Friday, July 16, 2021

Eating Their Own

I suppose in hindsight something like this was inevitable. The QAnon conspiracy theory derives much of its support from conservative Evangelical Christians, which I'm convinced is where the whole "Satanism" angle comes from. It's a holdover from the "Satanic Panic" of the 1980s (which, as you might recall from the other day, comes from porn) that at some point was basically shoehorned into the earlier Pizzagate trafficking narrative. And as I've mentioned, the minute somebody proposes that massive groups of Satanists are doing anything, you can know that it's false because there are no massive groups of Satanists anywhere. I don't think there are even tiny groups of Satanists that do the things QAnoners accuse them of.

But for once, today's post isn't about that. It's about QAnon turning on the same Evangelical Christian leaders that have given the movement some validity in Christian circles. This has happened with pretty much every "blood libel" conspiracy throughout history, and that adenchrome nonsense definitely places QAnon among those. Conspiracies that rely on flat-out demonization are dangerous things that are hard to handle, even when you are on their good side. The idea that political opponents are unspeakably evil instead of just being political opponents is not just unrealistic. It engenders a level of paranoia that can easily be turned against anyone, including onetime political allies.

Earlier this week, Right Wing Watch noted how MAGA pastor Jackson Lahmeyer, who is running a primary campaign to unseat Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, has openly embraced QAnon conspiracy theorists as part of his campaign, only to become a target of their conspiracy theories. QAnon activists accused the pastor of pedophilia and child sex trafficking in July after he posted a photo of his young daughter wearing red shoes.

Similar allegations are now being leveled against several high-profile evangelical leaders. Late last month, self-proclaimed “prophet” and QAnon conspiracy theorist Johnny Enlow posted a “prophetic alert” on his Facebook page in which he warned that “many of our most famous pastors and Christian leaders are about to be exposed as sexual deviants, pedophiles and worse.” We had no idea what that meant at the time, but now it appears to be related to allegations being put forth by a woman going by the name Madyson Marquette, who claims to have been a former adult film actress who was sexually abused and trafficked by several well-known evangelical leaders, including Kenneth Copeland, T.D. Jakes, Rick Warren, and even the late Billy Graham.

In the last week, Marquette has appeared on several evangelical programs that regularly promote QAnon and other right-wing conspiracy theories to level her allegations, including a recent appearance on the “Up Front In The Prophetic” program, which is hosted by full-blown QAnon conspiracy theorists Alan and Francine Fosdick. “Anyone that I’m naming bought me,” Marquette told the Fosdicks, “and did stuff to me. The only person I have named that didn’t do stuff, but I saw him at parties, was Joel Osteen.”

“I can tell you since I’ve started speaking, now more women have come forward,” she continued. “I named Kenneth Copeland and another brave soul, she’s like, ‘Listen, I want to come forward, will you share my post?’ And people went and attacked her on her post for coming forward. … The women do come forward and say, ‘This happened to me, I have the evidence,’ and and then you’re gonna go attack them because you maybe were fooled by these pastors? The same thing with Tyler Perry, Greg Laurie, Rick Warren, all of these pastors trafficked me, and we’ve put them on a pedestal and made them gods.”

Keying in on the evils of red shoes is really, really stupid. It also doesn't even make sense. Let's say that Lahmeyer really is involved in trafficking - and to be clear, I'm not saying I believe he is, this is just a thought experiment - why would he delieberately post a photo to "clue people in" to that point? It falls into the "Schroedinger's cultist" idea, that these folks are simultaneously sinister and evil and powerful and connected and brilliant, but at the same time so dumb they have "tells" that can be "decoded" by a bunch of random YouTubers with poor critical thinking skills. And the "decoding" involved seems to consist of "red is a sexy color." We're not talking about dizzying intellects.

At the same time, it is possible that trafficking could be going on in Evangelical circles. It's not "Satanic pedophilia," but there is a long history of sex abuse among leaders of religious communities. Some of those stories have even made the national news, like Jessica Hahn's abuse and rape at the hands of Jim Bakker. That's one of the most famous cases, but it is by far not the only one. There's even a whole narrative that preachers act out when they get caught - they "confess their sins" (while doing their best to squash any criminal investigations) and beg their congregation to forgive them.

But now it could be that the QAnon narrative will overtake the confession and redemtion narrative. Seeking forgiveness for sexual transgressions is one thing, but if sexual transgressions of whatever sort (even red shoes!) now are cast as unspeakable Satanic evil, it's hard to see how QAnon-believing congregations are ever going to be willing to forgive. It's all nonsense, of course, but so is - for example - casting rape as a "sexual transgression" instead of a very serious crime. It would be a good thing to see the latter narrative destroyed in favor of one in which these preachers face justice for crimes they actually perpetrate, but at the same time demonizing red shoes is really ridiculous.

The Atlantic put out an article that I covered back in 2020 arguing that by that point QAnon had taken on many characteristics of a distinct religion. Following Donald Trump's defeat in the 2020 election, the failed insurrection, failed predictions of Trump being reinstated in March, and so forth, that religion is starting to look like Millerism after the "Great Disappointment," losing many less-committed followers while the most committed double-down and offer increasingly convoluted explanations for why the predictions keep failing to come true. Are we now nearing a breaking point, with QAnon leaving Evangelicals behind and going its own way?

At the moment it's hard to say what will happen, or where these allegations will lead the faithful. It's also hard to say how many followers will be left as the failed predictions keep piling up. While some research does show that committed believers can have their beliefs strengthened by evidence against them, the QAnon movement does seem to keep losing support. We'll have to see what happens once only the dead-enders are left.

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