On Conspiracism and Hatred


Let us not launch the boat ...
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On Conspiracism and Hatred

It is almost inappropriate to use the phrase, conspiracy theory, as if everything described thereby is so similar. Unto international neighbors, it is pretty much impossible to explain certain apparent connections, because they emerge in such vague ways; even among Americans, it is difficult to explain the connections between anti-flouridation conspiracism and, say, elements of supremacism in a fantastical child-trafficking conspiracy theory presently running amok on the American right wing. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists today published Mia Bloom↱ under the headline, "We knew QAnon is anti-Semitic. Now we know it's racist, too". The article opens:

In the summer of 2020, social media companies, led by Facebook, banned the hashtag #savethechildren, which had been hijacked by QAnon conspiracy theorists from the legitimate charity with the same name. The QAnon campaign created huge problems for legitimate anti-trafficking organizations, strained law enforcement with false "tips" about trafficked kids, and undermined the fundraising efforts of children's charities.

Over the course of researching the book I co-authored with Sophia Moskalenko, Pastels and Pedophiles: Inside the Mind of QAnon, something else about QAnon's "save the children" messaging became apparent: its overt racism.

QAnon accounts using the name Save the Children appear in English, Hebrew, Portuguese, German, Hindi, and French. After capturing images used in those accounts and eliminating duplicates, my research team wound up with 240 unique QAnon images, gifs, memes, and posters. The vast majority of children who are trafficked originate from the global south. But the images of the children in the QAnon campaigns were almost uniformly white, usually female, and often badly bruised, bound, or bleeding.

Much of QAnon ideology stems from anti-Semitic tropes about elite cabals and blood-drinking pedophiles. It should come as no surprise, then, that QAnon is widely racist, too. But highlighting the extent of that racism may help diminish the spread of QAnon ideology in South America and Africa.

As Bloom sketches the usurpation of the save the children hashtag, she quotes Roose, and a detail I long ago overlooked is that, oh, right, we're back to adrenochrome.

The QAnon campaign to highjack the "Save the Children" brand was effective, in part, because the problem of child trafficking is real and urgent. It is precisely this grain of truth that allows QAnon to convince well-meaning individuals that in order to save the children, they must become QAnon keyboard warriors ....

.... Because trafficking is a legitimate threat, women can be drawn down the QAnon rabbit hole as they research and perceive, accurately, that child slavery is real and getting worse—but conflate that genuine problem with QAnon's false and labyrinthine conspiracy theories.

The basic idea of a grain of truth, a germ or seed of fact or traditionally accepted belief around which mythopoeia grows, is hardly unfamiliar, and the danger Bloom describes about the QA conspiracy theory is similar to the dangers about other such incompleteness. Moreover, Bloom's consideration of women is not arbitrary:

Our research shows that QAnon used mostly white children to appeal to white suburban women who tend to lack the same degree of empathy for children of color. The extent of racism we found was disturbing. Despite the reality that most child trafficking victims are from the global south, the majority of QAnon's children were blonde, bruised, and bound. QAnon posts almost exclusively depict Caucasian children. Of the 240 images we catalogued (after eliminating hundreds of duplicates), 75 percent were Caucasian and only a small number (2.4 percent) were groups that included children of color alongside white children (that is, they were coded as diverse).

Asian or Black children each appeared in just nine of 240 images; 12 of the 240 images (5 percent) included Latinx children. Fewer than 12 percent of the total images depicted children who were not white. Several of the examples of children of color were genuinely missing children—taken from FBI notices and mixed with QAnon propaganda.

Where possible, we triangulated the names of missing children on QAnon forums with the missing person registry maintained by the National Center for Missing or Exploited Children. Some of the children depicted in QAnon messaging went missing in 2016—well before QAnon existed. The tactic of folding in actual missing children provides QAnon with a degree of credibility, should someone look up a name and see that child really is missing. But the vast majority of the children depicted in QAnon propaganda are not named, and the propaganda images include pictures of child actors such as Heather O'Rourke, Macaulay Culkin, and Drew Barrymore. Not everyone will recognize these child actors mixed in with the other images.

Perhaps the most striking thing about QA conspriacism is that its germs, seeds, and grains of truth are extraordinarily mundane. The idea that someone within the most elite valences of American society might participate in a sex trafficking ring is hardly unthinkable; consider how not shocking we find the prospect of wealthy and influential people behaving badly. Within that, it is not an unlikely prospect that some sort of endeavor around a wealthy, influential person will in the course of preserving its revenue stream, becomes part of that bad behavior; again, this is rather quite mundane an expectation, and we even have history to recall on that count, be it the Catholic church, Hollywood icons, a network news host, a pop star. What makes the QA conspiracy theory and its pizza-themed predecessor stand out can be broadly described as a question of priorities, or more particularly by pointing out how much time and attention whoever spends stewing child rape and murder fantasies.

