Con­spir­acy the­o­rists taint the jus­tice they seek

The Prince George Citizen - - Opinion - TRAVIS VIEW

An­nounc­ing charges against Jef­frey Ep­stein at a Mon­day morn­ing new con­fer­ence, U.S. At­tor­ney Ge­of­frey Ber­man cred­ited the help of re­porters . “We were as­sisted by some ex­cel­lent in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism,” he said.

Wil­liam Sweeney, as­sis­tant di­rec­tor-in-charge of the FBI’s New York of­fice, added, “We work with facts. When the facts pre­sented them­selves, as Mr. Ber­man hinted at, through in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ists’ work, we moved on it.”

They were likely re­fer­ring to the Mi­ami Her­ald’s three-part se­ries “Perver­sion of Jus­tice,” which sparked re­newed scru­tiny and public in­ter­est in the Ep­stein case by shed­ding light on a se­cret deal that al­lowed him to avoid se­ri­ous pun­ish­ment in 2008.

The in­ves­tiga­tive se­ries iden­ti­fied about 80 women who say they were sex­u­ally abused by Ep­stein from 2001 to 2006 and quoted four of his al­leged vic­tims on the record for the first time. Brown, who re­ceived a Ge­orge Polk Award for jus­tice re­port­ing for the se­ries, said on Twit­ter that “the REAL HE­ROES HERE were the coura­geous vic­tims that faced their fears and told their sto­ries.”

But while the peo­ple who ac­tu­ally helped bring Ep­stein closer to jus­tice were quick to credit oth­ers, another com­mu­nity base­lessly claimed the credit.

Since Ep­stein has long been ac­cused of se­rial abuse of mi­nors, he has been fea­tured in the on­line con­spir­acy the­o­ries Piz­za­gate and QAnon.

But when on­line con­spir­acy the­o­rists aren’t re­hash­ing old re­port­ing about Ep­stein, they’re pro­mot­ing some of the most ab­surd claims ever posted on so­cial me­dia.

QAnon fol­low­ers of var­i­ous stripes be­lieve that mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials post coded mes­sages on the im­age­board 8chan, JFK Jr. faked his death in 1999, and Hillary Clin­ton has been se­cretly ar­rested.

It would be com­fort­ing to be­lieve the warped, re­al­ity-de­fy­ing world­view of on­line con­spir­acy the­o­rists is so quar­an­tined from main­stream po­lit­i­cal dis­course that it’s un­wor­thy of re­buke. But that’s not the case.

U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has pro­moted sev­eral QAnon ac­counts on Twit­ter. Celebri­ties who have pro­moted QAnon in­clude Roseanne Barr, Curt Schilling and Stacey Dash. Elected of­fi­cials who have pro­moted QAnon in­clude a city coun­cil mem­ber and a state law­maker.

Matthew Lusk, a con­gres­sional can­di­date for Florida’s 5th Dis­trict, is the first open QAnon fol­lower to run for fed­eral of­fice .

The anony­mous 8chan poster known as Q cap­i­tal­ized on the

news of Ep­stein’s ar­rest by ref­er­enc­ing it in sev­eral new posts. Pop­u­lar QAnon pro­moter Joe M felt vin­di­cated: “The ar­rest and soon con­vic­tion of child sex traf­ficker Jef­frey Ep­stein,” he said, “re­flects all that Q ob­servers have been howl­ing about.” Tweet­ing to his nearly 100,000 Twit­ter fol­low­ers, QAnon pro­moter Jor­dan Sather ab­surdly cred­ited Ep­stein’s ar­rest to 4chan and 8chan.

“Some blue check marks,” he said in ref­er­ence to ver­i­fied users on Twit­ter, “are try­ing to take credit for Ep­stein’s ar­rest, but I think we all know where the real in­ves­ti­ga­tions are com­ing from... The chans are in­cred­i­ble!”

In re­al­ity, it should sur­prise no one to learn that none of the ac­tual in­ves­tiga­tive re­port­ing nor the in­dict­ment it­self ref­er­ences “the chans.”

Some­how, the real in­ves­ti­ga­tions were suc­cess­ful with­out the help of anony­mous users of prim­i­tive mes­sage boards.

Far from clar­i­fy­ing the se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tions against Ep­stein and ad­vo­cat­ing for his al­leged vic­tims, the wild sto­ries that on­line con­spir­acy the­o­rists spin in­stead serve to dis­tract from ac­tual crimes.

For ex­am­ple, peo­ple in the QAnon com­mu­nity be­lieve that Ep­stein’s pri­vate is­land con­tains se­cret tun­nels where chil­dren were sac­ri­ficed in oc­cult rit­u­als. There is ob­vi­ously no ev­i­dence for this, and it seems like it would be a glar­ing omis­sion from the in­dict­ment if it were true.

The story about chil­dren be­ing abused in a se­cret un­der­ground is a call­back to the “satanic panic” of the 1980s, in which preschools were base­lessly ac­cused of hav­ing se­cret labyrinthi­ne tun­nels.

Cou­pling se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tions of child abuse with un­se­ri­ous fab­u­lism about the oc­cult helps no one.

In Ep­stein’s case, the cred­i­ble charges are out­ra­geous enough with­out in­dulging in con­spir­a­to­rial fan­tasies.

But at­tempt­ing to weave his al­leged ac­tions into more fan­tas­ti­cal nar­ra­tives may make it eas­ier to dis­miss them.

On­line con­spir­acy the­o­rists also make in­no­cent peo­ple vul­ner­a­ble to ha­rass­ment cam­paigns in­stead of ac­tu­ally help­ing the in­no­cent.

Just as they poi­son our po­lit­i­cal dis­course, on­line con­spir­acy the­o­rists poi­son the pur­suit of jus­tice.

Sadly, there’s lit­tle rea­son to hope they’ll ever care more about fidelity to the facts than the wild nar­ra­tives that keep them at the cen­ter of the story.

View is a writer, con­spir­acy the­ory re­searcher and co-host of the pod­cast QAnon Anony­mous.

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