Estimating the true rate of pedophilia is tricky for a host of reasons, but there’s no cause to believe it’s high: Our best figures hold that around 2 percent of the population is attracted to children aged 14 or younger, and probably less than 1 percent are attracted to pre-pubescent kids.
Listening to the far-right conspiracist fringe, however, you’d think that everyone who disagrees with them is collaborating to enable and commit pedophilic atrocities on a vast and highly organized scale.
This premise has gruesome consequences.
In December 2016, Edgar Maddison Welch fired an assault rifle inside Washington, D.C.’s Comet Ping Pong restaurant, believing it to be a front for a Clinton-connected child sex slave operation. He’d bought into the so-called “Pizzagate” hoax promoted by right-wing, hysteria-stoking mouthpieces like Alex Jones and Mike Cernovich.
Speaking of Jones, the always-yelling Infowars radio host (who was judged unfit to retain primary custody of his own children) is currently suing the family of a boy killed at Sandy Hook. He’s seeking $100,000 in court costs after the parents filed a defamation suit against him for saying they were “crisis actors” in a “false flag operation,” which led to years of violent threats against them. They’ve had to move seven times since 2012 to protect themselves—and their surviving kids. But the far right doesn’t seem too worried about those children.
Oh, and a year ago, rising pro-Trump social media figure Lane Davis, reportedly “obsessed” with exposing liberals as pedophiles, accused his parents of being exactly that, then stabbed his father to death.
Now, some of Trump’s most paranoid and gullible supporters are increasingly drawn into labyrinthine tales of deep-state espionage. They are led by “Q,” or QAnon, an internet figure who doles out bullshit “clues” to a clandestine power struggle between the White House and a sinister cabal of criminal elites.
Further violence toward supposed-pedophile opponents is a distinct possibility. Recently, QAnon believers hijacked Hollywood nice guy Tom Hanks’ YouTube search results to spread the lie that he had “purchased” a 13-year-old girl for sexual purposes.
The QAnon cult’s core misinformation is bewildering, cryptic and scattershot, presumably by design; anyone who stumbles into it on 8chan (a more extremist sibling to the trollish message board 4chan) is free to cherry-pick or reinterpret the baseless claims posted there however they like. Will Sommer of the Daily Beast has an essential look at the mechanics of this phenomenon, which is built on the lie that Trump is methodically uprooting nefarious agents planted at every level of government, business and celebrity.
Not all enemies are named as pedophiles, but, importantly, the various forces arrayed against Trump — the Obamas, Clintons, Rothschilds, Illuminati and Satanists — are always assumed to be in league with, or protective of, the pedophilic element that allegedly pervades the liberal sphere.
Why might this be? In Wired, Emma Grey Ellis points out how ancient and simple the phony pedophila gambit is: “Establishing your opposition as a subhuman beast has been justification for the harshest forms of retaliation” for centuries, she writes. The sexual abuse of children is, by virtually any civilizational standard, unforgivable and therefore grounds for unilateral or vigilante “justice.” Indeed, other commentators have argued that QAnon sets the stage for mass arrests leading directly into fascist rule. When one side is keeping kids in sex dungeons, the QAnon logic goes, they don’t deserve due process — and must be thwarted by any means necessary. Conversely, anyone convicted for child porn or sexual abuse of a minor is part of the conspiracy.
Yet spurious charges of pedophilia aren’t just a tactic. The fringe right is fascinated by these imagined crimes. As surely as their fraudulent “crisis actor” theories of mass shootings encode a sublimated horror at what Second Amendment absolutism has wrought, their deranged pedophile hunt involves a bit of projection. That’s not to say every Q follower is involved in child trafficking, only that they may have internalized the ways their own ideology harms children, compressing these into a visceral counter-narrative.
Apart from standing idly by as kids are gunned down in underfunded public schools, the American right denies our youth their life-saving health care, and GOP administrations oversee higher infant mortality. Children are disproportionately at risk from the climate change that Republicans refuse to acknowledge and stand to inherit an inhospitable planet (if they get to exist at all). Every day, we see photos of children kidnapped and thrown in cages by the president’s beloved ICE, who feed them psychotropic drugs, and whose negligence may have killed a toddler this week. QAnon’s vision of an underground child slave economy mirrors what’s happening in plain sight, and that is no coincidence.
Among politicians, of course, some accounts of pedophilic behavior pertain to Trump himself. An election year lawsuit, withdrawn at the end of 2016, alleged that he’d raped a 13-year-old girl at one of the “infamous sex parties held by billionaire and known pedophile Jeffrey Epstein,” a longtime pal. A BBC documentary featured multiple people recalling his predatory attitude toward models as young as 17 during the 1980s and 1990s. Five women who had competed in the Miss Teen USA pageant said Trump walked into their dressing room unannounced while girls aged 15 and older were changing. His history of lecherous comments about his own daughter, Ivanka, are legendary — and he even allegedly asked if it was “wrong to be more sexually attracted to your own daughter than your wife” when she was 13.
By going after a shadow network of “liberal pedophiles,” the QAnon crowd and affiliated truthers employ the Trumpian maneuver of lobbing any accusation straight back, sans evidence, while literalizing an abstract truth: The right has fucked kids over for generations, looting their country and mortgaging their future for profit and war, so it is forced to construct an alternate reality where the left is actually fucking children. (Never underestimate their knack for locating the stupidest metaphor, especially if it carries raw shock value.)
Plus, they’re advancing the nonsense that progressivism’s endgame is the acceptance and normalization of total depravity. Remember when conservatives told us that gay marriage and transgender people using public restrooms would lead us down a “slippery slope” toward aberrations like bestiality? Well, this phantom surge of pedophilia appears to strengthen their case. Due to a 4chan hoax, some are wrongly convinced that the LGBT community is planning to add a “P” to the initialism, for “pedosexual,” which would theoretically become a protected class, and gay panic colors much of this echo chamber.
But whether the frenzy will pay dividends as strategy is altogether unclear. It’s one thing to get director James Gunn fired from the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise over pedophilia jokes he undeniably tweeted, quite another to shore up the wild conjecture that Steven Spielberg molests kids.
Besides, the political value of these smear campaigns is limited; they’re far more likely to inspire lone wolf attacks or sustained harassment, which can backfire in a movement that hinges on proving its adherents are the only sane ones left.
Alex Jones’ latest court woes over the Sandy Hook massacre, meanwhile, could prefigure the same legal issues for those who peddle similarly damaging conspiracy theories — and the Pizzagate angle has been radioactive since the D.C. shooting, with Q well aware that any open endorsement of it could bring the entire façade crashing down:
The faithful aren’t going to forget that easily, though. Each fresh falsehood, once introduced to the wider thread of pro-Trump delusion, is entwined in the DNA forever. According to the darkest circles of far-right thought, systemic liberal pedophilia and the global cover-up can already be assumed as fact — now comes the fall, or “the storm,” as they describe the judgment day.
Which leaves us with chilling questions: How long will the QAnon crew be content to agree that Trump is waging and winning his righteous war on perverts in secrecy, and when will they decide to take direct action in concert with the cause? Call someone a monster again and again, and another must dream of slaying him.