Pizzagate, Qanon, and Conspiracy

Pizzagate, Qanon, and Conspiracy

Breanna Reynolds, Writer and Head Political Contributor

In 2017 a YouTube channel called “Fantastic Daily” was featured in an article for the British newspaper Express. It was titled “Paranormal investigator ‘lures ghost into camera trap’ – the result is terrifying”. Fantastic Daily was set up as a clickbait countdown channel like “WatchMojo” or “Top5s”. What set this channel apart from others was that the man doing the voice over was actually the one who created the videos on the channel. Though the audience was unaware of this. 

The creator, Andrew Muto, was constructing an ARG or “Alternate Reality Game”. An ARG is an interactive storytelling method commonly used online, it can be seen as an extension of the found footage method (like “The Blair Witch Project”). ARGs play a big part in the online horror community. The most popular of them, “Marble Hornets”, was inspired by the Slender Man and aspects of the ARG ended up embedding new mythology into the (at the time) new urban legend. 

He started out by making a video about two black eyed children getting arrested in Manchester, England who then disappeared from jail. He then went on to forge a story about how he created a sound that would summon or ‘lure’ out black eyed children. It worked but once they showed up, they wouldn’t leave. The story itself was very well put together and entertaining to watch. It came to a premature and abrupt end when a few people within the online paranormal community found out that he was fabricating his videos. One man publicly released his home address on their website and posted the link into the comment section of all his YouTube videos to try and “expose” him as a fraud. To be 100% clear, Muto was getting no money from this project.

The man who released the address on his website has a YouTube channel called “Sound of Stars Frequencies”. He considers himself some form of paranormal ‘scientist’, who felt personally insulted by finding out that what he had been working on and experimenting with ended up to be a fictional game. He released a video titled “About Fantastic Daily Coming Out as Fiction” among a few others to address the situation. He talked about his interaction with Muto in the past and his interpretation of the Fantastic Daily ARG. There was a minor plot point within the story where the main character’s wife miscarried one of the twins she was pregnant with, this was often brought up in the fallout.

“You probably have people watching this series, some people may have lost kids, some people have been involved in scary paranormal activity, and this isn’t going to work with them.” Sound of Stars Frequencies said in the video. “Another word for storytelling can be lying. There’s a fine line between the two,” he commented, explaining how he felt taken advantage of in the situation, “You know, it’s one thing to tell a person a story and maybe they feel better and it’s another thing to just outright deceive.” Remember, this is in response to a video series about being haunted by blacked eyed children. 

This wasn’t the view of just one man, this sentiment was echoed by his entire audience. He received death threats, he tried and failed to reboot the series but people were uninterested in a fictional story, and whenever talked about they referred to his story as a “hoax”. The majority of his audience was estimated to be between 30 and 50 years old. How did so many grown adults believe that this fictional story about monster hunting was real?

Many wonder the same thing about conspiracy theories in general, and there is a big overlap between the paranormal and conspiracy theory communities. Germany’s Allensbach Institute surveyed one thousand “representative citizens” in June of 2020 on the acceptance of conspiracy theories. According to them, 32% of Americans believe that conspiracy theorists are “crackpots”, 22% believe that “there is more to them than the official accounts of the events”, and ¼ of Americans believe that mainstream media is lying about the coronavirus. 

According to an NPR/Ipsos poll 83% of Americans are worried about the spread of false information. They gave out a “knowledge test” asking several true or false questions about recent historical events. 40% of people polled selected true when asked if COVID-19 was created in a Chinese lab, 47% of people polled believe that the majority of the recent Black Lives Matter protests were violent (in reality 93% of protests had been peaceful), and ⅓ of those polled believed that voter fraud helped Biden win. When presented with the statement “A group of Satan-worshipping elites who run a child sex ring are trying to control our politics and media” only 47% identified the statement as false, 37% were unsure, and 17% believed it to be true. 

There’s no proof for any of these conspiracy theories. Where do these beliefs keep coming from? To understand, let’s go back to the start. What do we consider to be the oldest conspiracy theories? What were the most influential? 

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was an anti-semetic text used throughout the 20th century. It depicts a fictional meeting held in 1897, Switzerland in which Freemasons and Jewish congregations made plans to “disrupt Christian civilization and erect a world state under their joint rule” (Britannica). It was something the Nazi’s cited as a reason for their action in the Holocaust and it was the newest evolution of Blood Libel

Blood libel is a term used to refer to the belief that Jews kill christian children and use their blood in religious rituals. It can be traced all the way back to ancient Rome but it is most known for its impacts in Medieval Europe. One of the more common claims is that they use the blood to make matzos, a type of bread eaten during Passover. Some of the supposed victims have even been idolized as martyrs. One of these children, Gabriel of Bialysok, was even canonized as a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church. 

These two concepts relate directly to the witch trials. Witches are known for being the villainized “other” in history and Jews were a big other in European history. Witches were people (usually women) who made a pact with the devil and feasted on the flesh of newborns. Even before a witch was what we know of today, witch was a term used to describe heretics and those who didn’t conform to western Christian society. In 1431 Hungary, people accused of witchcraft were forced to wear a “peaked Jew hat”. Known as the “Judenhut”, it is still the shape associated with witches in modern media. 

Almost all conspiracy theories, no matter how new or “non discriminatory” they seem, have their roots in anti-Jewish sentiment. The belief that vaccines have the stem cells of aborted fetuses? Blood libel. The belief that there’s some shadowy cabul running the world from the sideline? Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The word cabal itself comes from the word Kabbalah, an old Jewish school of thought and interpretation of Hebrew scripture.  

Child trafficking, while an unfortunate reality for many, has become the newest evolution of the “stealing christian children” trope. In 2016 there was a Tweet that claimed that there was proof of the Clintons running a major child trafficking ring, no proof was provided but it still garnered the attention of thousands of people. This continued to be pushed by fake news outlets such as “Your News Wire”, including false reports about FBI and NYPD involvement. Somehow, this resulted in social media posts about how Comet Ping Pong, a DC pizzeria, was some sort of base for this fictitious trafficking ring.

After hundreds of death threats were received by the staff, in December of 2016 a 28-year old North Carolina man walked into Comet Ping Pong with a rifle. He believed that there were children in the basement that needed saving. He did fire his weapon but luckily, no one was injured or killed in the shooting. This incident would become known as Pizzagate

From Pizzagate came the most popular conspiracy in modern America, Qanon. Qanon is a far-right conspiracy theory that has spread out into several different groups of beliefs, but surrounds the belief that Donald Trump is waging a shadow war against Satan-worshiping pedophiles within the government and Hollywood. They believe that there will be a sort of judgement day where people such as former presidential candidate Hillarly Clinton will be executed. There are too many specific and niche beliefs found in these communities for me to list and explain. 

Though Donald Trump has not outright supported Qanon he has in the past referred to Qanon activists as “People who love our country”. Other notable people who have been seen supporting the conspiracy in some way have been; Ed Mullins, the chief of the NYPD union who appeared in a FoxNews interview with a Q mug behind him, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Congressional Representative of Georgia’s 14th district, has uploaded videos to her social media in the past directly stating her support and belief in Qanon, several GOP state parties, notably the Californai GOP, have endorsed candidates who believe in Qanon, and so, so many people who were involved in the January 6th Capitol riot did so in the name of Qanon. 

The FBI declared Qanon a domestic terrorist threat in 2019 and continues to express concern about the risk they pose. Between June of 2018 and October of 2020 Qanon has been linked to at least 12 different violent crimes. These crimes included attempted terrorist attacks, kidnapping, and intentionally derailing a freight train. Though it may seem funny that people believe in these kinds of things, it is not harmless. To make it worse, these people not only believe that they are morally right but they believe that committing violent acts can turn them into heroes. 

Many social sciences have even claimed that Qanon has more in common with a religion than with any political ideology. It creates its own universe, in a way that you’d probably associate with works of fiction. It has a collection of connected stories with its own central narrative and characters who are either good or bad. Unlike most examples of theology, Qanon doesn’t follow any form of logic and when predictions fail believers don’t seem to become disillusioned. 

When talking to someone who believes in Qanon, Pizzagate, and other extremist conspiracy theories it is suggested that you talk to them like you would talk to someone who’s been indoctrinated into a cult. Don’t mock them but don’t debate them either. It’s going to make them double down on their beliefs. Instead, avoid giving any sort of reaction or energy, respond to anything they say on the topic apathetically, “is that so?”, “okay”. There’s no use trying to understand why they believe what they do because there is no rational answer, it’s a delusion. You’ll have more luck reminding them of normal life outside of their cult or conspiracy. Show them a funny video, discuss dinner plans, talk about the weather, ask them if they’ve seen a non-controversial movie, etc. If they try to bring their beliefs into the conversation, continue to be apathetic. 

While staying unengaged with the content, it’s good to ask questions. Don’t respond back after being given an answer, act like they’re a child telling you about what they learned in school that day. Be detached but polite. The goal is to make them consciously aware of the holes in their own logic without making them defensive. Don’t read, listen, or watch anything recommended, it only cements the thought that their beliefs are somehow legitimate. Nothing will be gained by trying to engage in good faith. If you’ve known them a long time you can benefit from stressing how much you miss how your relationship with them used to be. The main purpose of all of this is to take them out of their beliefs as much as possible, even for a limited amount of time. And finally, don’t feel bad if you have to distance yourself from them for your own mental health. Getting someone out of a cult-like mindset can take years and it’s exhausting for those involved.