As a fan of outsider musicians, fringe music scenes, and alternative cultures, I’ve always been fascinated by mainstream responses to ‘the weird’. In essence, a majority of people are trying really hard to fit in and avoid standing out: it means, when young, they don’t get bullied or abused, and it’s the easiest path to avoid loneliness or the weight of criticism or self-criticism. Most people just want to hide. The model is instilled that the way to avoid such consequences is to present someone else as the target. There’s also guilt and shame involved in suppressing oneself, knowing one isn’t brave enough to fully be oneself – again, it’s easier to send that anger out into the world rather than living with it directed inward. That can happen in small ways, the gentle (and unfounded) claim that to attempt something different is to be ostentatious, or a poseur, or in some way antisocial. It can also swell up into baroque fantasies that promote someone or something as a literal enemy because its easier than looking in the mirror.
The 80s were full of such incidents. The Judas Priest ‘subliminal messaging’ and Ozzy Osbourne ‘Suicide Solution’ court cases were absurd events rooted in the grief of families after the suicide of loved ones. In each case they tried to claim that a band had persuaded their children to kill themselves. Ludicrous stuff: there were no backmasked subliminal messages revealed when an album was played backward, the lyrics of ‘Suicide Solution’ tackle the negative consequences of alcoholism and were quoted incorrectly by the plaintiffs…In the end, families simply couldn’t accept their loved ones’ actions or the more complex realities of mental health. Then there was the even more extreme case of radical musician Genesis P-Orridge. The Channel 4 investigative series, Dispatches, claimed to have video evidence of P-Orridge and his associates in the pseudo cult Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth abusing children and sparked a raid by the Obscene Publications Squad. P-Orridge wound up having to leave the U.K. permanently despite Channel 4 being embarrassed to learn that the video in question was an art piece Channel 4 itself helped fund in the early 80s that didn’t show anything like what was described – they withdrew their allegations. There’d already been the 1987-1990 police investigation, Operation Spanner, where various men involved in private BDSM practices and body piercing were investigated, arrested and charged for what were entirely consensual activities. As is typical when it involves the liberties and freedoms of people outside the mainstream, the court ruled that it didn’t matter that all the people involved had consented, the need to punish deviance took priority.
The backdrop to all these cases was an increasingly hysterical belief in Satanic Cult sex abuse which wound up diverting resources away from the support and protection of actual victims of abuse. The idea that there was this mysterious group of ‘outsiders’ mutilating, abusing, even cannibalising and murdering children led to police investigations in multiple countries…And not a word of it was true. You saw echoes of the same ‘projection’ in 1999 when Marilyn Manson and fantasias about ‘trenchcoat mafia’ bullied weirdos were blamed for the Columbine High School massacre rather than looking at how easily two kids with major mental health issues, who blended in easily, acquired major league weaponry.
More precisely, what it pointed to was very broad awareness that child abuse was indeed a significant issue inside churches and other acceptable and respected institutions of mainstream society. What had happened was that people were unwilling to confront the political, economic, and social power wielded by their own institutions. They were also unwilling to look inward and confront the problems rife in the mainstream – to do so would have required them to take responsibility. In retrospect, everyone claims to have spotted that Jimmy Savile, Britain’s most famous serial rapist and pedophile was odd, what they ignore was that the reason he got away with it was because he WASN’T odd, he was a friend of the establishment, closely connected to the Royal Family and to senior politicians, a buddy of local police leaders – incredibly normal and conservative and so acceptably normal that he was a TV institution for decades. Instead, it was far easier to present popular entertainers, those of different sexual preferences, the marginalised and the excluded as weirdos and culprits rather than looking at what happens when ‘the normal’ acquire power. As ever, the marginalised are more likely to be victims but that didn’t matter. They served a purpose in allowing people to maintain their own illusions of purity and to evade questioning those who had succeeded within the conformist model of society.
Now, here we are 30 years later, faced with QAnon – it’s a virtual reprise of the 80s Satanic Cult panic. The basic claim of QAnon, underpinning bland virtue statements about “stopping child abuse”, is that the Democrat Party in the U.S. and global elites everywhere are Satan-worshipping pedophiles and that President Trump is engaged in a secret war against them. Bleugh.
The elements are pretty obviously rooted in a refusal to take responsibility for failings on the U.S. right. First is the idea that a mythical and hidden ‘other’ is out to get people’s children. The identification of the Democrat Party with people of colour and other minorities makes it overtly racist, homophobic, and ridiculous. It incorporates homophobic illusions about men going with young boys, ignoring that the majority of sexual abuse is heterosexual, familial, and rarely conducted by strangers. It also rests on anti-Semitic cliches about Jews running the world (Zionist Occupied Government) – again, pushing responsibility for society’s failings onto someone else.
