What If You Had A Satanic Panic And 15 Percent Of America Came?
In case you weren't sufficiently horrified by your fellow Americans, a recent study conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute has found that 15 percent of Americans believe that "[t]he government, media and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation."
That number goes up to 23 percent for Republicans in general, 25 percent for white evangelical Protestants, 26 percent for Hispanic Protestants ... and 40 percent for Americans who most trust far-Right news sources such as Newsmax and OANN. And it's not the only ridiculous QAnon-adjacent conspiracy a fair number of Americans believe in. Twenty percent believe "[t]here is a storm coming soon that will sweep away the elites in power and restore the rightful leaders" and 15 percent believe that "[b]ecause things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country."
And 28 percent of Republicans believe both of those things.
Though perhaps more concerning, frankly, is the large percentage of people who merely consider themselves "QAnon doubters" versus "QAnon rejectors."
Forty percent of Americans outright reject the QAnonsense, but 46 percent of them merely doubt it. That is an extremely high number given the absurdity of it all.
There are two big problems here. The first one is how did we get to a point where only 40 percent of Americans reject the absolute most batshit thing anyone has ever come up with. The second is how do we stop it.
As far as the first problem goes, the first part of it, obviously, is that people do not trust the government. To a degree, that's a good and healthy thing. The United States government has done some real messed up shit and, quite frankly, is not really worthy of our trust. Tuskeegee, COINTELPRO, Watergate, lying to get us into the Vietnam War, lying to get us into the Iraq War, Iran Contra, support for dictatorships — a whole lot of things that would seem totally crazy if they hadn't really happened.
For most people, things that come under the category of "fucked up things the United States government has done" are things they learned on their own rather than in school, where history classes were primarily focused on "great things the United States has done, because America is the greatest." If you learn about those things — those true things — on your own, it's easy to come to the conclusion that the government has something to hide (which of course it does). It's easy to then think that the other things you learn about by "doing your own research" are also true.
The second factor is religion. Evangelical Christianity teaches people that Satan is real, Satan worshipers are real and a very different thing from the actual Satanism that exists in the real world. It is not surprising that those people then think evil Satanists are out there doing exactly what they've been told Satanists are out there doing.
The third factor, and probably the most compelling, is that when it comes to children being hurt, people shut their brains off.
That doesn't come from a bad instinct — it comes from a good instinct that has been warped, but that doesn't mean it doesn't cause harm. We saw that harm during the Satanic Panic and the daycare sex abuse hysteria, and we're seeing it again now. Except now it's not just people "believing the children," it's people "believing adults" who have made up things they think could hypothetically be happening to children.
A common refrain on social media during the Wayfair affair from people spreading the conspiracy was often "So what if I'm wrong? Who am I hurting by caring about the children? And isn't this bringing awareness to child sex trafficking, a thing we should all care about?"
But they are hurting people. In fact, they're hurting children. The pendulum always swings, and just as people now try to make up for times when we did not treat child abuse seriously, if things go too far the other way, people will make up for that by being even more skeptical. The kindest thing to do for children is to focus efforts on things that are actually happening to actual children. People who feel they have done their part by posting on Facebook about imaginary trafficked mole children are probably not then running out and volunteering at the local teen shelter, or even voting for politicians who support increasing funding for education, subsidized childcare and health care.
It's hard to know precisely what to do about these things, because ignoring them does not make them go away. To some degree, transparency might help — being more open and less shady about the way the United States has fucked up so it's not a thing people find out about on their own; doing a kind of investigative reporting that doesn't just let these people state their weird beliefs, but helps to show them why those beliefs aren't true — or that parades these people out and makes them actually prove that what they say is true.
Hell, I say get a camera and a bunch of believers, give them doses of actual adrenochrome and let them see if they get high. Give them high powered microscopes and demand they find microchips in the vaccine. Take them to Comet Pizza. Demand they produce one actual victim of these supposed Satanic child sex-trafficking cabals. Sunlight can be a great disinfectant, but it doesn't work with just "Hey, look at the crazy shit these people believe, let's let them share those beliefs and not question them at all."
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse