QAnon and the Satanic Panics of YesteryearRoundup
tags: conspiracy theories, moral panics, QAnon, Mass Hysteria
Many details concerning the beliefs of QAnon are bizarre and difficult to piece together. Ambitious works of journalism, decent explainer articles, and even a vast and messy Wikipedia page can’t quite do justice to its tangled, knotted, shifting conspiracy theories. But in its most simplistic form, QAnon holds that a secret group of Satan-worshipping, cannibalistic pedophiles has been running a global child sex-trafficking ring. This supposed cabal is linked to the power brokers of the Democratic Party; Hillary and Bill Clinton are typically said to play some kind of prominent role. There is more—much, much more—but that charge is at the core of QAnon.
Of course, the belief that the country is in a state of moral decline, full of corrupt elites and ungodly politicians, is nothing new in American politics. But it is worth remembering that even the more wild and unhinged accusations of Satan-worshipping have a long history in this country—and by studying the precedents, we might be able to better understand the dynamics and future of QAnon.
When, at an NBC town hall event last October, former President Trump was asked if he would disavow QAnon, he professed ignorance and a touch of apparent admiration:
I know nothing about it. I do know they are very much against pedophilia. They fight it very hard. . . . I just don’t know about QAnon. . . . What I do hear about it, is they are very strongly against pedophilia. And I agree with that. I mean, I do agree with that.
Even though Trump occasionally retweeted QAnon messages, and even though he was a central figure in the QAnon mythos (and was even believed by some true believers to be “Q” himself), it seems plausible that he really was unaware of much about it beyond its opposition to pedophilia. Someone with superficial knowledge of QAnon, mostly encountering its anti-child-abuse social media hashtag (#SaveOurChildren), might come away thinking that its activism against pedophilia was reasonable and commendable. It is not surprising, then, that some curious Christians, concerned about child welfare, might initially find themselves drawn to it for that reason.
QAnon is on the political fringes but its beliefs about mysterious Satan worshipers fall into a well-established pattern of Christian theology concerning conspiracies dating back to the medieval church and the witch hunts of the early modern era. The fear that children are being morally corrupted, sexually abused, and physically harmed is one of the most recognizable Satanic conspiracy tropes. In the witch trials of early modern Europe, accusations of killing infants and harming young children were common. For centuries, Jews throughout the Holy Roman Empire and Reformation Europe were accused of ritually murdering Christian children for magical purposes and cannibalism. Under stress and torture, both men and women—but mostly women—confessed to such Satanic crimes as using babies’ blood for spells, murdering children at witches’ sabbaths, and having sex with the devil.