There’s a refusal to take seriously the proven criminality and corruption of President Trump or his associates – something demonstrated in court over and over again in recent years. Instead, it’s his enemies who are the criminals, the worst kinds of criminals, and – as required – one can project that idea onto all parts of government, the entire justice system, the law enforcement system. Anyone and everyone who has been a part of investigating and prosecuting the repeated crimes of the current U.S. leadership is part of the ‘deep state’ and not just that, they’re f***ing kids. For QAnon believers, accepting that they were part of electing a criminal/criminal enabler to office would require self-evaluation and critique, so it’s easier to believe the worst of those who point it out.
Finally, it’s a matter of fact that Donald Trump was friends with, or associated with, any/all of U.S. high society’s key providers of young/borderline female flesh for social or sexual occasions. The reports of voyeurism, groping, unwanted touching, outright assault, payment for sex in relation to President Trump has been substantial…So, QAnon projects all of that onto his opponents. It’s no longer him who is the sexual predator with appalling views and approaches to women, there’s a bizarre oneupmanship involved in making it his enemies who are secretly in league with Satan and feasting on children – QAnon means that even if someone accepts, or doesn’t completely dismiss, allegations against Trump, they still get to claim his opponents are worse.
While British defenders of Prince Andrew make absurd claims about him being in a Pizza Express in Woking (where no one recalls seeing him and there’s no record of his visit), hands being photoshopped into pictures, deny the record of him being seen with a sex trafficking victim, ignore the bizarre sight of him meeting a convicted sex offender in a park like they’re Mafia members avoided bugged rooms…At least they engage with the evidence however dimly. In the case of QAnon, no evidence is required. If one is unwilling to believe that one has been part of electing a criminal pervert to office, or if one desires absolution, then the only answer is that all his sins, and one’s own, can be flung over the fence onto ‘the other,’ the outsider who threatens you by making you face and take responsibility.
It’s comical, in a way, that so many people would rather believe in a secret level to the world – one that would require impractical and absurd levels of complicity – rather than just accepting the overt and obvious. It’s visible in the invention of ‘antifa’ as another all-purpose bogeyman, at the same time as ignoring the minimal amount of violence that has occurred during the Black Lives Matters protests; while ignoring the shootings, intimidation, kidnap/murder plots, attempts to spark police responses by provocateurs… The only way to justify one side’s violence is to claim the other side started it, or were much much worse than evidence suggests they were. It’s why, in the U.K., the right stabbed and bludgeoned a politician to death – but then hark to the Baader-Meinhof gang of the 70s to claim political murder is a left wing thing (answer, it’s common to extremists of all shades, it’s just more common currently among those on the right including Islamic conservatives). The same is happening in the U.S. where right-wing violence is the most prevalent current, but honestly examining and evicting such lunatics comes hard when ‘they’re our terrorists.’
Making ‘the other’ into the threat to society and civilisation, one that can be manipulated to fit any scenario or personal inclination also allows a substantial number of people to ignore the extent to which the Republican Party has decided to overtly aim for a one party/one race/one religion South African Apartheid type system. Gerrymandering to try to compress undesirable votes, crippling the U.S. postal service, removing voting facilities from minority areas, fake dropboxes for votes, removing people from voting rolls, maintaining barriers to voting, adding ID requirements that will prevent people voting in order to tackle non-existent fake voting, encouraging one’s own side to vote more than once, reducing counting periods or stopping activities that would allow counting/organization to start before election day, court challenges to complicate and undermine faith in the system, stacking the courts to try to influence the result…it’s all a vast attempt to prevent people truly having their – already small – say in the running of the country. It’s justified by claiming the other side are the enemy of the country, even while one goes ahead and tries to damage the underpinning mechanisms of democracy. You don’t need conspiracy theories because it’s all so overt and obvious.
What we’ve seen in past years via the Panama Papers, Operation Yewtree, investigations into the U.K. housing market, the ongoing knowledge that the sex/drug industries are based alongside our key financial centres for obvious reasons (it’s where the rich people who can afford it are) is that there are massive public, overt, legal, and acceptable careers to be made hiding the money and socially unattractive activities of people with wealth. I’ve sat in expensive restaurants watching the gentleman dining with their ‘nieces’. It’s easier to believe in mystical Satanic cults and the complicity of ‘enemies’ rather than recognising what goes on publicly day by day.
None of this will go away regardless of tomorrow’s outcome. Every few decades we’ll see a major new myth take hold to avoid having to tarnish those identified most powerfully with ‘normal’ whether that’s the Republican candidate for government, or priests in local churches.