QAnon's big mainstream push leans on an old conservative formula
It would appear QAnon — the nut-fringe movement whose garish fantasies of a worldwide Democratic pedophile-cannibal cabal resisted by a still-living JFK Jr. and Donald Trump are promoted by thousands of Twitter trolls — is going mainstream fast.
I’m not talking about Trump’s recent babble of praise for QAnon (“I’ve heard these are people that love our country”). That, in a way, is if anything a trailing indicator. (Trump praises anyone who flatters him, as Charlottesville showed.)
No, it’s the protests promoted by QAnon in several American cities last weekend — bannered “Save Our Children” and advertised with the #SaveOurChildren hashtag, but explicitly QAnon-sponsored — and the coverage they received in much of the press that shows it’s getting promoted as a legitimate social movement, and also something depressing about our current political moment.
There have been various Save Our Children/Save The Children movements and marches over the years, and normally protests on that theme would seem to represent only a healthy desire to see kids kept or rescued from danger. (With a historical exception, which I’ll get to in a minute.) But the QAnon angle in this case makes it more like a “Law and Order” protest sponsored by Nazis. Nazis are certainly associated with law and order, and historically they’ve used that as a promotional device. But any press outlet covering a Law and Order rally run by Nazis and featuring signs advocating Nazi principles would not cover it as a Law and Order rally, but as a Nazi rally. Right?
No doubt a lot of last weekend’s rallies had non-QAnon participants who came because they were attracted by the child-welfare cause. And some news outlets responsibly mentioned the big QAnon push behind these protests, and others mentioned it and allowed sources to disassociate their protest from QAnon, as KXLY did in its coverage of a Spokane, Washington protest.
But some stations and papers covered the protests as if the QAnon thing were not a factor at all. For example, Austin station KVUE’s report, “Dozens march in Austin calling for putting children's safety first,” makes no mention of the connection -- though in their video of the protest you can see a guy holding a BILL GATES IS A FREEMASONIC LUCIFERIAN sign.
WEAU News in Wisconsin doesn’t mention the QAnon connection at all in its coverage of a local Save Our Children event, even though the station had reported “QAnon uses anti-human-trafficking hashtags, campaign to promote conspiracy theories” a few weeks earlier.
My favorite is this approach taken by WCJB in Gainesville, Florida, which allows a source to give an uninterrogated “bothsides” account of the QAnon angle:
The phrase “save the children” has recently been associated with the conspiracy theory group known as QAnon. While organizers of this event say they aren’t affiliated with that group, that doesn’t mean some here aren’t completely against what they stand for.
“I do know I agree with them as far as saving our children,” Carter said. “I don’t know that I agree with all their views on that but I agree we need to save our children. I know people personally who follow Q; they’re not crazy. They do not have outlandish views that the governments are aliens and all this rubbish that you hear. I don’t believe that.”
She must be talking about those moderate, Rockefeller Republican-QAnon types, rather than the radicals the media’s always talking about. (Boy, if only Antifa could get such gentle treatment from the press!) Will Bunch at the Philadelphia Inquirer has more.
Why so shy about reporting the obvious truth about a fringe group’s involvement in these protests? Maybe because the news orgs didn’t want to seem “liberal biased” — against the nice people defending children, or against QAnon, which after all is entitled to the same View From Nowhere respect as any other powerful conservative interest group.
Here’s an interesting resonance from mid-20th Century American history:
The most famous version of Save Our Children before this one began life as Save Our Children From Homosexuality, started by rightwing actress Anita Bryant in the late 70s as a protest against a Dade County, Florida gay rights initiative and recognized as such at the time. She later dropped the “From Homosexuality,” apparently grasping that some people might be turned off by the overt homophobia, and focused instead on the threat to children — which, her movement explained once you got in the door, was gay people! As explained by Stewart John Van Cleve in a 2013 paper:
As the name “Save Our Children” implies, anti-gay organizers claimed that nondiscrimination ordinances allowed homosexual teachers to “recruit” impressionable children by advocating the “gay lifestyle.” The rhetoric of child protectionism proved extremely effective. By March, Save Our Children had collected 64,000 signatures and, in June, more than 200,000 voters rescinded the [Dade County, Florida] gay rights ordinance; Jack Campbell and other gay rights leaders had lost by a two-to-one margin. Bryant’s victory inspired her to take Save Our Children on a national campaign to repeal similar nondiscrimination ordinances in other cities...
Some parts of the story Van Cleve tells bear a fascinating resemblance to modern conservative (and mainstream media) practice. For example, when Bryant’s association with the SOC campaign made her too controversial for the Singer sewing machine company, which was sponsoring a TV show in which she was scheduled to star, and the company dropped her, Bryant “blamed the canceled contract” not on the corporation but on “the supposed influence of homosexuals in the media” — a “cancel culture” complaint avant la lettre. (Bryant made a similar complaint when she was dropped as a TV host of the Florida Orange Bowl Parade in favor of Rita Moreno.)
Also, Bryant gave an interview to Playboy which made her views look ridiculous to educated people, but which spread her fame and that of her cause sufficiently that, Van Cleve reports, “it had a positive effect on SOC’s local campaign. The organization obtained more than sixty-four thousand signatures in support of the referendum [on the Dade County ordinance]” in its wake. If that’s not Trumpy, what is?
But it’s Bryant’s Won’t Someone Please Think of The Children bit that QAnon's children’s crusade really reminds me of. Bryant was canny enough to exploit the tendency of the mainstream to lap up child-exploitation stories by associating her cause with such stories. Van Cleve:
In May 1977, the Chicago Tribune ran a series of articles that fixated on Chicago as the epicenter of a child sex trafficking ring (one that was later “almost entirely disproved”), and Bryant was quick to use the articles — namely, their sensational headlines — in a full-page advertisement in the Miami Herald. Superimposed over the ad read the bold statement that exclaimed Bryant’s last words with [Dade County commissioner] Ruth Shack: “THERE IS NO ‘HUMAN RIGHT’ TO CORRUPT OUR CHILDREN.”
After some successful battles, Bryant can be said now to have lost her war (though discrimination against LGBTQ people, especially the trans ones, remains a conservative cause, if mainly on the downlow). And I bet many if not most of the QAnon people don’t consider themselves anti-gay; there seems to be nothing specific about gay rights in their belief system. (Someone please tell me if I missed it.)
But Bryant left behind a great strategic legacy, certainly, for other hardcore conservative groups (and let’s be real, though it has lots of adherents from the crystals-and-angels woo-world we associate with liberalism, QAnon is not a bipartisan movement): Go easy on the esoteric secret-language stuff — the spirit-cooking and Pizzagate gobble-gabble — and lean heavily on simple, nice-sounding stuff like Save The Children. Maybe after the lookie-loos get in the door you can pulverize whatever is left of their minds and use them to grow the movement, and along with all the other Republican death cultists you may push Trump over the top. It’s worked before — for a while, anyway.