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American conspiracy theory gets support in elections

Credit: European Commission

A far-right conspiracy theory in the US claiming that a gang of paedophiles are running the world is gaining traction on the internet. The theory, named QAnon after an anonymous person using the name Q, supports president Trump who has been retweeting messages of its believers.

The conspiracy theory, which was first expounded in 2017, has by now attracted thousands of followers on internet and in the offline world. Social platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Youtube are hosting QAnon content. It has even entered political campaigns in the US.

During a news conference last week, Trump described QAnon followers as “people that love our country,” according to the New York Times. He has retweeted QAnon followers at least 201 times according to a media analysis. The winner in a recent congressional primary run-off in Georgia was an outspoken pro-QAnon Republican candidate.

However, there is hardly universal support inside the Republican party for QAnon. Many of its leaders and donors are horrified at the spread of QAnon’s themes.

The followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory believe that a gang of child-trafficking paedophiles would have continued to rule the world if Trump had not been elected president. In the presidential elections in 2016, fake news about a child-trafficking ring linked to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic party went viral (the debunked Pizzagate conspiracy theory).

Although QAnon has no direct link to antisemitism, it seems to have been inspired by the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a forgery fabricated in Tsar Russia, and medieval blood libels accusing Jews of murdering Christian children.

Even Belgium has been targeted. A candidate in the Republican primary in Florida who is using the Q symbol, has reportedly said, “I do believe that there is a group in Brussels, Belgium, that do eat aborted babies”.

The European Commission, UNESCO, Twitter and the World Jewish Congress joined forces recently to raise awareness about conspiracy theories online. As part of their initiative, a new series of infographics has been published on the Commission’s website to inform citizens how to identify and counter conspiracy theories.

The infographics provide short explanations about why conspiracy theories are dangerous – especially in times of crisis – how to identify them, and how to effectively counter them with facts. A conspiracy theory is a belief that certain events or situations are secretly manipulated behind the scenes by powerful forces with negative intent.

Conspiracy theories have six things in common. They claim that there is 1) a secret plot by 2) a group of conspirators and 3) invent “evidence” that seems to support the theory. They 4) falsely suggest that nothing happens by accident and that there are no coincidences. They also 5) divide the world into good or bad and 6) scapegoat people and groups.

There have always been conspiracy theories, but the COVID-19 pandemic underway has proved to be particularly fertile ground for their spread. They are part of a wider trend of increasing hate speech, and increased racist, xenophobic, and antisemitic attacks, which also target LGBTQ communities. They are also spread in the EU by far-right politicians and illiberal regimes.

“Conspiracy theories cause real harm to people, to their health, and also to their physical safety. They amplify and legitimise misconceptions about the pandemic, and reinforce stereotypes which can fuel violence and violent extremist ideologies,” UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said.

The Brussels Times

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