look less like our traditional conception of fascists and more like ordinary concerned mothers taking a stand for child sex abuse victims.

Kaitlyn Tiffany (“The Women Making Conspiracy Theories Beautiful”) claims that Instagram is a major site of misinformation:

Instagram—more than any other major social platform—shows each of its users exactly what they want to see. It’s a habitual, ritualistic space where people (like me) go for examples of how to be happy and well liked…Time spent there is reciprocal, a never-ending exchange of sweet words and the heart icons that are the only possible way to instantly respond to a piece of content on the platform. Instagram is women’s work, as it demands skills they’ve historically been compelled to excel at: presenting as lovely, presenting as desirable, presenting as good, safe, nonthreatening. All of which, of course, are valuable appearances for a dangerous conspiracy theory to have.

She quotes Becca Lewis, who studies online political subcultures,

It’s a huge misconception that disinformation and conspiracy theorizing happens only in fringe spaces, or dark corners of the internet…much of this content is being disseminated by super popular accounts with absolutely mainstream aesthetics.

White-supremacist internet personalities use similar tactics. Their Instagram accounts may be completely free of extremist rhetoric and dedicated instead to dreamy engagement photos and romantic vacations. Then they draw followers to YouTube, where they tell how they’d come to believe in various white-nationalist, far-right causes, and conspiracy theories.

If you’re able to make this covetable, beautiful aesthetic and then attach these conspiracy theories to it, that normalizes the conspiracy theories in a very specific way that Instagram is particularly good for…Of course, it’s hard to say what’s orchestrated and what’s genuine on Instagram. But the effect is the same…

With the election approaching, this business is happening in real time, and much may already be outdated by the time I post it.

By August 2020, the major social media platforms realized the nature of this particular con and limited the reach of most Q-derived sites (along, we note, with many legitimate progressive sites). Quickly, Q leaders urged their followers to drop the “QAnon” label and instead publicize their crusade against the secret cabal of baby-eating politicians.

The anonymous Q account…wrote an uncharacteristically unambiguous message to adherents last week: “Deploy camouflage. Drop all references re: ‘Q’ ‘Qanon’ etc. to avoid ban/termination…_censorship install. Algos [sniffers] bypass.”

Some high-profile QAnon influencers with hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers took down their accounts and scrubbed any mentions of QAnon to avoid the ban. Other accounts were able to amplify and co-opt #SaveOurChildren and its related language by creating a large and unprecedented flurry of posts and activity. “This is not about pedophilia,” said Whitney Phillips, co-author of the book, You Are Here: A Field Guide for Navigating Polarized Speech, Conspiracy Theories and Our Polluted Media Landscape. “This is not about child protection. This is about a conspiracy theory that’s trying to couch itself in other terms to get more people involved and sympathetic…”

By September, because it takes a con-man to know a con, Trumpus’ own people quickly got into the act, announcing that the federal government would award over $100 million in grants to target human trafficking. The problem is real, of course, but the announcement was clearly pure politics. However, in an ironic twist on the concern for the children, some Q followers are endangering actual children. Will Sommer writes:

Police and court records have lately revealed a…clandestine network comprising QAnon conspiracy theorists, fringe legal figures…and even Republican politicians…This network has allegedly encouraged and inspired other QAnon believers, especially parents, to commit crimes, including kidnapping…often by targeting parents who have lost custody of their children or fear they will.

Timothy Holmseth’s profile grew this spring, when he became the leading “source” for viral claims that tens of thousands of abused “mole children” had been rescued from underground prisons underneath New York City…While on the run, Holmseth recorded a video urging his fans to shoot child protective services staffers who come to their homes…postulating that Child Protective Services are abducting children for sex-crime networks raises the risks for agency workers, the families, and the children involved in the cases.

Q-sponsored pedophilia obsession is a massive con, fabricated by right-wingers to manipulate large numbers of people, a majority of them female followers of New Age wellness influencers. On the other hand, the Jeffrey Epstein story reminds us that child sexual abuse certainly does occur among the powerful.

But the deeply emotional obsession with it reveals projection and or displacement on many levels. So we can’t stop here. We need to look into the historical/sociological, psychological, political and ultimately the mythological factors that make so many Americans uniquely susceptible to these machinations.

Read Part Six here.

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