(To the one, we're back to adrenochrome. To the other, the Crowley joke would be a bit obscure in the moment.)​

The underlying connection between QA and other certain conspiracist genres, including things like anti-flouridation, and antivax, is both societal and psychological—(there is meaning to be found in the history)—and starts with basic questions of empowerment compared to fundamental questions of fear. As it happens, while anti-medical or -technological conspiracism is not bounded by the extent of other particular labels, the coincidence of anti-institutional prejudice and fear of the unknown frequently tends, in such circumstances, toward the comfort of more traditionalistic expectations. And if we consider questions of fundamentalism, which are, circumstantially, not unrelated, we might suggest particular pathways of idealistic regress° predictably lead toward manners of antievolutionary thinking because the authenticity of the identity assertion derives from a regression according to myth. That is, they tell themselves their own story about how the past went, and strive toward that imagined former authenticity.

Part of the point, of course, is that there are in fact functional differences. That is, not every anti-flouride conspiracist is necessarily so sympathetic to white supremacism. Not every anti-vaxxer is so sympathetic to male chauvinism.

Most assuredly, we can certainly go find the literature on the unsustainability of large-scale conspiracies, but even before that, the prospect of racism seems pretty straightforward: The QA conspiracy theory emerged from a preceding, politically oriented scandal with similarly traditionalistic identity investment; and it flourished among a traditionalist-supremacist temper tantrum lashing out at the world in fear of the unknown; it was already anti-Semitic in its tinfoil-wrapped pizza ostensibly feeding fear of a woman, and the conspiracism has shown itself adaptable among other supremacists.

Bloom notes growing QA conspiracism "among Latinx communities and communities of color", and suggests "it is crucial to highlight how racist QAnon messaging is", especially as it reaches overseas. And inasmuch as "an understanding of QAnon's overt racism" offers yet one more reason for people of color to "resist the false call to protect the children", it's probably important for everyone to observe that this really is what it comes to.

This is about fear and empowerment, and we see how desperate these conspiracists have become.


° see 2018↗ in re Riesebrodt; we might consider a question of "revealed and realized ideal order", itself an article of faith, and reactionary appeals thereunto, which are in turn derived from a rising sense of crisis brought to bear by perceptions of rapid change, which include fears of unknown future. The actual regression toward a "revealed and idealized order" tells us much about what happens next. Moreover, we can reiterate that there are reasons it is important to recall the kernel or germ or grain at the heart of mythopoeia that becomes the seed of a surrogate truth underpinning the active, functional myth.​

Bloom, Mia. "We knew QAnon is anti-Semitic. Now we know it's racist, too". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 5 July 2021. TheBulletin.org. 5 July 2021. https://bit.ly/3wdBbUo

Riesebrodt, Martin. Pious Passion: The Emergence of Modern Fundamentalism in the United States and Iran. Trans., Don Renau. Oakland: University of California Press, 1993.
I was actually looking for something else.

On January 20, 2002, Richard McCaslin, thirty-seven, of Carson City, Nevada, was arrested sneaking into the Bohemian Grove in Northern California. The Grove is the site of an exclusive annual men's retreat attended by powerful business and political leaders. When McCaslin was discovered, he was carrying a combination shotgun-assault rifle, a .45-caliber pistol, a crossbow, a knife, a sword, and a bomb-launching device. He said he was acting alone.

McCaslin told police he had entered the Bohemian Grove in order to expose the satanic human sacrifices he believed occurred there. He fully expected to meet resistance and kill people in the process. He had developed his belief in the Grove's human sacrifices based on the claims of a radio personality, Alex Jones, whose broadcasts and Web site present alleged evidence of ritual killings there. Similar charges against the Bohemian Grove—along with allegations of blood drinking and sexual perversions—have been spread for several years on the Web and in fringe publications, some of which also suggest that the Grove's guests include nonhuman species masquerading as human beings. These and similar tales would be cause for little more than amusement were it not for individiuals like McCaslin, who take them seriously enough to risk killing and being killed.

They also form part of a conspiracist subculture that has become more visible since September 11, 2001. Immediately after the terrorist attacks, strange reports burgeoned on the Internet; many never migrated to mainstream news outlets. Among them were that Nostradamus had foretold the attacks; that a UFO had appeared near one of the World Trade Center towers just as a plane crashed into it; that the attacks had been planned by a secret society called the Illuminati; that U.S. president George W. Bush and British prime minister Tony Blair had advance knowledge of the attacks; and that the attacks signaled the coming of the millennial end times prophesied in the Bible.

(Barkun, 1-2)

Because what I really needed was an Alex Jones reminder.


Still, though: Human sacrifice, nonhuman intelligence, sexual perversion, human sacrifice, vampirism. Nothing about pizza, I suppose, but it sounds like the Alex Jones crowd hasn't really moved on.


Barkun, Michael. A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2003.